The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 2 Gardens of the Plains - Agra

Itmad-Ud-Daula Tomb Garden

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Across the river Jumna, and on the same side as the Ram Bagh, is the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah (the Lord High Treasurer), one of the most beautiful of all the Mughal garden-tombs. This exquisite mausoleum, the first example of inlaid marble work in a style directly evolved from the Persian tile-mosaics, was raised by the Empress Nur-Jahan to the memory of her father, Mirza Ghiyas Beg. Her remarkable Persian-or, according to another account, Turki -family, had such an influence on Mughal art during its most brilliant period that their relationships are worth remembering. Ghiyas Beg, who became the Lord High Treasurer of Jahangir and afterwards Wazir or Prime Minister, had left his home to seek his fortune at the Court of Akbar, where there were already relatives of his; and with him came his wife, his son, and an infant daughter born on the journey to Lahore. A clever man and genial scholar, he quickly rose to power, and his little daughter, who seems to have inherited much of his ability, as well as his love for art, became in after years the famous Empress Nur-Jahan. She and her brother Asaf Khan, who, in his turn, became Wazir, completely ruled the empire in the closing days of Jahangir; while Asaf Khan's daughter (Nur-Jahan's niece and daughter-in-law) was the Mumtaz Mahal, the Crown of the Palace, whose death inspired the building of the Taj. This tomb of the founder of the family shows plainly their influence on the art of their day, the inlaid work with its designs of vases, fruits, drinking-cups, and cypress trees repeating in marble all the familiar motives of Persian tile-mosaic. The whole enclosure and the mausoleum seem small after the huge pile set in the vast ruined garden at Sikandrah. But though this old pleasure-ground by the riverside is carefully maintained, its empty water channels, bare mown gram-plots, and scattered trees show that the garden has quite lost its original character. The four great tanks on the central platform are dry and empty, no glittering fountain spray breaks the darkness of the doorways, nor overflows in ripples down the tiny carved water-chutes; and the empty, narrow watercourses, once blue ribbons of the sky laid on the rosy mauve of the broad flagged pathways, now look meaningless and forlorn. The majority of the Mughal gardens are on such a huge scale that it seems, at first sight, almost vain to hope for their complete restoration. But the tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah and its enclosure are comparatively small, and it is easy to realise how much this exquisite mausoleum would gain in beauty and interest if its old setting were revived. The delicious flash and sparkle of the water running through its narrow channels would give life and character to the broad stone-ways and platforms; the deep gloom of the cypress avenues, a welcome relief and perspective, changing the glare of sunshine on white inlaid marble to a soft iridescent bloom. Rose-bushes should border the raised walks, bending over to break the hard edges of the stone-work, and drop their petals in tribute at the tomb of this Persian scholar and rose-lover. On the grass plots by the river brilliant parterres might be spread, with fruit trees planted formally, for without their changing beauties of fruit and blossom no Moslem or Hindu garden is complete. This is a tempting subject on which to enlarge, for apart from the symbolic appropriateness, the mere artistic gain would be great if this garden by the riverside at Agra could be replanted with the same care, skill, and knowledge with which its buildings have been restored. The small scale of this garden shows the old symbolism of the plan very clearly. The central building on its platform, the four springs,-in this case four tanks on each side of the platform itself, each containing a single fountain,-and the four watercourses, 'the Rivers of Life,' which they supply.