Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dara Shukoh's Garden at Bijbehara

But see ! The rising moon of Heav'n again
Looks for us, Sweetheart, through the quivering plane ;
How oft, hereafter, rising will she look
Among those leaves for one of us in vain.

- Omar Khayyam.

Leaving Srinagar by the Jammu route, the old way was by boat up stream to Islamabad. A whole series of ruined gardens lies scattered throughout its length. In most cases they mark the site of royal camping-grounds, built for the convenience of the Court on the journey to and from the plains ; while other gardens, like the ruins at Bawan, which lie off the direct route, were centred round a holy spring.

The garden, the remains of which now form the favourite camping -ground of Bijbehara, at the bottom of the Lidar valley, is by far the most remarkable of the riverside ruins. The plan, more resembling that of a garden in the plains than any I have seen in Kashmir, can still be clearly made out by the glorious chenar avenues. The trees form the usual cross on a very extended scale, radiating from what was once a large tank surrounded by wide parterres, with a pavilion set in the midst of the water. The eastern canal supplied the garden with a force of water drawn from the Lidar River, and the avenues to the north and east disclose vistas of the snow mountains which shut in this end of the Kashmir valley. The walls are broken down, but remains of octagonal towers mark their corners. There is the usual hummum, now in ruins, and the south avenue terminates in a tank and brick pavilion. Below this building is a long river terrace a feature repeated on the opposite side of the Jhelum, once crossed by a stone bridge ; and the originality of the whole plan lies in its carrying out Shah Jahan's idea of a double garden, one on each side of a river.

This was formerly known as Dara Shukoh's garden, but is now called the Wazir Bagh. The banks are steep, and the Bijbehara reach of the river is a beautiful one. The high balconied houses of the little town, and the massive forms of the chenars overhanging the stream, stand out grandly against the piled -up mountain back-ground ; and once, when the stone-edged terraces stepped delicately down on either hand, and the water from the canals fell clear over the carved cascades to join the swift broad Jhelum, Dara's garden must have had as fine a setting as any of those built by his father Shah Jahan.

Dara Shukoh, it will be remembered, was the eldest of four brothers, and the one who inherited his father's artistic, splendour-loving temperament ; but unfortunately for himself and India, he failed in the more important quality of administrative ability. Dara, generous but conceited, proud of his intellectual gifts, and intolerant of advice or contradiction, fell an easy prey to the wiles of his brother Aurungzeb. In 1659 he was finally captured and beheaded ; and the large mosque at Lahore was built with the funds derived from his confiscated estates.

At the age of twenty he had been married to his cousin, the Princess Nadira, to whom he remained devotedly attached, and to whom he gave the album of Mughal miniatures which still goes by his name, and forms one of the chief treasures of the India Office library. His taste can be seen in this collection of illuminations with their rhythmic line, and perfection of balanced colour harmonies ; the portraits of the Emperors, the decorative paintings of the favourite Mughal flowers, and pages of dreamy Persian poetry, each surrounded by floral borders as beautifully chosen as the pictures and poems they enclose. Much Jhelum water has flowed under the old wooden bridge at Bijbehara, with the mulberry trees and elms sprouting from its piers, since Dara first built his terraced garden there on both sides of the stream. It is a far cry from his once magnificent palace at Lahore to the dark, sober-coloured surroundings, the solemn hush, and the busy scratch of pens in the great official London library ; but the cousins seem wonderfully near, they live again as one reads the simple preface : " This Album was presented to his Dearest and Nearest Friend, the Lady Nadira, Begam, by Prince Mahomed Dara Shukoh, son of the Emperor Shah Jahan 1641."

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From C.M. Villiers Stuart's 'Gardens of the Great Mughals' (1913)

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Image: Courtesy of George Eastman House Photography Collections Online
They have a great collection of "Lantern Slides of India" Do check it out!
The caption for the old photograph (probably dating back to 1890s) reads:
TITLE ON OBJECT: Bridge at Bijbehara on the Jhelum
PUBLISHER: McAllister, T.H.
transparency, woodburytype on glass

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