The Garden Guide

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

Mughal Emperors

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This fairy palace of white marble, set on the river edge of the dark red sandstone fortress walls, was the most magnificent of all Shah Jahans great architectural works. The Shalimar Gardens outside Lahore were another of his vast undertakings. But the real spirit of the splendour-loving Emperor seems to linger in an older, smaller building. It haunts Nur-Mahals little Jasmine Tower at Agra, whence he looked his last on his uncompleted vision of the Taj. The early Mughal Emperors were great builders, and nearly all the royal gardens, whose massive embankments and solid walls remain, were built in the period between Babars conquest of India and the death of his sixth direct descendant, Aurungzeb, in 1707. What a marvellous line of Emperors these Mughals were, six of the greatest directly descended sovereigns in the history of the world. Two, at least, were men of genius of the very first rank. Babar, soldier and artist, conqueror of Afghanistan and India, Prince of autobiographers and gardeners, and his grandson Akbar, dreamer and statesman, are the noblest and most fascinating characters in all Eastern history. For the rest of them, Humayun certainly lost ground, but he passed on the kingdom to his son, the great Akbar. Jahangir, Akbars son, a weak man, the great Emperors greatest disappointment, still lives in his countrys song and legend in the strength of his romantic life-long love for Nur-Mahal, his Queen. Shah Jahan, a great administrator, ranks high, as must any king who inspires and builds a nations masterpiece, and no less for that even greater scheme, the dream of the second Taj, whose realisation fate and the Emperors bigot son frustrated. Aurungzeb was a genius of a narrower order, the Louis XI. of India; but in spite of his fanaticism he extended the Empire and held it together for fifty years, by skill and will-power combined with unscrupulous cunning. Then as his iron nerve and hand relaxed in death the great Empire of the Mughals crumbled and fell, and with its downfall passed the greatest of the arts and crafts it fostered. Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurungzeb, six famous names ! But who has heard of the nine Emperors who followed? On the last alone, Bahadur Shah, in the flare of the great rebellion the light is cast, a poor old man of eighty surrounded by his mimic Court, his Empire bounded by the rose-red walls of this palace-fortress of Delhi. [Editors comment: Once they had undertaken the task of governing India, the British acquired a high regard for their immediate predecessors - the Mughal emperors. It is as though, having become emperors, it was only just to pay their respect to other emperors. Though they undoubtedly brought ideas and knowledge to India, as did the British, it is easy for Hindus to dwell on the deliberate damage they caused to the ancient Hindu and Buddhist art and architecture of India]