Agra fort is the most important fort of India. The great Mughals: Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb lived here, and the country was governed from here. It contained the largest state treasury and mint. It was visited by foreign ambassadors, travellers and the highest dignitaries who participated in the making of medieval history of India. No other fort of India had this honour.
Agra fort stands on an ancient site just by the river Yamuna. It was a brick fort and Chauhan Rajputs held it. It is mentioned for the first time in 1080 A.D. when a Ghaznavide force captured it. Sikandar Lodi (1487-1517) was the first Sultan of Delhi who shifted to Agra and lived in the fort. He governed the country form here and Agra assumed the prominence of a second capital. He died in the fort in 1517 and his son Ibrahim Lodi held it for 9 years until he was defeated and killed at Panipat in 1526. Several palaces, wells and a mosque were built in the fort during the Lodi period.
After Panipat, Mughals captured Agra fort and a vast treasure - which included the diamond named ‘Koh-I-Noor’ – was seized. Babur stayed in the fort in the palace of Ibrahim. He built baoli (step-well) in it. Humayun was coronated here in 1530. After his defeat at Chausa in 1539, he returned to Agra. Nizam water-carrier (Saqqa), who had saved Humayun from drowning, was crowned here for half-a-day and he issued a menial currency. Humayun was defeated at Bilgram in 1540. Sher Shah held it for five years. The Mughals defeated the Afghans finally at Panipat in 1556.
Realizing the importance of its central situation, Akbar (1556-1605) decided to make Agra his capital. He arrived here in 1558. His historian Abul Fazal recorded that this was a brick fort, known as ‘Badalgarh’. It was in ruined condition and Akbar ordered it to be rebuilt with red sandstone. Its foundations were laid by expert architects and it was massively built with bricks in inner core and stone on external surfaces. Some 4000 builders daily worked on it and it was completed in 8 years (1565-1573).
The fort has a semicircular plan, its chord lying parallel to the river. Its walls are 70 feet high. Double ramparts have massive circular bastions at regular intervals, battlements, embrasures, machicolations and string-courses. Four gates were provided on its four sides. ‘Khizri-Gate’ opening on the river, facing series of ghats (quays), was also built.
Abul Fazal recorded that 500 buildings in the beautiful designs of Bengal and Gujarat were built in it. Some of these were demolished by Shah Jehan to make room for his white marble palaces. But they were mostly destroyed by the British between 1803 and 1862, for raising barracks. Hardly 30 buildings have survived on the South-Eastern side, facing the river. Of these, the Delhi-Gate and Akbar-Gate and one palace; ‘Bengali-Mahal’, are representative Akbar buildings. The Delhi-Gate faces the city. A draw-bridge and crooked entrance made it impregnable. Two life-size stone elephants, with their riders, were placed on its inner gate which was called ‘Hathi-Pol’. The Delhi-Gate was monumentally built as the king’s formal gate. ‘Akbar-Gate’ was renamed ‘Amar Singh Gate’ by the British. This gate is similar to the Delhi-Gate. Both are built of red stone. The Bengali-Mahal is also built of red stone and is now split into ‘Akbar-Mahal’ and ‘Jahangir-Mahal’.
Akbar died and Jahangir was coronated in the fort in 1605. The latter mostly resided in Lahore and Kashmir, though he visited Agra regularly and lived in the fort. Agra continued to be the capital of the Mughal Empire. Shah Jahan was also crowned in the fort in 1628. He was a great builder and its white marble palaces belong to him. He built three marble mosques in it, Moti-Masjid, Nagina-Masjid and Mina-Masjid.
After the battle of Samogarh in 1658, Aurangzeb besieged the fort and stopped its water supply from the river. Shah Jahan could not drink the well water and surrendered. Aurangzeb imprisoned him, his own father, in the fort where he lived as a prisoner for 8 years. He died in it and was buried in the Taj Mahal. The barbicans around the two gates and on the river-side were built by Aurangzeb to strengthen its defences.
Though Shah Jahan had transferred his capital to Delhi, formally in 1638, he continued to live here. But after his death, Agra lost its grandeur; Aurangzeb remained busy in the Deccan conflict. Yet, time and again, he lived here and held the durbar. Shivaji came to Agra in 1666 and met Aurangzeb in Diwan-I-Khas. He was betrayed and imprisoned, though the wily Matatha ultimately escaped. Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 threw the affairs of the Mughal Empire to chaos. The 18th century history of the Agra Fort is a saga of sieges and plunder. It was held by Jats and Marathas. British captured it from the Marathas in 1803. They garrisoned it and converted it into an arsenal.
The Mughal palaces have remained in a small, South-Eastern portion of the fort. Agra Fort is a UNESCO world heritage site.
View of the Taj Mahal from the Agra Fort
Taj view from left bank of Yamuna