“Sikandra, Agra jakar kya karoge, wahan dekhne ka kuch khaas nahi hai
(What will you do in Sikandra,Agra, there’s nothing much to see there)!”– said one of my relatives in Agra when I expressed my interest of visiting Sikandra before Taj Mahal.
Agra and I always had a long distance relationship since my childhood. Like every 80’s kid, I would visit the city twice a year every summer and winter vacations to spend holidays at my Nani’s (maternal grandmother’s) house and relish every bit of my time in the city, umm, actually at my Nani’s place only. I still have no idea how days would pass in a jiffy without realising how soon my month long holidays would end and I wouldn’t end up stepping out at all, ummm, except for my dance classes.
Around 3 years ago, my parents shifted to Agra and all these years, I still didn’t end up visiting the touristy part of the city. But this time when I visited, I somehow visited almost all the touristy places Agra is known for. Actually after turning Covid positive and being stuck inside my room, the itch to atleast explore the city made me visit the touristy Agra and I started my exploration with Sikandra.
Uber and Ola even in small cities have made life easier. So, Mumma, Rajat (Mr. husband) and I jumped into one and reached Sikandra in less than 15 minutes. Agra isn’t too big a city, so getting around is faster than compared to any other bigger city of India. We had crossed Sikandra so many times before and had seen the ruin sort of structure from outside, but today finally we were going to explore it properly. On my way, I started reading about Sikandra (usually I like to know a little about the place before actually visiting it) and thought I can easily refer to Google and know all about this historical place. Oh boy, I was so wrong (you will get to know towards the end of the article)!
We reached Sikandra, Agra and while we were trying to make the payment by scanning the QR code displayed by ASI in order to make the entry contactless (times of Covid, you see), a bunch of guides approached us. We discussed amongst each other and before coming to conclusion of whether to hire a guide or not, Rajat said yes to one of them. I can now say that I didn’t regret it one bit because of my reasons in the following post.
View this post on Instagram
Tomb of Sikandar Lodhi
As we started our sojourn of the historic monument of Sikandra, Agra, we spotted a structure on the right which was totally in ruins. This structure faces the main road as well as to the ticket counter. Looking at its condition, I couldn’t have imagined that Sikandar Lodhi’s tomb is situated there. The same Sikandar Lodhi who settled down a village called Sikandra in 1492, constructed Lodhi’s palace near it and after whom this magnificent place is named. He wished to be buried inside this palace upon his death and thus his son buried him there in 1525. The palace is also known as Barah Dari because it has 12 doors. Honestly, I wasn’t too happy after looking at the structure because it was quite in shambles.
We walked a little further to see the “Kaanch Mahal” but to our amazement, our guide, Adil bhaiya told us that there is not a single piece of Kaanch (Glass) in the Mahal. He then pointed towards the blue and yellow paint on the top floor of Kaanch mahal and told us that it’s no paint or glass but tiles made of porcelain. Jahangir, son of Akbar, got this done and on the nights of full moon, when the moon light falls on these tiles, these shine like glasses. How I wish, I could come and see the palace on a full moon night. Sigh! Jahangir built the mahal with red sandstone and white marble and it was used as his guesthouse. He, after returning from his hunt used to rest and relax inside this palace before heading to Agra Fort as that was the main residential fort for the Mughals.There is also a wooden gate at the entrance of this palace which was installed around 10 years back as there were only carpets used to cover the entrances during Mughal era. I wondered, how risky it is to do private business without doors! Hmm, pretty fascinating! Also, if we had come 10 years back to explore this beautiful Kaanch Mahal, we could have climbed to the top of it to see the view from there but now the passage has been closed.
While our guide was explaining the details, I was so distracted by the sound of peacocks all around me. Then we turned left and started walking towards the main complex and spotted black buck Chinkara and our guide took no time to remind us that Salman Khan killed one of those. Ahh, only guides can connect the dots and make stories worth remembering. I clearly remember how he got excited and mentioned Salman Khan.
Construction of Sikandra,Agra
As we approached the main complex, guide told us about how Akbar became the king at the age of 13 and how gracefully he ruled for over 50 years. He added that Akbar built small and big famous 15 forts including Agra Red Fort, Humayun tomb, Mariyam tomb and so many more. Akbar then came to Sikandra, Agra, really liked the area and started the construction of this place in 1602, three years before his death in 1605 in Agra Red fort. He couldn’t get the building completed and could only manage to build the fort in red sandstone. After burying Akbar in the center of the complex, Jahangir took up the task of completion of this building and completed in 1613. Guides really have some interesting facts and figures. Ours knew that the construction costed around Rs. 15 lakhs in those times. He also mentioned that there was no paper money in those times and they used to transact in diamonds and gold coins. It brought a smile to my face when he said “asharfiyan”, it felt like that I entered into a live History class. He told us that it took 4000 workers who came from Iran to complete this monument. The red stone which was used in the monument came from Fatehpur Sikri of Agra, the white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan and the black and yellow stones were brought from Iran.
Salaami Gate & Jahangiri Gate
Then we entered a small gate called Salaami gate built by Jahangir as he wanted the richest of the richest, the maharajas of largest kingdoms and basically everyone should bow down to Akbar before they enter the gate. Then we entered the main gate called Jahangiri Gate which was completed by Jahangir and the intricate work looked like it’s painted on the wall, but in actual it was marble and stone all carved with hand. The gate has elements from all the 3 religions, swastik from Hinduism, minarets from Muslim and cross from Christianity. Infact, the idea of minarets for Taj Mahal which was built 50 years later, was taken by Shah Jahan from this very gate. Our guide told another interesting design fact that from main Jahangiri gate or from Salaami gate, Akbar’s tomb can not be seen but from Akbar’s tomb, both these gates are aligned exactly in the same line and can be seen from there. Because the gate is so beautifully decorated, it is also called Khurram Sajjai.
When started walking towards the building which houses Akbar’s tomb, our guide told us that in the huge open area in front of the Akbar’s tomb, poor people were given langar, bhandara (food) during those times. The area around Akbar’s tomb is huge around 123 acres and has 4 gardens surrounding it from all 4 sides. The monument has 4 gates but Mughals would always enter from South gate as it was considered lucky and till date all other gates have never been used. There are 5 storeys, of which 4 were built in red sandstone by Akbar and the 5th one made in white marble by Jahangir. The ground floor has a total of 44 rooms, 11 in each direction. Of the 44 rooms, 40 rooms are vacant and the remanining 4 rooms have tombs. Our guide then pointed towards the chhatris made in white marble over the doors telling us about their inspiration from Rajputs of Rajasthan, cross on red sandstone – a sign of Christianity and the pillars which are designs from a Mosque. That’s how this gate is referred as Din-e-ilahi Gate. Din-e-ilahi is the name of the religion founded by Akbar which encompassed all the known religions at that time because it is said that Akbar believed in all of them. Hence, there are symbols and signs from 7 religions on that gate.
There is a pond in front of the Din-e-ilahi gate and some non working fountains in it which used to be functioning in those times. How magnificent this place would have looked in those times! I was in awe of the place and then our guide mentioned that Taj Mahal which is so popular has taken three design inspirations from Sikandra, Agra and from 8 other monuments across India. Then he went on to show us one of those inspirations which is a 3D optical illusion. A pillar if seen from distance looks to have a 3D artistic carving but in reality is a plain pillar.
As we walked inside the Din-e-ilahi gate, we reached Sunehri Mahal. It is named so, because Jahangir got the walls painted with real gold. In 1761, the king, Suraj Mal Jat from Bharatpur, Rajasthan attacked this place and tried to loot the gold from the walls. When he couldn’t scratch out the gold, he filled the palace with hay and put it on fire. Whatever gold dripped from the walls, he stole that away. In 1905, Britisher Lord Curzon visited this place and found it burnt and black. He got the entire palace washed with chemicals and requested higher ups for gold to restore the palace. But ofcourse, that was denied and he got few portions of the walls painted with golden and could restore the ceiling with gold.
Tomb of Akbar, the great
Then we walked towards the Akbar’s tomb and bowed our head because of the slope that’s made at the entrance. This was again made in order that who so ever visits the tomb, salutes Akbar automatically. We then saw the tomb in a room with very tall ceiling but that’s not the real tomb of Akbar, instead his real tomb was 7 feet under that tomb. Our guide told us that it was Akbar’s wish to Jahangir that he didn’t want his tomb to be decorated with anything. He wanted a simple plain tomb without any carvings or any work on it. The entire room was quite plain and simple but with an echo of 5 seconds and the caretaker actually called out “Allah-hu-Akbar” and the echo remained for quite sometime. That moment gave me goosebumps which I can feel right now even while writing and thinking about that time. The room had 4 ventilating windows towards the top and a brass lamp installed by Lord Curzon in 1905. Our guide also told us that of the 3 roshandaans (ventilating windows), only 1 is open because from that one, sunlights enters and after getting reflected from the wall, it reaches the tomb and lights up the entire room. Then he showed us how Salami gate and Jahangiri gate are both visible from Akbar’s tomb and that too in straight line.
After visiting the tomb, we walked out of the Din-e-ilahi darwaza and our guide told us about the 4 tombs which were placed in 4 rooms adjacent to the gate. He also told us that those 40 rooms were kept empty because Akbar had built this big cemetry so that his family members can be buried alongside him, but none of his family members other than the 4 buried there, died in India, instead they died in Kabul, Afganistan and that’s where they got buried. Then he went on to show us the architectural marvel of the rooms. He clapped in the room, but that didn’t echo, then he made us go to the center of the room and I clapped, it echoed for over 3 seconds but others standing in the same room couldn’t hear the echo. I was getting amazed by every new thing he told. It was like I am in a magic world and that’s when he looked at me and said “Madam, apne aap aate toh ye kaise maloom chalta (Madam, if you would have come on your own, how would you have come to know of this)” and I (still in awe of the magic) looked at him and nodded my head in agreement. This wasn’t all, he showed us another magic and asked us “Kabhi aapne suna hai ki deewaron ke kaan hote hain (Have you ever heard that walls have ears)?” and took mumma to one corner and Rajat to another. He asked one of them to whisper something while facing the wall, asked other to listen from other corner and it really worked. What mumma said to the wall, Rajat could hear it from another wall. Our guide smiled and said I showed you telephone system of Akbar’s times. He bid bbye to us, we paid him and he left us to click pictures and make videos of the beautiful architecture of Sikandra.
And if you happen to visit Adil bhaiya in Sikandra,Agra, say our hello to him
Pin it for later!