The history of Agra bears testimony to the city’s glorious past. Agra is visited by many who love to explore the rich history and culture of the city.
It is often believed, that Agra was just an insignificant village when Sikandar Lodhi decided to declare Agra his capital city. The Lodhi King was asking for the location of the town and was told “Aage – Raha” & hence the name Agra over the years got stuck to this town…but originally it drives its name from its dense forests “Agravana” in ancient times. The tranquil forests and scenic beauty of the place on the bank of holy river Yamuna had attracted saints, Seers & Sages, who settled here to not only to meditate, but also to inquire into the sufferings of human life. One such Maharishi Ved Vayasa practiced penance in this region and wrote the epic Mahabharata. Mahrishi Jamdagni is said to have established unique Kailash temple by placing two Shiva - Lingam in one Jalhari, as he was on his way to holy Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, for penance. His son Parushrama said to have worshiped at Kailash temple as well, which is situated in Runakta – erstwhile Renuka - Dham.
In the epic age the capital city of the Adhak Vrishi was “Shauripur”. Vasudev, The father of Lord Krishna belonged to this clan and Neminath, the Jain Tirthankar was a prince related to Vasudeva. After the Mahabharta, Lord Krishna’s great grandson Parikshat ruled over it. It’s in the 6th Century B.C. when Agra was named as “Shursena Janpad”. It is also believed that a ruler named “Agrasena” – founder of Agrawal community, the famous businessmen clan of India, ruled over here. Agrawal community worships Agrasena in Agra even today and you can see his prominent statue at Madia Katra over bridge. Later local rulers and chieftains ruled over the city and expanded it as a trading destination as they enjoyed autonomy. The rule of Shaivaaits had the Shiva temples built on the four corners of the city to mark the city boundaries, and one in the center of the capital city, The Mankameshwar Mahadev, as main central deity of the city.
The first definite mention of Agra as an important city was in 328 B.C. by the Greek historians, when they mentioned of the time of Alexander’s Invasion in India. The city had to go through numerous setbacks as Yamuna had changed its course over the years and lot of water had flown down the river. Barbarous invaders & gruesome plunderers had exercised tremendous destruction to raze the city to grounds in order to find & collect loots to their satisfaction time and again. Invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni left the city completely destroyed, further in 1192 Mahmud of Ghori had conquered the entire region and had appointed a Military Governor, who not only indulged in loot and plunder but also exercised cruelty on the people to please their rulers. The glory of the city had completely been lost in gradual process till Sikandar Lodhi had discovered it in 1504 to be his capital. The Mughal rulers had also retained Agra as their Capital. Babur had laid down beautiful Persian Styled Gardens, Humayun built his Library & a Mosque, and Akbar built his Majestic Fort & Mosques. Akbar emphasized on his policy of Sulahkul i.e. peaceful co-existence and thus the foundation of Secular Indian State was laid in order to bind the nation and bond the people with the new effective political tool. The travelers from distant parts of the world kept Agra on their itinerary realizing the trading importance of this city & mentioned the glory of the town in their travelogues. The famous British Traveler Ralph Fitch found Agra beyond descriptions and wrote: -
"Agra is a very great City & populous, Built with stone having fair and large streets, with a fair river running by it, It has a fair castle, and strong with a very fair ditch. The king has 1000 elephants, 30000 horses, 1400 tamed dears, 600 concubines, Tigers, Buffaloes, Cocks & Hawks, which is strange to see. He keeps a great Court & the city is bigger & greater than London & very populous. Silk Clothes, Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires and pearls are sold by Persian and Armenian merchants"-Ralph Fitch 1584.
The City of Agra rose to such prominence as Capital in preference to Delhi. Agra was the imperial Capital and the largest and one of the most important cities of the world. The history of Agra as an imperial city begins with Akbar. His predecessors, Babur and Humayun never got the opportunity to plan any grand buildings in the city. It was Akbar who laid the foundation of the empire and then gave a new name to the city – Akbarabad. The Mughal rulers had also retained Agra as their Capital thereafter. Jahangir developed a national school of painting. Nurjahan built famous Itmad - ud - Daulah, the tomb to her father. She initiated the women of mughal harem in embroidery & in making of Attar of Roses. Finally, Shahjahan built the famous Taj Mahal at Agra. Historically, Agra has been at the crossroads of trade & traffic across the Indian subcontinent as it sat on the further extension of the famous Silk Road, and was described by the 16th century Great Mughal Emperor Akbar as the “emporium of the traffic of the World”.
Situated on the left banks of river Yamuna, Agra has always played a pivotal role in the history, commerce and development of India. Interestingly, although the capital was moved to Delhi in 1648, Agra continued to as a center of commercial activity. Traditional trade in salt, grain and indigo gave way to iron foundries and glass works. Brick kilns and leather industries. Agra retained its position at the juncture of India’s major highways that ran from the north to south and east to west. Now a day, these national highways have been intersecting the city and bringing the cross-country traffic through Agra. Exponentially growing traffic density and growing traffic pollution in the last few decades and as well as growing industrial pollution from the factories became a cause of concern for the existence of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal being a monument of global significance was among the first site in India to be declared as “World Heritage Site”. The landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of India in 1997 in a Public Interest Writ Petition quoted the World Monuments Fund declaration of the Taj Mahal amongst the 100 most endangered Monuments in the World. The endeavor was clear - The Taj Mahal jewel in India’s crown will be preserved for future generations. The concern was valid because the environment of Agra is today beset with problems relating to the inadequacy of its urban infrastructure for transportation, water, waste disposal and electricity. The densest pollution near the Taj Mahal is caused by residential fuel combustion. Agra today contains three World Heritage Sites, including Agar Fort & Fatehpur-Sikri besides the Taj Mahal & this finally rang the alarm bell as the polluting factories have been shifted out of Taj Trapezium Zone.
As a result of this attention the Infrastructure is now being given a face lift, a Ring Road around Agra is under construction, The green belt around the city is being developed & the priority is on to maintain the ecological balance around the Taj Mahal and the city of Agra. The Agra Heritage Fund, with a substantive & rather huge corpus has been constituted to meet the immediate need of any contingency plan so that, the infrastructural problems around the monument to upgrade the environment can be addressed. A sizable buffer zone compromising a green park has been established around the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The present Govt. has banned Diesel Vehicles on two stroke engines & the backup diesel generators. The Natural Gas for vehicles has been introduced. The construction of the proposed Agra Ring Road and bypass that would divert the estimated 700,000 tons of Trans-India truck traffic has been provided hefty financing & the road is near completion. The Yamuna Expressway has added a feather to city’s modern infrastructure. The Metro Rail, Solid Waste Disposal program, Taj-Ganj beautification Project, Cycle-Tracks & proposed development of international sports facility, Agra-Lucknow Express Way, Mughal Museum for the city are being developed including restoration & conservation of the built heritage which is being done under the professional guidance of the INTACH & World Monument Fund.
Simultaneously, efforts are underway to revive the rich art and craft traditions of the region. Most important efforts are being made to benefit the large community of craftsmen in this region in the utilization of their traditional family know how based skills. The present city of Agra is known for Pietra Durra – Marble Inlay Work, Zardozi – The traditional Mughal Embroidery Work, Agra Carpet – The handspun hand knotted Persian Styled Carpets, Leather Products – Shoes & finally the famous Agra Petha & Agra Dalmoth.
Thank you so much for some wonderful tours. It was a pleasure to meet you in Agra, and it occurred to me that the two of you would enjoy meeting each other. Sonya was raised around Agra and now works as a tour guide in Delhi, while Kavita was raised in Delhi and now works as a tour guide in Agra. You are both educated women forging your way in a man's world. I hope you can meet.Once again, thank you!
Thanks again for your enthusiasm and verbally passing on your detailed information on the magnificent Red Fort and exquisite Taj during my tour in November 2012. Your explanations drew these monuments into our hearts and I sincerely thank you for making my visit to Agra a true highlight. As promised, I have attached a few of my pictures and will send more on request.
We are about to depart Jaipur in the morning. I just want to tell you how much we appreciate your help, guidance, and friendship. You are a man of honour and a scholar in what you do. We would like to wish you a happy, healthy, long life. Please send us your postal address. As we get farther from Agra we miss your gentle but knowledgable approach to the historic monuments of your country and your desire to learn more of other cultures. You are a true guide and teacher.
Houshang & Carrie