The Christian mausoleums of Agra

You know that moment when you are looking for something, but end up finding something else? Something you were not expecting to find? Something you didn’t even know you wanted to find? I had one such moment about 10 days back.

I was headed to Agra the next day for a conference and hoped to squeeze in a visit to the Agra Fort. While checking the Fort timings on it’s official website, I came across a link to lesser known monuments in the city. Curious to know more, I clicked on the link and my eyes were immediately drawn to the photograph accompanying the second entry on the page — a red domed structure with four minarets in each corner, not unlike a Taj Mahal, but red in colour.

Roman Catholic Cemetery 2

Wondering which Mughal prince or noble was buried in this very obvious example of Islāmic architecture, I proceeded to read the description. And then read it again just to make sure that what I had read was indeed what I read the first time.

The Red Taj Mahal or John William Hessing’s Tomb was built by his wife in the memory of her husband. If Taj Mahal is known for the love of a husband for his wife, then on the other hand, the Red Taj Mahal is known for the love of a wife for her husband…

This was no mausoleum of a Mughal prince or noble or even a Muslim; this was a Christian’s tomb located in the Agra’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. Reading about this rather intriguing place, I was surprised that I had neither heard of nor come across the Cemetery and the ‘Red Taj Mahal’ before, in spite of having visited Agra in 2011! There was only one way to remedy this. Visit it.

And that’s exactly what I do when I visited Agra earlier this month. 🙂

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Bijapur: A hidden heritage

I visited Bijapur as part of an organised tour of heritage places in North Karnataka in the first week of September. When our tour group stepped outside Bijapur railway station, there was no indication that we were in a place of any significance—no rickshaws or tour guides trying to hard sell a “good deal” to the sites in the town. There were only some tongas and a few people wandering about here and there. It was so quiet and peaceful that I wondered if we were in the right place at all !

Bijapur was the seat of power for the Adil Shahi dynasty which ruled from 1490 to 1686. The town was established in the 1oth–11th century by the Chalukyas, though it was then known as Vijaypura or the “city of victory”. Though the Chalukyas were renowned for their temple architecture, there is nothing to show for their presence in the town today. What it has to offer is some stunning examples of Islāmic architectureGol Gumbaz, Ibrahim Rouza, Jama Masjid, Darbar Hall, etc. Indeed, Bijapur is one of the few places in South India, where you get to see Islāmic architecture.

Bijapur is identified with and is almost synonymous with the Gol Gumbaz, the mausoleum of Muhammad Adil Shah II, who is buried here along with his two wives, his son, his daughter, and his mistress. That is perhaps the only reason all tourists gravitate towards the Gumbaz and for our group too, this was the first stop.

My first impression of the Gumbaz was not very favourable—its rather squat proportions of a plain dome atop a cube with slender seven-storeyed towers at each corner seemed too symmetrical and boring. Its size, though, was impressive, and why not—the dome is reportedly the second largest dome in the world, next only to St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican City.

The Gol Gumbaz

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