Any account of the architecture of Medieval India would be incomplete without the study of the gardens. Almost all the Muslim rulers were fond of laying beautiful gardens and the art of gardening was developed in India long before the Mughals appeared on the scene.
The earliest garden to be laid out was at Kalugarhi near Delhi. This garden was further extended by Jalaluddin. Firoz Tughlaq is also said to have laid not less than 200 gardens in and around Delhi.
In the provinces also the gardening was given sufficient encouragement by the local rulers. The gardens of Golconda, Gujarat and Baduan were greatly admired by the natives as well as foreigners. In Ahmedabad, a beautiful garden was laid out in the island at the centre of the Kankaria Lake, which is popularly known as Bagh e-Nagina or Jewel garden.
This garden was the favorite resort of the Sultans and nobles of Hauz-i-Qutab.
With the coming of the Mughals the art of gardening received special attention. Whenever the Mughal rulers got any leisure from political activities they devoted their time to the laying out of extensive gardens. Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India is said to have had great love for trees and flowers and landscape gardening.
He laid out a large garden at Panipat (known as Kabul Bagh), to commemorate his victory over Ibrahim Lodhi in 1526 A.D. He also laid down gardens at Agra on the pattern of Samarkand Bukhara and Ferghana. The Ram Bagh and the Zohra Bagh at Agra were designed on their pattern. Another important garden laid down in the earlier period of the Mughal rule in India was the Baradari of Mirza Kamran at Lahore.
Under Akbar, Kashmir was added to the Mughal empire. This provided a new incentive to the gardening activities. Akbar was so much impressed by the climate and terrain of Kashmir that he laid out Nasim Bagh on the west of Dal Lake, which is considered to be a thing of beauty and joy for ever.
Another garden laid out at Kashmir was the Nishat Bagh (garden of breezes). This garden was laid out by Asaf Khan and is situated on the edge of a hill. It rises in 10 terraces from the eastern shore of Dal and provides a fine view of the Lake. The garden is divided into two parts with water channels, cascades, fountains and tanks. This garden presents a picture of fairy land.
Jahangir was great lover of gardening and laid on gardens wherever he stayed. Some of the prominent gardens laid out by Jahangir include Achabal Bagh, and Veering Bagh in Kashmir, the Royal garden at Udaipur, garden attached to the tombs of Itmaduddaula at Agra and Wah Bigh at Hasan Abdal.
According to the author of Cambridge History of India, “His (Jahangir’s) principal delight was in the laying out of large formal gardens, the romantic beauty of which has contributed not a little to the aesthetic reputation of the Mughal dynasty. Through Jahangir’s love of nature, inherited from his progenitor Babur, the Mughal garden was brought to perfection and at all places where this emperor sojourned for any length of time one of these pleasances (gardens) was generally prepared.”
Shah Jahan, the next ruler was also equally fond of gardens and laid down beautiful garden at Lahore which ranks in fame only next to Taj Mahal. His garden at Lahore covers an area of over 80 acres. There is a canal which intersects the garden. From this canal 450 fountains rise.
On the upper terrace of the garden there is a marble kiosk open on all sides. In the centre a reservoir has been provided which is bordered by an elaborate coping, and a cascade falls into it over a slope of white marble screen. Down this the water ripples into a pond below where from it falls into another reservoir and then passes to the extremity of the garden.
The garden has been provided with fine splendid cupolas of red sand-stone at the angles. It is said that the gardens and building attached to it cost six lakhs of rupees.
The Taj Mahal at Agra is also surrounded by beautiful garden befitting this monumental building. Shah Jahan also laid out gardens in the Red Fort of Delhi in the Mughal style. The open pavilions with the water-channels passing through them make the atmosphere really refreshing.
The other important gardens laid down during the reign of Shah Jahan include the Talkatora Bagh, Shalimar Bagh and the Wazir Bagh of Dara in Kashmir.
Aurangzeb did not show much interest in gardening but it does not mean that the art of gardening died. A number of gardens were laid down during his regime. These include Chaburji Bagh and Nawankal Bagh at Lahore. The Nawankal Bagh was laid between the city of Nawan Kot and Lahore by Zeb-ul-Nisa, daughter of Aurangzeb.
But there is no vestige of this garden left now. The Chaburji was a gateway of this garden which was constructed under the supervision of Mian Bai.
Pinjore garden, situated at a distance of three miles from Kalka, which was destroyed by Timur, was also given its present shape during the times of Aurangzeb by his trusted lieutenant, Fidai Khan, Governor of Punjab. He re-planned the garden and constructed fluttering balconies,’ spacious terraces, symmetrical water courses and sparking fountains.
In short we can say the Mughal rulers took great pleasure in laying down large ornamental gardens. As regards the style and pattern of the Mughal gardens Prof J. B. Mathur says, “Mughal gardens were invariably square or rectangular in shape, their areas being further divided into a series of smaller squares by an intricate lace-work of water-ways and fountains. The water channels falling in smooth cascades over carved ‘water-chutes’ passed through pavilions or ‘baradaries’. The spray-rippling sound of the water cooled the airy retreats and created an atmosphere of peace during the hot dry months. These pavilions were used for informal audiences, recitations and rest and recreation.”
Percy Brown also says, “In all instances, the lay-out is rigidly conventional and axially symmetrical; there is pattern in the conception, but as a rule it is too geometrical to be rhythmic; the style belongs to the school of the formalists and not to that of the naturalists, the aim being to discipline nature and not to intimate it. The result is that the plan of the Mughal gardens is worked out in a regular arrangement of squares, often sub-divided into small squares to form the favorite figure of the ‘Char bagh’ or ‘fourfold plot’ Paved pathways and water-channels follow the shapes of these squares, oblique or curved lines being very rarely used. Except that the stately Chenar tree (Platanus orientalis) finds a prominent place in the Kashmir garden compositions, with orchards in those of the palaces, and avenues or groups of cypresses in those around the tombs, the science of arboriculture and the art of topiary were not practiced, the main effects being obtained by means of parterres and borders of flowering and aromatic plants. At central points in the scheme, masonry pavilions, loggias, kiosks and arbors were erected, some of these, as for example the pillared pavilion of black marble in the middle of the Shalimar Bagh in Kashmir, having no little architectural merit …to provide the water-supply required to maintain such a garden in a state of uninterrupted efficiency, it was often necessary to obtain this from a distant source by means of a canal, the construction of which was no mean feat of engineering.”