It would be an understatement to say that Agra is a historically important city. History permeates through every nook and corner of the city, especially beside Yamuna. Taj Mahal is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mughal architecture in the city. There are so many significant monuments spread alongside the stretch of Yamuna that flows through the city and even otherwise, that even many residents may have still not visited most of them. One such monument that is tucked away in a deep nook of the city is Chini Ka Rauza or the Tomb of China (clay).
Only a kilometre away from the relatively more popular Itimad Ud Daullah, this monument also predates Taj Mahal and much like Itmad Ud Daullah is built to commemorate a minister in the court of a Mughal emperor- Afzal Khan. It is said that he started building it himself and after his death was buried here. Built along the Yamuna on its eastern bank, the most significant feature of the monument is that the entire building is or rather was once covered with tile work. Why the name of the building signifies this detail and not the person in whose memory it was built is just one of the many questions that remain unanswered about this building.
This Sunday, Shivani Gupta an Art Historian from Agra ventured to answer some of these questions as she led a walk of a few history buffs in the monument. The walk was organised under the Sahapedia’s India Heritage Walk initiative. At the outset she suggested that there is very little information available about the monument. In fact, as she pointed out, there is not even an inscription anywhere with information about the two tombs inside the main structure. What is obvious though is that the building is not built as per the ‘Hasht Behesht’ plan like the Itimad Ud Daullah but in a square plan. With what little survives of the entire monument, according to Shivani, it could be guessed that there once were six minarets surrounding the monument as well as gardens on the back resembling those in the front. The speciality of the main structure is that is has a double dome. The upper dome culminates in traditional mukarna style ceiling. The building does not resemble classic Mughal architectural style but instead resembles the Sultanate one with brick walls with plastered exterior. The tile work is stuck onto the plaster with mosaic fitting of small pieces of tiles of different sizes.
The building is not very extensive with an elaborate entrance as other Mughal monuments leading one to conjecture that since Afzal Khan was not a royalty himself or directly related to one, he could only spare so much for this monument. But looking at the surviving tile work in royal blue colour it could be imagined that the building once must have looked exquisitely beautiful. The tile work as Shivani informs derives its origin from Shiraz region of Iran. The building too has many elements derived from the Timurid dynasty of Persia or modern-day Iran.
Today not much of the monument has survived as most of the tile work has been shed exposing the plaster below. A lot of conservation effort of today has left large blobs of plasters on the walls. The minarets on top of the main structure have also been damaged. The building serves as a morning walk spot for people living nearby as many children play within its campus. The building faces neglect even though it is supposed to be a protected monument.
Nevertheless, Chini Ka Rauza serves as another example of funerary architecture in Agra which combines values of both history and power within it. While the building lacks the grandeur and lustre of other more prominent buildings, what is left of it is testament to the power of a once important Mughal minister. But as is known royalty outranks court officialdom. As the building even now faces neglect and ignorance from the authorities it perhaps shows that original equations of power to a great extent dictate the fate of relics of history over time as well.