The tomb of Itmad Ud Daulah seemed to me possibly the most unsung hero of Mughal Agra. A glittering jewel encrusted mausoleum, the first one to be made entirely of marble, when compared to the Taj Mahal (after all it is called the Baby Taj) what it lacks in size, it makes up for in style.
The story of Itimad Ud Daulah
Itmad Ud Daulah almost didn’t get his shot at glory. If superstition hadn’t intervened. A pauper, Mirza Ghiyas Ud Din left his home in Persia to find fortune in Mughal India. Things were so bad, that he and his wife attempted to abandon their baby girl in the desert since they could no longer afford to feed her. Before they could walk away, a serpent flared its hood sheltering her from the harsh sun. This was considered an auspicious sign, one that meant she was destined for greatness. One they couldn’t ignore. Several years later, that baby girl had blossomed into a famed beauty. Even Emperor Jehangir succumbed to her charms, and had Noor Jahan rendered widow (she was married to one of his Generals) just so he could marry her. My sources seem to differ about which came first, his being impressed by Noor Jahan or by Mirza Ghiyas Ud Din. But eventually, Mirza Ghiyas employed in his court as Chief Minister was bestowed the title Itmad Ud Dualah meaning Pillar of the Empire.
The Tomb of Itmad Ud Daulah
By 1622 Noor Jahan, (whose new name incidentally means the light of the world) as the wife and empress commanded a most fantastic mausoleum for her father. This was the first piece of Mughal architecture on the banks of the river Yamuna that moved away from the traditional red sandstone and was in fact made entirely of marble.
Walking through a stone paved path lined with perfectly manicured bushes beyond which lay beautiful gardens, we gasped at the massive red sandstone archway before us. Looking up at the intricate floral patterns was like staring at some exquisite local embroidery which I’m sure mimics this gorgeous aesthetic by design.
We then walked through the gardens, a traditional four- quartered layout with its pathways, lawns and fountains. A shallow narrow canal ran through the centre of the pathway, probably once used to drain the fountains. Birds, monkeys and children flitted about, giving me a small taste of what this place once felt like.
At the centre of this garden, on a sandstone platform sits the beautiful white structure. As I got closer, I could see why it has been so often referred to as a jewel box in the garden. What stood out almost immediately was how fine the jaali work was on this structure. It’s a fantastic display of how beautifully they managed to infuse Persian and Indian styles. The notably Persian arched entrances and octagonal towers blending beautifully with the dome-less closed kiosk and canopies which are quintessentially Indian. I then understood what they meant by “the Mughals began as titans and finished as jewellers”. The absolutely detailed work on the white Rajasthani marble, with inlaid semi-precious stones of cornelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, onyx and topaz created beautiful designs. I could recognize patterns of cypress trees, wine bottles, fruits and vases with bouquets of flowers. It was like fine jewellery had been used to decorate the walls.
Removing my shoes, I stepped inside. A labyrinth of rooms and passages extended beyond the verandah. Within the cool darkness of the central chamber were the cenotaphs of Itmad ud Daulah (Mirza Ghiyas) and beside him, his wife Asmat Begum in the centre. Interconnected by common doorways, the four oblong and four square rooms surrounding it housed the tombs of Noor Jehan’s brothers, daughter and other relatives. Persian inscriptions stating the names and titles of those interred decorated the cenotaphs and the surrounding walls bore inscriptions from the Quran and holy texts.
This pretty little jewel sitting on the edge of the water was quite the revelation and I do wish I’d had longer there, if only to study the intricate patterns and designs that graced its walls. I also wondered, what if that one serpent hadn’t arrived to change the course of Mirza Ghiyas’ life? Would he have attained the perpetuity his daughter bestowed on him with this beautiful mausoleum?