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Shalimar Bagh of Kashmir

The Heaven on Earth

Natallia Savitskaya, Author

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Structure of Shalimar Bagh

Pravarsena II in first and second centuries A.D., founder of the city of Srinagar, built a villa at the far end of the Dal Lake in the first and second centuries A.D. and called it "Shalimar", which in Sanskrit means "The Abode of Love". In 1619, Emperor Jahangir, out of his fondness of Kashmir, used the old site to commission a garden

Jahangir actually commissioned only some of the Shalimar Bagh as we see it today. Shah Jahan writes: "Kashmir also pocesses charming gardens and pleasing parks, the best of which is the Bagh-i-Farah Bakhsh constructed by his Majesty's command during the late Emperor Jahangir's reign." 

The Bagh-i-Farah Bakhsh he refers to is actually the lower section of the garden. He adds that "in these days by the sublime command, at the rear of the Farah Bakhsh garden, another garden was laid out which was designated Bagh-i-Faiz Bakhsh. Bagh-i-Faiz Bakhsh refers to the upper section.

So Shalimar Bagh is the work of both Jahangir in 1619 and Shah Jahan in 1630.

 Let us look at the structure of the garden now that we have a little bit of background history.

The garden is divided into three sections: starting from the bottom the Public Garden - Diwan-i-Am, then the Emperor's Private Garden only accessible to some nobility - Diwan-i-fa-Khas, and at the top the Ladies Garden. Click on the "Details" of the plan above and explore the 'Annotations' to discover what Constance Villiers-Stuart has to say about the structure of the garden in her most important work Gardens of the Mughals

Contemporary account by Francois Bernier points to something we would not be able to experience anymore: that the traditional entrance would be by boat via the Dal Lake

"The entrance from the lake is through a spacious canal, bordered with green turf, and running between two rows of poplars. Its length is about five hundred paces, and it leads to a large summerhouse placed in the middle of the garden [Bagh-i-Farah Bakhs]. A second canal, still finer than the first, then conducts you to another summer-house, at the end of the garden [Bagh-i-Faiz Bakhsh]. This canal is paved with large blocks of freestone, and its sloping sides are covered with the same. In the middle is a long row of fountains, fifteen paces asunder; besides which there are here and there large circular basins, or reservoirs, out of which arise other fountains, formed into a variety of shapes and figures."

Bernier describes the ascent from the Dal lake towards the main pavilion at the very top of the garden, the addition commissioned by Shah Jahan. 

Both pavilions Bernier calls 'summer houses' and describes them as such:

"The summer-houses are placed in the midst of the canal, consequently surrounded by water, and between the two rows of large poplars planted on either side. They are built in the form of a dome, and encircled by a gallery, into which four doors open; two looking up, or down, the canal, and two leading to bridges that connect the buildings with both banks."

One of the most beautiful things about the pavilions, that can not be observed today, is the niches behind the cascade of water. Originally the niches would have had lanterns placed behind shining waterfalls, illuminating the garden in mysterious and flickering dim light.

The whole garden is unified through its canal that "runs through the marshy swamps, the willow groves, and the rice-fields that fringe the lower end of the lake, connecting the garden with the deep open water." Shah Jahan likes the canal to "the Kausar, the nectar-flowing river of Paradise."

The canal is accompanied by the avenues of chenar trees, frequently called poplars by contemporaries, such as Shah Jahan and Bernier. Constance Villiers-Stuart comments:

"Fully grown they resemble heavy-foliaged sycamores with serrated leaves and smooth, silvery boles and branches. They were, and are, greatly prized for their size and beauty, and more especially for their dense shade." 

If you would like to read the full descriptions of the garden by contemporaries and scholars, follow the path that I laid out at the bottom of the page. 

If you feel that we have a good grasp of the nature and architecture of the Shalimar Bagh and ready to keep going, let us look at how the Mughals experienced the space, in the forth section "Terrestrial Paradise of the Indies" in the navigation menu to the left.
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