A look at the use of marble in Agra's monuments and how the local artisans create art with the stone
The Taj and its immediate surroundings capture the dichotomy of Agra: on the one hand the majestic and awe-inspiring monuments that attract visitors from far and near; on the other, the congested lanes and haphazard construction of modern day Agra all around them.
The Taj gets thousands of visitors every day; in fact the authorities are considering capping the number of daily visitors to the monument at 30,000 for safety and conservation concerns.
While the Taj Mahal holds abiding allure, Agra also has a wealth of other monuments to offer visitors.
The Agra Fort is another UNESCO World Heritage site, and encloses within its walls, the imperial city of the Mughal rulers.
The architectural legacy of Agra means different things to different people; some come to experience the sheer beauty and perfection of the Taj Mahal.
For others, it is the composition and proportions of the monuments...
...their architectural vision.
And for some, it is the mystique of the Mughals.
Outside the monuments are a host of small shops and boutiques.
The shops sell art objects made of the crafts of the Taj – carvings in marble, or objects of intricately inlaid stone and cater to visitors of varying taste and budget.
A parallel business is also of little establishments offering facilities for rest and refreshment.
The artisanal artefacts of Agra are all made in the city. Their story starts in the stone cutting facilities on the outskirts of town.
The cut stone blocks are then crafted by artisans who live in the old neighbourhoods of the city. The approach to their quarters is through narrow and busy streets.
Children, animals, two-wheelers – there is life all around.
Living quarters are not demarcated from workshops. Walking down a busy street, it is quite common to find craftspersons sitting in their doorways, busy at stonework.
Stone carving is done by both women and men.
A half open, non-descript door is likely to reveal a craftsperson sitting in deep concentration.
The light from the doorway is all the craftsman needs to illuminate the small space which is the sphere of his concentration.
Many workshops are open fronted to the streets. As is customary in most of India, the artisans sit on the floor.
They use basic tools and equipment to produce the range of products that are sold in the souvenir shops of Agra, or make their way to large and shiny showrooms further afield.
On the other hand, inlay work, which the Mughals introduced to Agra, is a skill that has been handed down the generations. Its practitioners feel that no one else can pick up the nuances of the craft.
Artisans like Muhammad Rais (image on the left) and his brothers, who run a family unit that specializes in inlay work, are original inhabitants of Agra.
Vakiluddin, an expert in jaali or fret work, believes his family descended from the original artisans who worked on the Taj.
His entire family is engaged in craft work. While he carves stone, the women folk do Zardozi embroidery.
It is families such as this who are the true inheritors of the historical legacy of this marble city.
Text: Aloka Hiremath
Photography: Sunil Verma
Artisans: Narendar Kumar Verma, Anwar Khan, Mohammad Rais, Vakiluddin and associates in the community
Ground Facilitator: Aloka Hiremath
Curation: Ruchira Verma