Britishers indulged in garden imperialism in India

Washington: The Britishers indulged in "garden imperialism" during their colonial rule over India as Lord Curzon changed the landscape of the Mughal-era garden around the Taj Mahal to resemble that of lawns of London.

Explaining the reasons for the Britishers coming out with majestic gardens small and big — across India, historian Eugenia Herbert in her recently published book `Flora`s Empire` argues that more than simple nostalgia or homesickness lay at the root of this "garden imperialism".

To British eyes, she demonstrates, India was an untamed land that needed the visible stamp of civilisation that garden in their many guises could convey. Herbert is Professor Emeritus of History at Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts.

In "Flora`s Empire: British Gardens in India", Herbert, through her extensive research, claims that it was Curzon who changed the garden around the Taj, which was far away from the original Mughal-style, thus giving it a distinct British look.

George Nathaniel Curzon, known as Lord Curzon, was appointed Viceroy of India in January 1899. He served on this position till August 1905.

Herbert writes Curzon ordered removal or pruning of "mahogany trees, palms and other trees". This was done with the objective to open up specific vistas of the mosques and to present a "glorious view" of the Taj itself from all angels.

By doing so, Herbert writes, Curzon destroyed the original Mughal garden around historic monument.

"The Mughals knew what a garden should look like, smell like and sound like… In focusing on a single sense, sight, he (Curzon) ignored the appeals to nose and ear that played such a large part in Mughal (and Hindu) kingship and made gardens so central to its expression," Herbert writes.

Curzon, she writes, was so inspired by the Taj Mahal, that the `Victoria Memorial` that he built in Calcutta was influenced by the historic monument.

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