Hotels in India » Heritage of India » Timeless Wonders - Resting in Splendour

Timeless Wonders - Resting in Splendour

Itmad-ud daulah, one of the most beautiful of Mughal tombs, stands across the river Yamuna from the Taj Mahal, nearly one and a half kilometers up-stream. Belonging to the age of Jahangir, it contains cenotaphs of Mirza Ghiyas and Asmat Begum, parents of the powerful Mughal Empress Nurjahan queen of Jahangir, an exceptional beauty and an astute administrator. Mirza Ghiyas had left Persian in sheer penury in search of better prospects at the Mughal court. He benefited much from the influence of his daughter who he had once abandoned in the desert. Akbar offered him a good rank and privileges. Jahangir made him his prime minister with the title Itmad-ud-daulah (Pillar of the State). Nurjahan’s brother Asaf Khan later became prime minister of Shahjahan. This Persian family formed at the Mughal court giving the grand Mughals two most celebrated queens­-Nurjahan and Mumtaz Mahal (Lady of the Taj), daughter of Asaf Khan.

The tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah was built during 1622-28. Standing at the center of a high-walled charbagh laid out in the typically Persian style, this 540 feet square plot has four gatways in red sandstone. The eastern gate is for entrance and the northern and southern gateways for symmetry. The western end has a double-storeyed pavilion with a gallery overlooking the river. Laid out during the lifetime of Mirza Ghaiyas, the garden was the pleasure haunt of his family. The channels dividing the garden have four sections with flagged pathways and parterres for cultivating flower beds. Roses, tulips, iris, lilies and narcissus-reminiscent of the Persian spring, were grown here. Cypresses were planted near the walls to retain an unobstructed, full view of the tomb in the center.

The square tomb, only 70 feet in diameter, is a small structure with octagonal corner towers which are circular in form above the terrace and topped by circular chattris (kiosks). The stunted and stout look of the towers and the experimental design of the chattris strike a slightly discordant note does the rood pavilion which looks inconsequential. The main structure has three openings on each side. The central arch provides entry and and the two flanking arches are closed with exquisitely crafted trellis screen. The board chajja (eave) and the brackets provide the architectural balance and allow for light and shade on the outer walls. The central chamber contains cenotaphs of Asmat Begum at the central and of Mirza Ghiyas to her right. The same symmetrical arrangement stands repeated in the upper pavilion, this reappearing at the Taj. In both cases, the wife predeceased the husband that could perhaps account for this deviation from the normal symmetry. In the absence of any screen surrounding the cenotaphs, this arrangement is less pronounced here than it is at the Taj. Also resting in one of the corner rooms is Ladli Begum, Nurjahan’s daughter by her first marriage.

The tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah has always been much admired for the most exquisite surface decoration of outer walls with pieces of precious and semi-precious stones in colour, providing the fist example of such splendid ornamentation in geometrical, floral and conventional patterns. Elegant execution of designs in subdued hues of stones considerably reduce the dazzle of the white marble and the aesthetic restraint in decoration which is profuse but not overdone can be clearly seen. The stones were chosen for their texture so that the mosaics felt like an architecture of Braille!

The relatively diminutive size of the tomb was dictated by the small size of the pre-existent garden. If it gives the impression of a gem within a casket or an enlarged precious object, it is because the tomb was originally intended to be built entirely in silver, a plan wisely abandoned in favour of white marble.

Nurjahan settled for a small but most exquisite architecture in miniature covered with the most prolific decoration in pietra dura, first of its kind on such a scale and a tremendous improvement on similar decoration done on red sandstone at the entrance gateway of Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra, which had been supervised by Jahangir. Itmad-ud-daulah’s ornamentation makes the tomb suggestive less a tomb than of a reliquary. It is simply marvelous, too exquisite for words-a fitting tribute to the memory of her parents.

Manabhat-kari or pietra dura originated from the rough type of mosaic work in stone in the earlier Mughal monuments. Bold geometrical patterns in black and white marble, porphyry and other stones, as seen on the Sikandra gateway, show the initial stage. At Itmad-ud-daulah, the mosaic work is more elaborate in pattern and in the choice of coloured stones used on white marble. The designs are still mainly arabesque or geometrical though they include Persian motifs like wine-vase, cup and dish, cypresses and narcissus etc. it also heralded the transitional stage form Akbar’s vigorous and masculine style to a more sensuous style typical of Jahangir’s and Shahjahan’s period. A significant change was introduced through the insertion of precious and semi precious stones like onyx, jasper, topaz, lapis, cornelian etc., in the structural matrix. Cut into thin slices, these are meticulously embedded in sockets engraved on the marble background. This technique was perfected at the Taj Mahal.

Itmad-ud-daulah also contains some splendid specimens of incised painting on stucco in the interior. The ceiling space over the dado and alcoves is covered with ingeniously patterned paintings. The central ceiling over the cenotaphs has a marvelous geometrical design with the splendour of butterfly wings. Chinese-clouds pattern over the dado borders, adds a lightness to the whole setting and the stunning two colour effect is obtained by removing the heavy colour pigment painted over the white plaster. The few structure weaknesses are more than amply compensated by the gorgeous decoration with coloured stones on white marble which, as Aldous Huxley said, covers a multitude of sins.

 Email this page