The Mughals, who reigned the Indian Subcontinent(1526 – 1858), built a magnificent empire based on well-founded and enduring institutions, laying the foundations of a dynastic rule which inaugurated one of the most glorious periods in the history of Islam. At their peak, the Mughals ruled over most of South Asia and parts of what is now Afghanistan.
The founder of the dynasty, Muhammad Zahir al-Din Babur (r. 1526-1530), gained control of Kabul, an important stopping place along the trade route between India and Central Asia, and from here he led his campaign to conquer the Indian subcontinent.
Early in the sixteenth century, Babur laid out several gardens, including the Bagh-e Babur, in and around Kabul. The natural landscape was central to the life of Babur’s court. His wish, recorded in his memoirs (Baburnama) was that he be buried in a modest grave open to the sky. This wish was fulfilled circa 1544 when his body was transferred from Agra, where he had first been buried, to one of his favourite gardens in Kabul. Bagh-e Babur is one of the earliest surviving Mughal gardens.
For nearly 50 years, his heirs, especially Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) and Shah Jahan (r. 1627-1658), sponsored ambitious building programs to preserve and beautify the garden. During a visit to the garden in 1607, Jehangir gave instructions that all gardens in Kabul be surrounded by walls, that a prayer platform be laid in front of Babur’s grave, and an inscribed headstone placed at its head. Accounts from that time describe a channel of water running from below the mosque along the line of an avenue, with small reservoirs at each terrace, and larger pools at intervals.
Bagh-e Babur fell into disrepair during the decline of the Mughal empire. Its structure was also badly damaged by an earthquake in 1842 as well as by war. The original levels of Babur’s grave terrace were restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in 2004. A replica of the carved marble grave enclosure, based on fragments found on the site, was erected in 2006. The bulk of physical works were completed by 2007, since when the various facilities – including a swimming-pool, garden pavilion, caravanserai and Queen’s Palace complex – have been in public use. The rehabilitation of the garden not only re-establishes the historic character of the site with its water channels, planted terraces and pavilions, but also provides a space for meetings, celebrations, open-air receptions, and cultural events.
Research by Nimira Dewji