Of the Mughal Garden, Amrit Udyan and the Impulse of Renaming

As someone who grew up in Delhi, I had some familiarity with the spectacular Mughal garden of Rashtrapati Bhavan, now renamed Amrit Udyan. Although exclusive most months of the year, in February and March, when winter turns into spring, it is open to the public. Like tens of thousands of inhabitants of Delhi or passing through the capital, I have often visited the garden and immersed myself in its charms.

I have a thorough knowledge of the garden. For two years (1948-1950), while he was Governor-General of India, my maternal grandfather, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, was the master of the mansion to which the garden belonged, which meant that together with my cousins and siblings, me, then in my early teens, could roam freely in the garden. I felt connected to that.

My association with the garden did not cause my sadness at the name change, although it certainly amplified it. It was the impetus behind the name change that sparked the sadness. The name change cannot and will not erase the historical fact that when in the late 1920s and early 1930s – a hundred years ago, that is – Lutyens, his horticultural advisers and their team of maali created the enchanting park, they called it the Mughal Garden. And so it has been called, written and remembered, even by its misspelling “moghul” for decades.

It is quite likely, given the publicized name change, that future generations will forget this story of the creation of the garden and its name. Historical facts can be deleted, rewritten or poorly remembered. Yet what happened happened. A beautiful garden has been raised, though by our British rulers, and it has been named the Mughal Garden. At least a few will continue to remember this fact, and it will quietly but surely reverberate into the future.

Those few will also remember why it was called the Mughal Garden. Did the white empire builders, mostly Christians by religion, want to recognize an earlier non-Hindu empire founded by Muslims? This is perhaps the explanation preferred by those who feel triumphant over the name change. But no, that was not the reason.

The park was called the Mughal Garden because it imitated the pattern of high gardens in Delhi, Agra, Lahore, Kashmir and elsewhere during three centuries of Mughal rule. Each Mughal garden contained intersecting canals at a 90 degree angle, fountains and a parade of flowers. To call a garden “Mughal” was to describe the garden, not to commemorate a dynasty.

A “Mughal” miniature is therefore not named like a hello to the Mughal Empire, but because the painting conforms to a particular style of art. Mughlai food bears this adjective because of the way it is prepared, not a wish to honor the pre-British monarchs of India. A Mughal garden, likewise, is just a garden with a particular design.

We shouldn’t be shocked if the future farmers state that in the name of Hindu honor (which will be equated with Indian honor), new names have been given to what we still call Mughal art, Mughal architecture and Mughal cuisine. Such announcements will recall the emotion that drives the renaming of the Mughal Garden, which is also the emotion that drove the growing project to rename streets, towns and institutions, of which Amrit Udyan is only the latest example. .

The resentment that the Mughals, who happened to be Muslims, were here once upon a time is that emotion. And this resentment seems to be accompanied by an inner regret, not always expressed openly, that Muslims exist among us or near us today.

Renaming can produce great temporary joy that “they” have once again been put in their place. Renaming can also energize your base and be politically expedient. But that won’t dispel your uncomfortable emotion of regret, resentment, or complaint. Only acceptance can banish this annoying emotion: acceptance of history and acceptance of neighbors. We don’t like it, but we learn to accept loss, illness, injury or grief. There is common sense, too, in accepting history and accepting neighbors.

A famous building or garden may not be able to protest, but we know that human beings do not like others to give them new names. RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat repeatedly claims that everyone living in India is Hindu. India’s Muslims are Hindus, he insists, as are India’s Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs.

Perhaps Mr. Bhagwat speaks like this to convey a sense of unity. Perhaps, when he tells Muslims and Christians that they too are Hindus, or that they carry the same blood, he is only saying: “You and I are the same. For the sake of clarity, however, anything resembling doublespeak or triplespeak should be firmly avoided. When referring to “Hindus”, Mr Bhagwat should clarify whether he is referring to a race, nationality or followers of a religion. If Hindus is to be a word for all who live in India, then another word should be found for those who follow the Hindu religion.

“India is Bharat” is a statement enshrined in our Constitution. However, to equate India with “the Hindu nation” would be incorrect, misleading and unconstitutional, even though 80% of India’s population call themselves Hindus. “Hindu” is a powerful, ancient and precious word. Let’s not dilute it by identifying it with “Indian” or “from Bharat”.

Also, let’s not challenge again the old Hindu teaching that everyone on this earth belongs to one another, that we are one family, even if separated by religion or in other ways.

(Rajmohan Gandhi’s latest book is “India After 1947: Reflections and Memories”)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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