Agra Fort

Mughal bastion

Print edition : February 15, 2019

The Amar Singh Gate of the Agra Fort is on the southern side of the fort complex and is its public entrance. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

Naubat Khana (music gallery) of the Amar Singh Gate. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) in the Diwan-i-Aam courtyard. It was built by Shah Jahan. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The exterior of Jahangiri Mahal, with the monolithic granite bowl (7.62 m x 1.42 m) built by Jahangir in the front. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

Bangla-i-Darshan (Imperial Viewing Pavilion). Shah Jahan appeared before his subjects every morning from here. The Taj Mahal is visible in the background. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The external dalan, or porch, of the Khas Mahal (Special Palace), which is within the Anguri Bagh. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The external dalan in the Muthamman Burj with alcoves, ornamental niches, dados, polychrome floral designs and the water basin sunk in the centre of the floor. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The Anguri Bagh (Grape Garden). It has three layers: the upper riverfront terrace is occupied by the Khas Mahal flanked by bangla pavilions; the intermediate zone is occupied by a scalloped trefoiled tank; and the garden is in the lower area. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The marble seat with its canopy of stone, baluster columns and semicircular arches that projects from the southern wing of the Machli Bhawan courtyard. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The emperor’s jharokha, or the throne chamber, in the Diwan-i- Aam (Hall of Public Audience). Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The Agra Fort, a World Heritage Site, is the only fort in India to have been inhabited by all the early Mughal emperors.

SITUATED on the right bank of the Yamuna river, very close to the iconic Taj Mahal, is the Agra Fort, also known as the Red Fort. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1983, it is the only fort in India that was inhabited by all the early Mughal emperors. The fort, therefore, provides a useful template not only for the development of Mughal and Indo-Islamic architecture but also the evolution of Mughal palace forts, polity and ideas of kingship. The fort’s palaces and pavilions inspired the Red Fort (Lal Qila) in Delhi and buildings in Fatehpur Sikri and Lahore. However, the history of the Agra Fort is not just connected with the Mughals—who held sway over the fort, certainly between Akbar and Aurangzeb—but also with Mahmud of Ghazni, the Rajputs, the Lodis, the Surs, the Marathas, the Jats, the Durranis and finally, the British, before the greater part of the complex was handed over to the Indian Army in 1947.

The fort complex

A poem written in 1134 C.E. by Masud ibn Saad Salman, a Persian poet, mentions that the fort of Agra was captured by Mahmud of Ghazni. Later, towards the second half of the 15th century, a Rajput king called Badal Singh constructed a brick fort at the site and called it Badalgarh fort. The fort gained prominence when the Sultan of Delhi Sikandar Lodi (regnal years 1489-1517) decided to shift his capital from Delhi to Agra. Thereafter, the Badalgarh fort became the residence for the Lodi sultans.

From the Lodis, the fort passed into the hands of the Mughals. After defeating Ibrahim Lodi at the First Battle of Panipat (1526), Babur (regnal years 1526-30), the first Mughal emperor, ordered his son Humayun to take charge of Agra and the fort’s treasures. Babur built some paradise gardens in Agra and a baoli (stepwell) within the fort complex. Humayun (regnal years 1530-40 and 1555-56) was crowned at the fort in 1530 but preferred to rule from Delhi. The Afghan chieftain Sher Shah defeated him at Bilgram in 1540, occupied the Agra Fort, and garrisoned it thoroughly. An exiled Humayun could recapture his throne only in 1555 but died soon afterwards.

With the arrival of Akbar (regnal years 1556-1605) in 1558, Agra’s and the fort’s fortunes changed completely. After staying in the Badalgarh fort for a few years, he decided to rebuild it as the site of his government, and the old brick fort gave way to a new one in red sandstone. Approximately 4,000 builders are said to have worked every day for eight years (1565-73) to complete this renovation task. The historian Michael Fisher points out that Akbar created his court complex within the existing fort, demonstrating his early architectural aesthetic—uniform red sandstone surfaces highlighted with white marble. A new citadel-city came into being. The Jesuit missionary Antonio Monserrate, who saw the fort complex in 1580, recorded that besides the emperor’s palace there were “mansions of his nobles, the magazines, the treasury, the arsenal, the stables of the cavalry, the shops and huts of drug-sellers, barbers, and all manner of common workmen”. Abul Fazl, Akbar’s court historian, records that 500 buildings were built there in the Bengali and Gujarati styles.

Akbar’s successor, Jahangir (regnal years 1605-27), used to visit Agra at regular intervals and even stayed in this fort. However, he focussed his efforts more on building forts and palaces in Lahore and Kashmir. The Agra Fort was modified considerably during the reign of Shah Jahan (regnal years 1628-58). Between 1628 and 1637, he destroyed many existing buildings, renovating some and constructing three new marble palace courtyards (alongside three mosques) according to his own architectural taste. Aurangzeb (regnal years 1658-1707) deposed Shah Jahan, his father, to take control of the fort and built two barbicans around the gates and on the riverside to strengthen its defences. When the British took over the fort in 1803, they destroyed many buildings to make way for military structures. The complex now has only around two dozen monuments left, mostly those built by Akbar and Shah Jahan.

Gates, palaces and courtyards

The fort has a semicircular shape and is surrounded by a broad deep moat. Its eastern side, some 725 metres long, faces the bank of the Yamuna. Spread over 94 acres (38 hectares) of land, the fort complex is enclosed by a double-battlemented wall of red sandstone punctuated at regular intervals by massive circular bastions. It has a circumference of almost 2.5 kilometres and its walls are around 21 m high. The fort has four gates, one on each side. Of these, the Delhi Gate (in the north) and the Amar Singh Gate (in the south, now the public entrance to the fort) are the most prominent ones. The other two gates are the Elephant Gate (Hathi Pol Gate) and the Khizri Gate (also known as the water gate because it opened on the eastern riverfront side where the ghats were located). R. Nath, a historian of Mughal architecture, points out that the Delhi and Amar Singh Gates are architecturally similar: both have a drawbridge, a crooked entrance with dangerous trap points and a steep rise.

Most buildings are concentrated in the south-eastern corner of the fort complex in a band-like succession of courtyards along the riverfront. Shah Jahan did not alter Akbar’s riverfront alignment in his building programme. The Yamuna, Nath says, provided a river frontage, a pleasing landscape and fresh air and a constant supply of water. After ascending the ramp through the Amar Singh Gate, one can see, on the eastern side, two courtyards of Akbar’s time: Jahangiri Mahal and Akbari Mahal. In the south to north direction, there are three courtyards that Shah Jahan rebuilt along the riverfront: the Anguri Bagh (Grape Garden), the Machli Bhawan (Fish House) and the Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience). The overall symmetrical planning of imperial residences, the art historian Ebba Koch argues, became mandatory only during Shah Jahan’s reign. In Akbar’s time, the regular planning of large-scale residential architecture was deployed only in temporary Mughal camps. In the Agra Fort, she clarifies, the residential axis was met at an angle by the (broken) public axis formed by an open bazaar street stretching from the Hathi Pol Gate to the Diwan-i-Aam courtyard.

Nath says both Akbari Mahal and Jahangiri Mahal were built in the mid 1560s and formed a part of the original Bengali Mahal, which according to Abul Fazl was the newly constructed palace where Akbar seemingly moved in on May 11, 1569. Nath opines that the two palaces probably got separated and acquired their respective nomenclature through guidebooks written in the 19th century. The oldest red stone palace in the southern part of the fort complex became known as Akbari Mahal, and the stone palace in the northern part, where a monolithic granite bowl (7.62 m × 1.42 m) built by Jahangir in 1611 was discovered, became known as Jahangiri Mahal.

Both palaces have a crooked entrance and enclosing walls to ensure privacy and security. While Akbari Mahal is in a partly preserved state, Jahangiri Mahal is in reasonably good shape. Faced with finely carved red sandstone, Jahangiri Mahal, Nath tells us, presents a complex arrangement of verandas, courtyards, galleries and rooms and halls around a quadrangle. While historians agree that the palace represents an amalgamation of various architectural styles and techniques, they differ on the exact nature of these influences. Ebba Koch contends that it combines (a later altered) symmetrical Timurid ground plan patterned on the mausoleum of Khwaja Ahmad Yasawi, a famous Sufi poet and teacher, in Turkestan, which was built between 1394 and 1399 and has the elevation of an open courtyard building. Further, the building brings together various Transoxanian features, such as the veranda of the east front with its high slender columns, along with courtyard halls styled in the broader Gujarat-Malwa-Rajasthan tradition, which the Mughals learned from the early 16th century architecture of Raja Man Singh (a noble at Akbar’s court) of Gwalior. Nath maintains that the multi-storey arrangement of palaces around inner courts reflects the catuhsala (four-sided) plan of the elevation of the chowk (quadrangle), a part of ancient Indian residential architectural tradition.

The indigenous component, according to Nath, further manifests in the duchhati (double ceiling, one above the other) composition with a central, three-openings dalan; double floor apartments on the sides; a whispering gallery around a hall; and a portal composition with jharokha (balcony) windows. Ebba Koch and Nath have different opinions on the architecture of the rooms, halls and ceiling inside the complex. Ebba Koch feels that most of the rooms are not trabeate (a form of architecture that uses horizontal beams, or lintels, as distinct from the arcuate style, which uses arches and vaults/domes) but are a veritable pattern book of the vaulting of the time: stucco domes with geometrical patterns and/or arch netting, ribbed domes, lotus domes carved in sandstone, pyramidal vaults with a cut top, coved ceilings, etc. To Nath, the dominant architecture is trabeate as evidenced by the pillars, beams and lintels, flat ceilings (sometimes ladao ceiling consisting of ribs and panels), chajjas (eaves) and chattris (pavilions).

The historian William G. Klingelhofer says the striking architectural elements of Jahangiri Mahal include the innovative use of Timurid geometric designs, creative adaptations of Indian art forms such as makara (crocodile) and peacock brackets and various vault designs, and the inclusion of creatures from indigenous art tradition such as the hamsa (swan), the parrot and the elephant.

As far as the functionality of the palace is concerned, most scholars, including Ebba Koch and Nath, hold that it was primarily meant for imperial women and served as Akbar’s harem and residence. Klingelhofer, however, argues: “Architectural space and design seem to have been a flexible commodity in early Mughal building, adaptable to many and diverse purposes.” It is therefore not really important to understand the exact function of each space or for that matter which rooms were provided for the palace harem, the library, temple and audiences. The palace, he elaborates, served a much broader purpose; it “was constructed at the conceptual centre of a larger Agra scheme and was intended to serve as the primary architectural embodiment of the imperial seat”. Between the red sandstone Jahangiri Mahal and the white marble Khas Mahal (Special Palace) lies a palace called Shahjahani Mahal, though there is not enough evidence to claim that Shah Jahan built it. It has a hall, side rooms and an octagonal riverside pavilion. The brick mason and red sandstone construction was plastered in white stucco and painted in colourful floral designs. The so-called Somnath Gate is kept here in one of the rooms on the western side. The subterranean three-storey chambers below Jahangiri Mahal and the area lying to the north contain the phansighar (gallows) and Babur’s baoli.

Anguri Bagh

The Anguri Bagh complex is a three-layered architectural zone set in the harem complex: the upper riverfront terrace is occupied by the Khas Mahal flanked by two identical oblong pavilions; the intermediate layer is occupied by a scalloped, trefoiled tank; and the lower zone is occupied by the Anguri Bagh (one can see a grapevine on the lawns). The Khas Mahal is built along the lines of what Ebba Koch says is the favourite Mughal pavilion theme: the combination of an enclosed inner hall (now called tanabi khana or tambi khana) with a pillared porch or veranda (the Mughal iwan). The court historian Lahauri calls it Aramgah (bedchamber). The spacious inner hall has beautiful Yamuna-facing marble screens with glasswork while the white marble surface is beautifully painted in floral and stylised patterns. It also has a number of oblong niches in its wall meant possibly to hold portraits of emperors and princes. The exterior porch is made up of five nine-cusped arches (popularly known as the Shahjahani arches) supported on square piers and is three-aisles deep. It has a chajja, supported by beautifully carved and moulded brackets, projecting from all sides. There are two chattris on the parapet on the riverside but not on the Anguri Bagh side. The marble building is secured on the north and south by thin marble curtains (sarapada) to ensure purdah, or seclusion.

The Khas Mahal is flanked by two identical buildings with gilded bangladar/bangla roofs (a curved circular roof and a chajja): on the left (north) is the Bangla-i-Darshan (Imperial Viewing Pavilion), and on the right (south) lies the bangla of Jahanara, a pavilion that belonged to Shah Jahan’s daughter Jahanara. Bangladar was an architectural device used in buildings in the Bengal region. After Akbar annexed the Gaur kingdom, Nath says, many Bengali craftsmen dispersed to other regions, and some naturally sought patronage at the Mughal court. Both these pavilions were originally made in red sandstone but stuccoed with white shell-plaster later to give them the semblance of white marble. There are square rooms towards the side of the pavilions.

In the Bangla-i-Darshan, which has pillar brackets and lintel openings, the emperor made an appearance every morning to his subjects gathered below the fort. Ebba Koch points out that the bangla of Jahanara, with its multi-cusped Shahjahani arches, had no ceremonial function but indicated her status at the court and provided imperial symmetry. It formed a part of Jahanara’s apartments located towards the end of the southern wing, and the three courtyard wings and northern rooms of Jahangiri Mahal were adopted for her and other women.

The Anguri Bagh happens to be the only garden in the main palace complex. It is laid out in the form of a rectangular charbagh (fourfold garden) divided by marble walkways intersecting at the centre in a marble pool. Each quarter has geometrically drawn parterres. The garden is enclosed by two-storey living apartments formed of a modular sequence of open, pillared verandas and small enclosed rooms (hujras). Nath underscores that the water devices at the Anguri Bagh—tanks, fountains, waterfalls, candle niches and water channels—demonstrate how running and splashing water had become an integral part of Shahjahani architecture. Akbar, on the other hand, was more fond of hammams (bathhouses). Water was supplied to the fort through well-laid-out water systems from the Khizri Gate and the overhead tanks in the Jahangiri Mahal complex.

‘Chain of justice’

Located between the Anguri Bagh and the adjoining Machli Bhawan is a spacious octagonal tower called the Muthamman Burj or Shah Burj (imperial/king’s tower). This housed the original jharokha from where Akbar and Jahangir appeared before the people every morning (jharokha darshan). The burj was also where Jahangir instituted his famous “chain of justice” in 1605 to redress the grievances of the people. The tower was rebuilt by Shah Jahan in white marble, profusely inlaid and roofed with a gilded copper dome. Five of its sides project outward towards the river and are rotated by a chajja supported by brackets. Pillars, brackets, and a railing/balustrade with jali work decorate the structure. On the western side, the tower leads to a dalan/hall with three alcoves and a shallow water basin sunk in the centre. The palace has deep ornamental niches along with dados (bas reliefs) inlaid in polychrome stones and carved plants. Ebba Koch mentions that this was where the emperor met his highest dignitaries and his sons in secret council and also worked with the court historians Qazwini and Lahauri on editing the official history of his reign. Shah Jahan was imprisoned in this burj by Aurangzeb and died there in full view of the Taj Mahal. His coffin was taken out of the door at the base of the tower and then transported on a boat over the Yamuna to the Taj where he was eventually buried.

To the west of the Muthamman Burj is the entrance to a group of basement rooms with waterfalls and pools called Shish Mahal (Mirror Palace, which Lahauri called tahkhana) because the facade has mirror mosaic set in white stucco (ayina bandi or ayina kari). The structure (now closed to the public) has extra thick walls and ceilings to ensure coolness and a dim interior to allow for the play of light and mirrors. Nath argues that the art of glass mosaic was originally Byzantine and spread with Islam. The Mughals Indianised it by associating it with exquisite relief and incised stucco work, something lacking in the Byzantine glass art. Further, he elaborates, unlike the saintly figures and florals featured in Byzantine glass art, the Mughals used Persian motifs, floral and stylised.

The Machli Bhawan complex, lying north of the Anguri Bagh, contains the Hall of Private Audience (earlier known as the ghusl khana or bathhouse but popularly called the Diwan-i-Khas) and the hammam, which are both on the riverside terrace on the pattern of the riverfront gardens. Below, on the ground floor, were vaulted rooms housing government offices, including the treasury.

The Diwan-i-Khas, occupying the south-eastern corner of the complex, is a large pavilion meant for meetings of the private council, exclusive law court, musical performances or inspection of the work of artists employed by the emperor. According to Lahauri, it was built in 1635, around the same time when other buildings of the harem were being completed. The exterior is protected by a broad chajja supported by brackets. The chattris, pinnacles and kanguras (merlons) that once adorned the building are now missing. This marble building has two halls with coved ceilings, both connected by three archways—the enclosed inner hall/tanabi khana and the outer dalan/Mughal iwan. The outer hall, having double pillars, is beautifully inlaid with floral designs and carved dados similar to the Taj Mahal and multi-foiled niches. Lahauri describes the oblong inner hall as being ornamented with paintings and floral designs and adorned in gold.

Opposite the Diwan-i-Khas, on the northern side of the terrace, lies the hammam rebuilt and refashioned by Shah Jahan. Consisting of various rooms and halls, the structure was decorated among other things by inlay work on the dados and glass mosaic on the walls and arches. It had provisions for both cold water (sard khanah) and warm water (garm khanah). The structure now lies in a ruined state and is closed to the public. Ebba Koch points out that parts of the hammam were taken down by Lord Hastings in 1815 and its pillars were scattered. The facing and some pillars, she mentions, were sold at an auction by Lord William Bentinck (Governor General from 1828 to 1835), giving rise to the rumour that he also wanted to take down and sell the Taj Mahal.

Along the riverfront, between the Diwan-i-Khas and the hammam lies Jahangir’s finely carved black throne, which was brought from Allahabad in 1610. The crack in the throne is attributed to the uprising of the Jats of Bharatpur who temporarily controlled the fort around 1765. (There is another white throne lying opposite the black one on the terrace.)

The ground-level courtyard is enclosed by two-storey-high arcaded wings with Shahjahani columns and multi-cusped arches. It contained government offices behind the arcaded galleries. The open court in the centre was used by the emperor to inspect his hunting animals—hounds, hawks and cheetahs—and horses working out. It was also used for animal fights. A marble seat with a baldachin projects from the centre of the southern wing. It is decorated by baluster columns and semicircular arches with a rich naturalistic acanthus decoration—inspired by European engravings—which Ebba Koch argues was of a type first used exclusively in the architecture framing the appearances of Shah Jahan.

Located in the middle of the eastern side of the fort is the spacious court known as the Diwan-i-Aam. According to Lahauri, a cloth tent and, later, a wooden hall were used for the purposes of Diwan-i-Aam before the present structure came into being under Shah Jahan.

The main audience hall is a rectangular, pillared building standing on a red sandstone plinth. It has four rows of pillars and pilasters on the north-south axis and 10 along the east-west alignment. The hall has double columns on all the three external sides (similar to the Chaunsath Khamba at Nizamuddin in Delhi, which is square in shape though). Resting on square bases, these pillars were once carved or stuccoed and the outlines of the bases, shafts, capitals and cusps were gilded. They support engrailed or nine-cusped Shahjahani arches. The emperor’s jharokha, or throne chamber, projects from the eastern wall of the hall. Its walls, pillars and even the ceiling have stylised floral designs in pietra dura inlay, which is characteristic of Shahjahani architecture. Ebba Koch says that the naturalistic plant decoration symbolically represented the bloom brought about by the just rule of Shah Jahan. The jharokha walls have china khana niches—possibly used to keep porcelain vessels—which the contemporary poet Kalim wrote was a tribute of China to the court of Shah Jahan. The hall has a flat roof and the exterior is protected by chajjas in turn supported by brackets. While the hall is made of red sandstone, it is white-plastered to give the effect of marble. The courtyard of the Diwan-i-Aam is surrounded by narrow galleries/dalans/verandas with multi-cusped arches. Shah Jahan held court at the Diwan-i-Aam twice a day and attended to administrative matters. All the courtiers and honoured visitors who assembled there, Fisher points out, “would stand deferentially with crossed arms in hierarchically arranged semicircles [separated by railings] centred on his throne, moving outward from highest to lowest”. The audience hall served a larger symbolic purpose that went beyond being a place where administrative matters were dealt with or foreign dignitaries were received; it also reinforced Shah Jahan’s position as the head of the spiritual domain.

On account of its 40 pillar sites, the Diwan-i-Aam was also known as Chihil Sutun (Forty-Pillared)—the name by which the ruins of Persepolis (in present-day Iran) were widely referred to then. By recreating the famous audience halls of the ancient kings of Iran, Ebba Koch argues, the Mughal emperor claimed the status of these kings, who were considered exemplary rulers in the Islamic world. However, unlike the original Iranian halls, she substantiates, those of the Mughals followed the plan of a mosque (the closest parallel could be the Pathar Masjid in Srinagar) with a wider aisle in the centre. While in the mosque the central aisle leads to the mihrab (the niche that shows the direction of Mecca), in the case of the Diwan-i-Aam, it leads to the emperor’s jharokha. Ebba Koch points out that the idea that Shah Jahan’s authority was not only worldly but also spiritual was further reinforced by the presence of a mosque right opposite the audience hall at the centre of the west wing. Nath puts forward a somewhat similar concept albeit rooted in Indian thought and philosophy—the 40-pillar sites made up of 27 bays, representing the 27 nakshatras (constellations) denoting the incarnation of the jagat (universe) presided by the emperor sitting like a sun. The audience hall of the Agra Fort served as a model for those in the palaces of Lahore and Shahjahanabad.

Scholars are divided on whether or not Akbar built a mosque within the fort premises. There are, however, three surviving mosques built by Shah Jahan. Describing the Shahjahani mosques, Ebba Koch says they are of two main architectural types and both had already started becoming distinct during Jahangir’s time. To the first category belong the great city mosques, such as the Jami Masjid of Agra built by Jahanara in 1648, which has prayer halls with massive pishtaqs (having a high portal/facade gateway) surmounted by three or five domes and courtyards surrounded by continuous arcaded galleries with axial gates. To the second category belong smaller mosques, mostly with a direct imperial connection, which have an additive system of vaulted bays—they may have flat or coved ceilings, domes or even high bangla vaults—and could appear without pishtaqs and outer domes. Also unlike the first category, they do not have minarets, for example, the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque, 1647-53), the Mina Masjid (or Gem Mosque, completed in 1637, it was the emperor’s private mosque) and the Nagina Masjid (Jewel Mosque). The Nagina Masjid is covered by bangla vaults and chajjas, which, according to Ebba Koch, is the first time such a motif appears in a Mughal mosque.

Agra Fort after Akbar/Shah Jahan

Akbar’s fort was one of the strongest and most defensible structures of its times. Even rebellions carried out by his son Jahangir (1599) and grandson Shah Jahan (1622) failed to break through its defences. The complex took much of its current form during the reign of Shah Jahan, and it continued to remain his imperial residence even after 1638 when he shifted his capital to Delhi. Aurangzeb’s efforts to capture the fort with the help of military power and guns proved futile, and he finally succeeded in breaking its defences by cutting the water supply through the Khizri Gate side. A desperate Shah Jahan wrote:

“...Only yesterday, I was the master of nine hundred thousand troopers

and today I am in need of a pitcher of water…”

The emperor finally surrendered in 1658 and spent the rest of his life imprisoned in the fort. Agra began to lose much of its imperial charm after Shah Jahan’s death (1666) even though Aurangzeb continued to hold court at the fort. In 1666, during Aurangzeb’s reign, the Maratha king Shivaji visited Agra to meet the Mughal emperor in the Diwan-i-Khas. Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 threw both Mughal power and the imperial stronghold into disarray. The history of the Agra Fort, for most of the 18th century, remains a story of multiple sieges and pillage, and it changed hands many times, including those of the Jats and the Marathas. The Marathas gained control of the area south of Delhi after defeating the Mughals around the mid 18th century. After their loss to the Afghan and Rohilla forces led by Ahmad Shah Durrani at the Third Battle of Panipat (1761), the fort came under the control of the Durranis. The Marathas were able to regain control in 1785 under the reign of Mahadji Shinde. Subsequently, the Marathas lost to the British in the Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803) and with it the fort. Colluding with European officers working in the Maratha garrison, Lord Lake was able to breach the fort in the south-eastern side (Bengali Burj).

With the establishment of the British military garrison at the fort, many Mughal structures were pulled down to construct residential quarters, barracks, stores and so on. The grand courtyard of the Diwan-i-Aam, for example, was converted into an arsenal, and many buildings and pavilions were whitewashed and subdivided with mud partitions for the private use of officers.

It is interesting to note, however, that the British used the artefacts associated with the fort to play divisive politics. Nath says that the British deliberately planted the torso of a horse at the edge of the moat near the public entrance to perpetuate the escape story of Rao Amar Singh, a Rajput nobleman affiliated with the royal house of Marwar. Amar Singh killed Salabat Khan (one of Shah Jahan’s important officers) in front of a full court in 1644. It was popularly believed that he escaped the Mughals by jumping across the moat on his horse. The fact is, Nath says, that Amar Singh and his followers were killed while trying to escape. Thanks to this episode, however, the gate eventually became known as the Amar Singh Gate. A big statue of him stands at the traffic intersection in front of the fort. Another such artefact—now kept in a glass enclosure in the Shahjahani Palace but not related to the fort or the Mughals in any way—is the Somnath Gate, which was brought to India from Afghanistan in 1842. To enlist the support of Hindus, Governor General Lord Ellenborough made a speech on the occasion wherein he proclaimed that he had brought back the sandalwood gate taken away by Mahmud of Ghazni from the Somnath temple. A historical insult, he claimed, had been avenged after 800 years. It was soon discovered that the gate, made of deodar wood and carrying Islamic motifs, actually belonged to the tomb of Mahmud of Ghazni, a fact corroborated by the Arabic inscription on the structure. Thereafter, it was left abandoned in the Agra Fort.

The fort came under some conservation efforts towards the late 19th century with the involvement of the Public Works Department. Lord Curzon’s restoration campaign at the beginning of the 20th century saw many military structures being removed from the premises. Independence, however, brought the military back to the Agra Fort, and a large part of the complex, including the Khizri and Hathi Pol Gates, the Meena Bazaar and the Moti Masjid, remains under the control of the Indian Army and is inaccessible to the public. In recent decades, there has been a growing demand from archaeologists, historians, conservationists and heritage enthusiasts that the Army vacate the premises.

Shashank Shekhar Sinha has taught history in undergraduate colleges of the University of Delhi. He does independent research on tribes, gender, violence, culture and heritage.

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