Agra is also called ‘the city of love’. It is known so because the structure symbolising one of the greatest love stories of medieval India, Taj Mahal, stands tall here. Over the years, the reason for this connotation has expanded, and now includes the people who make this city, a city of love.
I remember my last visit to Agra with the main purpose to see the Taj Mahal on a full moon night. My stubbornness increased our stay for around a week more in the city. This period allowed us to know more about the culture of the place, about the trends that were being followed and most importantly, about the people of the city. We had booked a local car which would take us around, and with it came my favourite, the driver “bhaiya”. He knew everything! From showing the Taj Mahal to the Tomb of Akbar, he was our guide in disguise.
Since we were to stay for somedays, we took a ride to Fatehpur Sikri, and there we were introduced with another world to Sufi mysticism. “Bhaiya” told me that people from all walks of life, from every religion find solace in the dargah of saint Salim Chishti. Many of them were from Agra itself. Well, I was told that the main income of the people came from the tourism that city offers, and every other day they find themselves with different set of individuals giving a tour of Agra, and its adjacent cities.
On our way back, “bhaiya” stopped at a Zardozi workshop, where his wife worked. We met his wife, she invited us over dinner, and saw the talented artisans of Agra and remembered what popularity they have achieved across the world today.
At my insistence, our parents allowed my brother and me to go to the dinner invitation extended to us, though the house was small, the food was delicious. We had one of our best meal of the trip, the hostesses confessed that the recipe for the mutton biryani was given by an old Muslim lady of her neighbourhood. Our driver “bhaiya” had a ten year old boy who was pushed by his father in reciting a poem for us. He had recited a poem in English and was able to translate it into Brajbhasha and Urdu too, what an exceptional ability at such a young age! For what it’s worth, this was a Hindu family.
Another couple that I met and liked were the local resident of the city and the owner of our homestay. They informed us about the culture of Agra city. The population of the city consists of people from various religions, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain, everyone lived with harmony. Despite having a rich Islamic historical background, the local dialect spoken in Agra is Braj Bhasha in addition to the standard Hindi, Urdu and English.
The festivals celebrated in the city reflect the influence of nearby cities like, Mathura and Vridavan, as well as express the diversity of customs of different religious groups. Braj Raslila, Ram Lila, Charukala and Rasiya along with Dussehra, Diwali, Id and Ram Barat are the major festivals celebrated in the city which indicate us of such diversity. Other cultural events and festivals celebrated by the people of Agra are Taj Mahotsav, Kailash Fair, Janmashtami, Ram Lila, Dusshera, Urs Sufi Sahib and Bateshwar Fair to name a few.
The rest of the days went waiting for the full moon night and roaming the streets of Agra, looking on the marvel that people of the city create like the mirror work ( sheesh/abhala Bharat embroidery), the leather craft and the most famous stone art, which is done with marble stones.
When the final day came, we went little early to the Taj Mahal to wait for the moon to rise. For a brief moment we could see the sun setting and the moon rising, with each degree that the moon rose I could imagine the patterns of beautiful marble inlay work of Agra, and as the sun was preparing itself to retire for the day, I could see the shine of the zardozi work dazzling through the sky. And as I saw the moon adjusting itself to the perfect angle , I could imagine the beautiful smile of the little boy who recited poems in three different languages for us. It was when I fully saw the scenic beauty of Taj Mahal in the night sky of a full moon that I realised what actually made Agra, the city of love. As much as I was awestruck by my view infant of my eyes, all I could recall in those moments were the times I spent listening to the stories of the people of the city. It wasn’t just the mesmerising Taj Mahal, nor the story it beholds within itself, rather the people that make the Agra, the city of love.