The 'Agra Scroll': Agra in the early 19th century

#1 Jan 28th, 2018, 12:50
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The garden of I`tiqad Khan and the tomb of Ja’far Khan, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)
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The riverfront at Agra once formed one of the great sights of Mughal India. In addition to the great fort rebuilt by the Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) and the Taj Mahal (the tomb built for the Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal, d.1633), both banks of the River Yamuna were lined with great mansions, palatial garden houses, grand tombs and imperial gardens. The houses of the princes and mansabdars lined the right bank up- and down-river from the fort, while the left bank was mostly devoted to imperial gardens. The Emperor Babur (r. 1526-30) had been the first to build a garden at Agra, nearly opposite the site of the Taj Mahal, and other imperial gardens were laid out on the left bank of the river mostly in the time of the Emperors Jahangir (r.1605-27) and Shah Jahan (r.1628-58). Jahangir and Shah Jahan gave the land on the riverbanks to their sons and to the great nobles of the empire. Jahangir’s powerful Iranian wife Nur Jahan laid out the garden now known as the Ram Bagh and also converted the garden of her parents, I`timad al-Daula and his wife ‘Asmat Banu Begum, into the first of the great tombs in Agra itself, while Mumtaz Mahal herself began the garden that was finished by her daughter Jahanara. Apart from the emperor and the imperial women, all the men who built gardens or tombs on the river front were mansabdars (high-ranking officers of the court).

Land could be bought, but the prestigious riverfront sites were granted to the nobles by the emperor and could be reclaimed after their death. The best way for a Mughal mansabdar to ensure that his mansion or land was not reclaimed was to build his tomb on it, when it became inviolable. Several of the garden houses were therefore converted into tomb gardens. After Shah Jahan moved the capital to Delhi in 1648, Agra declined and its gardens and buildings became of less importance to the emperor, so that most of those houses and gardens remaining are still generally known by their last Shahjahani owner.

Apart from the Taj Mahal and the fort, only the gardens and tombs of the upper left bank of the river round the tomb of I`timad al-Daula survive today in anything like the state in which their former splendour can be appreciated. The city was repeatedly sacked in the eighteenth century by Afghan invaders as well as more local marauders in the form of Jats, Rohillas and Marathas, until it came into the possession of the East India Company in 1803. A thorough study of the riverfront at Agra was made by Ebba Koch in her book on the Taj Mahal published in 2006. The evidence there presented can now be supplemented by an important panoramic scroll of the riverfront at Agra acquired recently by the British Library (Or.16805). This painted and inscribed scroll shows the elevations of all the buildings along both sides of the river as it flows through the whole length of the city. The length of the scroll is 763 cm and the width 32 cm. A full description of the scroll can be found in Ebba Koch’s and the present writer’s joint article in the eBLJ (9 of 2017).

British Library’s Asian and African studies blog


The Riverside Mansions and Tombs of Agra: New Evidence from a Panoramic Scroll Recently Acquired by The British Library - Ebba Koch and J. P. Losty
#2 Jan 28th, 2018, 15:59
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#2
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Land could be bought, but the prestigious riverfront sites were granted to the nobles by the emperor and could be reclaimed after their death. The best way for a Mughal mansabdar to ensure that his mansion or land was not reclaimed was to build his tomb on it, when it became inviolable.
Just like Cicero and Roman property law..
Last edited by edwardseco; Jan 29th, 2018 at 09:56.. Reason: a bit obscure
#3 Jan 28th, 2018, 19:20
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I watched an interesting item on tv last night, in which a well known gardener explored what he refered to as the worlds "paradise gardens".

It seems that at the Taj Mahal, the original garden design would not have had tall trees and large areas of lawn. Instead, the lawn areas would have been sunken, and planted with fragrant trees, so that the tops of the trees would not obscure the views of the tomb, yet providing a nice scent.

There seems to have been a similar size garden area on the opposite side of the Ganges,* which "regularised" the layout of the whole design, placing the tomb at the centre, rather than at one end of the garden design.

Ed.

* Excuse me re-drawing the map, Golghar corrects this to Yamuna river.
Last edited by OldandRambling; Jan 29th, 2018 at 02:51..
#4 Jan 28th, 2018, 20:35
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Originally Posted by OldandRambling View Post Ganges
That should read "Yamuna" (or Iomanes if you wish to use the Greek name).

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