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The Taj’s Protectors

The Taj’s Protectors

It is almost synonymous with India across the world, the Taj Mahal, a true wonder of the world. But through its history, it has also been a monument at risk from attack. So much so, that even in Shah Jahan’s time, there was a special army to protect it along the Yamuna river.

Yes, the Taj had a riverine security force, its very own ‘Mughal NSG’ of sorts.

Painting of Shah Jahan, circa 1630 | Wikimedia Commons

So what was the need for creating such a force? Did the Mughal Emperor receive threats to take over the monument, or worse, destroy it? That may be difficult to ascertain.

What we do know is that through a special firman, an extraordinary post of ‘Faujdar-i-Nawahi’ or ‘Police Officer of the River’ was created. His mandate was to protect the Taj Mahal and the riverfront around it.

Painting of Fort Agra on the River Jumna, William Hodges, London, 1785-88 | The British Library via Wikimedia Commons

Under this officer operated a ‘special security force’ on the river Yamuna. This force had a strong naval fleet with boats, sailors and well-armed soldiers.

The special security force kept pirates off the Yamuna and regulated traffic as well

This force controlled and regulated traffic up and down the river throughout the year and kept pirates at bay. It was also responsible for maintaining law and order and protect the residences of the important people living on both sides of the river. All major noblemen and umrahs of the Mughal Empire had huge havelis on the Yamuna, which required to be secured.

That brings us to the next question, who held the post of the head of this force?

Miniature Painting in the Badshahnama, circa 1640 | Wikimedia Commons

The man who received the appointment was Agah Khan. While not much is known of this man, he is mentioned frequently by Lahauri, the Court Historian of Shah Jahan in the Badshahnama, as well as various Taj manuscripts.

In his narrative of the year 1634-35, Lahauri mentions that Agah Khwajsara was given the title of ‘khan’ and a ‘Faujdari’ of the river Yamuna. In the year 1644, Lahauri also mentions the promotion of Agah Khan.

He writes,

‘The mansab of Agah khan who was fauzdar police officer of river-banks at Agra was raised from original 1000 zat and 1000 sawar to 1000 zat and 1000 sawar with 800 of them with 2 horse and 3 horse stipend each.’

Lahauri also gives us information about Agah Khan’s background and previous work experience in his writings. Agah Khan was believed to be a trusted officer of Shah Jahan’s harem, hence the title ‘Khwajsara.’ He held the charge of the harem, and was in a position where he could be moved with ease to any civil or military post. He held this post till his death in 1656 AD.

Photo of Taj Mahal showing Aga Khan Haveli ruins, John Murray, 1858 | Wikimedia Commons

Khan even got himself allotted prime waterfront property right next to the Taj Mahal, where he built a grand haveli for himself. This haveli appears in several historical maps as Haveli Agah Khan, located in the area next to the  Dussehra Ghat today. The ruins can be seen to this day.

Agah Khan built his haveli  right next to the Taj Mahal!

Apparently, this haveli had a vast landing ghat, to allow the police fleet to dock there. Some other ruins are visible in photos taken in the 1850s, but seem to have disappeared over time.

The Taj Mahal today, Agra | Wikimedia Commons

With the decline and fall of the Mughal empire, the security force also got dissolved. The Taj Mahal would face attacks, as it was seen as a  symbol of the old regime. In the middle of the 18th century, the Jat rulers of Bharatpur sacked Agra and carried off the valuables to their palace at Deeg.

The Taj Mahal was once used as a guesthouse and ballroom for club parties!

In the 1770s, when Agra came under the possession of the Scindias, the Taj Mahal was used as a guest house. Even more incredibly, when the British captured Agra in 1803, they used it has a clubhouse. Its hard to imagine, but the marble terrace of the Taj was used as a ballroom for club parties!

The ghats, baghs and havelis along the Yamuna river crumbled, and the river itself would just become a backdrop to the Taj over time. Thankfully, restoration and repairs of the Taj Mahal were carried out during the Viceroyalty of Lord Curzon, between 1902 and 1905, and it has been a protected monument since then.

Lord Curzon, undated | Wikimedia Commons

The security of important buildings today has been an ongoing debate. Anyone who has visited Taj Mahal has run into rude and burly security men guarding it upfront. You will find them with sniffer dogs, metal detectors and all sorts of high-tech security to back them up.

But the fascinating fact is that even in the time of Shah Jahan, there was the threat of imminent danger to an important landmark, necessitating the formation of Shah Jahan’s security force. Maybe, times were not so different after all!

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