A late afternoon in Sikandra: The mausoleum of Akbar the great

On the south bank of the river Yamuna, located at a distance of 13 kilometer from Agra, is the mausoleum of the greatest King of India – Badshah Akbar. This monument is unique in architecture, harking back the paradigm shift of the Mughal as well as Indo-Islamic structure.

South Gate – Sikandra

After having a great lunch in a street food joint, when I reached Sikandra, dusk was about to set in. Personally, it was my preference to see the mausoleum of the greatest king of India under the golden light. Reaching Sikandra, I found a crowd was rushing into Akbar’s Tomb. I tried to avoid them. Thus, I decided to visit Mariam’s Tomb – Located at a distance of 650 meters from the complex of Akbar’s Tomb.

Mariam’s Tomb is the mausoleum of Mariam-al-Zamani – the beloved wife of Akbar, also was crowned as Padshahi Begum of Akbar’s regime. She was the mother of Jahangir.

Mariam’s Tomb

The red sandstone Tomb of Mariam is placed at the center of ‘Char bagh’ design, in which four waterways running from central gateways to the tomb at the center divide the square garden into four parts. The four water channels represent the four rivers of Paradise as described in the Quran, with the heavenly gardens in which the tomb is placed creating fitting surroundings for the last resting place of the queen. Its superstructure is composed of four massive octagonal chhatris on the four corners of the building and four oblong ‘chhaparkhats’ on the middle of the four sides, each octagonal chhatri, all of red sandstone, stands majestically on a square platform. Unlike to other Mughal architectures, the tomb does not have a dome.
I went to the main structure. An arched entrance on each side led me into labyrinth of passages, at the centre of which was staircase, giving access to the tomb below. Since it was dark, I could not get photograph of the tomb.

From Mariam’s Tomb I came back to the mausoleum of Akbar the Great. Akbar started the construction of his own tomb few years before his death. After he passed away, the construction was completed between 1612-14 by his son Jahangir. Hence, the monument did undergo an architectural shift. Akbar was fond of red sandstone. Humayun’s Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, Early phase of Agra Fort was built by red sandstone. Jahangir was not a fond of architecture. His wife, Begum Nur Jahan had interest in this subject, but she liked the glory of white marble stone. As a consequence, the architectures built in Jahangir’s regime (Tomb of Imad-ud-Doulla) had an influence of Nur Jahan. Thus, the use of both red sandstone and white marble stone was found in the mausoleum of Akbar. In fact, most of the Mughal architectures, constructed post Jahangir era were built on marble stone. Secondly, The Mausoleum of Akbar is the first Indo-Islamic Architecture, where the concept of creating minerates were introduced.

Purchasing the ticket from ASI counter, I went to the entrance – the south gate – a magnificently designed gate. The getaway has recessed arches set in rectangular frames and are highly decorated with painting, stucco, inlay, mosaic and carved relief of geometrical and floral patterns. The arches are flanked by two-storey wings with alcoves and domed pavilions. I found similarities with Buland Darwaza of Fatehpur Sikri. The gate is made of red sandstone, but the minerates are constructed with white marble stone. The guide showed me the holy script depicted on the gate. Surprisingly, it was not from holy Quran. Let me discuss the reason.

In the Upanishad (Hindu Philosophical Scripts), death is recognised as the road to open a new life, wrapped by golden cover. Though Akbar was by birth a Muslim; but he liked to acquire philosophy different religions. His greatness allowed him to form a religion Din-E-Ilahi. Inspired by the Upanishad, Akbar wanted to celebrate his death by building his own mausoleum. Thus, in the gate of the mausoleum, instead of Kalma (Islamic prayer chant), Din-E-Ilahi’s scripts are depicted – “Dwanish Hamega Jakh-shad baad/ Aju Alam Qwads Abad Baad” (Let the buried man’s soul be absorbed by almighty where all the sins will be formidable, burnt and the enlightened in glory).

Crossing the gate, I entered inside the mausoleum compound. Like other Mughal structures, the tomb is located at the heart of a four-part garden layout, known as a ‘char bagh’ design.

Akbar’s Tomb, Sikandra

I walked to the mausoleum. It is on a high plinth and is square in plan and features five receding tiers and is arcaded on all four sides. The tomb’s tiered pavilions culminate in a white marble edifice at the top which shelters the cenotaph inside from the elements. The actual grave of Akbar is in the crypt deep inside the mausoleum. I went inside. First, I reached the circumferential gallery, which is full on colonnades at a regular interval. Walking further I reached at a small hall that exhibits the remnants of a magnificently painted (stucco paintings) dome. These stucco paintings create an out of the world aura by the use of gold, blue and green colour floral arabesque amidst Persian inscriptions. But earlier it was once decorated using abundant of precious stones, which later got looted by Jat rebels.

Stucco painting inside Akbar’s Mausoleum

Going further inside I found a narrow, short heighted ramp leading towards the main chamber. The ramp was not just provided to enter the main tomb, but also carries a great significance. The downward slope automatically bowed my heads as they moved forward. Finally, I reached to the tomb. The room was dark but somehow the glory of the King’s tomb created an aura that reckoned me a poetry of Rabindranath Tagore – “The light radiate from the center of darkness that is thy glow”.

I was completely lost in the divinity of the tomb. Suddenly the security guard notified me about the closing time.


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