Blog Post

Re-Envisioning the Mughal Riverfront Gardens of Agra: Conservation Approaches

Restoring Mehtab Bagh for a Complete Taj Experience
The condition of the built and natural environment at Mehtab Bagh today does not help conjure a picture of what the original garden must have looked like. A breach in the southern side wall due to floods and high water levels in the river during the past few years have caused severe damage to historic fabric of the garden. It has become difficult, over time, to establish the historic extent of the garden, to identify the original water circulation system, to understand the Mughal planting pattern, and to locate garden entrances, pavilions, pathways, water fountains, decorative elements, burjs, and aqueducts. The broad vision of the project is two-fold: first, to fully interpret the key elements and systems that were integral to the design of Mehtab Bagh, and, second, to restore and reconstruct those essential components of the built and natural fabric that would re-create the experience of the site.

Mughal Tomb Garden of I’timad-ud-Daulah: A Conservation Approach
Following the gradual collapse of the Mughal Empire and establishment of British rule in India, the main tomb and other structures comprising the I’timad-ud-Daulah’s complex underwent significant change. While the tomb structure itself did not undergo any change, the conservation timeline dating back to the late-nineteenth century records the missing and deteriorated architectural elements, restoration of the water fountain and water channels, repair of decorative inlay works and wall paintings, and restoration of missing elements. The conservation has been informed by archival research, documentation of the built fabric, and a detailed condition assessment. With the help of a detailed risk and value based assessment framework, the necessary and immediate conservation actions for the built fabric has been determined.

Re-Instating the Spirit of the Mughal Gardens
Both Mehtab Bagh and the I’tim?d-ud-Daulah tomb complex are examples of the char bagh where the highly refined aesthetics of the Mughals were used in the design of garden complexes. The gardens are testimony to a tradition whereby the integration of the monument and the gardens is so complete that it is difficult to imagine one without the other. However, the gardens as they exist today are not only devoid of these meanings and symbolisms that were an inherent part of the original concept but also have an alien physical form and spatial experience. They no longer feature historically correct and authentic vocabularies of design; instead they conform to the image of the garden desired by the British in the early twentieth century. The current project aims to restore the garden as close to the original idea as possible while at the same time respecting some of the changes that have occurred over time.

Hydraulics of the Mughal Gardens
The study of the hydraulic systems included documenting what still exists in both gardens as well as what remains from other contemporary Mughal gardens. The Mehtab Bagh garden complex, when understood in conjunction with the Taj Mahal complex, offers a great deal of insight into the hydraulics of other Mughal riverfront gardens.Questions have been raised relating to conservation of in-situ systems, as compared to the fact that technology is never static and all these garden systems have seen continuous alterations and substitutions of material over the centuries. The decision we now face is whether the experiential and sensory nature of water associated with the Mughal garden is more important to convey than the preservation of authentic systems.

Toward Conserving Paintings and Painted Surfaces at I’timad-ud-Daulah
The paintings and painted surfaces that adorn the tomb and its gates have, over the centuries, been subject to numerous conservation and restoration interventions. While most of the paintings and painted surfaces are largely stable at the moment, a need for a detailed study exists to investigate their overall state of preservation and recommend measures for their amelioration. This is themandate of this component of the project.

Research and investigations focus on two rooms, one in the north gate and the other in the main tomb structure. Surfaces being examined are of various techniques and periods, ranging from incised paintings of apparently older date to painted ornamentation that has several layers of restoration. Detailed documentation and treatment trials are being undertaken to assess deterioration and devise appropriate conservation treatments. Scientific investigations are being utilized to determine original materials and techniques employed, including the original colors and decorative scheme of the interiors. Findings from the study would determine the approach and methodology to be followed for future treatments and suggest measures to harmonize what currently exists