Wednesday, July 23, 2008

gardens, paradise, Kashmir

Word 'paradise' was introduced to English language from ancient Persian words pairi (around) and daeza (a wall). Western world got to know of this word when Xenophon, a contemporary of Socrates, used the word paradeisoi to describe the great garden at Sardis built by the Persian Emperor Cyrus. From Greek the word passed into Latin as paradisum ; and then into Middle English as paradis.

Francois Bernier, the french physician who came to Delhi in 1658, during during his visit to Kashmir in 1664–65 as part of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s entourage, was the first westerner to call Kashmir a paradise. Paradise - his response to the abundant natural beauty of Kashmir was in fact colored by opinion of Mughals who thought of Kashmir as 'Jannat' or 'Paradise'. Bernier wrote a number of letters during his travels in India. These letter, originally written in French were later translated and printed by various publishers in a book format. The first one was published in 1670 and , naturally, Kashmir was covered under the title Journey to Kachemire, The Paradise of the Indies.

After Emperor Akbar's conquest in 1585, Kashmir was slowly developed into a retreat for Mughals. Naseem Bagh ( Garden of Pleasant Breeze) was built during Akbar's reign in around 1586. However, it was his son Jahangir's infatuation with Kashmir that lead to the creation of great gardens in Kashmir. And it was the Persian influence of Jahangir's Irani wife and her family that decided how these gardens were actually going to turn up.

At Veri-nag, the place of spring considered to be the origin of Jehlum river, Jahangir constructed a beautiful Persian styled Garden enclosing a blue watered spring. This spot, around 78 km south-east of Srinagar, is said to have been the favorite garden of his Iranian wife Empress Noor Jahan.

But, the real testimony to the Mughal fascination with Kashmir are the Iranian influenced royal Gardens: Shalimar, Chashma Shahi and Nishat Bagh.


Shalimar Bagh Srinagar Kashmir Photograph of Shalimar Garden taken by me in June 2008

Jahangir, for his beloved wife Noor Jahan, built the fabulous Shalimar Garden* in around 1619. It was originally named Bagh-i- Farah Bakhsh (meaning delightful). During the time of Shah Jahan, in around 1630 Zafar Khan, the Mughal governer of Kashmir extended the original garden, the new portion was named Bagh-i-Faiz Bakhsh ( meaning bountiful).

Shah Jahan, son of Jahangir, built the Chashma Shahi ( Spring Royal) Garden in around 1632.

Ali Mardan Khan, the Iranian man put in change of Kashmir by Shah Jahan, is believed to be the person who actually built this garden.



Chashma Shahi Photograph of Chashma Shahi, June 2008

Asaf Khan, brother of Noor Jahan, father of Mumtaz Mahal, father-in-law and wazir of Emperor Shah Jahan, built the beautiful Nishat Bagh (Pleasure Garden) overlooking Dal lake. This garden is believed to be the better planned and better located among all the three Mughal gardens of Kashmir.



Nishat Bagh, Srinagar, KashmirPhotograph of Nishat Bagh, April 2006

According to a local tale: During Shah Jahan's visit to Kashmir in around 1633, the Emperor got completely enamored by the beauty of Nishat Bagh and subtly asked his father-in-law wazir Asaf Khan to consider handing over the garden to him. Asaf Khan was too much in love with his Pleasure Garden and choose to remain oblivious to this subtle royal suggestion. Snubbed, Emperor Shah Jahan ordered that the water supply to Nishat Bagh be cut. Nishat began to wither and would soon have been in complete ruin had a servant loyal to Asaf Khan not dared to go against the royal decree and defiantly restored the water supply to the garden. In face of such defiance, instead of being angry, in a benovalent mood, Shah Jahan passed a sanad - a royal Mughal grant that allowed the owner of Nishat Bagh to draw water from the royal stream.

The water to Shalimar and Nishat Garden was (and still is) fed by a reservoir situated at Harwan, a seat of ancient Buddhist monastery. Ages ago, famous Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna was supposed to have dwelt at this place. Located at this place is another garden of Mughal built.

Near Chashma Shahi, at the foothills of Zabarwan mountains, Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan's eldest son, the sufi one, converted an ancient Buddhist monastery into a school of astrology and dedicated it to his master Mulla Shah. Pari Mahal or the Palace of fairies, was a place steeped in magical stories. Walter Rooper Lawrence, who visited Kashmir in 1889 as the Land settlement officer, wrote in his book The Valley of Kashmir (1895):

Strange tales are told of the Pari Mahal, of the wicked magician who spirited away kings' daughters in their sleep, how an Indian princess by the order of her father brought away a chenar leaf to indicate the abode of her seducer, and how all the outraged kings of India seized the magician.
Pari+MahalPhotograph of Pari Mahal, June 2008

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Gar firdaus bar rue zameen ast / hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast'


If ever there is Paradise on Earth / It is here! It is here! It is here!
- A farsi couplet of Amir Khusrau believed to have been uttered by Jahagir for paradise Kashmir.

Jahagir's memoirs tilted Tuzk-i-Jehangiri records:

"If one were to praise Kashmir, whole books would have to be written. According a mere summary will be recorded."

"Kashmir is a garden of eternal spring, or an iron fort to a palace of kings -- a delightful flower-bed, and heart-expanding heritage for dervishes. Its pleasant meads and enchanting cascades are beyond count. Wherever the eye reaches, thre are verdure and running water. the red rose, the violet, and the narcissus grow of themselves; in the fiels, there are all kings of flowers and all sorts of sweetscented herbs more than can be calculated. In the soul enchanting spring the hills and plains are filled with blossoms; the gates, the walls, the courts, the roofs are lighted up by the torches of banquet adoring tulips.What shall we say of these things or of the wide meadows and the fragrant trefoils?"

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June, 2008

Pari Mahal, now, has fewer security personal, although the empty bunkers inside the ancient buildings have not been dismantled yet. You never know when they would be back in business. Pari Mahal, with all its blazing lights, still looks great at night. From its highest terrace, you can see more valley and less lake, for a still better view - get on top of the dome at Shankaracharya. Ignore this. On a wall near stairs that lead to the main sanctum scrotum of the temple somebody has scribbled a word - Fakbar.

Vegi Nag has fallen victim to a ghastly attempt at restoration by the government bodies. Never too popular, fewer people would want to visit it now.

Harwan is said to be in shambles and people don't frequent it often. It still remains the source of water for Nishat and Shalimar.

Nishat, Chashma Shahi and Shalimar continue to be popular among the locals, as well as the tourists. But few tourists stroll to the higher terraces of Nishat, you find more Kashmiris there - sitting, laying out on greens or walking contently in a garden. Snake sightings are still common at Nishat. There is still some water rivarly between Nishat and Shalimar. Fountains and canals at Nishat do sometimes run dry.

People bottle ice cold waters of Chashma Shahi in pet bottle. These bottles are later even sold. Walls of the central building at Shalimar Garden, once a venue of royal love games - a  love pad - This Mughal summer house, the stones of which - locals had told Bernier - came from an ancient Hindu temples, is now a scratch pad for teenage lovers.

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*

Various meaning of word Shalimar:

Shalimar, in Sanskrit (?) is believed to mean " Abode of love", "House of Joy" and similar.

According to some it means 'Abode of Lilies'.

According to some it means "the House of Kama Deva"

Maharaja Ranjit Singh believed Shala meant God and Mar meant Curse. He wanted to change the name of the garden. His courtiers told him that Shala was a Turki word meaning pleasure and mar means 'place'.

According to another version Shalimar means "paddy growing area"

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There is a Shalimar Bagh in Lahore also. This one was built by Shah Jahan in 1641.

Then there is a Shalimar Bagh about five miles north of Delhi built by Shah JaHan. Also known as Aizzabad-Bagh ( after Shah Jahan's wife named Aizzu'n-Nisa Begum), this was the place where coronation of Aurangzeb took place in 1658.

Both are an imitation of the Shalimar Bagh of Kashmir.

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And finally, there is Shalimar The Clown.

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Etymology of word 'Paradise': From William Dalrymple's City of Djinns: A Year In Delhi

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Recommended read: Relating Paradise to Kashmir's Historical Gardens at KashmirForum.org

2 comments:

  1. Had a chance to Revisit Chashma-Shahi in 2002 , The flow of water was not the same as i had seen way in 1988....

    Harvan was not built by the Mughals...This garden is built more recently.. I was mesmerised (often scared) by the Huge water reservior out there,,The source of water for entire Srinagar City...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, Harvan was originally a site of a great Buddhist monastery.

    When I visited Chashma-Shahi(June, 2008), the water seemed plenty.

    ReplyDelete

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