The tomb in red sandstone was built by Ann Hessing, widow of a Dutch officer, Colonel John Hessing, after his death in 1803.
In the 18th century, during the period of expansion of the European powers in the east, a number of European mercenaries came to India. In the course of time they grew increasingly powerful and played an important role in the new power struggle. They conquered kingdoms, overturned princes and ruled provinces. A long list of such military adventurers can be drawn, though their names are but as indistinct items on a long forgotten scrawl, almost obliterated by the dust of time. Some of the European military freelancers of that time rose to such a prominence that they could mint coins of their names and bear their own distinctive imprints — a prerogative of the royalty.
One of the most illustrious mercenaries of those heady days of adventure and conquest was John William Hessing (spelt Jan Willem Hessing in Dutch). He was born in Utrecht in 1739, entered the military service of the V.O.C. (United Dutch East India Company) at an early age of 13 and arrived in Ceylon in 1752. Five years later, Hessing returned to the Netherlands. But after a decade, in 1763, he returned to the east, obviously longing for adventure.
Possibly as a result of the fourth Anglo-Dutch war, by which in 1781 the British occupied the Dutch settlements in India. Hessing, as did many of his clan, took refuge with the local rulers and warlords and entered into military service with them.
Hessing first commissioned in the army of the Nizam and in 1784 entered the service of Scindia. He took part in several major battles. Hessing wanted to leave due to differences with the senior officers, but Mahadaji Scindia did not let him go. He retained Hessing to organise a Bodyguard Force (Khas Risala) on the European model. He accompanied Mahadaji to Poona in June 1792. During their stay in Poona, Mahadaji died in 1794. Daulat Rao Scindia continued with his services. In course of time, Hessing rose appreciable in the esteem of Daulat Rao and received from him the command of a brigade of four battalions.
In 1799, Hessing was appointed Commander of the Agra Fort and its Maratha garrison and the city of Agra. He held Agra till his death on 21 July 1803. Anne was devastated with grief. She along with her sons and daughter paid tribute and got a grand tomb for the burial of her husband. she was inspired by the Taj and so planned a similar structure. It is situated in an old graveyard, Near Agra Civil Court on M.G. Road.
In its plan and execution, Hessing’s tomb is a feeble imitation of the Taj, in red sandstone. Nowhere is western influence seen on the building. Although it is not an architectural delight when compared with the Taj Mahal and is known even to the local populace, but it is built in the same spirit of love and emotional appeal. A Dutch soul permanently took abode in an Indian body.
The white mausoleum of Shah Jahan for Mumtaz overshadows all the tombs in the world, but the ‘Red Taj’ is also a monument of sublime love of a disconsolate spouse. The entrance has two Persian inscriptions, one of which is the epitaph and the other a chronogram. They are:
"When Colonel John William Hessing departed from this world, he left hundreds of scars of separation. By person he belonged to Holland and was born in that country. He gained fame in India, by the Grace of God."
"The author asked the angel for a quadruplet of the chronogram. In which the day, year and month can be condensed. When the day, year and month was searched in the Christian era. The angel said, "The date is twenty-first July (1803)".
The tomb is actually a smaller project on a much reduced scale and some very complicated and costly details of the Taj such as the minars and the chhatrisbelow the dome have been dispensed with. It is much simpler and has no inlay or mosaic.
The tomb stands on a square platform, 3.40 m and 117.68 m side, containing a crypt and a corridor around it. An octagonal platform, 2.59 m in span is attached to its each corner.
The terrace of the main platform (on which stands the tomb) is accessible by twin stairways attached to it on the western side with a platform measuring 6.71x2.64 m. It is essentially a Mughal design. Slender turrets are attached to the central iwanframe and they are crowned, on the superstructure, by graceful pinnacles. The tomb is roofed by a beautiful double-dome, crowned by a magnificent mahapadma (sheath of lotus petals) and kalash. It reposes gorgeously amidst pinnacles and chhatris of the turrets and by any standard it is a perfect superstructure.
The interior is a square chamber of 5.38 m side. Simple squinches have been used in the phase of transition. The ceiling has a ribs-and-panels soffit and a beautiful apex. The stone cenotaph, bearing an inscription in English, is placed at the centre of the chamber. The monument is essentially the art of the Jamuna Chambal region and marks continuance of the Mughal ideas, feelings and skills in the 19th century.
Source: The Tribune