The Garden Guide

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

Description of Shalimar Bagh Delhi

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From which somewhat confused account it appears that Akbarabadi Bibi must have meant her gardens to be very resplendent; combining all the various architectural beauties of the Kashmir gardens of which she, or her master-builder, had seen or heard; for the Machchi Bhawan, though perhaps it was built in imitation of the Fish Square in the fort at Agra, suggests, from its description, that the writer was referring to the garden-now in ruins-at Bawan spring in Kashmir; especially as the octagonal tank which still surrounds the holy spring at Verinag is mentioned just afterwards as having been the model for another reservoir in the Delhi Shalimar. It was in these gardens that Aurungzeb was hurriedly crowned after he had deposed his father Shah Jahan, the formal coronation taking place later in the Delhi fort. The Shalimar gardens are about six miles north of the city along the Grand Trunk Road. Bernier mentions that the first halt was made there when, in December 1664, Aurungzeb undertook a long and cumbrous journey, with all his Court about him, to Lahore and Kashmir. It was eighteen months before they were back at Delhi-a dangerous experiment with the once popular Shah Jahan alive and a prisoner at Agra. The journey was made at the instance of the Kings ambitious sister Roshanara Begam, who had been long anxious to appear, in her turn, amid the pomp of a magnificent army, as her sister Begam Sahiba had done during the reign of Shah Jahan, and also, no doubt, to see the snow mountains and the famous Kashmir gardens about which there must have been so many tales told in the seraglios of Delhi and Agra ever since the Empress Nur-Mahal set the fashion by undertaking this arduous journey almost every spring. The Shalimar gardens are mentioned by Lieutenant Franklin, who saw them in 1798, in the reign of Shah Alam. The grounds, he says, were laid out with admirable taste: 'but a great part of the most costly and valuable materials have been carried away.' He also notes 'the finest chanam (white plaster made of crushed marble) and the beautiful paintings of flowers of various patterns' on the walls of the harem quarters. After 1803 the gardens were for a time used by the British Resident as a summer retreat. But, unfortunately, this did not prevent their further deterioration. Bishop Heber, who was at Delhi in the winter of 1825, remarks: 'The Shalimar gardens, extolled in Lalla Rookh, are completely gone to decay.' The good bishop seems to have forgotten for the moment that the Shalimar of Moores Lalla Rookh was the original Shalimar garden, not its copy at Delhi. The garden, being a royal one, was confiscated and sold after the revolt of 1857. It consists at present of four parts, two of which still have the appearance of a garden; the others have been given over for cultivation. The depressions of the three principal tanks mentioned by Muhammad Salih and the long water-channel connecting them can still be traced. They lie outside a fine mango grove which shades the highest pool, a picturesque tank overgrown with lotus; and a half-ruined baradari, called the Shish Mahal, stands at the south-west corner of the garden. We can follow the decline and ruin of what once was one of the finest ornaments of the capital of Hindustan. 'It will hardly take a century more'-as Dr. Vogel remarks at the close of his report written in 1904-'and the little that still remains of the Shalimar Bagh of Delhi will have disappeared without leaving a trace'