Agra, Uttar Pradesh
The last great Turkic empire to arise in Central Asia was that of the Mughals, which at its height in the late Middle Ages dominated much of Afghanistan, Persia, Pakistan and India. The Mughal Empire reached its peak during the reign of Shah Jahan in the 17th century. Shah Jahan, who was largely responsible for expanding the Mughal Empire into India, made his mark on many of his conquered cities and lands by constructing a series of magnificent mosques that stretched across the Subcontinent. Many of the largest mosques in India are attributable to Shah Jahan who, with the possible exception of Mimar Sinan, was the greatest contributor to Islamic architecture in history. His first major project in India was the Jama Masjid of Agra.
Central Asia, and most of the rest of Asia for that matter, spent the better part of five centuries enduring wave after wave of nomadic invasions from various Turkic and Mongol tribes. Until the 16th century, however, the peoples of India and the Subcontinent were largely spared the ravages that plagued their neighbors. However, India’s luck ran out in the early-mid 1500s, when Babur, a descendent and heir to Tamerlane, swept down from the Central Asian Steppe with his horde into the Hindu Kush in what is considered to be the last great Mongol onslaught. By the time of Babur’s death, the Mughals had conquered all of Afghanistan, Pakistan and much of northern India.
As the Mughals expanded their power, they put great effort in promoting the welfare of their Islamic subjects and endeavored to make many new additional Muslim converts. The most successful Muslim ruler in this respect was Shah Jahan, who ruled the Mughal Empire throughout much of the 17th century. When Shah Jahan was born in Lahore in 1592 AD, he inherited an enormous empire, but an empire with many difficulties. By the time he ascended the throne in his thirties, the Mughal Empire was facing encroachments by rival Muslim realms, European adventurers from Portugal and scattered insurgencies throughout his own realm.
Most of the early years of his reign were spent reforming the government and economy in order to support large-scale military operations. The better part of the next thirty years he spent expanding his realm and crushing all opposition. By the time he was done the Mughals had defeated the various insurgent movements, driven the Portugese out of Bengal and expanded across vast swaths of Northern India. In his day he created the greatest empire that the Asian subcontinent had yet seen, and the largest Muslim realm ever to arise outside of the Middle East.
But for all of his conquests, Shah Jahan was best known as one of Asia’s greatest builders. Despite the economic strains of his wars, the emperor managed to pour vast sums into civic improvements and monuments. Many cities in Northern India boast at least one magnificent mosque constructed during Shah Jahan’s reign. Among his first major projects in India was the construction of the Jama Masjid in the city of Agra. This building, along with the city’s Red Fort and the world famous Taj Mahal, has arguably made Agra one of India’s top cities for pilgrims and sightseers.
Although some see the Jama Masjid of Agra as simply a prelude to the Jama Masjid of Delhi, it is in and of itself a magnificent structure. Hemmed in on three sides by buildings and on the fourth side by the train station, it can be difficult to see despite its massive size. However, inside, the massive courtyard allows a fantastic, unobstructed view of the red sandstone edifice crowned with three tremendous domes. Two towering minarets flank the entire façade of the mosque. Another excellent view of the mosque is afforded from the nearby Agra Fort. Some Persian influence is evident in the great central archway, but the style is typical of Shah Jahan’s projects.
The mosque interior is spacious, with room for thousands of worshippers (and tens of thousands more in the courtyard). Much of the interior is brightly decorated with colorful designs, though years of decay have made these less vibrant than in days past.
The Jama Masjid of Agra is located in the very center of the city, just west of the immense Red Fort (the two, once easily accessible to each other, are now separated by the city’s train station). As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.up-tourism.com/agra (official tourism website of Agra).
Shah Jahan began his great construction campaign even before ascending his father’s throne, leaving literally dozens of monuments to posterity. In Agra, he constructed the world famous Taj Mahal in memory of his wife, as well as the Moti Mosque in the Red Fort. Nearby in Delhi is the Red Fort of Delhi as well as the Jama Masjid of Delhi.