I’timād-ud-Daulah: Agra’s Other Architectural Miracle

On everyone’s first journey to India (except mine), one usually visits what is known as “The Golden Triangle”: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur. You often hear that a person cannot visit India without seeing the Taj Mahal in Agra, and for the most part they are correct.

However, just 6 kilometers away from the Taj Mahal, seated on the banks of the Yamuna river, is another Mausoleum known as the “jewel box” – I’timād-ud-Daulah.

The mausoleum was commissioned by Nūr Jahān, the wife of Jahangir, for her father Mirzā Ghiyās Beg, who had been given the title of I’timād-ud-Daulah (pillar of the state). Mirzā Ghiyās Beg was also the grandfather of Mumtāz Mahāl, the wife of the emperor Shāh Jahān, for whom the Taj Mahal was constructed. Many of Nūr Jahān’s relatives are interred in the mausoleum.

Located on the left bank of the Yamuna river, the mausoleum is set in a large cruciform garden criss-crossed by water courses and walkways. The mausoleum itself covers about twenty-three meters square, and is built on a base about fifty meters square and about one meter high. On each corner are hexagonal towers, about thirteen meters tall.

The first tomb to be built in white marble instead of red sandstone, it marks the departure from the red sandstone buildings of Mughal architecture. The walls are encrusted with semi-precious stone decorations in the pietra dura style. Cornelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, onyx, and topaz are formed into images of cypress trees and wine bottles, or more elaborate decorations like cut fruit or vases containing bouquets. Light penetrates to the interior through delicate jālī screens of intricately carved white marble.

With so much emphasis on seeing the Taj Mahal, this monument can be easily overlooked. However, the good thing about that is fewer crowds and touts. Be sure to see it when you’re there.

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