Agra's gem: Baby Taj and Itmad-ud-Daulah's tomb

Agra's gem: Baby Taj and Itmad-ud-Daulah's tomb
Baby Taj | Photo: AS Ravuthar

In stature and size, Itimad-ud-Daulah is a mere shadow to the great Taj Mahal. One of the most impressive architectural wonders of Agra, this monument is the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal and therefore called “Baby Taj Mahal”. Many tourists after visiting the Taj Mahal also searches for the Itmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb. Jahangir’s wife Noorjahan built in the loving memory of her father Itimad-ud-Daulah.

The jewellery box of Agra, India’s first monument done in marble, the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal- do you need more reasons to visit the Itimad-ud-Daulah monument or the Baby Taj? From the Agra bus stand when I enquired regarding the bus service to Itimad-ud-Daulah, I was met with a blank stare. And I wasn’t even sure if he had heard me right or maybe he knows it and is not telling me? Thankfully unknown to us there was another man watching the scene- taxi driver Dileep. Though he insisted on a cab ride, I was keen on taking an auto. When he persisted, I noticed his old Ambassador and took pity on him- he perhaps desperately needed the money. When I got into the car, the 60-something Dileep had a huge grin on his face. This seems to be his ride after a long time. And the car seems to be as old as him. When we rode through the historic city of Agra in that rickety Ambassador, it seemed strangely significant, as if we were back in time.

The journey through the grubby streets of Agra took almost half an hour. When we reached the monument located on the Eastern side of River Yamuna, there were just a few Indians left at the ticket counter. Perhaps because it was past noon that there was not much of a crowd, except for a few foreigners. There was a large water cooler at the entrance, a facility that is available at every monument in Agra and Delhi.

From the ticket counter I could see the entrance clearly- a magnificent piece of Mughal architecture done in red stones, replete with red and white windows at every partition. From there it leads to a wide expanse of emerald green carpet grass surrounded by beautifully trimmed shrubs.

The daughter who brought luck

The history of the monument is gravely engraved at the entrance. That the monument was built by Jahangir’s wife Noorjahan in the lovely memory of her father Mirza Giyaz Beg who was named Itimad-ud-Daulah by Akbar.

Baby Taj | Photo: AS Ravuthar

Mirza was a Persian Amir in exile and his trade had gone down the drain urging him to pack his bags and try his luck in India. He was accompanied by his pregnant wife and three children. But unfortunately, en route, they are robbed off all their wealth. By the time his wife delivered a baby girl, his family was already deep in financial crisis. It is when he was planning to abandon the girl child that he finds himself in the company of some traders who eventually lead him to Emperor Akbar’s court, changing his fortunes forever. That inspired him to name their daughter Mirza Mehrunissa (sun among women).

The industrious and hardworking Mirza soon rose to the ranks of the Treasurer. It was the Emperor pleased with his work who accorded him the title of Itimad-ud-Daulah or the Country’s monument. Mehrunissa later became King Jehangir’s wife and rechristened herself as Noor Jahan (Light of the world).

Mirza was made the Prime Minister but unfortunately did not live long after his wife’s death. He passed away in 1622. This monument was built between 1622 and 1628 at the behest of his daughter. In Agra, all history seems to come back to the Taj Mahal, as the woman who the famous mausoleum was built for (Mumtaz Mahal) was also Mirza's granddaughter.

Mughal Magic

As I enter the gigantic entrance, I seem to be instantly engulfed in the chilly air, the red bricks adding an air-conditioned effect to the atmosphere. Even more fascinating is what awaits you inside the mausoleum- two tombs that remind you of a beautifully gift-wrapped box done in white marble.

Itmad-ud-Daulah's tomb | Photo: AS Ravuthar

The large entrance citadel is right in the middle of the square mausoleum. The mausoleum is set in a large cruciform garden zigzagged by water courses and walkways. It is built in Charbagh style architecture which is a Persian-style garden layout, in which the main building is put at the centre of a quadrilateral garden, divided by walkways or flowing water into four smaller parts. Charbagh style was brought to India by the Mughals. Shallow water channels, sunk in the middle of the raised stone-paved pathways, with intermittent tanks and cascades, divided the garden into four equal quarters. They are only slightly raised from the parterres which could be converted into flower beds. Space for large plants and trees was reserved just adjoining the enclosing walls, leaving the mausoleum fully open to view. Visitors are required to put their footwears outside the tomb. And that also means noon visits will be a pain for your feet. But the beauty of the tomb is enough to make you forget such discomforts. After all, this is one of the most beautiful monuments in India.

First Marble monument

This is also the first-ever monument done completely in marble in India. Before that, they resorted to red and black stones for this purpose. The square tomb has octangular towers, topped by chhatris, attached to its corners. Each frontage has three arches: the central one providing the entrance, and the other two on the sides being closed by latticed screens. Each side is protected by a balcony and a latticed screen balustrade above it. The building is roofed by a square pavilion with twelve doors designed to allow fresh air. There are three arched openings on each side which are closed by latticed screens except in the middle of the north and south sides. It is protected by a balcony above which is the pyramidal roof, crowned by lotus petals and Kalash finials. The interior is composed of a central square hall housing the cenotaphs of Asmat Begum, Mirza Ghiyas, four oblong rooms on the sides, and four-square rooms on the corners, all interconnected by common doorways. The cenotaph of Asmat Begum occupies the exact centre of the hall. Corner rooms have tombstones of Nur Jehan's other relations.

Baby Taj's interior | Photo: AS Ravuthar

Though the Taj Mahal has these minarets, they are situated away from the main building. Maybe in size, this tomb is no match for the Taj but remains matchless in beauty and artistry. There are various shrubs and mini trees around the Charbar temple and from a distance, it somehow looks like a gift box surrounded by a bouquet of flower carpets.

The exteriors are arranged in uniform line and length. Right in the middle, though there are doors on all four sides of the building, only two doors remain open. The tombs of Noor Jahan’s parents can be seen inside. In Lahore, the tombs of Noor Jahan and Jahangir can be seen.

The walls are done in Rajasthan white marble coated with semi-precious stones like cornelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, onyx, and topaz. There are fascinating images of cypress trees and wine bottles and cut fruit and flower vases. Light penetrates to the interior through delicate grille screens of intricately carved white marble. The interior decoration is said to have inspired even the Taj Mahal, coincidentally build by her stepson, Mughal ruler Shah Jahan, who was fascinated by Iranian architecture. Most of the paintings are inspired by the findings of Ustad Mansoor Nakvash, a prominent botanist and painter in the King’s court. Quran’s 4,873 chapters have been inscribed on one side of the wall and the 67th chapter engraved on one of the panels inside. This was actually done during AD 1627.

By the side of River Yamuna

Despite the scorching heat, the marbled floors have a cooling effect. The sunlight streaming through the latticed screens create a stunning visual impact. There are 8 small rooms adjoining the main hall, which is where you can see the tombs of Noor Jahan’s relatives. Another attraction is the Persian style domes. It is a stunning fusion of Persian-Islamic architecture in full display at the mausoleum.

The multistories pavilion on the west side of the river Yamuna | Photo: AS Ravuthar

There is a multistoried pavilion on the west side of the river Yamuna and when the river pours over, it is a beautiful sight to behold. But that day, the river had dried up. From the pavilion, there is a long and steep way down the river. I could see impoverished children standing by the riverside, eagerly looking out for the visitors. Some are even shouting at them for money and a few visitors even obliged by throwing coins.

Baby Taj

Interestingly this monument was built even before the Taj Mahal. And Taj was inspired by this mausoleum. But later, Baby Taj took a backseat when Taj became the cynosure of all eyes though its widely acknowledged that it is more delicate in appearance due to its particularly richly carved marble jalis (lattice screens). This was the first Mughal structure to make extensive use of pietra dura and the first tomb to be built on the banks of the Yamuna, which until then had been a sequence of beautiful pleasure gardens.

Though most of the tourists visit only the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, I would say skipping Baby Taj is a huge miss. Plan your day with the aim of spending the evenings there, watching the sunset. It is 4 km from Agra Fort and 2 km from Taj Mahal and you can get into an auto or tuk-tuk to reach there. From Taj Ganj which is near the Taj Mahal, you might need to get into two autos. You can combine a trip here with Chini-ka-Rauza and Mehtab Bagh, all on the east bank. An autorickshaw covering all three should cost about ₹500 return from the Taj, including waiting time.


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