Agra, India

Friday, June 21, 1929

Up with the sun at six and before seven Mort and I were on the road to Aikandra. After we got lost and Mort took a spill, we arrived at the outer gate leading to the great garden enclosed by flanking walls with boldly-pierced sandstone grills. It is of red sandstone inlaid with white marble in various polygonal patterns, very massive, and with a splendid scroll of Tughra—writing a foot broad—adorning it. On the top of the gateway at each corner rises a white minaret of three storeys; the cupolas, destroyed over 120 years ago, have been restored. A broad paved causeway leads to Akbar’s mausoleum. It is a pyramidal building 74 feet high, of 4 storeys, three of which are of red sandstone; the fourth, enclosing the cenotaph, is of white marble. The basement measures 320 feet each way and the top storeys 57 feet. A massive cloister runs around the lowest storey, broken in the center of the facade by a lofty archway, the portion on the south forming the entrance to the tomb chamber. The vaulted ceiling of the vestibule was elaborately frescoed in gold and blue and a section of this has been restored. A gentle decline leads to the dark vaulted chamber, a very plain room, where the great Akbar once rested. But Ját villagers pillaged the tomb and burnt his bones. On the south side of the facade on either side of the archway some bays of the cloisters are screened off and contain tombs with inscriptions in beautiful characters.

Narrow stairways lead to the platforms and terraces above. The top story is surrounded by a beautiful cloister of white marble, carved on the other side in a lattice-work in squares of two feet, every square of a different design. In the center is the splendid white monolith cenotaph of the Emperor, engraved with the 99 glorious names of the deity, just over the place where his dust rests in the vaulted chamber below. To the north of it at a distance of four feet is a handsome white marble pillar 2½ feet high which, according to tradition, was once covered with gold and contained the Koh-i-nur. (The diamond of this name probably did not come into the Mughal possession till the reign of Shah Jahan.) The cost of the tomb was 15 lakhs (1,500,000 rupees) $555,000.

On the way home by a different route we passed numerous old ruins of cenotaphs, etc. much as at Delhi, though not so extensive, and 4 miles from Agra passed a stone horse said to have been erected in honor of a favorite horse of Akbar’s which died at this spot.

After a good argument with the hotel proprietress over the price of tea, we rode out to the Taj just at sunset. The place seems more beautiful and perfect every time I see it. Visited the dark vault where are buried the remains of Shah Jahan and his wife, under the cenotaphs on the main floor, in a plain marble room. We spent some time examining the inner room of the mausoleum. It is nothing less than divine. The exquisite carving of the trellis-work screen is the acme of artisticness. [Yes.] The delicate colors of the inlaid flowers makes them seem like real, and even such minute inlaying as the veins on the leaves.

We watched the sun set over the Agra Fort and a full moon rise in the east.

Across the street from the hotel is a house with a large yard. For some four days a group of musicians has been pouring out so-called music. Drums often beat, and there seemed to be a continuous tamache there. This evening we discovered it was a Hindu wedding. Celebrations take place for a week or ten days. The yard is decorated as if for a Rotary picnic—paper flags strung on strings all around the place, tables for refreshments, etc. and this band.

As we were coming home this evening a great commotion was coming down the street. Every few feet it would halt while coolies set off skyrockets and colored flares in front. After these men followed two more, both supporting a twelve-foot frame apiece, on which was the effigy of a horse. Side flaps divided their front halves from their backs, and this front half was a solid mass of tin foil (I guess) that glittered like silver in the flare lights. Between the flaps and perpendicular to the back, protruded a high piece in the middle of which was a rather small face of a man. Following this was a band; then came a monstrous elephant fully twelve feet high, and on his back in a silver (appearing) carrier sat a man, three small children and the bridegroom, the latter dressed in a robe or dress of silver scales. His headdress was also of silver and as a veil for his face hung strings of flowers from the headdress. A long line of autos and carriages carried friends and guests. This elephant was a wow for size. On his head sat the driver with his pointed pick. A large gold-embroidered robe was thrown over the elephant’s back, reaching nearly to the ground; from the carrier hung a bell on a long cord. The headdress of the elephant was of gold thread embroidered on a red mat. On either side of his head, just in front of his huge ears was tied a silver lion some six inches in height. From the people in the cars following, I would say the wedding was a Brahman one—the highest Hindu caste.

The procession turned in at the driveway leading into the yard. Before the veranda the elephant knelt and the passengers dismounted, the sparkling bridegroom immediately being swallowed up by a group of friends. Two boys appeared carrying large shiny brass jars on their heads. I could not see what the groom did. He seemed to be kneeling within the circle repeating some ceremonies. During this process the guests talked and didn’t seem to pay much attention to what was going on. All the while green, red, and white flares were being burned about the yard; skyrockets were going off; pinwheels were whirling; giant firecrackers were banging. I don’t think I’ll ever have a Hindu marriage when (and if) I lose my bachelor rights. The only advantage as I see it is the elephant ride.

After dinner we again went out to the Taj. In the strong light of a full moon there was nothing earthly about it. The fascination grows on you till soon you can’t keep your eyes from it. They keep turning toward it for the mental pleasure of seeing something of perfect grace, beauty, and charm.

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