The title “fort” does a disservice to the Agra Fort, especially when the local building competition is the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. Instead of inspiring the mind, the title evokes a sense of military austerity. This was my mindset as we set off to the Agra Fort following our visit to the Taj Mahal. I was fortunate enough to be corrected in my preliminary assumption, as Agra Fort should be called Agra Palace, as it was the fortified palace where the Mughal emperor Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal) lived while in Agra, along with their many wives (Jahangir has 20) and harem. If you have ever imagined a grand “Persian” palace, complete with bright and sultry colors, pillows as furniture and a harem filled with women peaking from behind a screen, this is Agra Fort.
Built in red sandstone on top of an old fort by Akbar, Agra Fort received various renovations from each succeeding emperor, each greater than the last. Many of the architectural components used at Agra Fort were later perfected at the Taj Mahal. We saw the same entrance gate silhouette framing the beautiful interior, amazing inlaid marble work, marble and stone carved grills, archways and domed roofs. The Mughals had great taste in architecture and details. The level of craftsmanship is incredible; the man hours to create such a place must have been astronomical. With all of the Mughal buildings in Agra alone, I don’t know how they had money or time for anything other than construction.
Even the prison where Shah Jahan was kept was originally a suite of rooms he originally built for his wife (the one he built the Taj Mahal for). From this suite, he was able to spend the remaining seven years of his life looking down river to the Taj Mahal.
As my understanding of the religious tensions has increased from this trip, I found the inclusion of Hindu influences in the Agra Fort interesting. The Mughals were the last great Islamic empire of India, yet throughout the Fort (and in the Taj Mahal) are some Hindu components, including the Hindi symbol of a coconut in a bowl and decorative arches (Muslim arches were load bearing and load-bearing). From my guide book, I found the Mughal emperors had fluctuating tolerance of non-Muslims, at times completely intolerant to other times lifting the non-Muslim tax. In fact, some of the emperors had Hindu wives and had Hindu concubines in the harem.
On a side note, we had a personal experience with the bureaucracy of the Indian government while at Agra Fort. As usual, we had our Tuck banner in tow. As we are setting to take a photo, the security comes running over and confiscates our banner. Our Agra tour guide Rajeev thought this was unusual given many education tours bring banners or signs for the trip. As it was explained to us, the security wanted and opportunity to flex what limited power they have. We didn’t ask permission and thus we must be made an example of. We managed to get our banner back as we left, though the joke is on them because Prasad was able to snap a photo in the fort before confiscation and outside as we left.