Sunday, August 6, 2017

Shalamar Gardens


The Shalimar Gardens sometimes spelled Shalamar Gardens, is a Mughal garden complex located in Lahore, capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab. Construction of the gardens began in 1637 C.E. during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan, and was completed in 1641.

The Shalimar Gardens were laid out as a Persian paradise garden. The gardens measure 658 metres by 258 metres, and cover an area of 16 hectares east of Lahore's Walled City. The gardens are enclosed by a brick wall that is famous for its intricate fretwork.

In 1981 the Shalimar Gardens were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as they embody Mughal garden design at the apogee of its development. The gardens date from the period when the Mughal Empire was at its artistic and aesthetic zenith.

Lahore is often described as the "city of gardens". Although deserving of this title, few of its historic gardens survive to the present day and even fewer are preserved in something close to their original state. Shalamar is a grand exception to this trend. Comprising nearly forty acres on three broad terraces, its majesty brings to life the Mughal genius for landscape architecture like no other monument in Lahore.

Prior to Shalamar, the Mughal emperors had been no strangers to garden building. Babur, the founder of the dynasty, had constructed a number of gardens during and after his invasion of the Indian subcontinent. Judging by his memoirs, he held a consumate interest in cataloging and describing the flora and fauna of the Indian landscape, and his gardens often incorporated varieties of native plants. Despite this, Babur never felt at home in the arid climate of Hindustan, preferring the cool weather of the Afghan mountains which had been his boyhood home. When he died, Babur left instructions to be interred in an earth covered grave in present-day Kabul rather than in a garden tomb on the subcontinent.

As Babur's successors assembled a larger and more diverse empire, the gardens they founded served multiple purposes. In a practical sense, they provided an environment where the imperial court could camp in relative comfort as the emperor and his entourage traveled from site to site. At the end of a long day's journey, imperial gardens along the Grand Trunk Road and other roads would have been a welcome refuge from the overwhelmingly arid landscape of North India. In a political sense, such gardens also served as landmarks of imperial conquest.

Mughal gardens were easily distinguishable from earlier varieties in north India as they were both grander in scale than prior gardens and placed a great emphasis on axis, symmetry, and balance. Such char bagh gardens (literally, "four gardens") referenced the paradise gardens described in the Q'uran and Persian models to the west. Both were like nothing India had seen before, and their presence testified to the Mughal's dominion over the landscape.

The origins of Shalamar Garden are directly attributable to another garden of the same name built by Jahangir in Kashmir. The Kashmir area had long been of interest to the Mughals, and Babur himself had attempted to visit the area in 1554 but had been unable to do so due to the political situation. In 1586 the area was finally conquered by Akbar and its capital Srinagar taken in 1589. Akbar was immediately struck by the beauty of Kashmir. Geographically, it comprised a 150 kilometer long valley with stunning views of the Himalayas. Its climate was moderated by the Pir Panjal mountain range, which served as a buffer against the monsoon climate to the south.

Down the middle of the valley flowed the Jhelum river which was amply watered by seasonal snowfall in the surrounding mountains. In the midst of this verdant landscape, Akbar established a number of gardens which may have included the Garden of Breezes (Nasim Bagh) along the western edge of Dal Lake. He may also have constructed floating gardens on boats which he used when travelling along the Jhelum river.

Akbar's son, Jahangir, built the first Shalamar garden in the Kashmiri landscape. He selected the site in 1620 and involved his son, the future Shah Jehan, in a project to dam up a stream used to irrigate the garden. One can imagine that this experience left a deep impression on the future Shah, as he continued to build gardens throughout his lifetime that were generally similar in design to the Shalamar of Kashmir.

Here, Shah Jehan witnessed the construction of a garden that rivalled any built previously by the Mughals. The garden took advantage of the spectacular backdrop of the Himalaya mountains, which provided water year-round and views of snow-capped peaks that persisted into the warmer months. The garden was laid out on three broad terraces on the gently sloping landscape, and the change in elevation allowed fountains to be built with sufficient water pressure to produce stunning hydraulic effects. Several magnificent marble pavilions studded the garden and provided places to contemplate the landscape or engage in the business of the court.

Kashmir may have been an eartly paradise, but it was not suitable as a permanent capital for the Mughal empire. Fatehpur-Sikri had held this role, but was replaced in the 1590s by Lahore in present-day Pakistan. The climate of Lahore is nothing like Kashmir. Although it is irrigated by a river--the Ravi--the climate is much hotter than Kashmir and the landscape is almost unrelentingly flat. Akbar and Jahangir had done their best to build gardens here on a grand scale (for example, the Shahdara garden), but any hydraulic effects were constrained by the absence of water pressure that could only be achieved, in absence of machine power, by a change in elevation.

Establishment of the Garden

Sometime in the 1620s or 1630s, a large flood swept through Lahore and exposed a low bluff at the edge of the Ravi river. Although the bluff averaged only a few meters higher than the surrounding floodplain, it presented the best opportunity in the Lahore area to create a garden in the Kashmiri variety. The site was relatively remote--about a day's ride to the east of Lahore fort--but it was chosen as the site of the future Shalamar garden by Kalil Ullah Khan, an imperial nobleman who had been ordered by Shah Jahan to find an appropriate site for a garden. At this point, in 1641, the narrative of the site becomes entangled with the life of Ali Mardan Khan, the former governor of Kandahar who had surrendered the city to the Mughals in exchange for riches and safe conduct.

Ali Mardan Khan claimed to have expertise in the construction of qanats (underground canals) and Shah Jahan tasked him with constructing a canal from Rajpur, at the foot of the Himalayas, all the way to Lahore. Such a canal would span over 160 kilometers and provide ample water to encourage settlement in the Punjab northeast of Lahore (a relatively underpopulated area at the time). The terminus of the canal would reach the upper terrace of Shalamar garden and its remaining water would provide sufficient flow to animate hundreds of fountains.

Ali Mardan Khan had been given 100,000 rupees to finance the canal. Although construction proceeded quickly, his engineers miscalculated and the canal refused to yield any water. Ali Mardan Khan requested further funds in the amount of 50,000 rupees which Shah Jehan provided. The canal was regraded and improved but did not function. Although Ali Mardan Khan remained in good standing with Shah Jahan, the emperor rescinded his control of the project and replaced him with Mulla Alaul Mulk. Using just 50,000 in additional funds and only the first 16 kilometers of Ali Mardan Khan's canal, Mulla Alaul Mulk rebuilt the canal successfully so that water from the Himalayas reached Shalamar after its long journey across the plains of Punjab.

The canal proved so useful that in years to come the Punjab region grew much more fertile. The canal remained in use until the mid 19th century when it was replaced with the Upper Bari Doab canal which followed a somewhat parallel route from the same source in present-day Madhopur, India.
When Shalamar was first established it probably stood virtually alone at the edge of the Ravi river, but its presence served as an anchor point for further development in the region. In particular, the Grand Trunk road which connected Lahore to Delhi was rerouted northward to pass along the Ghore Shah road by the garden's lower terrace.

This spurred the settlement of nearby villages such as Baghbanpura where garden workers and nobles in the employ of Shah Jahan's court resided. Further urbanization occurred to the southeast as graveyards were established around the mausoleums of noted Sufi saints.

Shalamar garden did not fare well in the years after Shah Jahan's death. Architectural patronage as a whole declined during the reign of Shah Jahan's successor Aurangzeb, who gave little to Lahore apart from the spectacular Badshahi Mosque which survives to the present day. After Aurangzeb, Lahore's fortunes declined in tandem with the greater Mughal Empire. By the early 1800s, the gardens were looted of much of their marble decoration. Many of the present structures are largely reconstructions in plaster and brick.

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