For thousands of years across India, different civilisations have tried their best to alleviate the heat of summers. But nobody succeeded as the Mughals did. Conqueror Babur hated the heat, violent wind and dust in summer. His descendants, right from Akbar to subsequent rulers, had the opportunity to create Mughal gardens and rest in the cool climate of Kashmir.

But Babur was used to the cooler climate of his own native place Ferghana in Central Asia and the city of Kabul. He longed for it and decided to devise a way to keep his palaces cool even in hot climatic regions. The first thing to do was to harness water — the universal cooling agent for the task and to have a palace in the middle of a vast garden with water channels, fountains and densely-placed trees shielding it from the sun. 

Another method was to build a summer mansion on the banks of a river so that the wind would skim the surface of the water body, enter the palace and keep it cool. The Mughals borrowed a lot from the experiences of the Rajputs, who for centuries, had a tough task of keeping it cool in the scorching desert heat.

The palaces and forts of the Rajput rulers incorporated water-bodies to meet drinking water needs and for aesthetic and weather-conditioning purposes. The fort of Amber near Jaipur had an ascending chain of water-lifting buildings dating to the 16th century. These edifices lifted water from a reservoir at the base of the fort to its very peak, and hence to the upper-most chambers of the hilltop palace.

Interestingly, various hydraulic devices can be noted in the foreground or background of Indian miniature paintings. Soon, Mughal palaces too had variations in systems of copper pipes carrying water for cooling terrace pavilions, channels flowing through royal chambers, fountains and water-gardens, and under-water collection tanks.

Another interesting factor is that all Mughal palaces and garden terraces had subterranean chambers, where the monarch retired to escape the summer heat. For example, the old cool retreats in the Agra fort known as the tai khannas are still there, although tourists are barred to enter them.

As for the marble walls in palaces, they did not lock in the hot air. They had sizeable windows, which facilitated the inflow of fresh air. An example is the much praised jali work of the mughal windows. The use of fountains in palaces and allowing a steady stream of cool water to circulate through the rooms is best illustrated through the famous Nahr-e Bhist Canal that ran through the length of Rangmahal Palace in Delhi Red Fort. The use of khus khus drenched screen was another favourite cooling device of the Mughals.