For the Expat living in India visiting the gardens provides a step into India’s past. Most significant gardens in India are associated with major buildings, and therefore influenced by the design of the buildings. Few gardens survive from pre-Islamic India, but the majority of the buildings that survive from earlier times are temples. Sacred texts such as the Ramayana and the Kama Sutra describe the details of temple gardens including ponds, shading trees, fragrant flowers, and singing birds.
The ‘Islamic gardens’ of India share formal characteristics and are referred to as Chahar Bagh gardens. They are usually square or rectangle, with a central focal point such as a tomb or pond, and they are divided into four quarters by channels of water, representing the four rivers flowing from the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis. The most spectacular gardens in India today include several Islamic Gardens, but the Chahar Bagh design is not limited to gardens in India.
During the British Raj the concept of civic gardens, such as the botanical gardens, became popular, although there is some evidence in literature and art that less formal city gardens—either within the city or very near, existed in pre-Islamic India.
Lodhi Gardens, New Delhi
Lodhi Gardens surround several important tombs, including that of Sikander Lodi as well as Mohommed Shah, the last of the Sayyid dynasty rulers. Mohammed Shah’s tomb is the oldest, built in 1444. In the years since these tombs were built a village grew up in the grounds surrounding them, but in 1936 the British cleared the area in order that Lady Willingdon, wife of Governor-General of India, Marquess Willingdon, could landscape the area turning it into a park. The gardens were again re-landscaped in 1968 by J A Stein. The site is now protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Humayun’s Tomb Garden, New Delhi
Humayun’s Tomb Garden was the first garden-tomb in India and set a precedent for Mughal garden design, which reached its peak with the Taj Mahal. With the decline of the Mughals the upkeep of the gardens became too expensive and with this neglect, people settled inside the walled garden and used the rich ground to grow vegetables. In 1860, the influence of the British Raj altered the look of the space, turning it into an English garden. In the early 20th century Viceroy, Lord Curzon ordered a full-scale restoration of the garden.
Brindavan Gardens, Mysore
Completed in 1932, the Brindavan Gardens are downstream from the Krishnaraja Sagar Dam, 20 km from Mysore. Almost 60 acres of lawns, many pools and fountains and beautiful flowerbeds cover three terraces. In the evening the fountains and flowerbeds are illuminated. The main attraction of the gardens is the musical fountain—the bursts of water are choreographed to music. A lake in the middle of the gardens has boating facilities for visitors. The garden also has topiary and pergolas.
Shalamar Garden, Kashmir
Created by the Emperor Jahangir and his wife, Nur Jahan, Shalamar is between the shore of Lake Dal and the Himalayas. The garden was planned in the traditional chahar bagh design, with a central pavilion in a rectangular pool where the canals meet. The name Shalamar means ‘Abode of Love’. When first completed the garden was approached from the lake by a long canal. A particularly lovely feature of the Shalamar Garden is its chini khanas, or niches, set behind the waterfalls. These niches once held oil lamps and now hold pots of flowers. The bright colours of the flowers are captured and reflected behind the flowing water.
Taj Mahal Garden, Agra
Completed 1653 and designed in the Islamic style, the Taj Mahal Gardens are the most perfect chahar bagh in existence. The canals originate from a central, raised pool, and divided the garden into sections of 16 flowerbeds, making a total of 64 beds with 400 plants in each bed at one time. Where most Mughal gardens are rectangular with a tomb or palace in the center, the Taj Mahal garden is unusual because the tomb is located at the end of the garden. However, another section of the garden has been discovered on the other side of the Yamuna River and current thinking is that the river itself was incorporated into the design of the garden, putting the tomb in the centre again.
With the decline of the Mughal Empire the care of the gardens also declined. Eventually the British changed the landscaping to great lawns, but today some replanting of the original ideas has been completed. The gardens are mainly lawn and trees with canals dividing the sections.
Indian Botanical Garden, Kolkata
Colonel Kyd first developed the Indian Botanical Garden in 1786. Originally designed to develop new varieties of plants from around the world that would be suitable to the growing conditions of the Indian climate, it is the oldest botanical garden in India. The Gardens cover 270 acres and are home to around 12,000 living plants and over 2.5 million dried plant specimens collected from all over the planet. One of the main attractions of the garden is the oldest Banyan Tree in the World, covering 404 sq meters.