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Agra

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AGRA, the headquarters of a district and division in the United Provinces, was for long periods the capital city of India. It stands on the Jumna which, though now at this point a mere trickle in the dry season, was formerly one of the chief arteries of commerce with the rest of India and at the same time a power ful frontier defence. Of the original Agra, which apparently lay on the left bank of the river, practically no traces remain. The present city on the right bank was the creation of the Moham medan conquerors. The earlier dynasties fluctuated between Delhi and Agra as their centre of power ; but it was at Agra that Sikander Lodi (A.D. 1500) set up his court, deeming it the strategic point for holding in check his turbulent vassals to the south. In 1526 the city was captured by Baber, the Koh-i-nur diamond being part of his booty. It was here that he decided to occupy India in permanence ; here also that he died. It was his grandson Akbar who began to build the present fort (still by the people called Akbarabad), ruled India from within the walls, died in it, and was buried at Sikandra a few miles beyond the city gates. Agra fell from its pride of place when Aurangzeb moved to Delhi, and was never again the seat of monarchy. In the latter half of the 18th century, it was captured successively by the Jats, the Mahrattas, the Mohammedans and Scindhia ; but it was finally taken by Lord Lake in 1803. After British rule was extended to upper India, it became the capital of the North-West provinces until at the close of the Mutiny the seat of that Government was trans ferred to Allahabad. The city is now a busy railway and commer cial centre with cotton mills, gins and presses, flour mills and an important carpet industry. There are two large colleges and sev eral other educational institutions, including a medical school for men and women; and the establishment of a university is under contemplation. Pop. in 1931, Although to travellers Agra is essentially the city of the Taj, it enshrines several other magnificent specimens of Mogul architec ture, each perfect of its kind. The fort, with its lofty walls of red sandstone 12m. in circumference, contains at least two such gems. Separated from each other by the main block of the buildings of the imperial court, stand on the north the Pearl Mosque, built by Shah Jahan, and on the south the Jahangiri Mahal or palace built by Akbar; the former unequalled for the beauty and purity of its proportions, material and constructive design in simple white marble; the latter a perfect adaptation of stately solidity and com manding symmetry of the Hindu style. If we leave the fort and cross the river, we find another gem of its kind in the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah, father of Jahangir's empress. Its architecture is transitional between the virile conceptions of Akbar and the poetic richness of Shah Jahan ; elegant, elaborate and scholarly, it was the first triumph of marble inlaid work in direct imitation of Persian pottery decoration. Five miles from Agra is Sikandra, where Akbar was buried, though his remains were desecrated and scattered by Jat freebooters in later years. His tomb is a noble building in a noble setting, and the marble sarcophagus on its roof is strikingly impressive in its simple dignity. Far exceeding all the others in glory is the Taj, the most beautiful mausoleum in the world. It was built by Shah Jahan for his empress, who died in A.D. 1631; and from one of her titles, Taj Mahal or Crown of the Pal ace, it takes the name by which it is most generally known outside India. Built of pure white marble, it stands on a vast marble terrace, crowned by a great dome in the centre and smaller domes at each of its corners. From the angles of the terrace rise four slender minarets. Subservient and supplementary to the glory of the outline is the beauty of the ornamentation. "All the spandrils of the Taj," writes Fergusson, "all the angles and more important architectural details are heightened by being inlaid with precious stones such as agates, bloodstones, jaspers and the like. These are combined in wreaths, scrolls and frets as exquisite in de sign as they are beautiful in colour, and relieved by the pure white marble in which they are inlaid, they form the most beautiful and precious style of ornament ever adopted in architecture." The architect of the Taj was Ustad Isa, variously described as a Byzantine Turk, and as a Persian from Shiraz. The artificers engaged during the 17 years of its construction came from all parts of Asia and probably included a French goldsmith, Austin de Bordeaux.

The district of Agra has an area of 1,849 sq. miles. Its general appearance is that common to the Doab, a level plain intersected by watercourses with fringes of ravines. Its general elevation is estimated at from 65o to 7ooft. above the level of the sea. The district is intersected by the Jumna, and is also watered by the Agra canal. The principal crops are millets, pulses, barley, wheat, cotton and a little indigo. The population in 1931 was 1,048,316.

The division of Agra has an area of 8,638 sq. miles. In 1931 the population was 4,498,246. It comprises the five districts of Ali garh, Muttra, Agra, Mainpuri and Etah.

marble, city, india, taj and akbar