Roshan Ara Bagh : Where future knocks at doorsteps of the past

As the Municipal Corporation of Delhi plans to revamp a garden of Mughal grandeur, the tomb of its chief architect – Padshah Begum – remains aloof

All photos: Ali Fraz Rezvi

A few kilometers away from the Pul Bangash metro station on the Red Line in North Delhi stands an old Mughal monument. It was built around 372 years ago by the most powerful lady during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb.  Roshan Ara Begum, also known as Padshah Begum (First Lady of Mughal Empire), commissioned this beautiful garden in 1650 along with a small palace which later turned into her abode for eternity.

The Roshan Ara Bagh, spanning over a large area of 8.5 acres, is to be revamped under the Municipal Corporation of Delhi on similar lines as Sunder Nursery in Nizamuddin.

Ahead of its target of completing the redevelopment of the garden by October, this nullah right next to the main entrance daunts the authorities

The Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Vinai Kumar Saxena, in his recent visit to the Roshan Ara Bagh, has asked the MCD officials for its development as a world-class nursery with rare and exotic flowers and plants within a period of three months.

According to sources, the Garden is supposed to be completed by the month of October and the MCD has already started the project with an initial allocation of 50 lakh rupees. The Bagh is to be redeveloped in such a way that it includes a net house, a recreational area, a cafeteria, a nursery and two hi-tech polyhouses. Presently, it has an open gym, a playground and several trees scattered around the ignored mausoleum.

The grave of Roshan Ara Begum

A senior MCD official, in conversation with Patriot, said that the Municipal Corporation is planning to develop a nursery of its own kind. The plan is to nurture the plants and sell them to common people at a very nominal and subsidized rate. “We are also planning to rear high-quality fruit-bearing trees in the garden area”, he added.

Sources have also confirmed that the Lieutenant Governor has directed the officials for cleaning a lake covering an area of around four acres inside the garden’s campus. The lake was initially a part of the palace of Roshan Ara Begum which has now dried up and turned into a garbage dump at multiple spots.

The baradari is in dire need of attention from the authorities

“The plan is not to make it into a tourist spot but to develop the Bagh into a friendly habitat for both flora and fauna”,  said another MCD official.

Despite all these plans and initiatives, the surviving portions of the palace and Roshan Ara’s tomb are in miserable condition. When MCD was asked about the existing structure, they said that the matter lies in the hands of ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and the Municipal Corporation has nothing to do with it.

The walls and pillars of the surviving structure are in very bad shape while the wooden doors and windows are coming apart. The tomb, where exists the unmarked grave of Roshan Ara Begum, has suffered the most with its marble jaalis being completely eliminated from three sides and broken at the fourth.  The marks of repairs by the ASI on the pillars and walls are nothing more than a cemented patch at different corners.

While members of the ASI were seen dodging the questions asked by Patriot, Ajit Sharma, a regular visitor and a retired employee of the University of Delhi, poured his heart out at the dilapidated condition of Roshan Ara’s garden and tomb.

An old well outside the tomb, which was earlier a part of the palace

“I used to visit this place with my deceased wife”, Ajit told Patriot.  He said that his wife had a keen interest in history and wanted to visit almost all the monuments in Delhi. Since the Bagh was the nearest to their residence, they were quite frequent to the place, which later turned into regular morning and evening walks after Sharma’s retirement. 

“This monument is a part of her memories, and it hurts to look at its decaying structure”,  remarked Sharma with tears in his eyes.

“A lot of similar memories of the past are attached with each of these monuments, which are worthless in the eyes of authorities, and this is well-reflected by their ways of conservation”, said a bystander after listening quietly to Sharma’s anecdote.

Tenders are being invited for the garden’s redevelopment – a three-step plan to protect and nurture even the tiniest plant – and what remains neglected and ignored is the tomb of the daughter of Shahjahan and the sister of Aurangzeb, princess Roshan Ara.

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Ali Fraz Rezvi
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Ali Fraz Rezvi covers heritage, history, literature and current social issues for the Patriot.