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Sheesh Mahal, a pleasure garden of Mughals

Life&More August 29, 2016
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Rajkumari Sharma Tankha

 

Sheesh Mahal is one of the many pleasure gardens built by the Mughals, north of Shahjahanabad.

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Nestled amid the crowded bylanes of Shalimar Gaon near Shalimar Bagh in northwest Delhi, a few km off the Ring Road in the Sheesh Mahal District Park, Sheesh Mahal is quite a large building, constructed mainly out of brick and red sandstone. Its layout consists of four small rooms with a colonnade of bulbous Shahjahani columns in the front. There are ornamental niches on the interior walls and some traces of lime plaster and painted decoration can also be seen on the outside. The

An attached building seen on one side seems to be a later addition to the main palace and of this only solid brick masonry structure remains, along with three large arched openings facing the garden in front. There are some more scattered ruined buildings in the complex, but only the main one is an ASI-protected one.

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Like most Mughal gardens, it has channels of water culminating in ornate tanks and several fountains in a square stepped pool. The square stepped pool at the other end has beautiful elaborately sculpted kangura (stylized motif that resembles battlements but are strictly ornamental) pattern at its edges. The layout must have adhered to the Persian chaharbagh style. The pavilion has patches of wall-paintings that have somehow survived the ravages of time.

The garden is basically a fruit orchard, with several trees of jamun, berries, mulberry, guava, mango, neem and amla etc. Even those fruits that have gone out of fashion now can be found here like badhal,  amrak and karaunda. Earlier this orchard stretched all the way till Subzi Mandi in Azadpur, but then the Delhi Development Authority constructed flats on a large portion to meet the housing needs of Delhiites back in late 1970s and the orchard shrunk. It developed the area between the villages of Haiderpur and Shalimar into a park in 1977 and named District Park Sheesh Mahal after the monument.

The formal part of the bagh visible today is only a small section of the original, much larger garden, where there was an extensive network of canals, wells and buildings of which mere ruins remain.

But it still is big enough by today’s standards.

If the monument mesmerizes you, a walk in the narrow kuchcha pathways lined by huge fruit trees of the bagh elevates your soul. The trees are age-old with branches leaning close to one another, as if embracing. The shrill chirping of bird drowns every other noise, even the chug-chugging of the train passing by on the nearby rail track. The bagh is home to scores of peacocks and peahens and during the monsoon the sight is to be seen to be believed. Though there is no availability of water inside the bagh, the natural beauty almost covers up for that.

The construction of this Sheeshmahal Bagh began in 1632, during the reign of Shahjahan, under the guidance of his wife, Azu-nissa Begum or Bibi Akbarabadi. It was originally called Aizzabad and consisted of an enclosure with a palace in the centre, Sheesh Mahal, now surviving in parts with patches of floral motifs on some of the walls. There were other buildings near this monument which have since then disappeared. A similar garden, also known as Shalimar Gardens, had been constructed by Azu-nissa Begum at Lahore in AD 1641.

It was at this very Sheeshmahal that Aurangzeb crowned himself the emperor of Hindustan after killing his brothers in July 21, 1658. Again, it was here that governor Litufullah Khan surrendered the city to Nadir Shah.

During the Battle of Karnal, Persian ruler Nadir shah defeated the Indian troops at Karnal on February 24, 1739 and sent his men along to capture Delhi. Haji Faulad Khan who was the kotwal of the city refused to let him in at first. But Lutfullah Khan, the governor, was compelled to open the gates when he saw the letter written by Mohammad Shah, in which he surrendered to the invader. So there was nothing to do but to hand over the keys of the fortress, the treasury and the store houses to Nadir Shah’s men.

History tells us that Shahjahan was very fond of this bagh (garden) and always used the palace here as a halting place while on his royal trips to Kashmir, Punjab, and Lahore. The garden and the palace within it were the favourite country house of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb as well.

During the British Raj, Sir David Ochterlony and Lord Metcalfe, both British residents in Delhi, used the garden as their summer lodge.

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