The Mughal Gardens of Kashmir

The Mughal Gardens of Kashmir

Whenever someone visits Kashmir, his trip is not complete without visiting one or the other Mughal Gardens of Kashmir. Present day gardens are beautifully laid terraced gardens. Let us have a look at the history of these gardens in Kashmir

Layout and Architecture 

In the pre-Islamic era, Kashmir was a Hindu dominated territory and ruled by great kings like Lalitaditya. At that time the concept of Vatikas, Upwan or pleasure gardens was there, which were mainly orchards with flowers and aromatic plants. Among earlier such gardens was Bagh - E – Tut or Mulberry garden. Islamic art was the very antithesis of Hindu Art. Hindu adornment was irregular, symbiotic and very individualistic, however, Islamic art was mathematical, symmetric, abstract and continuous. If the Hindu Vatikas or Upwans blended with the natural habitation or imitated nature, Mughal gardens aimed at taming the nature or discipline it. So their style was Formalist style and not a naturalist style. The idea of these Baghs was brought from Persia. The basic shape involved multiple rectangular terraces at various descending levels to ensure a continuous flow of water through the garden. The water body formed the axis of the garden around which the garden was laid. The water was sourced from some natural spring or any other source and cascaded from one level to other in the form of a small fall and finally joined some other waterbody like a lake or a stream. There were Pavilions made over these water bodies. The fountains and the reflection of sky and trees in the water pools created added to the beauty of Gardens. The layout is axially symmetrical and rigidly conventional.

Mughals and Kashmir

Kashmir always fasciated Mughals. One because of its sheer beauty and secondly it also acted as a gateway to central Asia. First attempt to annex it was made by Babur, but he did not succeed. Kashmir was ruled by chak Dynasty at that time. Chaks were basically from Gurez valley. They were great fighters and were of large built. They defeated Akbar twice with a much smaller army. Chak ruler Yousuf Shah Chak while being brought to Delhi for talks with Akbar was betrayed and imprisoned by Akbar's Army. The stories of this betrayal still reverberate in the poems of Habba Khatoon, one of the most celebrated poetesses of Kashmir and Love of Yousuf Shah Chak. Yusuf Shah was succeeded by his son Yakub Shah, who ruled here for 03 years, before being annexed by Akbar in 1589. It was Akbar who established a stable Mughal empire here and from this time onwards, was ruled by Mughals through their Governers.

Akbar made three visits to Kashmir and it became their virtual summer Capital. Jahangir spent 14 summers here. He would leave the sweltering heat of Delhi and Agra arrive in the valley where it was spring season and Lilacs and irises were blossoming and leave in autumn when the fields of Saffron were in full bloom. He even died at Bahram Galah near Poonch.

Famous Mughal Gardens of Kashmir

Nishat Bagh

Undisputedly the most beautiful garden in Kashmir, whose name literally means “A Garden of Joy”. Some sources attribute the laying of this garden to Mirza Abdul Hasan in 1634 Other while some others to Asaf Jahan, the Father in Law of Shahjahan. It is said that Shahjahan was so impressed with the Garden that he praised it expecting it to be gifted to him. When the Bagh was not gifted to him, he was so envious, that he got the water supply to the gardens cut off, but the things got sorted off before some permanent damage could have happened.

The garden has 12 terraces, supposed to be representing 12 zodiac signs. To appreciate its full Glory, One needs a little bit of imagination. Today a motorable road passes in front of the garden, which once was a terrace of this garden. The last terrace ended on the lakeshore and the approach to the garden was through a Shikara passing through a bridge called Oonth Kadal. This bridge is in ruins now and recently Germany committed funds for the restoration of this Bridge. What a mesmerising scene it would have been with the waters of Dal lake gently lapping against the terrace of Nishat Bagh and Lotuses blooming in the lakeand majestic Oont kadal bridge with trees lined on both its sides welcomed anyone coming to these gardens.

Nishat Bagh
Nishat Bagh - The most beautiful one

The topmost Terrace has a Pavilion is Zenana. This garden was a more private garden as compared to Shalimar Bagh, which was used for holding Durbars by the Mughals.

Shalimar Bagh

The laying of largest Mughal Garden of Srinagar is attributed to Jehangir, who got it laid for his beloved wife Noor Jehan as Farah Baksh – The joy imparting garden. However, its early origins date as back as the 6th century, when Pravarassena II built a villa here when the garden there was a sacred site. Later the villa and the garden vanished, but the village here retained its name Shalimar, which was transferred to Mughal garden laid by Jehangir. Prince Khurram, who later came to be known as Shahjehan oversaw its laying. When he accessed the throne, he added Fayaz Baksh meaning Bounty bestowing or Zenana to earlier Faraz Baksh.

Shalimar Bagh
Shalimar Bagh

Like Mughal gardens, this garden is also laid according to the Persian Char Bagh concept. The Charbagh takes its inspiration from the Quran, which describes heaven having four rivers of wine, honey, milk and water. The traditional Charbagh is uniformly shaped, with a water source at its centre and four (Char) radiating streams which divide the Garden(Bagh into four parts. There are totally five terraces. The lower three terraces were Diwan e Aam, which were open for common public, however, the upper two terraces were reserved for Royalty and were known as Diwan E Khas. The two portions were separated by a wall with two gates on both the sides of water channels. The Pink coloured structure built on the water channel on the second level was Diwan e Aam and the sheet or chadar of water falling from it to the pool below gives a dramatic effect. The black pavilion on the fourth terrace is the Zenana.

Chashmashahi Bagh

Chashmeshahi garden was got laid by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan as a gift for his Son Dara Shikoh. This job was executed by Ali Mardan Khan the governor of Kashmir. The garden was built around a beautiful spring emerging out of Zabarwan mountains. As per one school of thought, the garden derives its name from Chasma e Shahi meaning the Royal spring. However, another school attributes its name to great female Kashmiri Saint Rupa Bhawani, of sahib clan of Kashmiri Pandits, who discovered these springs. The spring was known as Chashme Sahibi, which got corrupted with time to be known as Chashme Shahi.

Chashme Shahi
Chashme Shahi

This is the small of the Mughal gardens in Srinagar, is three terraced and laid in Charbagh style. A two-story Kashmiri hut like Pavilion is built over the origin of the Spring. The main focus of the garden, the spring is still retained and this garden offers, beautiful views of Dal lake though distant as compared to other Gardens. The Zabarwan mountains in the backdrop complete a picture-perfect setup.

Pari Mahal

This garden was built as a personal retreat and a library Mughal prince Dar Shikoh. He also used it as a centre for Sufi studies and his astronomical studies. This garden as Mughal gardens does not have a flowing water channel rather has individual piping to each terrace, and the source of water supply is a nearby spring. Dara Shikoh built this garden in 1650 at the site of a Buddhist monastery as a school of Sufiism at the instance of his spiritual tutor Mulla Shah Badakashi. He named it after his wife Nadira Begam known as Pari Begum.

This is an eight terraced garden with the entrance on the fourth terrace. It has a baradari or Pavilion on the fourth terrace. These gardens offer a breathtaking view of Dal Lake, Zabarwan hills and the Golf course below. A few room like structures near the entrance have pipes coming into them and indicate the presence of Hamams there.

Pari Mahal
Pari Mahal


                    The biggest attraction of this place is Verinag Spring. This is among the biggest springs of kashmir and as per legend is the origin of river Jehlum. Legend says, Goddess Vitasta ( Jehlum ) wanted to rise from this spring, however, due to Shiva's presence here at that time, she had to rise from a place about one mile away. Verinag is a combination of two words Virah and Nag. Virah means to return or separate and nag in Kashmiri is for spring. This Virha + Nag got distorted to be called as Verinag. This place also has an association with Nilanag, the god of all springs in Kashmir and son of Rishi Kashyap. It is Rishi Kashyap, who reclaimed Kashmir Valley. As per a Legend, the entire Valley was a huge lake known as Satisar - The lake of Parvati, who used to enjoy boating here. There lived a demon named Jaldeo, whose patron was Brahma ji. He lived in the lake and destroyed all life along its shores. Rishi Kashyap, one of the Saptrishis and grandson of Brahma ji fought with him. Jaldeo ran away and hid deep in the waters of the lake. At this time Lord Vishnu came to his help and struck with the plough at this place to drain out the entire lake and give birth to the beautiful valley of Kashmir. The demon still escaped and was killed by goddess Parvati, who dropped a mountain on him crushing Jaldeo under it. That hill is known as Hariparbat upon which the Hariparbat Forts stands majestically in Srinagar.

Verinag spring
                                                                                Verinag spring                                     Picture source  - Google 
It was Jehangir, who got the octagonal stone structure built around the spring, which once was a sacred Kund. Later Shahjahan got the gardens laid around this spring. He also got hot and cold baths and a number of pavilions or baradaries made in this garden.

                                 The Mughal gardens of Kashmir apart from being a treat to eyes also give an insight into how the ancient Indian architecture transformed under effect from Islamic architecture.

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