AGRA, an ancient city of India, which gives its name to a district and division in the United Provinces. It is famous for containing the most perfect specimens of Mogul architecture. Agra, like Delhi, owes much of its importance in both historical and modern times to the Commercial and strategical advantages of its position. The river Jumna, which washes the walls of its fort, was the natural highway for the traffic of the rich delta of Bengal to the heart of India, and it formed, moreover, from very ancient times, the frontier defence of the Aryan stock settled in the plain between the Ganges and the Jumna against their western neighbours, hereditary freebooters who occupied the highlands of Central India. No place was better fitted for both an emporium and a frontier fortress. The river formed an unfordable barrier and also a useful means of communication. Jehangir tells us in his autobiography that before his father Akbar built the present fort, the town was defended by a citadel of great antiquity. For three hundred years the Afghans and other tribes came down from the north and founded kingdoms; and their power radiated from Delhi and Agra. It was Sikandar, of the house of Lodi (A.D. 1500), the last of the Afghan dynasties, who realized the strategic importance of Agra as a point for keeping in check his rebellious vassals to the south. He removed his court there, and Agra from being "a mere village of old standing," says a Persian chronicler, became the capital of a kingdom. In 1526 the city was captured by the emperor Baber, the famous Koh-i-noor diamond being part of the loot; and it was here that Baber announced that his invasion was to be a permanent conquest, and not a mere temporary inroad. It was Baber's grandson Akbar that built the present fort, whose strong and lofty walls of red sandstone are a mile and a,half in circumference. The building was completed in 1665, when Charles II. was on the throne of England and the plague was devastating London. Another building of much the same date is the red stone palace generally attributed to Akbar, but probably of an earlier time, which is the finest example of pure Hindu architecture; while the Moti Masjid, or Pearl Mosque, is an equally perfect example of the Mahommedan style.
But the glory of Agra, the most splendidly poetic building in the world, is the Taj Mahal, the mausoleum built (A.D. 1632) by
the emperor Shah Jahan for the remains of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Manal, in which he himself also also lies buried. The building is of white marble throughout, crowned with a great white dome in the centre, and with a smaller dome at each of its four corners. From the marble terrace which surrounds it rise four tall minarets of the same material, one at each corner. The Taj has been modelled and painted more frequently than any other building in the world, and the word pictures of it are numberless. But it can only be described as a dream in marble. It amply justifies the saying that the Moguls designed like Titans and finished like jewellers. In regard to colour and design the Taj ranks first in the world for purely decorative workmanship; while the perfect symmetry of its exterior once seen can never be forgotten, nor the aerial grace of its domes, rising like marble bubbles into the azure sky. In his History of Architecture, Fergusson says of it:-
"This building is an early example of that system of inlaying with precious stones which became the great characteristic of the style of the Moghals aftrer the death of Akbar. All the spandrils of the Taj, all the angles and more important architectural details, are heightened by being inlaid with precious stones such as agates, bloodstones, jaspers and the like. These are combined in wreaths, scrolls and frets, as exquisite in design as they are beautiful in colour, and relieved by the pure white marble in which they are inlaid, they form the most beautiful and precious style of ornament ever adopted in architecture. 1t is lavishly bestowed on the tombs themselves and the screens which surround them, but more sparingly introduced on the mosque that forms one wing of the Taj, and on the fountains and surrounding buildings. The judgment, indeed, with which this style of ornament is apportioned to the various parts, is almost as remarkable as the ornament itself, and conveys a high idea of the taste and skill of the architects of this age."
Of the Taj as a whole Lord Roberts says in his Forty-one Years in India:-
"Neither words nor pencil could give to the most imaginative reader the slightest idea of the all-satisfying beauty and purity of this glorious conception. To those who have not already seen it I would say, 'Go to India. The Taj alone is well worth the journey."'
The Taj was designed by Ustad Isa, variously described as a Byzantine Turk and a native of Shiraz in Persia. The pietra dura work belongs to the Persian school and the common belief that it was designed by Austin de Bordeaux, a French architect in the service of Shah Jahan, is probably incorrect.
Agra was formerly the capital of the North-West Provinces, but after the Mutiny the seat of government was removed to Allahabad. Situated 841 m. from Calcutta it is now an important railway centre, whence two main lines diverge southwards towards Bombay. In 1901 the population was 188,022, showing an increase of 12% during the decade. The city contains cotton mills, factories for ginning and pressing cotton, a tannery and boot factory and flour mill. There are also two missionary colleges.
The DISTRICT OF AGRA has an area of 1856 sq. m. Its general appearance is that common to the Doab, a level plain intersected by watercourses and ravines. Its general elevation is estimated at from 650 to 700 ft. above the level of the sea. The district is intersected by the Jumna, and is also watered by the Agra canal. The principal crops are millets, pulses, barley, wheat, cotton and a little indigo. The population in 1901 was 1,060,528, showing an increase of 6% during the decade.
The DIVISION OF AGRA has an area of 10,154 sq. m. In 1901 the population was 5,249,542, showing an increase of 10% during the decade, attributed to the extension of irrigation from canals. It comprises the six districts of Muttra, Agra, Farukhabad, Mainpuri, Etawah and Etah.
For an account of the architecture of Agra see Fergusson's
History of Architecture; Cities of India (1903) by G. W. Forest;
Enchanted India (1899), by Prince Bojidar Karageorgevitch;
and E. B. Havelln, Handbook to Agra and the Taj (1904).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)