The guide was sulking, the mid-day sun was relentlessly hot and I could feel my skin burn. But I was oblivious to all but the shimmering marble structure in front of me—the tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, with the local sobriquet of Baby Taj or Mini Taj.
Located on the western bank of the Yamuna river, the tomb complex was built by Noor Jehan (queen of Emperor Jehangir, the fourth Mughal Emperor) for her father, Mirza Ghiyas Beg and mother. Mirza Beg started off as an accountant in the Mughal court and rose to the rank of Lord High Treasurer or I’timad-ud-Daulah. And therein lies the name of the tomb, which was built between 1622 and 1628.
The tomb is rather squat and broad in appearance with hexagonal towers in each corner. Built on a low sandstone platform with marble inlay work on all four sides, like all Islamic structures, this one too is symmetrical. It is the presence of the two very different-sized and shaped trees on either side of the tomb that lessens the severity of the symmetry and actually gives it a slightly quirky look.
The entrance to the tomb complex is through a red sandstone gateway. There are four sandstone gateways to this walled complex, one gateway in the centre of each wall. Each wall has been decorated with inlay work, with the main gateway and the one facing the Yamuna having the most intricate designs on them.
A special feature of the inlay work on all the gateways is that the designs, particularly at the lower levels, create an illusion of a marble jaali. So cleverly is this done that I actually went closer to confirm that it was inlay work and not a jaali. Another interesting feature of the gateways is the complete absence of inscriptions on them. The Yamuna facing gateway appears to have been built as a place that visitors could relax or meet and its interiors have fading remains of some badly damaged fresco work. The view of the tomb from each of the gateways is quite striking, especially when viewed like the photograph below.
The tomb is built of white marble reportedly quarried from Rajasthan, and every inch of it is decorated with inlay work using semi-precious stones like topaz, lapis lazuli and onyx. Mirza Beg was from Persia and the design, motifs and style used in the tomb reflect his place of origin. From the use of cypress trees, wine cups, fruits, flower vases and rose water vessels as designs for inlay work or as fresco work, these symbols appear as a recurring theme both on the exteriors as well as the interiors of the tomb.
When I can tear my eyes off the richly decorated walls, I notice the delicate jaali work, so typical of Mughal architecture. I also notice that in addition to Noor Jahan’s parents buried in the central vault, there are other cenotaphs as well in the different chambers leading off from the central one. The guide informs me that belong to the various relatives of Noor Jehan.
A walk around the complex reveals small outbuildings, a garden and empty water channels. It also reveals an almost complete absence of tourists, something that I welcome, but again something that I cannot help wondering about. If not for anything else, shouldn’t tourists be coming to see the structure that is reported to have inspired the design of the Taj Mahal? Architecturally too, this structure represents an important transition from red sandstone to white marble for the Mughals.
It is almost 2 pm by the time I finish my walk around the complex. The guide is still upset over the fact that I have spent a ‘disproportionate’ amount of time, according to him at the lesser monuments like this one and Akbar’s Mausoleum, and too little time at the Taj. I only anger him further by saying that I want to spend some time at the gateway by the Yamuna.
As I gaze at the Yamuna, I see tall brick chimneys of the once active and polluting industries still standing tall as a reminder of the days when they were functional. Today, they only make for a stunning, but silent backdrop. Looking back to gaze at the tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, I try t imagine the place at sunset, with all the semi-precious stones lighting up to create what must be a golden glow around the monument, which for many is Baby or Mini Taj but for me will always be Agra’s other Taj.
So which name do you prefer?
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Read more other places to visit in Agra:
- Fatehpur Sikri: Poetry in red sandstone and blue skies
- The Taj Mahal: An Ode to Perfection and Symmetry
- Akbar’s mausoleum: Forgotten, but not neglected, at Sikandra
- The Christian mausoleums of Agra
- Qila-i-Akbari: The red fort of Agra