The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 5 Gardens of the Plains - Delhi

Delhi garden of Roshanara Begam

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Nearer the city, to the west of Sabzi Mandi, the suburb of the Vegetable Market, are Roshanara Begams gardens. This Princess ruled the Court under Aurungzeb, very much as her sister Jahanara had done in the last days of Shah Jahans reign. They were both children of the celebrated Mumtaz Mahal; and, like her, famous for beauty and piety; but being royal princesses, they were not allowed to marry, no man being considered worthy of the hand of a daughter of the Great Mughal; or rather, as Bernier observes, the limitation grew out of the fear 'that the husband might hereby be rendered powerful and induced perhaps to aspire to the crown.' There were always enough aspirants and to spare when a Mughal Emperor died. In spite of this restriction, each of these ladies, in her turn, had unbounded influence, both inside the harem and throughout the Empire. Like their mother, and like their great ancestress, Nur-Jahan Begam, they were magnificent patronesses of art and letters. Jahanaras simple tomb, at the shrine of her favourite Saint Nizam-ud-din Aulia, on the other side of Delhi, shows to the full the taste and artistic feeling so manifest in all the descendants of the Persian scholar, Ghiyas Beg. The exquisite white marble grave is open to the sky; by her special request, grass alone is grown in a hollow on the top of the monument,- and where in other royal tombs the white marble gleams with garlands of inlaid gems, the 'Humble Grave' of the Lady Jahanara Begam shows, as its only ornament, a lily carved of precious jade, green as the waving grass. Roshanara, the other sister, lies buried in her own garden-house, an elaborate white pavilion with creeper-clad walls, standing on a low wide platform in the centre of the upper terrace in the gardens still called by her name. A raised canal, something after the style of the broad watercourses at Safdar Jangs mausoleum, but bordered by beds of flowers and still ornamented with a row of little fountains, leads from this building to the entrance gate. It must have been a gay sight when the Begam Roshanaras elephant procession arrived from Delhi fort: the huge animals, with their gold-embroidered coverings, their solemn, ponderous tread, their jangling silver bells, conveying the 'goddesses' of the Imperial harem enshrined from the vulgar gaze; and then the Princess herself-escaping from the noise and stifling heat of the royal palace-came in her splendid rose-curtained litter, swung between two smaller elephants, to while away a few hours in her cool, flower-scented, fountain-sprinkled gardens. To follow in her train to-day, one must leave the dusty highway of the suburbs, with its swarming crowds and perpetual clanging of tram bells, and toil down several narrow, evil-smelling streets, until at the end of one of them the old garden entrance blocks the way. The prospect through the dark, tiled archway is charming; on either side large shady trees shut in and concentrate the eye on the distant view of the white pavilion, with its walls and pillars half concealed in wreaths and festoons of glowing purple bougainvillaea. Every detail is reflected clearly in the placid dark-green water of the long canal; where the rose-bushes, leaning over, soften the edges of its raised stone border with their new-grown, red-brown shoots and graceful flower-decked sprays. But once inside the gateway the whole effect is spoilt by the modern carriage drives and the loss of three of the four canals. Green depressions mark the course of two of them, while a third is lost in a maze of ugly shapeless flower-beds and gravel-paths. The trellis walks and old symbolic avenues are gone-though one neglected path is still shaded by a broken pergola of vines. On two sides the garden walls are broken down; the terraced walk beside the water can hardly be distinguished; and the great tank beyond has lost its three pavilions, and almost lost its form. Everywhere winding roads driven through the old garden have cut up and completely spoilt the beauty of the original design. Even the approach has been altered to a carriage drive, through a low insignificant gate, set in a corner of the grounds; and the fine old entrance with its lovely tiles is hardly ever seen.