India and the
most gardens and landscapes are usually associated with major buildings,
the study of them is intricately bound up with the history of architecture.
Most of the buildings surviving from pre-Islamic times are temples because
till a fairly late period temples were generally the only buildings built
of stone. The remains of some palaces exist, particularly their stone foundations.
The basis for the construction
of a temple is a mandala, (specifically a vaastu purusha mandala). Given
the geometric and symmetric layout of mandalas, one would expect the layout
of a temple and its compound to follow an equally geometric layout, and
this is generally so.
The mandala and the temple
are representations of the world or the cosmos. A classic view of the world
has Mount Meru at its center, with the mountain standing in the island
of Jambudvipa, itself set within an ocean. Temples usually contain representations
of these three primary elements, at least in part. Meru or Mount Kailasha
is represented by the temple shikara itself, Jambudvipa by the temple and
its base or the compound, and the ocean by a tank. The basic plan of a
temple is a square or rectangle, though this can sometimes be reduced to
a linear axis. Where a temple is found within an enclosed space, this is
in most cases a rectangular space aligned with the temple. In many cases
a water feature is found, often as a tank within the temple compound. The
alignment of the temple with the compass directions emphasizes its basis
in the world. While the symbolism is not always clear, the rectangular
layout of the land around a temple is still the rule. There is always water
present in some form, for washing and for symbolic purposes.
Among the best examples of
these elements in the Indian subcontinent are the Surya temple at Modhera,
the Minaksi temple at Madurai, and the Harimandir at Amritsar. The symbolism
is probably at its most elaborate at Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Temples or temple complexes
may contain representations of other landscape elements, although it is
not clear that these were always present in pre-Islamic times. Representations
of forests occur in the “thousand pillared halls.” Representations of rivers
occur regularly, either on the temple itself, in the shape of goddesses,
makaras, etc., or as carvings of rivers on the temple or on its surrounds.
Presumably for religious reasons, these representations are more common
in Hindu temples than in Buddhist.
Other important buildings,
including palaces, would probably have designed landscapes and gardens
associated with them. However there are few early palaces left, or even
the traces of these. The outline of the formal gardens of a palace, from
about 400 AD can be seen at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. This is has a strong
rectangular layout, based on the axis of the palace. The remains of other
palaces can be seen in their foundations, such as in the stone bases to
the palace pillars in the royal center of Vijayanagara. There are references
to town, house and palace gardens in the early literature, but this needs
further study to determine the details of the layouts.
There are many references
to forests, forest glades, and flower filled clearings in the passages
about life in the forests in the Puranas and the epics. Typically these
mention flowering creepers, shading trees, singing birds, fragrant flowers,
and ponds, often associated with an ashrama or other simple dwelling. They
are common in the accounts of the exiles of the principal characters of
the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and in the accounts of the lives of rishis.
These descriptions occur in such numbers and details that it is apparent
that an informal garden based on a forest clearing, and probably by a river
or stream, was seen as an ideal. Of course any such garden or dwelling
would have vanished into the forest almost as soon as the gardener gave
up, so these accounts will probably have to remain the main evidence. Subsidiary
evidence can be seen in the detail of some paintings.
In some cases, such as the
descriptions of early Pataliputra under the Magadhas, accounts of informal
gardens are given in relation to cities, or in the immediate neighborhood
It appears from the above,
that there were two different traditions of garden and landscape design
in pre-Islamic India, which could be called the formal and the informal
traditions. The formal is based on the geometric surrounds of a civic building,
aligned with the compass directions, and is based on the mandala and cosmic
order. The informal is that based on the forest clearing and is based on
the simple life of a forest dweller living as part of nature.
Islamic and western traditions
Garden culture of the Moslem
East was highly developed. One could see a yard, often squared by a small
chattering irrigation canal, with trees, grapevines and songs of birds
in cages hanging from a branch, even in the most plain home. Gardens also
stretched between the open buildings in the palaces of Middle Asia, Iran,
Iraq and India.
Most of the gardens of the
various Islamized cultures are traditionally lumped together under the
title 'Islamic gardens'. These were situated primarily in the subtropical
zone and fused with the open rooms of the palaces in a very peculiar way.
The common square pattern of the garden or the compound of a tomb probably
developed from a fusion of the walled garden, thought to have originated
in the Persian paradiaza, with the Semitic concept of the Garden of Eden.
The paradiaza is a walled enclosure that shuts out the outside world and
encloses a garden. The Garden of Eden is a mythic place from which four
rivers flowed out in the four cardinal directions. The fusion of these
developed into the “chahar bagh,” the quartered garden. The first known
walled tomb garden in India is Sikander Lodi's tomb in Delhi, predating
the Mughal tomb gardens.
In the main, the chahar bagh
as seen in India is a square or rectangular enclosure, quartered by water
channels that are said to represent the four rivers flowing out of Eden
described in Genesis). Examples of these include the principal Mughal tombs
- Sikandra, Taj Mahal, and Humayun's tomb. These show a layout that could
be called the Indian layout of the chahar bagh; the garden is enclosed
within walls, is square or nearly so, and has a central reference point,
usually the tomb.
Water is present by mosques
for the same reason as by temples; the worshipper is required to be clean
before worship. What is more, Moslem gardens appeared in regions where
people had always respected water because their food and life depended
on it to the greatest extent. Water meant also comfort and coolness in
the scorching lands of the Arabian East, Iran, Iraq and India. So, people
treated water as a most precious thing when directing it through the marble
beds of the pools and canals in the colorful gardens.
In Europe, one line of garden
tradition is derived directly from the Islamic interpretations of the Garden
of Eden. Later on there were attempts to find ideas in Roman and Greek
thoughts, and later still in Chinese and Japanese traditions.
It can therefore be seen
that there are distinct parallels and similarities in several key areas
between the native Indian concepts and the western concepts. The main points
of the similarities are;
The above shows that the original
Muslim concepts and the native Indian concepts had enough similarities
that they could be synthesized relatively easily to produce a Indian pattern
which could be recognized as belonging in either tradition. The Garden
of Eden theme was united with the mandala based themes of the Indian landscape.
Examples of the resulting gardens include that of the principal Mughal
tombs. The result was interpreted as a variant of the Garden of Eden theme
because the dominant culture when these gardens were created was a western
a square or rectangular enclosure,
often a walled compound
the presence of a dominant
focal feature, a temple tower, tomb, pond or palace
a quartering or other
division of the near landscape, often along the cardinal directions
the use of water as both
an ornamental and as an essential ablutionary feature