Itimad-ud-Daulah is hard to pronounce and even harder to remember. On a weekend, after attending a family event in Agra, we visit the Mughal-era mausoleum for the first time. Fumbling with the Persian title’s pronunciation (which means pillar of state), we make our way towards the 17th century marble tomb overlooking the Yamuna river.
Noor Jehan, Mughal king Jahangir’s wife, built the tomb for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg after his death in 1622. Born in Persia (now Iran), Beg’s is a rags-to-riches story. Once upon a time, the poor merchant boarded a caravan that led him to Mughal emperor Akbar’s royal court. Under Akbar, Beg was given the title Itimad-ud-Daulah. Later, he was appointed Jahangir’s Prime Minister.
From the entrance, a magnificent pillared structure catches my attention, which vaguely resembles the Taj Mahal. It is in the centre of a four-quartered garden and stands on a plinth of red stone. The crowd is thin. A group of foreigners is being led by an Indian guide. I quietly join them, as visitors admire the exquisite ornamentation of the sanctum sanctorum. Sunlight penetrates the innermost quarter through jaalis, illuminating the wooden tombs of Beg and his wife. On the ceiling you see an elaborate blue design in a diamond’s shape.
Intricate designs and carvings depicting flower vases, wine cups, floral patterns and other motifs adorn the interior of the mausoleum that was completed in 1628. Chapters from the Quran are inscribed on the floor.
A red sandstone pavilion abuts the mausoleum. Its wide arches make a pretty silhouette, with the Yamuna river in the background.
“The most important aspect of this tomb is its polychrome ornamentation. Beautiful floral stylized arabesque and geometrical designs have been depicted on the whole exterior in inlay and mosaic techniques, in various pleasing tints and tones. Wine-vase, dish-and-cup, cypress honey suckle guldasta and such other Iranian motifs, typical of the art of Jehangir have been emphatically used,” reads the plaque at the tomb.
Given its ornamental style, the mausoleum is also called a ‘jewel box’. It is believed to have inspired the making of Taj Mahal. But Itimad-ud-Daulah does not have a dome, instead rising to a ‘closed kiosk’ – an Indian innovation in its otherwise Islamic character.
“The tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah is a masterpiece of the domeless class of Mughal tombs. It is the first building finished with white marble and marks the transitional phase from red stone to white marble,” the plaque adds.
Located at the edge of a crowded road, the monument is pristine in its relative obscurity on the tourism map. And that’s where its charm lies.
Directions – The signboard to Itimad-ud-Daulah is seen on the road that begins after you take the U-turn (into Agra) from the Yamuna Expressway. From the main road, a left turn will take you inside a crowded road. The monument is about 1.5 km away. Happy exploring!