The founder of the Mughal empire, Babur, described his favourite type of garden as a charbagh. They use the term bāgh, baug, bageecha or bagicha for garden. This word developed a new meaning in India, as Babur explains; India lacked the fast-flowing streams required for the Central Asian charbagh. The Agra garden, now known as the Ram Bagh, is thought to have been the first charbagh. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan have a number of Mughal gardens which differ from their Central Asian predecessors with respect to “the highly disciplined geometry”. An early textual references about Mughal gardens are found in the memoirs and biographies of the Mughal emperors, including those of Babur, Humayun and Akbar.
Mughal gardens design derives primarily from the medieval Islamic garden, although there are nomadic influences that come from the Mughals’ Turkish-Mongolian ancestry. Julie Scott Meisami describes the medieval Islamic garden as “a hortus conclusus, walled off and protected from the outside world; within, its design was rigidly formal, and its inner space was filled with those elements that man finds most pleasing in nature. Its essential features included running water (perhaps the most important element) and a pool to reflect the beauties of sky and garden; trees of various sorts, some to provide shade merely, and others to produce fruits; flowers, colorful and sweet-smelling; grass, usually growing wild under the trees; birds to fill the garden with song; the whole cooled by a pleasant breeze. The garden might include a raised hillock at the center, reminiscent of the mountain at the center of the universe in cosmological descriptions, and often surmounted by a pavilion or palace.” The Turkish-Mongolian elements of the Mughal garden are primarily related to the inclusion of tents, carpets and canopies reflecting nomadic roots. Tents indicated status in these societies, so wealth and power were displayed through the richness of the fabrics as well as by size and number.
The Mughals were obsessed with symbol and incorporated it into their gardens in many ways. The standard Quranic references to paradise were in the architecture, layout, and in the choice of plant life; but more secular references, including numerological and zodiacal significances connected to family history or other cultural significance, were often juxtaposed. The numbers eight and nine were considered auspicious by the Mughals and can be found in the number of terraces or in garden architecture such as octagonal pools.
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE UNDER THE MUGHALS
- Landscape architecture under the Mughals as illustrated by the large ornamental gardens which the rulers laid out in various places is an important aspect of Mughal architecture.
- The idea of these retreats was brought in from Persia.
- Babur, the founder of the dynasty, commemorated his victory over Ibrahim Lodi in 1526 not with a triumphal monument but with a large garden called Kabul Bagh at Panipat.
- Most of the principal architectural projects of the Mughal rulers were surrounded by park-like enclosures.
- Spacious gardens not associated with buildings were also created, especially the gardens of Kashmir, of which the Shalimar and Nishat Baghs are the most famous.
- In the plains of India, the Shalimar Bagh at Lahore was built by Shah Jahan in 1637.
- It is formed by means of a series of rectangular terraces arranged in descending levels to ensure a continuous flow of water throughout the entire system.
- Fountains, pools, basins, cascades and similar devices turn the whole into a very effective water garden.
- The layout is rigidly conventional and axially symmetrical.
- The aim of the design is to discipline nature and not to imitate it. Hence, this style belongs to the school of formalists and not naturalists.
- The plan of the Mughal gardens is worked out in a regular arrangement of squares, often subdivided into smaller squares to form the figure of the char bagh.
- Paved pathways and water channels follow the shapes of these squares, with oblique or curved lines used rarely or not at all.
- At central points in the scheme, masonry pavilions, loggias, kiosks and arbours are built, a prominent example being the pillared pavilion of black marble in the middle of the Shalimar Bagh in Kashmir.
- The entire garden was surrounded by a high enclosing wall to ensure privacy as is seen in the Shalimar Bagh at Lahore, which measures an oblong 1600’ X 900’.
- The art of topiary and the science of arboriculture were not widely practiced, the main effect being achieved by means of parterres and borders of flowering and aromatic plants. The chinar tree (Platanus orientalis) is prominently featured in the Kashmir gardens, orchards in palace gardens and avenues or groups of cypresses in gardens around tombs.
- The water supply required to maintain such gardens was often brought in from distant sources by means of canals, which were in themselves great feats of engineering.