The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 12 Some garden contrasts and a dream

Eastern and Western garden symbolism

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It was evident that the builder was trying to adapt Eastern symbols to Western fashions and ideas. It is not surprising to find Indians copying European styles even when their own are sounder and more suitable, as they naturally wish to imitate the arts of a nation which has proved itself to be so strong in other ways. But in these latter days of aesthetic revivals, and more particularly of the rediscovery of the truth that the house and garden should form one harmonious whole, it is indeed strange that we should be so slow to learn from India. What useful and delightful gardens might be made for clubs, residences, and public pleasure-grounds in every Anglo-Indian Station, if we would but call the Indian master-builder and his malis to our aid. It would be difficult to find a more appropriate design for a modern Indian house, or palace and its grounds, than that of a Mughal bagh with its adjoining serai, such as can be seen at the Taj, or on a still larger scale at Shah-Dara, Jahangirs tomb. The open square of the serai would form a useful and dignified forecourt. The modern dwelling-house would take the place of the high entrance to the bagh; on the far side of which, the enclosed garden with its terraces, avenues, and long canals would stretch undisturbed. Apart from the beauty of Indian garden symbolism, and the use of the open pavilions and platforms, what a charm the formal setting and the fountains would lend to English skill in scientific horticulture-our experience in the actual growing of the various flowers and trees. Many detailed suggestions might be made, but that one subject, the problem of New Delhi, now absorbs all lesser interests of its kind in India. Gardening, and its interwoven architecture, go to the very root of national life. In the garden the whole history of the nations finds a true and clear reflection. In times of peace and prosperity the craft expands and flourishes, while wars and long unsettled years sweep away the gardens and all their gentle arts. The Aryans of Vedic times brought their intense love of nature, their worship of trees and flowers, from the flowery tablelands and valleys of Central Asia to the Indian plains. After dim centuries, during which the priestly Brahman caste gained complete ascendency, and codes and elaborate ceremonies hardened and led to the creation of a chill, artificial world, the rise of Buddhism was welcomed and assured. The new phase of the old creed owed its immediate success to its restoration of the old joyous simplicities, and the 'Lotus-bearers' of Asoka carried their flowers far and wide. Seventeen centuries later, with the coming of the Mughals, the wave washed back from the Central Asian gardens to India, where the peace and the genius of the Mughal Badshahi can be still traced in its baghs.