Saturday, April 4, 2009

Laila-Majnu Symbolism of Gardens

An Indian garden where each baradari in its turn is as purposeful as it is decorative, should not only be looked at, but should be lived in to realise its charms. At Achibal the summer- house set in the tank just beneath the waterfall is planned for the noontide rest, lulled by the sound of the cascade, cooled by the driving spray. As the shadows lengthen, carpets are spread on the chabutras under the huge chenars, and towards sunset the upper pavilions near the spring are used. Seen from the forest walks above the light on the submerged rice-fields turns the valley into a golden sea, on whose southern shores rise the peaks of the Pir Panjal, like giant castles, with the long, monsoon cloud pennants streaming from their towers. At night, from the gallery of the large pavilion the garden shows a vague, mysterious form ; marked out by the shapes of the dark chenars, the grey glimmer where the cascade foams, and the reflections of the stars in the pools.

Old histories and stories haunt the garden : of Jahangir and his Nur-Mahal, and Majnum and Laila claim this Paradise again he in his hopeful cypress shape, she on her rose-bush mound. For Moslem garden-craft, like Mughal painting, is full of symbolism, and rich with all the sensuous charm and dreaminess of the old Persian tales ; and the story of Laila and Majnum, the faithful lovers who only saw each other twice on earth, is most frequently memorialised in the garden. Two low-growing fruit trees, such as a lemon and citron, or a lemon and orange tree, planted in the midst of a parterre of flowers, are the lovers happy in Paradise ; the same idea is also illustrated by two cypresses, or the so-called male and female date palms, which are generally planted in pairs. The design of the double flower-beds in which the two symbolic trees were planted can be seen in the brick parterre at Lahore and in those of the Taj. Majnum's sad, earthly symbol is the weeping- willow (baide majnum), whose Laila, the water lily, grows just beyond his reach. Two cypress trees are frequently grown as their emblems, and the prettiest and quaintest emblem of all is Laila on her camel litter, a rose-bush on a little mound. Dark purple violets mean the gloss and perfume of her blue-black hair, saman (jasmine, which also means a foaming stream) is Laila's round white throat, " cypress-slender " is her waist, tulips and roses are her lips and cheeks, and the fringed, starred narcissus her eyes. There are other garden legends more difficult to discover, and traditional ways of memorialising well-known verses by the planting and arrangement of the trees. But the old craft is dying for want of encouragement, and we must be quick if we would secure its secrets.

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

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 -End-
Image:  Superimposed images of
Laila Majnu in a Garden, a painting from Kota, Rajasthan, circa A.D.1760-1770, National Museum, New Delhi
and
A poster of Bollywood film Laila Majnu (1976)

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