1650 - Jean Baptiste Tavernier
As for the tombs which are in Agra and its environs, there are some which are very beautiful, and there is not one of the eunuchs in the King's harem who is not ambitious to have a magnificent tomb built for himself. When they have amassed large sums they earnestly desire to go to Mecca, and to take with them rich presents; but the Great Mogul, who does not wish the money to leave his country, very seldom grants them permission, and consequently, not knowing what to do with their wealth, they expend the greater part of it in these burying-places, in order to leave some monument to their names.
Of all the tombs which one sees at Agra, that of the wife of Shah Jahan is the most splendid. He purposely made it near the Tasimacan, where all foreigners come, so that the whole world should see and admire its magnificence. The Tasimacan is a large bazaar, consisting of six large courts all surrounded with porticoes, under which there are chambers for the use of merchants, and an enormous quantity of cottons is sold there. The tomb of this Begum, or sultan queen, is at the east end of the town by the side of the river in a great square surrounded by walls, upon which there is a small gallery, as on the walls of many towns in Europe. This square is a kind of garden divided into compartments like our parterres, but in the places where we put gravel there is white and black marble. You enter this square by a large gate, and at first you see, on the left hand, a beautiful gallery which faces in the direction of Mecca, where there are three or four niches where the Mufti comes at fixed times to pray. A little farther than the middle of the square, on the side of the water, you see three great platforms elevated, one upon the other, with four towers at the four corners of each, and a staircase inside, for proclaiming the hour of prayer. There is a dome above, which is scarcely less magnificent than that of Val de Grace at Paris. It is covered within and without with white marble, the middle being of brick. Under this dome there is an empty tomb, for the Begum is interred under a vault which is beneath the first platform. The same changes which are made below in this subterranean place are made above around the tomb, for from time to time they change the carpet, chandeliers, and other ornaments of that kind, and there are always there some Mollahs to pray. I witnessed the commencement and accomplishment of this great work, on which they have expended twenty-two years, during which twenty thousand men worked incessantly; this is sufficient to enable one to realise that the cost of it has been enormous. It is said that the scaffoldings alone cost more than the entire work, because, from want of wood, they had all to be made of brick, as well as the supports of the arches; this has entailed much labour and a heavy expenditure. Shah Jahan began to build his own tomb on the other side of the river, but the war which he had with his sons interrupted his plan, and Aurangzeb, who reigns at present, is not disposed to complete it. An eunuch in command of 2000 men guards both the tomb of the Begum and the Tasimacan, to which it is near at hand.
Ball, V: (Ed.)
Travels in India by Jean Baptiste Tavernier
Translated from the Original French Edition of 1676
Vol I, London 1889