The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 3 The Gardens of the Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal garden plan

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As the sunlight flooded the gardens, the avenue of cypresses stood out sharply, their shadows barring the long walks. But the dark masses of the mango trees behind looked confused and heavy, blocking the full view of the magnificent platform with the white marble mausoleum and its attendant mosques. The noise of a flock of chattering, shrieking parrots rose behind me as the garden coolies, and the sweepers with their brooms, and the bhistis with their water mussicks all clattered noisily through the echoing entrance portal; and in a somewhat dilatory fashion, with much talk and shouting, the day's work of the garden began. The Taj is the one triumph of Indian art in which Moslem and Hindu, official Anglo-Indian and passing English tourist all join to reverence and admire. And in the full prosaic daylight, when the white dome stands up in dazzling sharpness against the deep blue of the sky, nothing is more striking, in a land of great ruins and tawdry modern buildings, than its absolute bloom of perfection. The earliest existing plan of the gardens is that made in 1828 by Colonel Hodgson, Surveyor-General in India, from which it will be seen that beautifully kept as they are at present, the grounds have been considerably Europeanised, and cannot now be said to represent the original intention of their makers. For one thing, the heavy mass of trees quite obscures the view of the composition as a whole. The plan is simple: the fourfold field-plot of Babar, the plan of Arama, the ancient Hindu fourfold Paradise of restfulness. In one particular only does the plan of the Taj differ from those of all other famous Mughal tombs. A beautiful raised fountain-tank of white marble occupies the centre of the fourfold plot, replacing the almost invariable central mausoleum; and the actual tomb of the Lady Arjumand Banu stands on the great platform at the end of the gardens, overlooking the shining reaches of the river Jumna. What inspired Shah Jahan to change the traditional order of the design ? Was it the natural beauty of the site on the river cliff ? Did he build this tribute to his adored wife there, because from his balconies in the palace fort he could watch the sunrise and the sunset flush its marble into rosy life ? Maybe some Hindu influence, inherited from his Rajput mother unconsciously, led him to raise the tomb on the banks of the Jumna, placing the tank for the lotus lilies of the Lord Vishnu in the centre of the garden; or perhaps it is a proof of the story which maintains that the Taj as we know it is but half of the plan, and that the great Emperor meant to complete his masterpiece with another tomb for himself across the river, joining Taj to Taj by a bridge of black marble-Holy Jumna itself the centre of the scheme.