Monday, April 08, 2013

When Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra was burnt and dug, his mortal remains set afire but Taj Mahal survived the raids by a whisker: Agra Travelogue, part-6


That Taj Mahal was robbed and precious valuables were taken away is well-known but not many know how the monument got saved by a whisker in the eighteenth century.

Close to Agra, the Sikandra tomb was burnt down. Even today you can see signs of fire on the walls of the tomb of Akbar, though Lord Curzon had got it repaired to some extent. Such was the Jat fury that even the mighty Akbar’s tomb was dug and former emperor’s bones were brought out and set afire. See Link.

Taj Mahal was lucky that it was not harmed as much, though it was robbed* and valuables extracted [and taken away]. The Taj was stuffed with hay [bhusa] See link. Under Raja Ram, the Jats had become a major force.

Manucci wrote how Jat soldiers desecrated the grave, dug out the bones of emperor and set them afire to avenge the death of their past chieftain Gokala Jat. The raids or the 'chhapa-maar hamla' tactics were effective and the weak Mughal forces here failed to stop the onslaught.

It all happened the period after Mughal empire had begun weakening post the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. The Jats and Marathas were now the new powers of the land. 

In later years [after Raja Ram], Suraj Mal emerged as one of the most important figures of the era. The Jats are a martial race. The valuables in Deeg, the capital of Suraj Mal, are still shown proudly. There is no attempt to change history either.

The story of how the Taj Mahal survived miraculously

With the decline of Mughal power, the Jats made repeated attacks on Agra. They often plundered and looted villages here.  Later, the Jat army attacked Agra and even managed to capture the fort.  

This happened after 1761. Agra was now in the hands of Suraj Mal. It was then that they robbed valuables from the Taj Mahal also. The ornaments looted from here were taken to Dig, the Jat capital, where you still see them in Jal Mahal, on proud display. 

Maharaja Suraj Mal
In the book, ‘In the shadow of the Taj: A portrait of Agra’, Royina Grewal writes:

..the Mughal empire slid into steady decline. North India, and with it, Agra, was plunged into a continued insecurity as ambitious marauders, lured by the imperial treasuries held at the Fort, strove to establish control.
 Finally, Suraj Mal, legendary leader of the martial Jats from nearby Bharatpur attacked Agra. Jat soldiers camped at the Taj Mahal, lit fires inside the mausoleum to keep themselves warm and made off with its silver gates and finest gems….
There were two silver gates at the entrance of the Taj Mahal. They were looted and taken away by the Jat renegades. Also, a heavily ornamented precious gate was taken away from Agra Fort. The City was plundered and Taj Mahal was looted. See link

Umpteen writers have mentioned it at length. But K Natwar Singh only briefly mentioned the incident about ‘Rajpurohit’s order in his book on Maharaja Suraj Mal’.

But old books and even Urdu texts mention that it was Suraj Mal’s decision that saved Taj.But that’s just one aspect of the story. 

Those were turbulent times indeed and words like ‘Jaat-gardi’ became part of language and are now part of history books. 

Maharaja Suraj Mal was a man of strong character. Those who called him 'Suraj Mal Jat’ do injustice to it. 

The story which is often forgotten is that after hay was stuffed into Taj Mahal, a high priest asked the king to set it afire or turn the building into something else. But Maharaja Suraj Mal refused. He admired the beauty of the Taj. Yes, ornaments were taken away but Taj Mahal was saved. 

Emperor Shah Jahan
The toughest time for the monument was during the era from early 18th century [1707 onwards] to mid-19th century [till decades after 1857].

In his book, author Stephen P Blake writes about the turn of events and the desecration of mausoleum in these words:  “Jats….@&*# (sic) increased their attacks on Agra pillaged Akbar’s tomb near Agra..”

Much later, there was British plan [Bentick’s] to break the marble monument and auction it [all its gems and riches]. However, the tomb has survived. 

The risk to Taj is due to depleting water levels of Yamuna river and environmental factors, particularly, the pollution level in Agra. Fortunately, there are steps being taken in this direction.

Even a dam is likely to be built to keep water in the Yamuna, so as to keep its special foundation [that will remain intact as long as there is water in the river] firm, for centuries to come. This was the sixth part of the travelogue which focused on how Taj got saved by a whisker. 

The initial five parts of this travelogue can be read here:

Part 1 [Travel guide, tip, suggestions for foreign and domestic visitors]
Part 2 [Mysteries & Secrets of Taj Mahal]
Part 3 [Have you seen finial of Taj, do you know its taller than Qutab Minar?]
Part 4 [Inside Taj: Seeing replicas of graves, entry to original graves now blocked]
Part 5 [The rarely seen magnificent view from the other side of Yamuna & Mythical story about plan to build a black Taj Mahal]