Thursday, 27 January, 2022

The medieval gardens and vineyards of Delhi

  • Sun Online Desk
  • 20th October, 2017 01:40:49 PM
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The medieval gardens and vineyards of Delhi


The Garden of Five Senses is the latest attraction in Delhi but earlier, the gardens of the medieval emperors were the ones that elicited awe and wonder. The British were as attracted to them as the locals and that is why, when they built New Delhi, they laid a Mughal Garden in the Viceroy’s House that is now known as Rashtrapati Bhavan. These Mughal Gardens are opened to the public in March. Ferozshah Tughlak laid a thousand gardens around his Capital city, which he named Ferozabad.


Sad to say, there is hardly any trace of them, except for the small green patch in the Kotla and the one known as Talkatora Garden, which was renovated by the succeeding Mughal emperors. Babar laid many gardens in Agra and his son Humayun is buried in a garden tomb, which served as a model for the Taj Mahal. Akbar and Jahangir were also fond of gardens and laid some, including those in Agra, Kashmir and Lahore.


Shah Jahan was the one whose gardens in the Red Fort survived, along with the famous Taj Gardens and the Shalimar Bagh, some miles from Delhi. It Is now a neglected garden, which was named Azizabad or Aizabad, after one of Shah Jahan’s wives, Bibi Azizun-Nissa, who also built the Akbarabadi Masjid near near the Jama Masjid. It was, however, demolished by the British after the Mutiny of 1857.


Shalimar Bagh, to find which one has some difficulty as people are now more familiar with the Shalimar Bagh residential colony than the garden. It was in this bagh that Aurangzeb was crowned emperor at the Sheesh Mahal that is now undergoing repairs. But unaccompanied women and girls should not try to enter the garden. Incidentally, it was at Shalimar Bagh that Gen Ochterlony caught a chill and later died in Meerut.


Like Shalimar Bagh, in Delhi’s nooks and corners are hidden some more amazing spots. One of these is the Angoori Bagh of Madho Das-ki-Baghichi. On a tip-off from heritage walks activist Surekha Narain, one too stumbled on it and got fascinated by its history (which combines myth and fable) after dodging the chaotic traffic of Chandni Chowk on a humid August day. This Angoori Bagh came up after the one in the Agra Fort, which has been described thus, in Hardy’s Encyclopedia: “Facing the central pavilion of the Khas Mahal is a rectangular garden which is four feet below the level of the marble path of Khas Mahal and is known as Angoori Bagh. There are no original vines but only a few patches of lawn between the fountains are all that remains of this once famous garden. It is 228 feet x 169 feet divided in four marble paved foot-paths. It was laid out by Shah Jahan in 1667 AD.


In the centre of the garden, there is a tank with a fountain 28 feet long and 2½ feet deep, which was said to have been used for bathing by the ladies of the harem. The upper crust of the garden comprises special soil brought from Kashmir for the express purpose of cultivating choice grape vines, like the ones from Chaman on the Baluchistan-Iran border, whose grapes were much in demand in pre-1947 days.


Some say Shah Jahan laid a vineyard in the Red Fort too, which was destroyed in 1857 and where Mohammad Shah Rangila made merry with the “houris” of his zenana. But where was the need for an Angoori Bagh in the fort when there was one outside it? Madho Das-ki-Baghichi’s Angoori Bagh has a lot of hoary trees now but once grapes grew there in abundance and travellers could eat them to their hearts’ content.


The story goes that a woman ate so many that she became intoxicated and her amorous side manifested itself. She got intimate with some passers-by and gave birth to twins. Whether the two boys remained in the Angoori Bagh or went away somewhere else is not known but their mother stayed put, just like wine personified as a female lying in her lover’s arms. This is what a mendicant sitting under a tree in the Baghichi stated between puffs of the drug in his chillum.


However, the pujari of the garden’s mandir, Niranjan Das, thought it to be a noonday idler’s tale. According to him, Madho Das was not a rich seth of Chandni Chowk but a sadhu from Rajputana, who had come to meditate in Delhi. One day, while sitting in the hot sun, a king and queen happened to pass that way.


The pujari identified them as Akbar and Jodha Bai. Since the queen was a Hindu lady she took pity on the sadhu and asked the king to get a shelter built for him. The king agreed and asked the sadhu how much land he needed. The Babaji said the length of his hair. “Very well,” said the king. “Take it.”


The sadhu, who was Madho Das, stood up and started whirling (the pujari too stood up and demonstrated the action). Slowly his matted locks uncoiled and grew and grew, covering an area of 36,200 ft. The king was amazed but kept his word. Madho Das built an Angoori bagh and a temple on the land, which is still very widespread. But it is not 36,200 ft for sure despite the pujari’s assertion. His tale is also flawed on another count: Akbar and his queen couldn’t have come to this part of a wilderness in Delhi because the Mughal emperor hardly stayed in the city. He only stopped in it during his visits to Lahore and Kashmir and, since there was no Red Fort, he preferred to camp in the Purana Qila.


So how did he stroll with his queen (who incidentally was not named Jodha Bai but only known in history as Mariam Zamani) some three miles to where Sadhu Madho Das had made his Dhuni (puja smoke) spot? Could be that the royal couple of the pujari’s tale were Shah Jahan and his daughter Jahanara, who had come out for a walk outside the Red Fort (but why in the afternoon?). This would mean that Madho Daski-Baghichi and its Angoori bagh belong to the 17th and not 16th century. Even so, the Baghichi is certainly an interesting place and the pujari a good raconteur. According to him, Madho Das lived to a grand old age but went back to Rajputana, where his samadhi is situated in Jaipur.


The present head of the Baghichi’s Digambar Akhara, Ramanand Acharya Bachan Dasji Maharaj, carries on the tradition of Baba Madho Das. There are 19 mandirsnear the place where Madho Das was found by the royal couple braving the hot sun.


The Baghichi has three akharas~ Digambar, Nirmoli and Nirvani with 56 shops outside. It has electricity, water and gas connections and the pujaripays the monthly bills from donations and shop rent. There is also a fridge and an old sofa set on which this scribe was made to sit and coaxed to eat dal-roti prepared by the pujari.A celibate, he says contrary to the Evensong, “Come when the lamps are lit.”


Women are not allowed to enter the mandirafter sunset. Talking to him is an exhilarating experience as he waxes eloquent on the Angoori Bagh, from which sprang the Baghichi, though he doesn’t quote Omar Khayyam: “Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide/ And wash my Body whence the Life has died/ And in a Windingsheet of Vine-leaf wrapt/ So bury me by some sweet Garden-side”.


And why should he recite such lines since sadhus are generally not buried but cremated, not by the garden-side but by the river-side, and the Yamuna ghat is not very far from the Baghichi? However, those visiting Angoori Bagh might, like the fabled fox, very well exclaim that the grapes are sour! This may also be true to a certain extent for the Garden of Five Senses, which lacks a vineyard of Mughal vintage.