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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Begum Ka Bagh : Princess Jahanara's Garden in Chandni Chowk | Now Lost Forever .. With RARE paintings

Hi Friends,

Continuing the series on Mughal Princess Jahanara, after a long hiatus. This article aims to take a look at some of the beautiful buildings and gardens she left behind as her legacy.

More can be read about Princess Jahanara in the earlier blog articles:
Jahanara : Her Father's Daughter
Farman of Sahibat-uz-Zamani Padshah Begum Sahib Jahanara

Portrait of a young lady, recently identified as Jahanara and attributed to the painter Lalchand c. 1631-3 (Losty and Roy, p. 132).


The Mughal princesses, Jahanara and Raushanara, daughters of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (who himself built several beautiful monuments including the glorious Taj Mahal), laid out many gardens in Agra, Delhi, Kashmir and other places. Jahanara built, rebuilt or completed quite a few beautiful gardens such as Bagh-i-Jahan Ara, Bagh-i-Safa, Bagh-i-Nur Afshan, Bagh-i-Aishabad and Bagh-i-Shahara. These gardens had many canals and a variety of trees. 

Line Drawing of a Map of Agra Inscribed in Devanagari Script. Early 18th Century. Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, cat. no. 126, Jaipur.
3. Bagh-i-Nur Afshan (Ram Bagh)  4. Bagh-i-Zahara (Jahanara Bagh)

But what was remarkable about these gardens was that they eventually became typical of the riverfront garden of Agra and, more importantly, influenced all Mughal; palace gardens built later. In this garden plan, the main building was not at the centre of the garden, as in the classical Mughal char bagh, but was arranged on terraces lining the riverbank. The riverfront buildings were framed by the corner towers of the enclosure wall of the garden. On the landward side of the terrace was a char bagh. This shift towards the riverfront provided the main garden pavilions with the climatic advantages of running water and a carefully composed front to those who saw it from a boat or from across the river.  

The Jamiʻ Masjid, Agra, built for Jahanara and completed in 1648. Photographed by W. Caney in the 1880s for the Archaeological Survey of India (Photo 1003/(512)

We have already seen in the earlier post* that Princess Jahanara used her personal allowance to build the Jami Masjid in Agra (1648) and a mosque cum religious centre (khanqah) dedicated to Mulla Shah at the foothills of the Koh Maran hills in Srinagar (1650). She also laid out the main market square known as Chandni Chowk and a lovely garden known as Begum Ka Bagh in Shahjahanabad. 

* - Farman of Sahibat-uz-Zamani Padshah Begum Sahib Jahanara

Her teacher, Mulla Shah was so fond of Jahanara that he renamed the Chashm-i-Shahi gardens as the Chashm-i-Sahiba gardens.

When Mullah Shah died in 1666 AD, he was buried close to the tomb of Mian Mir in Lahore. Jahanara had a red sandstone mausoleum built over his grave, adding a beautiful garden in the compound. 

Shahjahanabad, 17th Century

Red Fort at Delhi [Lahori Gate]; from 'Amal-i Salih, by Muhammad Salih Kanbu, 1700's

Our main focus in this post is on the Begum Ka Bagh, which is now sadly lost to us.  This garden also enclosed the Begum Sarai, which was her gift to travelers. This exquisite garden was located just outside Chandni Chowk at Delhi.

The former "Begum Samru's house" on Chandni Chowk was made into a bank. The painting, from the 1820's, is in the Aga Khan Museum. This house was present in the Begum ka Bagh. This is possibly the ONLY painting which depicts the splendour of that garden built by Jahanara Begum. Full size painting is present at the end of this article.


Shahjahanabad, the new capital of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan which took nine years to complete (1639-1648), was occupied by the royal family in 1648. The whole palace was conceived as a garden. The pavilions and the halls for the emperor and the zenana stood on terraces (kursi) threaded along a canal that ran along the riverbank. There was a fresh and verdant garden (baghcha) in front of each pavilion (nashiman), clearly influenced by the waterfront garden of Agra. 

Red Fort, Delhi, Completed in 1648. Plan shows gardens described in contemporary texts.

Jahanara and Roshanara, the two princesses, laid out gardens, market squares and serais (rest houses) which were among the most beautiful creations within the new walled city. It was Jahanara, Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter on whom he had conferred the title of Begum Sahib, who laid out Chandni Chowk, the main market square, and the garden known as Begum ka Bagh.

The Moonlit Market Square

We find descriptions of Begum ka Bagh in many history books and in the accounts of travellers who saw it then. All of them agree that it was indeed a thing of beauty. Before we proceed further, here is a brief look at Chandni Chowk, one of the most flourishing and aesthetically appealing market places in the Mughal era.

"If there is any street in the East where the splendors of the Arabian Nights are still credible, it is Chandni Chowk. For here are emeralds as big as turkey's eyes, palaces with golden roofs, female slaves who sing like nightingales and enchanting princesses,'' records a historian of the Mughal days. 

The name Chandni Chowk itself is illustrative of the lovely street that reflected moonlight in a central pool. How artistic and aesthetic must have been the sensibilities of the sufiana poetess and author Jahanara to imagine and execute such a breathtaking market square! 

Inside Red Fort, 1840's

View of Chandni Chowk(left) from the Red Fort. 1840's

View of a garden in Old Delhi from Red Fort, 1840's

Chandni Chowk, Principal Rue de Delhi, From l'Illustration, 1867
l'Illustration was a weekly French newspaper published in Paris from 1843 to 1944. 

At each end of Chandni Chowk were ornamental gates that led to the Begum ka Bagh and Begum Serai. Another gate gave the common people access to the city of Shahjahanabad.

A wood engraving from Illustrated London News, 1857 

On one side of the chowk in a half-moon shape, a market came up, which soon became a prosperous trading center. The choicest fruits, jewelry, weapons, wines, and clothes were sold here. Most shopkeepers specialized in specific wares such as hookahs, birds or perfumes. The elite gentry of Shahjahanabad spent long, leisurely hours here selecting goods.

Dargah Quli Khan, a chronicler of life in Delhi in the mid-18th century, called Chandni Chowk in his treatise muraqqa-i-Dehli as the most decorated passage in Delhi. He described the excellent rubies of Badakshan, the glassware of China and the exquisite perfumes and weapons that were sold here. He also mentioned a large number of qahwa khanas (equivalent to modern-day coffee/tea houses) where poets would enchant others with their verse.

Chandni Chowk, 1900

Here is how Carr Stephen, a British administrator turned antiquarian, described Chandni Chowk in his book, Archaeology and Monumental Remains of Delhi (1876), pp. 246-47 ::

Of the two streets described by Bernier, the longer extended from the Lahore Gate of the city to the Lahore Gate of the citadel, and the other from the Delhi Gate of the city to the Lahore Gate of the fort. Both these streets were divided into several sections, each of which was known by a different name.

Prince of Wales visits Chandni Chowk in 1876

The section between the Lahore Gate of the fort and the entrance of the street called the Dariba, known as the Khani Darwazah, was called the Urdi or the Military Bazaar; owing, very probably, to the circumstances of a portion of the local garrison having been once quartered about the place. Between the Khani Darwazah and the present Kotwali, or the Head Police Station of the city, the street has the name of Phul ka Mandi or the flower market. The houses in front of the Kotwali were built at a short distance from the line of the rest of the houses in the street, so as to form a square.

Between the Kotwali and the gate known as the Taraiah, was the Jauhari or the Jewellers' Bazaar; between the Taraiah and the neighbourhood known as Asharfi ka Katra, was, par excellence, the Chandni Chauk. There was a talk in the centre of the Chauk the site of which is now occupied by the Municipal Clock Tower, and beyond this to the Fateypuri Masjid was the Fatehpuri Bazaar. The houses round Chandni Chauk were of the same height, and were ornamented with arched doors and painted verandahs. To the north and south of the square there were two gate-ways, the former leading to the Sarai of Jahanara Begam, and the latter to one of the most thickly populated quarters of the city. Round the tank the ground was literally covered with vegetable, fruit, and sweetmeat stalls. In the course of time the whole of this long street came to be known as the Chandni Chauk.

Chandni Chowk, Plate 10 from H. H. Wilson's Portfolio, 1841, British Library

This grand street was laid out by Jahanara Begam, daughter of Shah Jahan.... From the Lahore Gate of the fort to the end of the Chandni Chauk the street was about 40 yards wide and 1,520 yards long. Through the centre of this street ran the canal of 'Ali Mardan, shaded on both sides by trees. On the eastern end of the Chandni Chauk stands the Lahore Gate of the Fort, and on the opposite end the handsome mosque of Fatehpuri Begam.

Chandni Chowk was 1520 yards long and 40 yards wide. It extended from Red Fort to Fatehpuri Mosque.

Coming back to the main theme of this post - Begum Ka Bagh, it is worth remembering that Jahanara 
is the same person who planted a garden of 30,000 trees -- Tis Hazari (Garden of 30,000 Trees) -- at the place where the Tis Hazari sessions court (near Kashmiri Gate) is now located. Some say the garden, which was full of neem trees, was gifted to her by her adoring father. Later, she bequeathed it to her favorite niece, Zeb-un-Nissa (Aurangzeb's daughter), who built a library here.

The Garden That Jahanara Built

Begum ka Bagh, laid out by Princess Jahanara in 1650, was enclosed within high stone walls on all sides. It extended from the present National Club to Lajpat Rai Market. 

It had pools and channels for running water. There were fountains and chattris (canopies) supported on 12 pillars of red sandstone (called baradari). These provided cool resting places for the women and children who came to the garden. The water in the channels came from a special canal system (also called Faiz Nahar and designed  by Ali Mardan Khan) and helped irrigate the trees, grass and plants in the garden. There were many varieties of flowering and fruit trees, like jamun, amla and mango. 

From the top of Lahore Gate of Red Fort - the canal running down the middle can be clearly seen. Sita Ram, 1814-1815, British Library

Some of these trees were set up with swings. It was the favorite resting place of the princesses and the ladies of the palace. It was also visited by the wives and daughters of the nobles. This garden was open only to women and children and no man could enter it. 

Many festivals were celebrated within the Begum ka Bagh. The most important among them was called Pankhon ka Mela. It was a fair meant exclusively for ladies and was celebrated for a whole week. There were stalls for lovely embroidered kurtas and dupattas, colourful bangles and other jewelery, toys and all kinds of delicious food, gleaming utensils and sparkling crockery, paintings, clay figures and every kind of beautiful objects that you can think of. There were songs, poetry readings, other festivities and games as well. Everyone had a wonderful time during the mela, as can be well imagined.

Jahanara also got a two-storeyed caravan-serai built near Begum ka Bagh. This  sarai was built in the style of Shah Abbas’s caravan serai in Isfahan. Meant for travellers from far-off lands, Jahanara’s caravan serai, known as Begum Serai, was popular with the rich Persians and Uzbeks. It contained a beautiful mosque, living quarters and a huge courtyard. The area came to be known as Sahibabad (after her name Begum Sahib). When Shahjahan visited Sahibabad after its completion, he proudly remarked that it was "paradise on earth". Today the building of the Municipal Corporation stands here.

A View by Samuel Bourne, 1860s
Bourne is perhaps the most famous British Indian photographer. His work emphasizes classic Raj photography.

An Unexpected Encounter with a Poet

There is an interesting story about Begum ka Bagh, where only ladies and children were allowed to enter, as mentioned earlier. There was a Persian poet in the court of Shah Jahan, who was very curious about the place and wanted to see it. He was equally (or perhaps more) keen to catch a glimpse of the princess who had set out this garden and the beautiful Chandni Chowk. The poet wore a burkha over his clothes and sneaked into the garden one day. He saw the royal ladies laughing and joking with each other. Some were having a merry time on the swings.

The poet was dazzled by Jahanara’s beauty and dignity and started composing a poem about her on the spot. (It must have been a most romantic period in history when people could compose poetry in an instant, a glimpse of their 'muse' being reason / inspiration enough!) He was just writing it down when Jahanara caught sight of him. She walked up to the poet and asked him what he was doing. While she threatened to punish him, he pleaded with her to hear his poem first. As he recited his poetry, Jahanara and the other ladies in the garden were enchanted by his words. With a little encouragement from the ladies to present the poet with an award instead of punishment, Jahanara handed him a purse filled with money and exhorted him: “Please don’t stay here another moment. Run as fast as you can! You should never have come here, you know.”

The poet saluted her and left the garden immediately. But Emperor Shah Jahan got word of the incident somehow and he banished the poet from his kingdom forever. 

A Dream is Lost

Begum ka Bagh, like many other historical places, has a history of its own. It remained a garden for the royal ladies until the reign of Shah Alam II. When Begum Samru came to his aid during his battle with the Rohillas, he gave her a piece of land within this garden. Later, Begum Samru built her palace here. 

The former "Begam Samru's house" on Chandni Chowk was made into a bank. The painting, from the 1820's, is in the Aga Khan Museum.

Begum Samru's Palace in Begum ka Bagh

Begum Samru's Palace [which faced onto Chandni Chowk], by Mazhar Ali Khan; from the Metcalfe album, 1840's


Today Bhagirath Palace, a market for electrical goods, stands in place of Begum Samru's palace.

Begum ka Bagh came to be called Company Bagh during the early British regime and was thrown open to public.  The name of this much beleaguered garden was changed once again to Queen’s Garden in 1857 after Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India. 

Having passed through so many hands and being modified so many times, there is no trace of the beautiful garden any more. What remains of it is known to us today as Gandhi Maidan.

A View by Francis Frith, 1870s
He was another famous commercial photographer.


Begum ka Bagh, Raushanara Garden, Tees Hazari Garden and Qudsia Bagh together comprise the famous gardens of Shahjahanabad. 

Raushanara Garden was set up by Jahanara's younger sister, Raushanara, who is also buried here.This beautiful garden had a canal running through its centre. The British built a country club called Raushanara Club here.

Qudsia Bagh was laid by Qudsia Begum, wife of Mohammad Shah Rangeela. It was a huge garden full of flowering trees. It had sections reserved exclusively for roses and fruit trees. It also had all the essential features of a Mughal garden - cascades, waterfalls, canals and a baradari. It had 3 enormous gates.  
Of all these gardens, Begum ka Bagh is totally lost to us and we can only read about it in books now. It is such a tragedy that one of the most beautiful examples of a Mughal princess' love for architecture has been thus destroyed.

Looking forward to your views here.
Article Category : Miscellaneous. 

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