Marvels of the Mughals
You have traveled all the way to see the Taj Mahal—now what? Fortunately, the city of Agra is dotted with spellbinding architecture
- By Megan Gambino
- Smithsonian.com, August 17, 2011
The beautiful Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden), across the Yamuna river from the famous Taj Mahal palace. (© Alex Fox / Alamy)
An archaeological excavation in the mid-1990s confirmed what paintings and manuscripts from the 1600s hinted at—that in the fields just across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal, there once was a Mehtab Bagh, or “Moonlight Garden.” From the silt and sand, archaeologists unearthed parts of a large octagonal pool with 25 fountain jets, marble arches from the garden’s entrance and one of four suspected towers in the garden’s corners. Similarly, paleoethnobotanists found evidence that suggests cypress, red cedars, jujube trees and lotus flowers grew on the land during Mughal times.
The width and alignment of the garden, extrapolated from the structural remnants discovered, match the layout of the Taj Mahal, and so it is now thought that the Mehtab Bagh was a part of the monument’s overall design. Scholars think that Shah Jahan created the garden to be a pleasant viewing point for the Taj, particularly at night under the moon, when its white marble facade is especially luminous. The perfectly placed octagonal pool would have made for a dramatic reflection.
Unfortunately, the garden, set in a low-lying area at a bend in the river, succumbed to flooding. In a letter to his father Shah Jahan in December 1652, a hopeful Aurangzeb reports damages to the Mehtab Bagh: “The Mahtab Garden was completely inundated, and therefore it has lost its charm, but soon it will regain its verdancy. The octagonal pool and the pavilion around it are in splendid condition. It is surprising to hear that the waters of the Jumna have overflowed their banks because at present the river is moving back to its old course and is about to regain it.”
Today, visitors to the site can walk through a restored botanical garden, where groups have cultivated plants that might have originally grown there.