Wah Taj – My Agra Diary (Part 7)

In my previous post I had touched upon the architectural wonder of Taj Mahal. As it captivates today to its millions of visitors throughout the year, it also did in the previous centuries. Its architecture was even an inspiration for the Europeans to build their mausoleums after the Taj model.  One of the significant yet lesser known in the city of Taj is the Red Taj, an architectural landmark situated amidst other graves in the European cemetery near the Bhagwan Talkies in the heart of the city. It was the mausoleum of John Hessing (1740 – 1803), a Dutch soldier and trader.

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John William Hessing, who had come in an adventure trail to South Asia, was first employed by the Dutch East India Company in Sri Lanka, which while he was defending fell into the hands of the British. Then he served for the Nizam of Hyderabad and then by the Marathas who rewarded his exemplary services by giving him the right to command of the Agra Fort. He died in a battle defending the Fort against the British in 1803.

The Red Taj was built by his estranged wife Ann Hessing as his final resting place. The tomb is essentially Mughal in design, erected on a square platform with a corridor around it and topped by the typical Mughal onion shaped dome.

The Red Taj is one-fifth the size of the Taj Mahal and has none of the fine inlay and mosaic work of the mausoleum built by Shah Jhan. At its entrance, are two Persian inscriptions— an epitaph and a chronogram. The epitaph expresses Ann Hessing’s loss and the “hundreds of scars of separation” her husband left behind, and the chronogram details the year of his death.

The complex is full of other graves, some even dating to the time of Emperor Akbar. A community of Armenian Christians traders and merchants had settled in the city and were buried here. In the next centuries, the cemetery also became the burial-place for Christians, especially the more prominent ones who died in North India during the Mughal period and the succeeding colonial period. They include Portuguese Jesuit priests, Italians, the French, Germans, the Dutch and the English.

Agra’s Roman Catholic cemetery is one of the city’s most interesting and most overlooked historical sites. But those make it often returns with an expression ‘wow’.

(To be continued)

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