“Gardening, as [an aesthetical] and/or cultural activity, matters deeply, not only to the look of our landscape, but also to the wisdom of our thinking about the [ecology] and environment.” Michael Pollan, Beyond Wilderness and Lawn.
Gardens of any type are important to our ife on earth. These, particularly in our age (and in future), act as a safeguard to the environmental crisis everywhere. And scholars tackling the core environmental issues consider gardens as an important discipline of study now. Therefore, the questions are: do Mughal landscape gardens of Kashmir valley represent aesthetic, and environmental concerns and values? And what makes them fit to obtain UNESCO world heritage recognition?
An established fact is that, “in this age or before, one can hardly think of a natural system that has not been considerably altered, for better or worse, by human culture”. The contemporary reports so far documented are replete with references in this matter. And Mughal emperors like other rulers (or human fellows) are no exception. They also have brought immense changes in the landscape of what is now: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. And if one has to look at regional level, these changes are visible in Kashmir valley as well.
Therefore, of many, but one visible vision of the Mughal emperors and their nobles, was their keen interest of outlaying landscape gardens—designed with a sense to command both: aesthetic, and environmental concerns and values. This cultural act got the Mughal emperors and their nobles closer to the idea of preserving the treasure of Kashmir landscape ecology. And if one has to observe it, such a deep concern is visible in their choice of ‘selection, observation, and design, planning and management’. For example, the landscape architectural design that the Mughal architects have applied in the outlaying and maintenance of gardens and springs is significant for more than one reason. One, it channelizes the abundance of water with an appropriate momentum and direction. Two, it prevents soil erosion. Third, the selection of plantation in the gardens arranged technically around the water channels is truly phenomenal. And all these valuable attributes and techniques thus serve an example of outlaying garden design—with a sense to command both: aesthetic, and environmental concerns and values.
Here it bears to mention that what garden historian James Wescoat has aptly viewed: “although climate was not a major topic, which is a significant point of negative evidence, some hydroclimatic incidents were recorded that led to infrastructure and policy adjustments. For example, the first Mughal ruler Babur complained bitterly about the climate, waters, and culture of Hindustan immediately after the conquest in 1526 CE. To counter these deficiencies, he ordered the construction of waterworks, gardens, and baths to make the capital city of Agra resemble the landscape of Kabul. Three decades later, Mughal documents began to present a favourable perspective on the climates of India”. However, unlike other Subahs (provinces) of the Mughal empire, warm climate and the deficiency of water although was not an issue with Kashmir valley, but, despite that, the descendants of Babur showed a deep ecological and environmental concern towards the Subah of Kashmir.
Since climate change is a major issue of concern all over the world, it would be wrong of us to assume that the Mughal emperors did look upon Kashmir valley just as a pleasure ground, so far as traditionally underscored, rather their persistent ecological engagement with its landscape provides a somewhat deeper concern with what now constitute core environmental issues. And this act of theirs serves one of the best examples of ‘human-earth-relationship’ in the existence of life.
Tailpiece: In view of the preserving cultural heritage, and the ecological and environmental concerns in focus all over the world, it is therefore imperative that the Mughal gardens of Kashmir be assigned ‘UNESCO world heritage recognition’. Because, these historical gardens: aesthetically, functionally, symbolically and ecologically, reflect deeper ‘environmental concerns’. Therefore, any lapse in assigning the ‘world heritage recognition’ on part of the decision makers and/or officials would fail us to recognise the ‘continuity’ and ‘proximity’ of these historical gardens in our age of ‘environmental crisis’.
Author has worked as chief coordinator of The Peace Gong (global children’s Newsletter-connecting children for a non-violent planet) and is currently working as faculty at higher education, Srinagar Women’s College Zakura.