One the east bank of river Yamuna, at a distance of about four kilometres to the north of Taj Mahal is situated in picturesque surroundings, the elegant tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah. This tilte which means ‘’pillar of the state’’ was bestowed on Mirza Ghiyas Beg by Emperor Jahangir. The Mirza was none other than the father of Jahangir’s favourite wife Nurjahan, and he rose to the position of prime minister in the emperor’s court. He was believed to be a wealthy Iranian but when he fell on bad days, he decided to try his luck in Indian shores, as he had heard a lot about the prosperous Mughals. Impressed by his intellect, Akbar employed him in his court. As luck would have it, Mirza’s beautiful daughter Mehr-ur-Nissa, went on to marry Jahangir and became famous as Nurjahan or ‘’light of the world’’.

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

Jahangir’s interests were more inclined towards painting, poetry, wine and opium, so the state was virtually ruled by Nurjahan and her name was also inscribed along with the emperor’s on the gold coins. When her father died in 1622, she decided to build a tomb in his memory. It is believed that she had wanted to construct an edifice made of silver inlaid with precious gems, but was persuaded to abandon the idea, as it would have been difficult to preserve it for posterity, considering of the turbulent times.

The mausoleum was six years in the making and the final outcome was a splendid garden tomb, often lyrically described as a ‘’jewel box in marble’’. A rare combination of white marble, inlay and lattice work, coloured mosaic and precious stones, the tomb marks a transition from the conventional red sandstone to the refined white marble.

It stands in the middle of an elegantly styled charbagh on a low plinth which is made sandstone decorated with geometrically patterned inlay work and fountains on all sides. The square two storeyed tomb with each side measuring 7 meters became an architectural landmark both because of the extensive use of pure white marble and magnificent work. Each of the sides in the ground floor has a single arched portal and a broad octagonal turret in every corner. The central vaulted chamber contained yellow marble cenotaphs of Itmad-ud-daulah and his wife. The shining floor is decorated with floral patterns which are also seen on the walls. Surrounding this chamber are eight rooms (two on each side) wherein lie the tombs of other members of the family. The walls of all the rooms are richly painted with flowers, vases, cypresses and wine vessels and the central chamber is the most lavishly decorated. Its ceiling is richly polychromed and the floor is embellished with floral motifs and arabesque designs inlaid with yellow and brown semiprecious stones which make it look like the design of a Persian carpet.

This reminds us of the Sheikh Salim Chisti’s mosque in Fatehpur Sikri. According to historians ‘’Light was more than an imperial symbol for the Mughals and a metaphor for Divine light symbolizing the very presence of God. This play of light upon the solid marble room may be intended as a reminder that only God symbolized by light is real, all other is illusion’’. Two replica tombstones lie exactly above the chamber below.

The interior as well as the exterior marble walls of the tomb decorated with many coloured marble mosaic are inlaid with semi precious stones. This on a belief introduced from Europe in the 17th century while others say that it developed on its own accord and was an important form of decoration later used only in the Mughal monuments in our country.

The overall form and design of the tomb said to have been derived from the palace structures, is Indian in concept as in Akbar’s tomb, though the decoration are Persian in nature.

The tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah is a simple structure made extraordinary with beautiful decoration on every inch of its surface. Considered to be a precursor to Taj Mahal because of its pure white marble and precious inlay work, this lovely edifice was completed five years before work on the Taj commenced. So the former must surely have been a great influence in the ‘’choice of material and ornamentation.

The Taj Mahal, several times larger in size is appreciated more because of its harmonious proportions and spotlessly white marble, whereas in Itmad-ud-daulah’s tomb, the design, material and decorative embellishments blend in a manner that the beauty of each feature stands apart. In this tranquil tomb which is ‘’more like a beautiful and precious work of art than a mausoleum, building art has been interpreted as an expression of the style in its most delicate and refined aspect, disregarding size but aiming at exquisite finish’’.