Gardens: Here, and hereafter

“Mughal gardens evoke images of religious paradise and dynastic pleasure; The religion is Islam, and the dynasty is a Central Asian military society that gained control over most of what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan”.
Gardens: Here, and hereafter
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In pursuit of garden ecology, good sense prevails. Landscape gardening is definitely emerging as an ideal concept of study. It today has become an interdisciplinary significant subject of study. The word "landscape" although has received multiple connotations over the passage of time. But, here in this article, "landscape" simply refers to the "human-earth-relationship". 

In comparative and corresponding study of the paradise gardens and the Mughal gardens of Kashmir, here of several but three select questions are important to deal with. One, how the verses of the Qur'an define human-earth relationship? Two, what is it that flows from the Qur'an to the making of Mughal gardens of Kashmir? Three, if the Mughal gardens of Kashmir partly have achieved any of physical attributes of paradise gardens, but would they qualify the meaning of Qur'anic conceptions of paradise gardens? 

Exploring the garden history world over, the garden historians (such as: Walcher, Moynihan and James Wescoat) have explored it that: "Mughal gardens evoke images of religious paradise and dynastic pleasure. The religion is Islam, and the dynasty is a Central Asian military society that gained control over most of what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan". The garden historians demonstrate their view point that, the water channels, fountains, plants as well as the terraces inside the Mughal gardens serve the symbolic representation of the Qur'anic gardens of paradise. Say for example, the Qur'anic verses reveal that the heavenly paradise will have honey, wine, milk and water rivers/channels flowing underneath through and through. These paradise gardens will have multiple varieties of fruit trees bearing abundance of fruits on them. As each one of these represents major importance in the Qur'an, therefore, each of these thus became the central focus in the Mughal gardens also. 

Here it won't go out of place to mention, Richard C. Foltz and Azizan Baharuddin—who in their edited work "Islam and Ecology" have nicely summed up that: "Religious life and the earth's ecology are inextricably linked, organically related. Human belief and practice mark the earth".  A careful examination of the verses of the Qur'an though reveals an open invitation to examine and investigate the heavens and the earth, and everything that can be seen in the environment.   But while revealing that the Qur'an strongly demonstrates: one of the purposes in such an open invitation is to create an in depth understanding of the 'human-earth-relationship'. The other is to warn against making any kind of imbalance and wastefulness of precious resources.

Although the Qur'an is replete with references of 'paradise' and also serves the idea of 'paradise gardens'. But then the questions therefore arise: does the knowledge of 'ideas' flow from the Qur'an itself? And if it does, then, is it this idea of 'paradise' that flows from the Qur'an that Mughal emperor Jahangir described Kashmir: "paradise on earth"? Or, is it an idea of 'paradise-gardens' of the Qur'an which Mughal emperors' wished to appropriate practically in Kashmir? To attempt a qualifying answer to these questions may require an indepth research indeed. But one thing is very clear that Mughal emperors concentrated more over constructing marvellous gardens in paradise on earth which, of course, qualified to be world famous. It, perhaps demonstrates somewhat a deeper comprehension of: why emperor Jahangir wished to lose everything else but not Kashmir.

Interestingly, after constructing the gardens, sometimes viewing the physical attributes, Mughal emperors and their nobles, in expressions have tried to compare the gardens of Kashmir with the gardens of paradise. For example, Jalala-i-Tabatabi, an official historian of Shahjahan, quoted the verses from the Qur'an in the praise of Bagh-i-Noor Afshan (which on the banks of river Jhelum was constructed for princess Jahan-Ara under the sponsorship of Noor-Jahan, unfortunately doesn't exist now) which reads: "Wa Jannatun tajri min tahtihal-anharu", meaning: "And there shall be gardens with rivers flowing underneath" wherein the faithful persons shall abide for ever. [Qur'an: 2: 25; 47: 12; 98: 8]. But this, however, doesn't necessarily mean that the Mughal emperors' and their nobles have claimed creating the Qur'anic gardens of paradise in paradise on earth. Rather they simply have tried to appropriate the Qur'anic conceptions of paradise gardens more in metaphor than in practice—which in other words suggests: Mughal gardens of Kashmir have partly achieved the 'form' but not the 'meaning' of Qur'anic conceptions of paradise gardens—meant to be for faithful persons.  

Thus to conclude, 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 human fellows don't find a place of exception in this matter. They also have brought some immense changes in the landscape ecology of Kashmir.  But these changes (especially in case of landscape gardening) are visible for better than worse. However, an irony of the fact is that, medieval Indian scholarship so far has understood, interpreted, and appreciated the Mughal landscape gardening concerns in Kashmir as only their pursuit of 'leisure' and 'pleasure', which, however, completely negates the richness of their intellectual wisdom, and therefore, say in modern terms, underplays their character of attempting 'ecological landscape gardening and sustainable environmental development in Kashmir'. In other words, the Mughal emperors' did not look upon Kashmir just as a pleasure ground, as has been so far exaggerated, rather their persistent ecological engagement with its landscape suggests a somewhat deeper concern with what now constitute core 'environmental issues'. Therefore, one must not fail to recognise the continuity and proximity of Mughal landscape gardening attributes in this age of 'environmental crisis' everywhere.

Mumtaz Ahmad Numani is a Ph. D candidate at centre of advanced study in history, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, (India). He is also working as the co-ordinator of The Peace-Gong (global children's magazine connecting children for a nonviolent planet). 

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