the Pages of History
Tradition and the Mughal Contribution
... J.N. Kachroo
conspicuous contribution by the Mughals to the architectural wealth of
Kashmir lies in the large number of gardens with their schemes of fountains
and cascades which they built at several beauty spots in the Valley. Today
they are major attraction to the tourists, both Indian and foreign. Their
importance can not be underestimated.
The history of the garden designs
in Kashmir is closely associated with Buddhist landscape gardening in China.
From ancient times, flowers and plants have been admired and cultivated
in India. Flower cultivation was almost a religious compulsion with Hindus
- one had to make early morning offering of flowers to the deity. The ancient
Indian like the Chinese preferred still-water, lotus bearing waters pent
up within paved embankments.
With the propagation of the Buddhist
doctrine, the lotus assumed a special significance. Kashmir, endowed with
springs, lakes, glens and beautiful flowers is truly Nature's own garden,
requiring hardly any human effort to improve upon. However, slopes touching
water reservoirs or areas around springs were well utilised by the
early Hindus in laying out landscape gardens.
Sir Aurel Stein found evidence of
the existence of gardens and ponds with lotuses along the route from Kashmir
to Khotan. It, according to him and other travellers, is both reasonable
and safe to believe that the Hindu and the Budhist missionaries, especially
the Kashmirians, carried the garden tradition with them into China and
beyond to Japan. The Kashmirian Budhist monk, Dharmamitra founded a Vihara
at Tunghuang in China and planted more than 1000 trees round it.
In Central Asia and Persia, the garden
tradition took a different shape under the Muslim rule. The first condition
was always the availability of life giving water. Water was directed through
paved channels to a central reservoir. Artificial cascades and fountains
were introduced. This formed a distinct feature in their garden designs.
The Mughals from Babar to Shahjehan
were great lovers of gardens. Babar had developed a taste to garden designs
in Samarkand and Farghana, where Indian garden design had undergone considerable
changes as mentioned. The Mughals reintroduced the old Indian art from
their homeland. The Mughal gardens in India are copied from the gardens
in Turkistan and Persia.
Kashmir was brought under the Mughal
sway by Akbar who found the place resembling his original homeland in Turkistan.
His successor Jehangir and his queen Nurjehan excelled all others in laying
out gardens in Kashmir. Shahjehan improved upon them and laid some new
ones. Also did some nobles, governors, princes and princesses responsible
for laying some gardens.
The best example of the existence of a
garden tradition in Kashmir from ancient times, is provided by the famous
Shalimar Garden on the Dal Lake. A garden existed here in ancient times.
During the reign of Pravarsena II, the founder of Srinagar city, there
is said to be a villa called Man Shalla or the Hall of Love. The king used
to visit a saint named Sukram Swami living near Harwan. On his way to his
Ashram, or back from it to his place, the king used to rest at his garden
villa. In the course of time, the villa vanished and the village came to
be known as Shalamar.
In 1619, Jehangir laid out a garden
at this spot, calling it 'Farahbaksh' or 'Delightful'. Eleven years later,
Zaffar Khan, a governor of Kashmir, extended it and the addition was called
'Faizbaksh' or 'Beautiful'. In the course of time, this came to be called
as Shalamar Garden.
Shalamar is laid in typically Mughal
design. It is rectangular in shape , the area being divided into a series
of Parterres. Being at the foot of a hill, it has become easier to divide
it in four terraces. There is a line of tanks along the middle of the whole
length of the garden. These are connected by a canal. The tanks and the
canal have their own scheme of fountains and cascades. The canal and the
tanks are lined with polished lime stone resembling black marble. The water
to feed there, is brought from Harwan stream flowing in the back of the
garden. The water enters at the upper end and flows down from terrace to
terrace feeding numerous fountains. After leaving the garden, the water
finally joins the lake by a canal.
The garden is tastefully laid. There
are flower beds on either bank of the canal and around small lawns. Decorative
plants lend their charm, especially in the evenings in the artificial light.
Huge Chinars provide shade to the visitors.
The fourth terrace was private portion
of the garden, where the ladies of the harem stayed. It contains a magnificent
black-stone pavilion on a 65 feet square platform. The pavilion is surrounded
by a reservoir 52 yards square and about 3.5 feet deep. It is lined with
stones and has 140 fountains.
It is said that Jehangir had the
intense delight of making up quarrel he had with his charming queen Nur
Jehan, 'the light of the world' while resting here.