The Princess and the Swami

The squalor and noise on the road that leads to one of the last surviving Mughal gardens in the city is hardly inviting.

Written by Alokparna Das | Published: January 4, 2009 3:36 am

Near Roshanara Bagh where Shah Jahan’s daughter is buried,stands a haveli-turned-school where Swami Vivekananda stayed in 1891

The squalor and noise on the road that leads to one of the last surviving Mughal gardens in the city is hardly inviting. However,a discerning observer walking towards Roshanara Bagh from Pul Bangash can spot the late Mughal arches—entry points to almost invisible bylanes—peeping out of the rows of shabby shops dealing with auto and airconditioner parts and engineering works. No two arches are the same.

Walking towards the roundabout in front of the entrance of the Bagh,one can spot an earlier gateway towards the right. Glazed tiles like those at Agra’s Chini ka roza are still visible on the outer walls. At one point,this must have been the original entrance,as it faces the baradari or pavilion that has the tomb of Roshanara,the daughter of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.

On the other side of the road,adjacent to an old printing press,stands a government school that was once the house of Shyamaldas Seth. It was here that Swami Vivekananda stayed for about a month in the winter of 1891. The building,a typical Delhi haveli,was declared a national heritage in March 2002 by the then tourism minister,Jagmohan,and the Delhi branch of Ramakrishna Mission had even organised a programme to commemorate the declaration. But as in the case of the city’s other such heritage buildings,there was no follow-up measure. Today,a week prior to the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda,there doesn’t seem anyone in the neighbourhood who is bothered about the site of Vivekananda’s sojourn to the city or the last resting place of a Mughal princess,who was surely one of most powerful women during Aurangzeb’s reign.

Roshanara,unlike her elder sister Jahanara,who too is buried in Delhi,supported Aurangzeb during his rebellion against their father Shah Jahan. The civil war that followed led to the killing of their other brothers,Dara Shikoh,Shuja and Murad. Aurangzeb rewarded Roshanara and after the death of Jahanara,she was made in charge of the inner chambers of the royal household. However,towards the end of her life,Roshanara lost his favour—perhaps some sort of poetic justice for having betrayed Dara during the rebellion.

The bagh she built in 1650 as a pleasure garden north of Red Fort became her tomb in 1671. The traditional charbagh was taken over by Colonel Cracroft,commissioner of Delhi division,in 1875. Post-1857 revolt,it was typical of the British to demolish Mughal structures and build European ones in their place. Cracroft demolished all the buildings in the garden,except the tomb,the gateway and the eastern tank. Later,in 1923,a large part of the garden was leased to a European club. The Roshanara Club still exists and on a bright Sunday afternoon,watching a cricket match here can be an alternative to a picnic at one of the crowded monuments in the southern part of the city.

Both the gateway and the pavilion are proportioned structured with bulbous columns of arcades. A dry channel way—part of the original charbagh—leads one to the marble grave that has a marble screen with some exquisite jaaliwork.

Did Swami Vivekananda visit the tomb while he was staying next door? Perhaps he did. The lush green expanse with rows of trees must have been an ideal place for meditation and discourse. It continues to be the green lungs of the entire area and once inside,there’s no trace of the din and dust of the Roshanara Road outside.

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