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Located in the suburbs of Sikandar Lodhi’s built city of Sikandara, near Agra, on the bank of river Yumna is the imperial Monumental tomb of the great Mughal emperor, Akbar. This tomb is a tribute to the everlasting achievements of the great emperor for the Mughal dynasty. The tomb was started by Akbar himself as a custom of their Dynasty and was completed by his son Jehangir. Some historians say that this was completely built by Jahangir.  Jahangir wrote around 1608-09 in “Tuzk-i-Jehangiri” that he ordered experienced architects to lay the foundations again, “in several places, on a settled place”. Hence this shows that he wanted to make the tomb according to his own taste. However its commencement is not mentioned in any of the memoirs of the Mughal Emperors. “Akbar Nama” simply states that “the emperor was buried in a sacred garden called, Behishtabad, the abode of paradise in Sikandara”. (Asher, 104-105). Other historians only regard the interpretation of the Persian verses on one of the entrance gates of the tomb as final that states “May his (Akbar’s) soul shine in the rays of sun and the moon in the light of God”. (Asher, 104-105). Jahangir’s own account shows that work had been going on for four to five years. This establishes that the construction had started in Akbar’s Period. The mausoleum of Akbar was unfinished according to William Finch who visited the place in 1611 (Kle, 688). However, it was completed between 1612 and 1614 as written on its southern gate.
The mausoleum complex is square in plan and aligned on the cardinal axis, with the tomb at its center and four gates, one along each wall. Based on a Charbagh (or walled square garden) composition much like his father Humayun's tomb. The Charbagh is divided into quadrants by watercourses (Khayabans or Nihrs) symmetrically. Hence, the mausoleum itself is physically and metaphorically located at the center of a heavenly garden, Behishtan. A paved causeway leads from the gate to the mausoleum. The Chaharbagh is provided with water to keep it flourishing from the nearby flowing Yumna River. The main tomb is in the center on a raised plinth which is square in shape. Around it is spread the Chaharbagh consisting of geometrically placed tanks and pools with Khayabans dividing the whole garden into symmetric portions. The whole structure, the tomb with gardens and its elements are surrounded by a high wall. The gardens have lush green trees mostly cypress and flowers and green plants of numerous kinds.
The tomb can be entered through its elegant southern gateway which leads into the Chaharbagh. The other three gateways are built to complete the symmetry. The Northern gateway is ruined. The other gateways on the eastern and western side are identical and multi-storied. Each gateway has a magnificent Iwan facing the tomb. The southern Gateway can be compared with the eastern gateway of Itmad-Ud-Daula’s tomb which was built by his daughter Noor-Jehan. Both the gateways are provided with many common elements. Both of them are constructed on a raised Plinth which is austere in its design except it has a Paonchi design. Both are monumental and leading into the garden surrounding the actual tomb. The north and south sides of both are identical and have colossal Iwans. Both of the gateways are two storied and the two arched openings on both the stories are flanked by alcoves on each side.  They have arabesque adorning the spandrel area and all around the central arch. The ornamentation of both Gateways was exploited by inlaying white marble into red-sand stone. The gateways are provided with Cartooshes and battlemented parapets with Mudakhil design. Both have Jalis on the lower boundaries of the alcoves. They are embellished with floral motifs and arabesque inlayed into the red sand stone, this also resembles the Maryam Zamani Mosque’s arabesque in the spandrel area over the Mehrab. The rectangular and square panels on the gateways are adorned with geometric patterns resembling the Itemad-Ud-Daula tomb’s interior patterns. The gateways are also provided with Chatries on their corners. The Gateway of the Akbar’s tomb is different in many aspects from the Ittemad-u -Daula’s gateway. For example the chevron design, embellished Merlons, the Turrets , Guldastas, the vases adorning the panels ,Qalib kari in the alcoves and the trabeated alcoves are absent in the former while they are present in the latter. The Gateways of Akbar’s tomb is exceptional in its profusely adorned extrados and intrados, its chamfered corners and the different colored stones adorning the face of the gateway. The chamfered corners might have been drawn from Humayun’s tomb. It has inscriptions around the main arched opening in Nasq, Tsulas and Nastaliq from the Quran as found in the Qila-i-Khuhna Mosque and Illtutmush’s Tomb. These verses negate the arguments provided by various historians against Akbar’s leaning towards Islam. The inscriptions read as “these are the gardens of Eden, enter them and live forever”. (Ruggles, 222) .Also we can see Persian verses on the gateway. A small adorned red sand stone gateway is also present in front of the main gateway.  Akbar Tomb’s gateway has four minarets at the top on the corners totally built in white marble. These minarets are provided with brackets and are domed by Chatries on the top.  They almost exactly resemble the minarets of the Taj Mahal. Although, Taj Mahal is more magnificent than Akbar’s tomb but some of its features were inspired by Shahjehan. For example he used its white marble minarets in the construction of Taj. (A. DuTemple, 28-29) .The minarets were used as a reference by most of the historians to say that this was Jahangir’s element and the red-sand stone was Akbar’s Element.
When the Mughals began building palaces, forts and tombs, white marble was reserved for the tombs of Muslim saints because it symbolized Paradise. By the time Akbar died, this practice was starting to change, probably due to the preferences of the Mughal rulers themselves rather than any change in religious attitudes. Akbar’s tomb was built of red sandstone, but it was lavishly decorated with white marble. The white marble gave the emperor an association with sainthood. Shah Jahan’s use of white marble in the Taj Mahal was a further departure from the accepted practices. He may have chosen that beautiful material as a fitting tribute to the beauty of the wife. Or he may have chosen white marble to make a connection between Mughal rule and the divine rule of Allah. (A. DuTemple, 28-29).   
In the center of the walled garden stands this immense square building with four identical facades. It is a five-tiered structure much like a truncated pyramid enveloped by low galleries. The floors are recessing as we go upwards just like a pyramid. Catherine B. Asher argues that the basic plane of the Shah Begum’s tomb is probably the prime source of inspiration for the construction of the Akbar’s tomb (Asher, 104-105). This pattern can also be seen in the Panch-Mahal at Fateh Pur Sikri and the “Hawa-Mahal” of the Firoz Shah Kotla of the Tughlaq Dynasty. This style of tombs has been drwn from the Hindu and Jain archeticture. The whole theme of this tomb is a mixture of Persian and Hindu motifs and styles. The domed and vaulted galleries long serving as a large square plinth for the four square stories located at their center, each of which steps in as the structure rises. The gallery space is rhythmically arranged with massive pillars supporting arches with QalibKari in white Plaster. The central bay of the Pishtaq is surmounted by a rectangular Chapparkhat. The Chapperkhat has three openings on the front and the back side and has three finials. This resembles with the Chapparkhat used in Ittemad-Ud-Daula’s Tomb which has two finials and has Jalis in between the supporting pillars. The pattern of the bayed construction can also be seen in Jamali Kamali Mosque, Moth Ki Masjid, Qilla-i-Kuhna Mosque (all Five bayed) and Kabuli Bagh Mosque (Three Bayed). Only the southern Pishtaq gives access to the burial chamber, a small square room at the end of long corridor at the heart of the building domed. The southern one is the most elaborate in ornamentation. The ornamentation on the southern Pishtaq is just like the southern gateway, while the elements like the Shevron design, the turrets, the Qalib kari (Stalactite Design) in the alcoves and simple corners can be found in the eastern gateway of Itemad-Ud-Daula Tomb’s Gateway.  The Pishtaq projects outward from the main building and rises majestically well over the terrace. Panels on the Iwan have polychrome inlaid mosaic in geometrical design as found in Ittemad Ud Daula’s tomb. Spandrels of the Iwan have inlaid arabesque design in polychromatic stones as found in Ittemad-Ud-Daula’s Tomb. The ground floor is simple, dignified structure that does not seem to be related to the elements above it. The red sand stone floors are just like the raised plinth of Humayun’s tomb. Historians have suggested that the ground floor was probably finished before Akbar’s death, and that at this point Jahangir took over. Certainly the character of the structure changes on the upper levels, becoming light and more delicate in appearance. The building is essentially red sandstone except for some marble used on the top story. (Prosser Allen, 418-419).
The fifth and the top most storey is entirely of white marble and contrasting with the red sandstone lower ones. Jali panels with a countless variety of geometrical motifs have been abundantly used in this level. It has a central square court open to the sky measuring 70 sides. The courtyard has Dalans on all the four sides on a raised level. Each bay of the cloisters has white marble monolithic jali panels in geometrical patterns. These Dalans can be compared with the Dalans of the Agra fort which are in red sand stone. They have mostly Hindu and Jain motifs on them and have trebeated arches. The Dalans of the fifth floor of Akbar’s tomb have white marble Chatries on each corner. The platform has a white marble tombstone in its centre. The tombstone is profusely decorated with carvings in low relief featuring floral arabesque and stylized designs and ninety nine names of the God on the top and sides. The cenotaph has a structure beside it probably was used to keep the crown of Akbar .The cenotaph and the structure are present on a raised plinth with geometric patterns on white marble. Akbar’s tomb has three cenotaphs. One on fourth floor ,one on fifth floor and the actual one being in the lowest storey. It is a common practice usually seen in Muslim tombs. For example it can be seen in Shah Begum’s tomb, Humayun’s tomb and Noor Jehan’s tomb. A cluster of Chatries engulf the main body of the tomb. Each Chatri stands on an ornamental platform and is composed of pillars, brackets, chajjas, frieze and white marble cupolas. These Chatries resemble their counterparts on Buland Darwaza at Fateh Pur Sikri. An octagonal Chatri can be seen at the each corner of the ground floor which resembles almost exactly with Maryam Zamani Tomb’s and Shahi Samadi’s Chatries at Patiala.  A sloping path leads to the main Mortuary hall.
The entrance to the Mortuary hall has decorations in the interior with intricate floral patterns and arabesque as well as calligraphy of Quranic sentences. Qalib-Kari has also been extensively employed. The painting encaustic, painting on stucco and both dry and wet plaster frescoes can be seen. Dado art as a form of mural ornamentation starts from this tomb. The embellishment is done in the entrance to the Mortuary hall with gold gilded with all the paintings and other motifs. The embellishments at the entrance closely resemble those in Maryam Zamani’s Mosque. Lord Curzon applied the gold to the entrance when it was totally removed by Sikhs who resided here for a long period. The inner Mortuary hall is square, presently whitewashed .Originally it must have been painted. It is provided with four ventilators or light ducts that open onto the third storey. The tomb houses none of Akbar’s Queen but has his daughters Shkrul Nisha and Aram Bano and some other family members. The Plinth at which the cenotaphs are built has yellow and other colored stones inlaid in white marble which is a pattern in Ittemad-Ud-Daula’s tomb. The actual or the lower cenotaph is built on a floor with arabesque in multi-colored stones. Arabesque and geometric designs with Arabic inscriptions and Persian verses representing the names of the deceased are carved in white marble on this cenotaph. 

Written By: Asif Bahadur

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