The monumental palaces, tombs, and mosques of the Mughals need no introduction. These buildings came with grandeur, magnificence, lavishness, and a dominating visual character. But it is the gardens the Mughals built, that demand a special place amidst their splendid buildings, as these gardens transformed the landscapes of various cities like Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, and Lahore.
Mughal garden designs are heavily influenced by the medieval Islamic gardens and are often seen as a place of rest and reflection. These gardens are considered to be a reminder of paradise.
The concept of a planned garden, also known as the Charbagh was introduced in South Asia by the Mughal Emperor Babur. The first garden was established by him in Afghanistan. He lamented the fact that Al-Hind lacked running water in gardens or residences and the existing ones had no walls contradicting to Babur’s idea of enclosed gardens, in his memoirs.
Thus, he began constructing gardens and the assorted waterworks necessary to remind him of his ancestral land, which was followed suit by his successors, changing the landscape of their empire. He brought the Persian wheel water supply system to create the gardens as the Indian plains were different from his homeland where the natural flow of water was used.
The main elements of Mughal gardens include running water and a pool to reflect the beauties of the sky and the garden, different varieties of trees– to provide shade, to bear colorful and fragrant fruits or flowers; grass; birds to fill the gardens with song and the whole cooled by a pleasant breeze. The Turkish- Mongolian elements of the gardens are usually the inclusion of tents, carpets, and canopies reflecting the nomadic roots.
Mughal Gardens served various functions which include their use as airy quadrangles within their palatial complexes, pleasurable retreats, and also as a base for hunting expeditions. The gardens were also used as official halting spaces; while the park was exclusively reserved for women (Zenan khana) and provided with additional facilities, such as hammams.
These gardens have usually highly disciplined geometry and are of the following types:
Most gardens are rectilinear, with four sections crisscrossed by pathways and water, also known as the Charbagh concept. Until the rule of Shah Jahan, the usual way of designing a garden was with the main structure at the center with an enclosure and gate (sometimes even multiple) and subsidiary structures like pavilions setting into walls. During Shah Jahan’s period, the importance was placed on the garden and the structure was built on one end of the site, rather than, at the center. The Taj Mahal stands as a great example of this concept, as it’s constructed on one end of the platform overlooking the river. Hence, the riverfront gardens became an important aspect during Shah Jahan’s reign.
Ram Bagh, Agra
Ram Bagh is one of the oldest Mughal gardens in India, located five kilometers away from the Taj. It follows the Charbagh concept and is also known as Bagh-gul-afshan (light scattering garden), Aalsi bagh (lazy garden). It’s an example of a variant of the Charbagh in which the water cascades down three terraces in a sequence of cascades.
The first garden-tomb made in India, the garden is divided into 36 squares by a grid of water channels and paths with the central water channels appearing to be disappearing beneath the tomb structure and reappearing in a straight line on the other side suggesting the Quranic idea of the river flowing beneath a garden of paradise.
Taj Mahal, Agra
The complex is set around gardens spread over 300 sq.m with raised pathways that divide each of the four quarters of the gardens into 16 sunken parts of flowerbeds. A raised marble water tank at the center of the garden is located halfway between the tomb and gateway, with a reflecting pool on the North-South axis that reflects the Taj Mahal. Elsewhere, the garden is laid out with avenues of trees and fountains.
Shalimar Gardens, Kashmir
It includes three terrace gardens at different elevation levels, linked through a channel to the northeast of Dal Lake. This garden built on flat land on a square plan with four radiating arms from a central location as the water source. This central channel, known as the Shah Nahar, is the main axis of the garden. It runs through three terraces. This layout left out the radial arms and the shape became rectangular, instead of a square plan of the Char Bagh. The first terrace is a public garden ending in the Diwan-e-Aam (public audience hall). In this hall, a small black marble throne was installed over the waterfall.
The second terrace garden along the axial canal, slightly broader, has two shallow terraces. The Diwan-e-Khas (the Hall of Private Audience), which was accessible only to the noblemen or guests of the court, now derelict, is in its center. In the third terrace, the axial water channel flows through the Zenana garden, which is flanked by the Diwan-e-Khas and Chinar trees. At the entrance to this terrace, there are two small pavilions or guard rooms (built-in Kashmir style on stone plinth) that is the restricted and controlled entry zone of the royal harem.