|Red Taj, Agra, India. thestatesman.com|
|Inscription tomb of John Hessing, the Red Taj,Catholic cemetery Agra. nerdstravel.com|
The Roman Catholic Martyrs’ Cemetery of Agra, the final resting place of the Catholics of the by-gone era is unique and is different from other Catholic cemeteries. Here, the tombs are made more of bricks and lime-sand mortar than marble stones. With its Mogul legacy, obviously they appear to be more Muslim than Christian in design and style. Further, the headstones have inscriptions mostly written in Persian script - positively a rare feature in the Christian cemetery; the other languages used are Latin and English. The presence of "Crosses" on them makes all the differences, otherwise any new visitor to this place would conclude that this is a Muslim graveyard. First built by the Armenian Christians the cemetery camp up when Mogul king Akbar was the ruler. The Armanians laded in India during that period, It is mentioned that the oldest grave belongs to John Mildenhall, an Englishman who died in 1614, at a time when the English company was in its infancy. The first burial of a Portuguese was that of a priest - Julian Pereira who came to Fatehpur Sikri in March 1578. The man who introduced him to the ruler Agbar wa one Pedro Tavares, the Portuguese commandant of Satgaon (present Adi Saptagram). The Agra Cemetery is the oldest Christian burial ground in North India, initially built for the Europeans. Many graves had Latin, English and Persian inscriptions on them.
|Red Taj in the Catholic Cemetery, Agra, India. thewingedsandals.com|
In the early days of colonial rule in India, Europeans arrived here in large number for job, business opportunities, etc. Once settled, because of their wide contact with the natives and the higher ups, some of them overwhelmed by the exotic custom, etc began to develop keen interest in local culture and customs. At one stage, it became quite common for Europeans to continue to take keen interest in native customs. William Dalrymple wrote about the English community in Surat city, Gujarat and the factories being run by them. He mentioned that the Europeans developed keen desire to adopt Indian dress and diet so that they could mingle with the conservative natives with ease. They purposely followed the Indian dietary system to avoid falling sick in a terribly hot country. Being adopted to living in mild cold climate, adaptation to native style of living, etc helped them a lot. Equally common custom in those days among some Europeans was to take Indian wives or “bibis” for their harem as Indian Sahibs did. In the past decades, the British were particular about their Britishness and British character and expected the prospective immigrants to England to learn their culture, etc. These people, mostly from Britain, centuries back had some kind of romance with Indianness and no doubt, their tombs/mausoleums carry the marks of Indianness in the design and style.
The tomb of “Hindoo” Charles Stewart and others in the Calcutta’s South Park Street Cemetery (roughly 250 years old with 1600 tombs ) are good example. In July 2018, from Charles Stewart's tomb, the lotus symbol was stolen by some culprits. It became a sensational news in Kolkata. Stuart, an officer of the East India Company took so much interest in Hinduism, he started following the Hindu culture and religion by way of going to the banks of the Ganges and take bath and keeping in his house lots of Hindu arts, Hindu, Jain and Buddhist idols. When Stuart was buried in 1828, several idols from his collection were buried in his resting place which was built like a temple.
After the completion of the Taj Mahal by Shah Jahan in Agra, later rulers used it as a model to build their tombs and mausoleums. The good examples are: the Black Taj-- the tomb of Shahnawaz Khan, son of Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan, in Burhanpur ’and the Taj of the Deccan -- the tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shah II in Bijapur. We may also include the Red Taj of Catholic cemetery in Agra. It is the burial place of the Dutch Trader and mercenary John William Hessing (5 November 1739 - 21 July 1803) who was in the services of the Maratha Empire belonging to the Scindia dynasty in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as a powerful military officer.
Actively participated in many battles, he earned a good name as a brave army man. Though wounded on several occasions,never had he lost the military prowess in him and fought gallantly. He continued his services to Maharaja Daulat Rao Scindia. When ill-health forced him to be inactive, Hessing was made the Commandant of Agra Fort by Scindia. Born in Utrecht, Holland, in 1739 when Hessing was just 24 year-old, he landed in Ceylon; subsequently joined the Dutch East India Company’s army and fought many battles in India, Having gained vast experience as an army man, he became an integral part of the Maratha forces that were pitted against the English forces.
The most famous battle is that the battle of Kardha in which Hessing commanded 3000 Maratha regular troops. The Maratha armies defeated the Nizam of Hyderabad on 12 March 1795. In a fierce battle outside the city of Ujjain under the Maratha ruler Yashwantrao Holkar of Indore against the British forces - second Angelo - Maratha war in June 1801, Hessing commanded four battalions. The Maratha army emerged victorious. Hessing died in Agra on 21 July 1803 when he was in charge of the Maratha army and the Agra fort. Using the Taj as a model, several monuments came up displaying various salient features of the Taj built by Shah Jahan in honor of his wife Mumtaj Mahal.
Built by his wife, the Red Taj is simply a replica of the Taj made of red sand stone minus embellishments and exquisite artistic work in marble stones. The red stone tomb is a simple one and is underneath as in Mogul types and the total cost of construction was just one lakh rupees. The domed structure, the four slender minarets, the vaulted entrance doorways, the cupolas crowned by pinnacles, the dome with its inverted lotus and finial rising from the center and other features again following mogul style. There are turrets, Chhatries, arched niches, besides a Cross on them. At its entrance to the Mausoleum, there are two Persian inscriptions in the marble plague— an epitaph and a chronogram: the former expresses Ann Hessing’s grief and the latter marks the year of his death.
Fanny Parkes in her journal Begum, Thugs and White Mughals, edited by William Dalrymple, describes the Hessing tomb as “a beautiful mausoleum” which is “well worth a visit”. It was built by a “native architect, by the name Lateef, in imitation of the ancient Mohammedan tombs”. She writes: “The tomb is beautiful, very beautiful and in excellent taste.