Akbar did not have an heir till 1569. His son, Jahangir was born in the village of Sikri, 38 kilometres east of Agra. To commemorate the event, Akbar built a compound in the village for his spiritual adviser Salim Chisti, who had predicted the birth of the heir. After Jahangir’s second birthday, Akbar commenced the construction of Sikri, of a walled city and an imperial palace. He shifted his capital from Agra to Sikri, and renamed it Fatehpur Sikri. Fatehpur Sikri was much more than a Royal Residence. It had baths, serais (inns), bazaars, schools, workshops, and gardens. The city was inhabited by Akbar for about 15 years.
The site’s focal point is Chisti’s religious compound, which consists of the enormous Jami Mosque, and his tomb. The Bulund Darwaza is another important site, a towering south entrance gate to this complex. Its surface is covered with marble slabs inscribed with Quranic verses promising paradise to true believers.
The Taj Mahal
The Taj is a unique tomb designed to give the ultimate vision of Paradise on Earth. Built as the tomb of Shah Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in 1636, it also has Shah Jahan interred here. This domed white marble structure situated on a high plinth, of a four-quartered garden, (evoking the gardens of paradise) is one of the world’s best known monuments. In Mughal chronicles this tomb is referred to as Rauzai-i-Munavvara or the illuminated tomb.
The entire complex was proportionally designed according to a series of geometrically related grids, explaining not only the tomb’s perfect balance, but also the entire complex itself. It has a red sandstone forecourt and a magnificent red sandstone gateway leading into the walled gardens. The garden is divided into quadrants by wide waterways that are supposed to resemble the streams of paradise, which find mention in the Quran. At the garden’s northern end, not in the centre, is the splendid tomb, flanked on the west by a red sandstone mosque and on the east by an identical structure known in contemporary texts as the Mehman Khana (Guest House). Mumtaz Mahal’s mausoleum is seated on the centre of a high square marbled plinth that elevates the tomb above the garden. At each corner of the plinth is a four storeyed marble minaret, like the ones seen at Samarkand. The exterior of the mausoleum is primarily white marble, inlaid colour stones being used abundantly, much more than in Shah Jahan’s palaces. Rectangular panels with black calligraphy rendering verses from the Quran are inlaid into the tombs white surface. The play of light on the marble surface is used as a decorative device. Light also plays a metaphoric role in its association with the presence of God.
How to reach Agra
Agra is well connected to Delhi by flight. One can also visit Taj mahal in Agra by train - the Taj Express or the Shatabdi. The road connection is also a viable proposition with tourist buses, taxis and private cars doing the journey in less than 7 hours.
Churches of Goa
The Christian Portuguese and the followers of Islam were at loggerheads in the Iberian Peninsula. Goaded by this Portuguese navigators ventured into the distant seas, to attack the Muslims in their homelands. Hence Vasco da Gama came to Goa with the twin objective of spreading the faith, and fostering trade, undermining the influence of the Arabs and the Turks in the region. The Hindu Raja of Calicut welcomed Gama and this led the Portugese armed forces to establish a base in India, after routing the Muslims. The year was 1510. The Portuguese occupied themselves with the task of colonising their newly acquired territory, with great religious fervour. Many a Hindu temple and Muslim mosque were razed to the ground, in the Adil Shahi’s capital city of Old Goa.
In their place sumptuous Chapels, Churches, and Cathedrals of great architectural beauty were erected. Some of them still stand, bearing witness to the bygone glory of monumental Goa. Here Western art and native craftsmanship synthesized and found expression. Going up the Mandovi river, one would enter the ancient capital through a gateway entitled the Arch of the Viceroys or Arco da Vice-Reis; to the left are seen the remnants of the Court of the Inquisition (Tribunal da Inquisicao); a little behind it one notices the imposing Church of Our Lady of Divine Providence (Nossa Senhora da Divina Providencia) with its lantern dome, which one notices is a true replica of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Another imposing structure, a little further away, is the Cathedral of Goa (Se Cathedral da Goa) dedicated to St. Catherine, the Patroness of Goa, on whose feast day (25th November 1510) Albuquerque completely wrested Goa from Muslim sovereignty. Proceeding further we come to the Church of Good Jesus (Bom Jesus) now raised to the status of a minor Basilica. It is at this church that the interred remains of St. Francis is also to be found. Towards the west, a short distance away, is the Convent of St. Monica (Santa Monica) now partly in ruins. Another interesting site is the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary (Nossa Senhora da Rosario) built predominantly in Manueline style. an architectural style which was much in vogue in Portugal of those times.
Golden Goa of yore had steadily been suffering from the ravages of time, political prejudice and decline in trade and commerce. Many of the cathedrals and monuments of earlier times were demolished while time took care of the rest and negligence resulted in many of the churches and cathedrals falling into ruin. The final blow came with the Decree issued by the Marquess of Pombal in 1759 banning religious congregations in Portugal and its overseas possessions. This was the death knell for the religious monuments in the city of Old Goa as the religious deserted their convents, monasteries and churches and left no one behind who was really interested to take care of them. And yet there is much to see. As Thevenot, a 17th century traveller says, “The city is great and full of beautiful churches and convents and well adorned with palaces.” A true calendar of the glory of Goa and its people.
How to reach Goa?
Goa’s international airport, Dabolim, is 29 kilometres from Panaji. Most of India’s domestic airlines operate services here. There are frequent buses to Old Goa from the bus stand at Panaji. The trip takes 25 minutes.