Khusro Bagh: An Introduction

Khusro Bagh is forty acre walled funerary garden in Allahabad, India, and lies close to the Chowk area on the opposite bank of the Yamuna river. As Ebba Koch has noted, the banks of the Yamuna have long been the focus of Mughal activity, especially at Agra, and it is not surprising that similar attention has been lavished at Allahabad. Under Akbar, Allahabad Fort (1583) was built at the confluence of the rivers Yamuna, Ganga, and the mythical Saraswati. This was followed by the somewhat removed (from the riverbank) Khusro Bagh in 1604. The actual garden complex includes the Tomb of Shah Begum (1606-1607) (Fig. 1), the Tomb of Khusrau Mirza (1622) (Fig. 2), the Tomb of Nithar Begum (1624-1625) (Fig. 3), and the Tomb of Bibi Tambolan (date check 1630s?) (Fig. 4). Other prominent structures include two fountains, water channels, especially those surrounding Nithar Begum’s tomb, two chabbotaras (raised platforms), of which one is known as the dancing chabottra, and the main gate.

Not unlike Michael Brand’s observations at Lahore, I find that this Allahabad site offers a unique perspective on the function, spatial organization, and the meaning of landscape in Mughal garden and funerary architecture. Khusro Bagh presents an interesting and timely opportunity to study the various transformations in Mughal architecture and urban landscapes during the reign of Emperor Jahangir. The planning, organization, and construction of Khurso Bagh is a precursor to the transformation of the garden into a funerary complex of imperial proportions. This transformation began during the reign of Jahangir culminating in his burial at Lahore, as has been noted by Ebba Koch, Michael Brand, and most recently Mehreen Chida-Razvi. This initial thrust at altering the landscape of the imperial garden allowed Shah Jehan to effectively make it a zone of commemoration.

As the history of the Mughal garden is very closely tied to the development of funerary architecture, Khusro Bagh clearly reveals an important stage in the complex evolution of Mughal landscape architecture. It’s importance spreads well beyond the seventeenth century (as Maulvi Liaqat Ali Khan used it as the headquarters of the Indian troops stationed in Allahabad during the Indian Mutiny) and the domain of art history. Given the tombs’ grandeur, complex iconography, and obvious cost, it is clear that a powerful patron was behind the construction of Khusro Bagh. Simultaneously, these characteristics of commemoration raise a series of other pertinent questions: Why was Shah Begum, a Hindu Rajput, accorded an Islamic burial of stately proportions? Why was the tomb of Khusrau Mirza built next to his mother’s final resting place? What were the inspirations for the design and its complexity? How do these tombs relate to other seventeenth century Islamic monuments in India (generally) and Mughal monuments (specifically)? Who was/were the patrons?

The principal tomb belongs to Shah Begum, as it is located in the centre of the garden, with four major walkways emanating from her tomb, which lead to arterial points in the fortified wall. There are two points of entry and exit on the north and south side of the complex. Shah Begum’s tomb is a three-tiered structure made entirely of sandstone. The grave is located on the main level whereas a false cenotaph is visible at the top. This false cenotaph, a common feature in Islamic tombs, has arabesque inscriptions carved on it by Mir Abdullah Mushkin Qalam, Jahangir’s court calligrapher, and is built from white marble and enclosed by a sandstone chattri surmounted by a elaborate finial. Shah Begum’s tomb has elicited many a comparison with the Panch Mahal at Fatehpur Sikri and Akbar’s Tomb (c. 1605-1613) at Sikandra (Catherine Asher points to this tomb as a source for Akbar’s mausoleum). Given the presence of Aqa Reza and Mir Abdullah Mushkin Qalam, it is clear that this was an important building for Jahangir in terms of legitimacy and architectural patronage.

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Figure 1: Tomb of Shah Begum (view towards the east), c. 1606-1607, Architect: Aqa Reza (with calligraphy by Mir Mushkin Qalam), Patron: Jahangir, Red Sandstone and White Marble (only used in the cenotaph).

Next to Shah Begum’s tomb is the mausoleum of her daughter, Nithar Begum, constructed under the latter’s direction between 1624-1625, it was never meant to house her earthly remains. The last of the three major tombs built at Khusro Bagh, Nithar Begum’s tomb is the most elaborate both architecturally and in terms of the decoration lavished. A two-story structure built on a raised plinth, the material used is primarily red sandstone. The tomb chamber is approached through an elaborate doorway carved within the plinth that leads to the lower level (meant to house the actual grave). The upper level contains some of the finest frescoes of the Mughal period and a series of inscriptions running throughout the interior of the tomb.

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Figure 2: Tomb of Nithar Begum(view towards northwest), c. 1624-1625, Architect: Unknown, Patron: Nithar Begum, Red Sandstone.

The third tomb belongs to Khusro Mirza, the eldest son of Emperor Jahangir. A simple single story structure in red sandstone (built around a rubble core), it is a typical nine-grid mausoleum, a common and recurring plan in Mughal architecture specifically and Islamic architecture generally. The tomb contains two other graves in arcaded niches on opposite ends of each other (probably of children). The decorative scheme follows the same style as that of Nithar Begum’s tomb. Frescoes, inscriptions, and carved inscriptions especially the name of Allah and the Shahada are the prominent decorative motifs. A grave right next to the tomb is said to be that of Khusrau’s mare.

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Figure 3: Tomb of Khusrau Mirza (view towards northeast), c. 1622, Architect: Unknown, Patron: Nithar Begum, Red Sandstone.

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Figure 4: Tomb of Bibi Tambolan (view towards east), c. 1632(?), Architect: Unknown, Patron: Unknown, Red Sandstone.

Despite the tombs’ size and importance, remarkably few scholars have studied it seriously. Published plans although existent are difficult to come across (but this might change over the course of my research). Over the next four months, I intend to document the complicated morphological and ontological problems I encounter in my research as I document the tombs in their entirety as part of my research proposal.

Randip Bakshi

Note: All photographs are mine unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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