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Fathpur Sikri Revisited$

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780198084037

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198084037.001.0001

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The Gardens

The Gardens

(p.126) Chapter 7 The Gardens
Fathpur Sikri Revisited

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Gardens were an essential part of the city-layout during the Mughal period. The four-quartered Mughal gardens, the chaharbagh, the flower gardens, orchards, and kitchen gardens once made this city resplendent. The first of these to be built at Sikri was the Bagh-i Fath of Babur. The gardens and garden sites which are now extant are generally located in the area around the lake. Gardens also survive within the palace area. Some excavated residential structures were also found to have had their own small gardens and flower-beds done in masonry. In total there are around fourteen garden sites within the city walls.

Keywords:   garden, chaharbagh, bustan, orchards, bagh, Bagh-i Fath, khanabagh

Mughal gardens, as a subject of historical study, have gained much currency in recent years.1 From a study of individual gardens2 to a study of gardens in general,3 almost every aspect of the Mughal garden has been analysed.

Mughal gardens, from the point of view of their purpose, fall into four categories: (a) pleasure gardens, (b) gardens that served as substitute royal residences for the emperor when on a journey, (c) funerary gardens containing the tomb of the owner in the centre, and (d ) gardens attached to the residence of a noble or the palace of an emperor. The last named were known either as the khānabāgh4 or sarāi bustān.5 A garden (gh) could be a bustān (orchard) or a gulistān (flower garden) or an elaborately laid out chahārbāgh (a fourfold garden).6 The pleasure gardens were mostly laid out as a chahārbāgh with either a bārādarī (a pavilion with three pillared openings on each side) or a water tank in the middle where the causeways and the water channels intersected each other. In the chahārbāgh, a square or rectangular area is divided into four quadrants by two axes that comprise water channels and pathways. Depending on the area to be enclosed, the quadrant could be divided and subdivided to create the same module on different scales.7 At the points of intersection, water tanks (hauz) and platforms were built. In case the garden was to serve as the halting ground for the emperor or a noble, a number of rooms and structures were added to it.8

After the death of the owner, the pleasure garden that belonged to him would be converted into a funerary garden with the construction of a sepulchre at the centre where once the bārādari or the central platform stood.

Apart from their aesthetic value, the medieval gardens provided the rulers a space to preside over large assemblies of armed followers.9 As we have seen in Chapter 1, the association of the village of Sikri with the Mughals started with the construction of a garden for the same purpose. The garden, ‘Bāgh-i Fath’, was constructed on the orders of Babur after his victory over Rana Sangram Singh of Mewar in the Battle of Khanwa in March 1527.10 It was the name of this garden that later inspired Akbar to rename the town Fathpur Sikri.

We have also seen in an earlier chapter that when in 1571 orders were issued by Akbar to construct the new imperial city, it was ordained that orchards (basātīn) and gardens (ghāt) should be laid out ‘at its periphery and centre’ and trees be grown in ‘the environs which had formerly been the habitat of rabbits and (p.127)

                     Plan 7.1 Layout of gardens
(After A. Petruccioli)

Plan 7.1 Layout of gardens

(After A. Petruccioli)

jackals’.11 Within a short period, a large number of gardens were laid out. Writing in 1610, William Finch mentions:

To the entrance of the Agra gate, some course in length upon a stony ascent, lie the ruines of the suburbs; as also without the southwest gate for two English miles in length, many faire buildings being fallen to the ground; and on the left hand are many faire enclosed gardens, three miles almost from the citie.12

From these accounts it becomes clear that gardens were laid out not only within the city but also outside its ramparts.

During the course of our survey,13 a total of twenty-nine gardens were located, of which only three are well known, being inside the palace complex. Out of the remaining twenty-six gardens, six are located outside the Ajmēri Darwāza to the north-west of the township. Of (p.128) the twenty gardens within the city walls, six were revealed in the area located to the south of the ridge. The majority of the gardens were, however, located in the area between the Ajmēri Darwāza and the Hāthipol.

From the typological point of view, nine gardens (including the three in the palace complex) were khānabāghs or sarāi bustāns (house gardens), four were bustāns (orchards), one was a gulistān (flower garden), and fifteen were chahārbāghs. Among the chahārbāgh gardens, two are provided with a bāradari, three have bāolis (step-wells) attached to them, and one is provided with a hammām.

It appears that at least two of the chahārbāghs located at Fathpur Sikri pre-date Akbar and were possibly the creations of Babur. One of them appears to be the garden that Babur constructed as a thanks giving after his victory at Khanwa. This garden surrounds a step-well.

In Rajab AH 933 (April 1527), Babur ordered the construction of yet another garden at Sikri14 that contained a garden well and ‘a well-building’ (perhaps, a bāoli),15 which were constructed under the supervision of the emperor himself.16 Our survey revealed a large elaborately designed rectangular chahārbāgh (No. 11 in the Plan 7.1) to the west of the Indārāwāli Bāoli, which immediately reminds one of the famous ‘Lotus Garden’ (gh-i Nīlofar) of Babar at Dholpur. Built near the ridge, this chahārbāgh has a total length of 174 m and a breadth of 108 m. Aligned in an east–west direction, the garden derives its beauty from the ridge at the back and the view of the lake in front. The main area in the middle (measuring 140 m by 95 m) is presently at a comparatively higher ground than the surrounding area. Narrow water channels flanked with raised walkways lead to a red sandstone pavilion (bārādari) located in the middle of the garden. The four pathways (khiyābāns) and water channels were provided with ābshārs (chutes) at the corners. During the survey, a stone abshār with fish-scale (māhipusht) design was excavated. After a 1.80 m wide corridor, at a lower level (around 2 m) the whole garden was surrounded by low-arched vaults. The span of the arches was 3.30 m and the walls were 1.00 m thick. Towards the west, the remains of a bāoli are traceable. Its stones (khanda in the local language) have been carted away by the farmers who own the area. Between the remains of the bāoli and the main garden area, rectangular stone slabs forming a platform can still be seen. Towards the east, at a distance of 5 m from the arched vaults, a well (with a diameter of 4.40 m) and an octagonal platform (with each side measuring 2.80 m) is to be found. A water channel from this well leads to the excavated māhīpusht ābshār. At a distance of 12 m to the north, there is a pillared (and cupola mounted) octagonal platform with each side measuring 4.40 m.

The bāradari in the middle of this garden is square with each side measuring 5.90 m. Was this the chahārbāgh that Babur built? The location of this garden near Babur’s Indārāwāli Bāoli and the style of construction strongly hints at its associations with Babur. No other garden at Fathpur Sikri has such grace and style as this ‘Bāradari Garden’ between Ajmeri Darwāza and Indārāwāli Bāoli. A number of Akbari chahārbāghs, which are quite simple and adorned with only platforms with tanks (hauz) in their middle, flank it on both sides. This garden, if constructed before Akbar, would have provided the best panoramic view of the surroundings; and its site would have been a natural choice of any landscape architect.17

Among the bustān gardens of Akbar inside the ramparts, the most spectacular appears to be No. 12 (see Plan 7.1) situated on the banks of the lake near the ‘Qūsh Khāna’. Measuring 132 m × 130 m, this garden is adorned by a circular tank with a diameter of 6.35 m. There is (p.129)

                     Plan 7.2 Babur’s Bagh-i Fath (?)
Courtesy of Zamir Ahmad

Plan 7.2 Babur’s Bagh-i Fath (?)

Courtesy of Zamir Ahmad

a fountain sprout in the middle of this tank. The tank is surrounded by a 12.50 m square platform only the remains of which are visible today. The garden was surrounded with low rubble-stone boundaries. To the south is an octagonal tank 12.25 m long and 9.10 m wide. It received water from a well situated further south. This well has a diameter of 3.00 m. The water channel connecting the well and the octagonal tank is still visible. Further to the south and south-west are the ruins of another structure, popularly known as Kalān Mahal. Was this then a private garden (bustān sarāi) of a noble? To the north-west of Ajmeri Darwāza, outside the ramparts, are a series of gardens, of which the present survey revealed six. There might have been an equal number of gardens to the south-west as well, but they remain to be explored. All the six gardens are in a row, 208 m long. The first of the gardens, just near Ajmeri Darwāza appears to have been terraced in three levels. Starting from the road coming out of the Ajmeri Darwāza, it is 138.95 m wide (see Plan 7.1). The garden opens into a 52.70 m wide space followed by a chahārbāgh 138.95 m long and 112 m wide with water channels and khiyābāns culminating in a central platform, only the traces of which remain today. The channels, where they survive, are 0.40 m wide and are connected to a well with a diameter of 3.65 m. This well is located at the edge of the lake. Beyond the chahārbāgh is another plot (at a lower level) that is 43.50 m wide and, presumably, formed another garden. It has now been covered with sedimentary deposits. (p.130)

                     Figure 7.1 The Bāgh-i Fath
Courtesy of Ghulam Mujtaba

Figure 7.1 The Bāgh-i Fath

Courtesy of Ghulam Mujtaba

At the western corner are four chambers, each measuring 2.70 m × 4.70 m. Further to the north, half inside the lake is a pre-Akbari water pavilion, which we have tried to identify as Babur’s Pavilion.18 It was only when the Ajmeri Darwāza was built, and the road to Ajmer was formally constructed and the gardens were laid, that this structure became an appendage to the garden mentioned earlier and came to possibly serve as a ‘garden pavilion’ for weary travellers staying at the chahārbāgh outside the city walls.

The second garden towards the west is 127 m wide and is quite similar to the garden of the water pavilion described earlier, except that it is a bustān rather than a chahārbāgh. A bāoli constructed to the south of the road opposite this second garden took care of the gardens located below the ridge to the south-west of the Ajmeri Darwāza.

At Fathpur Sikri there appears to be only one identifiable gulistān or flower garden that took care of the needs of the khushbū khāna (the Royal Perfumery) located to the south-west of the dīwān-i ām. Towards the southern ramparts of the city, near the Chandrapol gateway (a subsidiary entrance to the city), just besides the locality known as Nagla Māliyān is a rectangular garden (No. 4 on the Plan 7.1) where till recently roses and other perfumed flowers were grown. Not much except a maze of water channels and a number of wells and a late seventeenth-century bāradari survives at this place.

Apart from the chahārbāghs, bustāns, and a gulistān built during the reigns of Babur and Akbar, our survey also revealed a garden complex constructed by Shahjahan.19 Adjoining the second sarāi near the Hāthipol on the Hiran Minār–Ajmeri Darwāza Road, this chahārbāgh (p.131)

                     Plan 7.3 Gardens outside Ajmeri Darwāza
Courtesy of Zamir Ahmad

Plan 7.3 Gardens outside Ajmeri Darwāza

Courtesy of Zamir Ahmad

is almost square in plan. Measuring 113.20 m × 90.70 m, it is shielded behind a row of vaulted shops of the Hāthipol Bāzār. In the middle of the garden is a 7.70 m square platform which once might have been embellished with a fountain. It appears to have been a khānabāgh or pā‘īn bāgh (garden outside the main structure but in its shadow) of Shahjahan’s daulatkhāna.

A number of other khānabāghs, mostly dating from the period of Akbar, were also discovered. These house gardens of the nobles are, however, quite small in dimensions compared to Shahjahan’s khānabāgh, which, after all, was an imperial structure. For example, the residential structures identified as Abdur Rahim Khan-i Khanan’s house, the Iranian noble’s structure on the northern ridge, the yātishkhāna of the animal superintendent, the yātishkhāna of the superintendent of the Hāthipol Sarāi, and the ‘guest house’ near the dīwān-i ām.20 The house of Khan-i Khānan and the yātishkhāna of the Superintendent of the Sarāi have small (p.132) chahārbāgh-style gardens with square tanks and stone ashlared khiyābāns. The yātishkhāna of the Animal Superintendent and the structure of the Sarāi Superintendent have gardens with circular rubble-stone flower beds. All these khānabāghs were situated inside the house in the courtyard area. It was only in the case of the structure of a noble on the northern ridge that we find that the khānabāgh was a pā‘īn bāgh.

A large number of other gardens were constructed and laid out in the plains of Fathpur Sikri but they await rediscovery through future exploration of the area. Suffice it to say, Fathpur Sikri was not only a ‘City of Victory’ but also a city of gardens: a city which flaunted its aesthetic landscape architecture.


(1.) Sylvia Crow, Sheila Haywood, and Susan Jellicoe, The Gardens of Mughal India, London, 1972; Elizabeth B. Macdougall and Richard Ettinghausen, (eds), The Islamic Garden, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture 4, Washington, DC, 1976; Elizabeth B. Moynihan, Paradise as a Garden in Persia and Mughal India; J.D. Hunt (ed.), Garden History: Issues, Approaches, Methods, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture 13, Washington, DC, 1992; James L. Wescoat Jr and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn (eds), Mughal Gardens: Sources, Places, Representations and Prospects, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture 16, Washington, DC, 1996.

(2.) See, for example, Catherine B. Asher, The New Cambridge History of India: Architecture of Mughal India, Delhi, 1992; Ebba Koch, Mughal Architecture: An Outline of its History and Development (1526–1858), Munich, 1991 (reprint New Delhi, 2002); Elizabeth B. Moynihan, ‘The Lotus Garden Palace of Zahir al-Din Muhammad Babur’, Vol. 5, Leiden, 1988, pp. 135–52; S.J. Dar, Some Ancient Gardens of Lahore, 1976, etc.

(3.) Susan Jellicoe, ‘The Development of the Mughal Garden’, in EB. Macdougall and Richard Ettinghausen (eds), The Islamic Garden, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture 4, Washington, DC, 1976, pp. 125–9; also J.L. Wescoat Jr, ‘The Islamic Garden: Issues for Landscape Research’, in Attilio Petruccioli (ed.), Environmental Designs, Italy, 1986, pp. 10–19.

(4.) For example, ‘Abdul Hamid Lahori, Bādshāhnāma, ed. K. Ahmad and ‘Abdur Rahim, Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1867, Vol. I, pt. 1, p. 243.

(5.) Muhammad Salih Kanboh, ‘Amal-i Sālih, ed. Ghulam Yazdani and Wahid Qureshi, Lahore, 1972, Vol. III, p. 46.

(6.) For the difference between a simple bāgh and a chahārbāgh, see Ralph Pinder-Wilson, ‘The Persian Garden: gh and Chahārbāgh’, in Elizabeth B. Macdougall and Richard Ettinghausen (eds), The Islamic Garden, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture 4, Washington, DC, 1976, pp. 71–85.

(7.) For details, see, James Dickie, ‘The Mughal Garden: Gateway to Paradise’, Oleg Grabar (ed.), Muqarnas, Vol. 3, 1985, pp. 128–37, p. 133.

(8.) See, for example, the description of Bagh-i Nilufar of Babur in Elizabeth Moynihan, ‘The Lotus Garden’, pp. 135–52.

(9.) J.L. Wescoate Jr., ‘Garden versus Citadels: The Territorial Context of Early Mughal Gardens’, in J.D. Hunt (ed.), Garden History: Issues, Approaches, Methods, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture 13, Washington, DC, 1992, pp. 174–86.

(10.) Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, Bāburnāma, English tr. and ed. A.S. Beveridge, 2 vols, London, 1921 (reprint Delhi, 1970), p. 581, 585, 588, 616.

(11.) Arif Qandhāri, Tārikh-i Akbari, ed. and annotated Muinuddin Nadwi, A.A. Dihlavi, and Imtiyaz Ali Arshi, Rampur, 1962, p. 150; Abu’l Fazl, Ā’īn-i Akbari, ed. Nawal Kishore, Lucknow, 3 vols, 1882 edition, Vol. II, p. 84.

(12.) William R. Finch, Travels of William Finch’, in W. Foster (ed.), Early Travels in India: 1583–1619, London, 1921, p. 149.

(13.) The survey of Mughal Gardens at Fathpur Sikri was under taken during June–July 1997. I thank Shireen Moosvi, the then Chairman of the Centre for Advance Studies in History to have taken time out from her schedule to visit the sites.

(14.) Babur, Bāburnāma, p. 581.

(15.) Ibid., pp. 615–16.

(16.) Babur, Bāburnāma.

(17.) For Babur being the founder of landscape architecture in India, see Stephen F. Dale, The Garden (p.133) of the Eight Paradises Babur and the Culture of Empire in Central Asia, Afghanistan and India (1483–1530), Leiden, 2004, pp. 185–6. Stephen Dale, one of the most recent scholar of Babur’s history very perceptively remarks: ‘What is certain is that in physical terms Babur’s eventual conquest of India came to be expressed hardly at all in religious monuments but pervasively as the imperialism of landscape architecture, the civilised ideal of the late Timurid period’ (p. 186).

(18.) See Chapter 1, this volume.

(19.) For Shahjahan’s Palace and pavilion, see, Chapter 9, this volume.

(20.) See Chapter 5, section titled ‘Archaeology of Residential and Semi-residential Structures’, this volume.