Near the gardens of Taj Mahal stands the important 16th-century Mughal monument known as the Red Fort of Agra. This powerful fortress of red sandstone encompasses within its 2.5-km-long enclosure walls, the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. The forbidding exteriors of this fort hide an inner paradise. There are a number of exquisite buildings like Moti Masjid - a white marble mosque akin to a perfect pearl; Diwan-E-Am, Diwan-E-Khaas, Musamman Burj - where Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan died in 1666 A.D., Jahangir's Palace, Khaas Mahal and Sheesh Mahal. Agra Fort, an excellent example of Mughal architecture, is one of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India.
The construction of the Agra fort was started around 1565, when the initial structures were built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, and subsequently taken over by his grandson Shah Jahan, who added most of the marble creations to the fort. The fort is crescent shaped, flattened on the east with a long, nearly straight wall facing the river. It is ringed by double castellated ramparts of red sandstone, punctuated at regular intervals by bastions. A 9m wide and 10m deep moat surrounds the outer wall. An imposing 22m high inner wall imparts a feeling of invincible defensive construction. The layout of the fort was determined by the course of the river, which in those days flowed alongside. The main axis is parallel to the river and the walls bridge out towards the city.
The fort had originally four gates, two of which were later walled up. Today, visitors are allowed entry only through the Amar Singh gate. Jehangir Mahal is the first notable building that the visitor sees as he enters through Amar Singh gate. Jehangir was Akbar's son and the heir to the Mughal throne. Jehangir Mahal was built by Akbar as the women's quarters. It is built of stone and is simply decorated on the exterior. Ornamental Persian verses have been carved on a large stone bowl, which were probably used to contain fragrant rose water. Akbar built a palace, adjacent to Jehangir Mahal, for her favourite queen Jodha Bai.
Built by Shah Jahan, entirely of marble, the Khaas Mahal demonstrates distinctive Islamic-Persian features. These are well blended with a striking range of Hindu features such as chhatris. It is considered to be emperor's sleeping room or 'Aramgah'. Khaas Mahal provides the most successful example of painting on a white marble surface. On the left of the Khaas Mahal, is the Musamman Burj, built by Shah Jahan. It is a beautiful octagonal tower with an open pavillion. It boasts of its openness, elevation and cool evening breezes. This is where Shah Jahan lay on his deathbed, gazing at the Taj.
Sheesh Mahal or the Glass Palace is the finest example of decorative water engineering in the hammams. It is believed to have been the harem or the dressing room, and its walls are inlaid with tiny mirrors which are the best specimens of the glass-mosaic decoration in India. To the right of Sheesh Mahal is Diwan-I-Khaas, the hall of Private Audience. The marble pillars are inlaid with semi-precious stones in delightful floral patterns. Adjacent to this, is the Mammam-E-Shahi or the Shah Burj, used as the summer retreat.
The Diwan-E-Am used to house the famous Peacock Throne, which was taken to the Red Fort when Shah Jahan moved his capital to Delhi. The throne alcove is of richly decorated white marble. Nagina Masjid, built by Shah Jahan, was the private mosque of the ladies of the court. Moti Masjid or the Pearl Mosque is the prettiest structure at Agra Fort. The building is presently closed for visitors. Near Moti Masjid is Mina Masjid, which seems to have been constructed by Shah Jahan strictly for his private use.
Beginning with the 2nd century B.C., and continuing into the 6th century A.D., the paintings and sculptures in the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, inspired by Buddhism and its compassionate ethos, unleashed a surge of artistic excellence unmatched in human history. These Buddhist and Jain caves are ornately carved, yet seem quiet and meditative and exude a divine energy and power.
About 107 km from the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra, are the rock-out caves of Ajanta nestled in a panoramic gorge, in the form of a gigantic horseshoe. A set of 29 caves, Ajanta is among the finest examples of some of the earliest Buddhist architecture, cave paintings and sculptures. These caves comprise Chaitya halls or shrines, dedicated to Lord Buddha and Viharas or monasteries, used by Buddhist monks for meditation and the study of Buddhist teachings. The paintings that adorn the walls and ceilings of the caves depict incidents from the life of lord Buddha and various Buddhist divinities. Among the most interesting paintings are the Jataka tales, illustrating diverse stories relating to the previous incarnations of the Buddha as Bodhisattava, a saintly being who is destined to become the Buddha. These elaborate sculptures and paintings stand in impressive grandeur in spite of withstanding the ravages of time. Amid the beautiful images and paintings are sculptures of Buddha, calm and serene in contemplation.
The cave temples and monasteries at Ellora, excavated out of the vertical face of an escarpment, are 26 km north of Aurangabad. Sculptors, inspired by Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, created elaborate rock carvings. Extending in a linear arrangement, the 34 caves contain Buddhist Chaityas or halls of worship, Viharas or monasteries and Hindu and Jain temples. Spanning a period of about 600 years between the 5th and 11th century A.D., the earliest excavation here is of the Dhumar Lena (Cave 29). The most imposing excavation is, without doubt, that of the magnificent Kailasa Temple (Cave 16) which is the largest monolithic structure in the world. Known as Verul in ancient times, it has continuously attracted pilgrims through the centuries to the present day.
Declared as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO since 1983, the paintings and sculptures of Ajanta and Ellora, considered masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, have had a great influence in the development of art in India. The creative use of colour and freedom of expression used in depicting human and animal forms makes the cave paintings at Ajanta one of the high watermarks of artistic creativity. The Ellora preserved as an artistic legacy that will continue to inspire and enrich the lives of generations to come. Not only is this cave complex a unique artistic creation and an excellent example of technological exploit but also, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.
At a short distance of 11 kms from Jaipur, the Capital of Rajasthan State, the Amer Fort complex stands amidst wooded hills overlooking the Delhi-Jaipur highway, with its forbidding ramparts reflected in the still waters of the Maota Lake below.
One of the finest examples of Rajput architecture, it was the ancient capital of the Kachhawah rulers. The original palace was built by Raja Man Singh and additions were made later by Sawai Jai Singh.
Within the palace are the Diwan-e-Aam or the "Hall of Public Audience", the Diwan-e-Khas or the "Hall of Private Audience" and the Sukh Niws where a cool breeze blows across channels of water for the purpose of air-conditioning.
The private chambers of the queens have windows with latticed screens so that the ladies could watch the proceedings of the royal court in privacy. There is also the Jai Mandir or the "Temple of Victory", with its famous Sheesh Mahal, the scintillating "Hall of Mirrors".
In the heart of New Delhi, the bustling capital of India, a lotus-shaped outline has etched itself on the consciousness of the city's inhabitants, capturing their imagination, fuelling their curiosity, and revolutionising the concept of worship. This is the Bahá'í Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, better known as the "Lotus Temple". With the dawning of every new day, an ever-rising tide of visitors surges to its doorsteps to savour its beauty and bask in its serenely spiritual atmosphere.
Since its dedication to public worship in December 1986, this Mother Temple of the Indian sub-continent has seen millions of people cross its threshold, making it one of the most visited edifices in India. As an evocative symbol of beauty and purity, representative of divinity, the lotus flower remains unsurpassed in Indian iconography. Rising up pure and unsullied from stagnant water, the lotus represents the manifestation of God. This ancient Indian symbol was adopted to create a design of ethereal beauty and apparent simplicity, belying the complex geometry underlying its execution in concrete form. The Lotus Temple proves to be a remarkable fusion of ancient concept, modern engineering skill, and architectural inspiration.
Its soothingly quiet Prayer Hall and tranquil surroundings have touched the hearts of the Temple's numerous visitors, awakening in them a desire to trace its inspirational source and capture a bit of its peace for themselves. The aura of silence surrounding the Hall instills reverence. Some are moved by its 'eloquent silence' and 'divine atmosphere'. People are affected in varied degrees by the peace and beauty of the sanctum sanctorum.
The construction of the Bahá'í House of Worship of Bahapur was a significant chapter in the making of Baha'i history on the Indian sub-continent. Bahá'ís have endeavoured to their utmost to build houses of worship as beautiful and distinctive as possible. They have been inspired by writings of Baha'u'llah and His son Abdu'l-Bahá.
Not only does it embody the spiritual aspirations and basic beliefs of the world-wide Bahá'í community, but, significantly in a land of myriad religions, it has begun to be seen as providing a unifying link, bringing divergent thoughts into harmony by virtue of its principle of oneness - of God, religion, and mankind. The Temple, with its total absence of idols, elicits bewilderment as well as favourable response. Visitors express perplexity at the absence of any deity and yet are awed by the beauty and grandeur of the edifice. A typical response is: "There is silence and the spirit is eloquent. One feels one is at last entering into the estate of the soul, the state of stillness and peace".
The Lotus Temple is one of the 100 canonical works of this century, a powerful icon of great beauty that goes beyond its pure function of serving as a congregation space to become an important architectural symbol. As a symbol of faith and human endeavour expended in the path of God, the temple has become the recipient of accolades and worldwide acclaim. In 2000, the temple received the "GLOBArt Academy 2000" award in recognition of "the magnitude of the service of [this] Taj Mahal of the 20th century in promoting the unity and harmony of people of all nations, religions and social strata, to an extent unsurpassed by any other architectural monument world-wide".
"Architecturally, Artistically, Ethically, the edifice is a paragon of perfection", said a renowned Indian poet, in the praise of the temple.
Source: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India (http://www.bahaindia.org)
Lucknow, the capital of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is a modern city that can boast of having magnificent historical monuments. Situated at the banks of river Gomti, tributary of the Ganga, Lucknow is known for its gardens, parks and unique archaeological monuments. Famous as the city of Nawabs, Lucknow has retained its charm as a bastion of culinary and cultural delights. The people of this city are known for their exquisite charm, courtesy and flair of the Urdu language. Lucknow is also famous for its exclusive 'chikan' embroidered dress materials.
The city is home to 'Bara Imambara', a historical edifice with such a marvellous architecture that even modern architects seem to be perplexed by its design. The Imambara was built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula in 1784 and its designer was Kifayat-ullah who is said to be a relative of the architect of the Taj Mahal. Built by the Nawab in a famine relief programme, this fort like huge and elegant structure is also called Asafai Imambara. The structure shows the mixture of Rajput and Mughal architectures with Gothic influences. The Bara Imambara is an interesting building. It is neither a mosque, nor a mausoleum, but a huge building having interesting elements within it. The construction of the halls and the use of vaults show a strong Islamic influence.
The Bara Imambara is, in fact, a great hall built at the end of a spectacular courtyard approached through two magnificent triple-arched gateways. The central hall of the Imambara is almost 50 meters in length and 16-meter wide. The ceiling of this columnless hall is more than 15-meter high. The hall is one of the largest of its kind in the world without any external support of wood, iron, or stone beams. The roof has been put together with interlocking bricks without using a beam or a girder. Hence, it is viewed as a unique achievement of architecture. The building, which consists of three huge halls, has an amazing maze of corridors hidden in between its walls that are about 20 feet thick. This dense, dark maze called the 'bhul bhulaiya' is to be explored only if you are strong-hearted. It is a network of more than 1000 labyrinthine passages, some of which have dead-ends, some end at precipitous drops while others lead to entrance or exit points. Help of an "approved" guide is recommended if one wants a tour of the secret labyrinth without getting lost.
Another intriguing structure at the Imambara is the five-storied baoli (step well), which belongs to the pre-Nawabi era. Called the Shahi-Hammam (royal bath), this baoli is connected with the river Gomti. Only the first two stories are above water, the rest being perennially under water.