Out of all the Mughal rulers that I have learnt about since school days, Akbar was the one I always felt inclined to know more of. The reason perhaps is that he was a king who had to shoulder huge responsibilities when he was still very young.
He was unable to read or write, still he was a fair and wise king, a great warrior, and also a kind person.
Such is the grandeur and fame of the popular monuments built by the Mughals in India that some of the less famous ones get overshadowed. One such monument is Akbar’s Tomb located in Sikandra, a suburb of Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Usually the tourists visiting Agra arrive with a plan to visit the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. If time permits, they head towards Fatehpur Sikri and hence the tomb of the famous Mughal Emperor Akbar often gets neglected.
It is said that Akbar himself had chosen this site as his resting place. He had also initiated the construction of the same during his lifetime. After his death in 1605, the construction was undertaken by his son Jahangir.
He had believed that his family members and descendents would also be buried and that is why there is a lot of empty space here. It is spread over an area of 119 acres. The construction work of this monument was completed in 1613.
Why should you visit Akbar’s Tomb?
Isn’t it interesting to see what kind of place would one of the greatest rulers in Indian history choose for himself to rest after death? It may not be as charismatic as Taj or as impressive as the Agra Fort but the place is significant enough to visit due to its historical and architectural value.
Also, now when I contemplate on it, visiting this place made me realize this all over again that no matter what kind of life you live or how rich or affluent a person you are, it all comes to a similar end eventually.
The place may bring out feelings like melancholy and loneliness in some but the amazing greenery and wildlife around this place is a welcome addition.
How to reach Akbar’s Tomb?
Akbar’s Tomb is located on Mathura road in Sikandra (a suburb of Agra), at a distance of about 14 Kms from the Taj Mahal. Agra is a famous tourist destination that has a great rail and bus network so reaching Agra from anywhere in India is easy. The best way to travel would be a personal vehicle or hiring a two-way cab. Parking space is available at the location.
What to Visit inside Akbar’s Tomb
Four gates at the four directions leads towards the mausoleum which is located in the centre. Only one gate which is located in the south direction, is used as the entry gate and the rest of the three are basically ornamental ones.
Entering the premises, I saw a structure on the right side that was in quite a deteriorated state. It used to belong to the Lodhi dynasty. This place got its name ‘Sikandra’ from the Lodhi ruler ‘Sikander Lodhi’.
A beautiful structure in the north caught my attention which was called ‘Kaanch Mahal’. It is a two storied building commissioned by Jahangir which is mainly made up of red sandstone. The building served as a venue for his entertainment purposes like drinking and informal meetings.
The main entrance gate is a beautifully created grand structure that exhibits the Islamic and Persian architecture along with some influences of Indian architecture. It is made up of red sandstone. Geometric patterns and floral designs adorn its walls.
Four white minarets on the corners exhibit the Islamic architecture and the four small cenotaphs on the top of this gate are symbolic of Indian architecture. Detailed patterns in various colors, latticed windows and arches in this gateway are worth studying.
Looking carefully, I noticed how artistically various religious symbols like ‘swastika’, ‘cross’ and ‘lotus’ have been included in the designs. The entrance gateway makes quite an impression with elegant persian verses, colorful floral patterns and geometric designs. There is a lone standing structure of a small gate right in front of the main entrance near the staircase.
It is said that Akbar was not a tall man and during those times people used to be about six feet tall. Hence, a gateway was constructed so that every person entering through the gate to visit Akbar’s tomb would have to bend a little in honour of the emperor.
Moving inside the gateway, I was amazed by the bright and colorful stucco artwork that adorned its walls and ceiling. Most of the designs revolved around flowers, branches, leaves and vases made in red, blue and golden colors.
The huge expanse of garden around this monument is a safe place for the animals living here and visitors are not allowed to set foot there. After a short walk towards the main building, I arrived at the tomb that resembled a small five storeyed fort.
Though it is mainly made up of red sandstone, the top floor and its four minarets are made up of white marble. The size of each floor is lesser than the one below. Though this structure looks impressive, I felt that something looks amiss.
Difference between Akbar’s and Jahangir’s approach towards construction of this monument is perhaps the reason behind this.
The interiors of the tomb are richly decorated with stucco work, intricate calligraphy and beautiful carvings. Colorful artwork in precious metals, stones and furnishings once adorned this resting place of the great mughal emperor Akbar but now what we get to see are only the remains that survived deterioration by time and attacks.
The blackened walls tell tales of the plunder and attacks that were made on this tomb by the Jat leaders. They set up a fire inside the tomb to melt the precious metals and took them away. It is said that they also dug up the grave of the emperor Akbar and set his remains ablaze to dishonour him. During British rule, Lord Curzon worked towards restoring it.
A narrow dark dungeon-like passage leads towards the room where Akbar was buried. It made me feel uncomfortable walking towards it. I could sense a strange discomfort and gloom. This was not at all the kind of place I expected to see.
It was such an ordinary and simple chamber that it could belong to just any other (little famous) person of that era. A simple grave made out of white marble lying in an ordinary room. This seemed very ironic to me. At least he rested at a place he chose, surrounded with peace.
It is said that the actual grave of the emperor Akbar lies in the basement which is not open to the public. Rest of the floors of this building are not accessible either.
Some other tombs that belong to Akbar’s relatives are also located here. There are 44 chambers in the tomb that were constructed for the purpose of creating a cemetery for the mughals. Out of these only 4 are occupied and the remaining lie vacant.
An interesting thing was that usually the mughal mausoleums face towards Mecca but this one does not.
There is something special in the architecture of this place that came into my notice only when I was told to stand close to a wall and put my ear on it. I could hear my friend speaking softly to the wall standing away at the other side. I guess that’s how that phrase came into existence ‘ deewaron ke bhi kaan hote hain’ (even the walls have ears).
I noticed a unique diamond shaped pattern on the roof of the galleries and arches.
It creates the effect of reverberation of sounds here. It made me wonder how advanced art and architectural techniques were even at that time. While roaming around I was wondering what occupied the rest of the floors of this monument. Sadly, I could only imagine and not see.
This is how my rendezvous with a great Emperor ended. If you ever visit Agra, make it a point to add Akbar’s Tomb to your list of ‘places to visit’. Even the slightest interest in history and architecture, would make it worthwhile.
The best time to visit Akbar’s Tomb is during October to March. Rest of the time during the year is unpleasant due to heat.
Tickets cost INR 30 for Indian/SAARC/BIMSTEC Citizens (INR 25 on Friday) and INR 310 for foreigners (INR 300 on Friday).
Video Camera charges INR 25
Entry is free for children upto age 15 years.
Tomb is open everyday for visiting from sunrise to sunset.