Babur’s Gardens at Agra

One of the major contributions of Babur to India was the introduction of new types of gardens, the chahārbāgh (four-quartered garden) which were typical to the Central Asia & Timurid lands.

A number of chahārbāghs were constructed by Babur after his victory at Panipat. The first of his gardens, which he ordered to be laid out was at Panipat. This garden (the only one directly attributable to him) along with a mosque and a stepwell were ordered to be constructed as a thanksgiving after his victory over Ibrahim Lodi in 1526. Today only the mosque survives. The garden has generally been lost, what continues is its name: the whole muhalla is known as Kabuli Bagh.

Another chahārbāgh was laid down by Babur after his victory over Rana Sangram Singh at the Battle of Khanwa. The garden along with a stepwell were laid out near the banks of the lake of Sikri. This garden was named ‘Bāgh-i Fath’ – the Garden of Victory. Remains of the garden and the baoli survive (see my book, Fathpur Sikri Revisited, OUP, 2013).

Only visible as traces on the ground (discernible from atop the hillock), this garden had a bārādari (which survives) on the four sides of which (indicated by vegetative growth) were water channels lined with walkways (khiyābān).

A māhipusht (fish-scaled) water chute (ābshār) was also founded embedded in the ground towards the east.

The step-well related with this garden and ordered to be simultaneously built by Babur also survives.

This happened in 1527. Soon after, Babur conquered and took over the Lodi Fort and city of Agra, and ordered the construction of some of his edifices. These were,once again in the form of gardens and baolis, within the fort and outside it.

As the left bank of Yamuna was all barren and rugged, Babur ordered the construction of a series of chahārbāghs.

One of them later got the sobriquet, “Aram Bagh”, due to Babur’s body was temporarily laid to rest in it before being transported to Kabul, where he rests now. This information is provided to us by his daughter Gulbadan Bano Begum in her Ahwal-i Humayun Badshah, also known as Humayun Nama. It was obviously on the eastern (left) bank, but where was it actually located, we are not informed.

The local popular memory however identifies it with a garden now popularly known as “Ram Bagh”, possibly a corruption of “Aram Bagh”. A map of Agra made in 1720 and lodged in City Palace Museum, Jaipur (see Chandramani Singh) actually identifies it with a garden on the eastern bank. (See photo 1 of this blog).

However, the garden as it stands now was built (or rebuilt) during the reign of Jahangir by Nurjahan Begum. Jahangir records it in his Tuzuk. This garden was named Bāgh-i Nūr Afshān. Ebba Koch has in one of her papers published in Facets of Indian Art, proved that the structures belong to the period of Jahangir.

During the course of my surveys I was also able to find the painted figures of Jesus & Mary in one of the Pavilions as depicted in on of the Jahangiri miniature which depicts Nurjahan welcoming and entertaining Jahangir in her garden.

Another garden founded by Babur at Agra was the Bāgh-i Zahra, which sometimes is confused by Bāgh-i Jahānāra built during Shāhjahān’s reign. A bastion still standing on the left bank of Yamuna is identified with this garden.

The Arām Bāgh, now surviving in the form of Nurjahan’s Bāgh-i Nūr Afshan remains as the best example of Babur’s gardens in the Agra region.

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nadeemrezavi

A history buff interested to unravel the past as it was!

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