Tasneem Kabir Gardens
I speak for the local Kashmiri when I say that all the gardens in Kashmir are the same: architecturally Mughal and great for picnics and photography. While there is nothing wrong with such familiar categorization, the beauty and the prevalent circumstances of the gardens’ conception are lost on us.
Maybe, a closer and more informed look at these archaeological magnum opuses we grew up with will heighten our respect for them and the soil that has seen glorious history being created and that which we call home.
A considerable influence of the Persian language and its allied culture was seen in the Mughal Sultanate. In parallelism with this influence were built gardens in Srinagar on the Charbagh or Chahar Bagh (Persian for “four gardens”) model of architecture. It is a Persian and Islamic quadrilateral garden layout, divided by walkways or flowing water into four smaller parts.
The quadrilateral Charbagh concept is based on the four gardens of Paradise mentioned in Chapter 55 (Ar-Rahman) of the Qur’an:
“And for him, who fears to stand before his Lord, are two gardens.
And beside them are two other gardens.” (Quran 55:62)
One of the hallmarks of Charbagh gardens is the four-part garden laid out with axial paths that intersect at the garden’s centre.
This highly structured geometrical scheme, besides a bold and reverberating expression of the regard for religion, became a powerful method for the organization and domestication of the landscape, in a yet another glimmering symbol of political territory.
Perhaps the most popular garden and remnant of the Mughal era is Nishat Bagh. The name ‘Nishat’ stands for joy and gladness, much in sync with the endless picnics, get-togethers and merry-makings it facilitates.
What is very piquing about it is that this Bagh created in 1633 following the Chahar concept, belonged not to the king of the time, Shahjahan, but to his father-in-law, Asif Khan.
The Emperor is said to have praised the garden thrice before Asif Khan, hoping it would be gifted to him but in vain. An anecdote has been passed down to us about this ownership: Emperor Shahjahan, owing to his jealousy of this marvelously crafted piece, ordered the shutdown of the water supply to this garden, leaving it deserted for a while.
But, soon enough, a loyal servant of Shahjahan’s father-in-law turned on the water supply, at the risk of evoking the Emperor’s wrath.
Instead, when Shahjahan heard about this incident, he appreciated the servant for loyal service to his master and then ordered full restoration rights for the supply of water to the garden to Asif Khan, his Prime Minister and father-in-law. A beautiful reconciliation for a beautiful structure!
Even before the Nishat Bagh, was erected a cluster of four gardens collectively called The Mughal Gardens in the year 1529, by Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty himself.
It is gladdening to recount that we share this honour of having Mughal Gardens à la Charbagh architecture with Afghanistan, Pakistan as well as Bangladesh! Clearly, right from the beginnings of the Mughal Empire, the construction of gardens was a beloved imperial pastime.
Moving on to the Europe-esque attraction of Kashmir, the Tulip Garden, despite being a seasonal affair, invites attention from across the globe every year.
Formally called Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden, it is strategically and awe-inspiringly located right at the base of the foothills of the Zabarwan mountain range, with a stunning overview of the good old Dal Lake.
The garden is built on a sloping ground in a terraced fashion, consisting of seven whole terraces. Apart from tulips, many other species of flowers- hyacinths, daffodils and ranunculus have been added as well.
At the onset of the bountiful spring season in the Valley, an annual Tulip Festival is held, aiming to showcase a wide array and range of flowers. Even for the locals, it is the one event they shouldn’t miss, for their hearts are bound to swell with pride at the intrinsic beauty our land has been blessed with.
Manifest is this ideologue in the majestic Chasm-e-Shahi (Persian for “the royal spring”), which is a Mughal garden built in 1632 around a spring as per the orders of the Emperor Shahjahan, as a gift for his elder son Prince Dara Shikoh.
It is built around a fresh water spring (discovered by Rupa Bhawani, a celebrated Kashmiri Pandit female ascetic) which flows through its centre in terraces.
The topography and the steepness of the land has led the formation of the garden. The main focus of the garden is the spring which flows down in terraces and is divided into three sections: an aqueduct, waterfall, and fountains.
A two-storey Kashmiri hut stands at the first terrace which is the origin of the spring. The water then flows down through a water ramp (chadar) into the second terrace. The second terrace serves as a water pool and a large fountain stands at its centre.
Aesthetics aside, legend has it that the water from this spring has mysterious healings as well as medicinal properties, so much so that the population and poets alike have called it elixir or ‘amrit’.
Interestingly enough, the former Premier of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, used to take water from this spring all the way to Delhi!
Being abound with such spectacular sights and vistas, we all ought to pause for a second and reflect at the continuum of the momentum this Valley has been the location for. Let’s pledge to preserve, cherish and uphold our gardens and all that they symbolize. Peace!