23.February, Agra – FATHEPUR SIKRI, an ancient city and the TAJ MAHAL, the most famous building in India
A long drive partly through an area where red sandstone is quarried finally brought us to the ancient and long since abandoned city of Fathepur Sikri. This like many other ancient palaces and forts is constructed of this red sandstone which glowed attractively in the evening light. The stone is today exported as far as England where my sister has some for her path to the front door. The hotel in Agra was then soon reached for a short night’s stay.
We visited the Taj Mahal at sunrise much the same as I did in 1998, but I think there were rather more people and more security than at that time. This tomb built by Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal is as impressive as ever, although the inside is perhaps a slight disappointment with being so dark. Ranakapur temple, where the inside contains a fantastic array of carvings, is the opposite, being light and airy. This visit was followed by a stop at the mausoleum of the Emperor Akbar, the grandfather of Shah Jahan, which has a deer park in the grounds, before continuing back to Delhi.
It was at the end of Aurangzeb’s reign that the downfall of the Mughal Empire began. Rebellions and wars eventually led to the exhaustion of the imperial Mughal treasury and army. He was a strong-handed authoritarian ruler, and following his death the expansionary period of the Mughal Empire came to an end. Nevertheless, the contiguous territory of the Mughal Empire still remained intact more or less until the reign of Muhammad Shah (1702 – 1748).
Although he was a patron of the arts, Muhammad Shah’s reign from 1719 was marked by rapid and irreversible decline of the Mughal Empire. The Mughal Empire was already decaying, but the invasion by Nader Shah of Persia and the subsequent sacking of Delhi, the Mughal capital, greatly accelerated the pace. The course of events not only shocked and mortified the Mughals themselves, but also foreign invaders, including the British.
In the next decades, the Afghans, Sikhs, and Marathas battled against each other and the Mughals, only to prove the fragmented state of the empire. The Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II made futile attempts to reverse the Mughal decline, and ultimately had to seek the protection of outside powers. In 1784, the Marathas under Mahadji Scindia won acknowledgement as the protectors of the emperor in Delhi, a state of affairs that continued until after the Second Anglo-Maratha War. Thereafter, the British East India Company became the protectors of the Mughal dynasty in Delhi. After a crushed rebellion which he nominally led in 1857-58, the last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was deposed by the British government, who then assumed formal control of a large part of the former empire, marking the start of the British Raj.