Also known as Bagh-I-Gul-Afshan (‘the flower-scattering garden’) and Bagh-I-Nur-Afshan (‘the light-scattering garden’), Ram Bagh was originally conceived by Babur in 1526 and was inspired by gardens he had seen in Samarkand in modern day Uzbekistan.
Of all the pleasure gardens that existed during Babur’s lifetime, it is thought this was his favourite and may also have been where his body was lain before being transferred to Kabul for burial.
The original name for the garden was in fact Bagh-I-Zar-Afshan, Zar-Afshan being the name of the river that supplies water to the Samarand capital, Timur. It was subsequently renamed to other variants by Jahangir and Nur Jahan before adopting its current name by the Marathas in the 18th century.
The garden consists of three descending terraces which used to have water drawn from the river Yamuna by a series of water-wheels. This water flowed into a network of canals, cascades and tanks constructed of red sandstone as it descended through the terraces. Large platforms, pathways and tree-lined avenues presented an almost ethereal atmosphere.
By all accounts Babur did not enjoy the fierce summer climate in Agra, he often complained of the heat, hot winds and dust in the city. In an attempt to help alleviate his discomfort, Babur also built a cold bath in the basement of the uppermost terrace. In his memoirs, Babur records that the bath was :
“So chilly that one is almost cold”
Babur’s Great Grandson, Jahangir, renovated the gardens between 1615 and 1619. Whilst largely preserving the layout of terraces and water channels, he built two suites on the northern and southern sides of the open court on the uppermost (main) terrace overlooking the river. His memoirs record that he frequently stayed in these gardens with female company.
The garden would once have contained many exotic fruit trees and fragrant flowers, but today there is little evidence of that. After the Mughal period the gardens fell into a state of disrepair and were much restored during colonial times. The garden became a sort of holiday resort, and was used for recreational purposes such as picnics and honeymoons.
All of the Mughal Emperors loved the outdoors, and each took pleasure in Ram Bagh and left something of themselves behind. But we have Babur to thank for being the catalyst of that passion. He did not build any significant royal residences during his reign, but instead laid out gardens such as this one. He even governed his rapidly growing empire from this very spot, meeting nobles and generals and planning his historic campaigns.
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