I knew of Itmad-Ud-Daula also called Itmad-Ud-Daulah, but I had never been there. I knew Noorjehan built it for her parents as their final resting place – but that was all I knew. This time in Agra I got a chance to spend some time in this jewel-like building in white marble on the right bank of Yamuna. I heard stories of Noorjehan from our guides. And now I recommend everyone going to Agra to must see this little wonder.
Story of Itmad-Ud-Daula
Itmad-Ud-Daula, the tongue twister title was given to Mirza Ghiyas Beg by Mughal emperor Jehangir, who was also his son-in-law. The story goes that Mirza Ghiyas Beg was a poor merchant in Persia. Who had no money to feed his newborn daughter? But this daughter was to change his fortunes and also make him immortal by building a beautiful tomb for him. Somehow the Mirza reached the Mughal court in Agra and was appointed a minister in the court of Jehangir. We would never know the correct sequence of events. But what finally happened is that Jehangir fell in love with the widowed daughter of Mirza and married her. She was none other than Noorjehan – claimed to be one the most beautiful and gifted women ever on the face of the earth.
In 1622, after Mirza Ghiyas passed away, daughter Noorjehan who was now the most powerful queen of India ordered this tomb to be built for her parents. Later her siblings were also buried in the same place.
Co-incidentally Mirza Ghiyas Beg was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal who is the woman buried in Taj Mahal. It is said that Noorjehan wanted Shahjahan to marry her daughter from the first marriage. But Shahjahan fell for her brother’s daughter and the rest is history.
Architectural elements of Itmad-Ud-Daula
This tomb is supposed to be the first all-marble building in India, setting a trend for white marble structures. Historians also put it as the first draft for Taj Mahal although there are many other buildings that stake the same claim. Till this point, most buildings in Agra and around were built with red sandstone. I must mention here that the tall gates around this monument are still made in red sandstone. And have inlay work similar to that of entrance gates at Taj Mahal and Akbar’s tomb. Even the platform on which the white tomb stands is made of red sandstone. Many other small structures within the complex are also in red sandstone that is found in abundance locally.
Persian & Indian Elements
There are both Persian and Indian elements in the architecture of this building. Arches and octagonal towers in the four corners of the tomb are the Persian elements. The absence of a dome and the presence of closed kiosks and canopies on top are Indian influences. Though the building looks small, especially if you visit it after visiting Taj Mahal or Agra Fort or Akbar’s tomb, the gardens around it are quite spread out. You realize this when you see it from the other side of the road. In fact, they say if you take an aerial view, this tomb looks like a small jewel box kept in a garden.
Typically in a tomb, elements like flower vases and fruits, cypress trees, wine bottles, and fishes are not painted. But they can be seen on the walls of the monument. The ceilings on top of the tombs of Ghiyas Beg and his wife are most ornate and comparable to the painted ceilings of the Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra. Ceilings are painted in rich colors with a generous used of golden color.
The outer walls are richly decorated with inlay work. Various stones like Carnelian, Jasper, Topaz, etc have been set in marble using the pietra dura technique. You primarily see a white structure with a lot of yellow and grey floral and geometric patterns on it. This is interspersed with the intricate jaali or latticework in white marble. Inside the tomb, most walls are painted.
Favorite Monument in Agra
When I asked my guide Aadil, which is his favorite monument in Agra – he said Itmad-Ud-Daula and this was before I saw it. I asked him why and he said – it has a delicate and a feminine charm that no other building in Agra has. He went on to analyze that this is perhaps because a woman built it while all other buildings have been built by men. Or maybe it was a daughter’s love for her parents that brings certain softness to the structure. When I reached here, I still had his words at the back of my mind.
The pietra dura or inlay work here does not have the finesse of the work at Taj Mahal, neither are the bold colors used here. But the structure as a whole does have an element of Delicacy to it, a hint of vulnerability compared to the air of invincibility that most other structures carry.
Do plan a couple of hours for this delicacy in marble when you visit Agra next time.
Recommend you read following travel blog posts on places to visit in Uttar Pradesh.