The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 2 Gardens of the Plains - Agra

Akbar Tomb Garden at Sikandra

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Five and a half miles from Agra, down the great north road of Babar's planning, lies Sikandra, the tomb of his grandson Akbar. The building stands in the midst of a vast level garden, a char-bagh of the plains. The gardens mentioned so far, those of Babar's descriptions and the garden of Mahun, were all constructed in a series of terraces on sloping ground on the usual Turki and Persian plan. The ideal pleas-ance, according to those traditions, was itself a symbol of life, death, and eternity, and should be divided into eight terraces, following the eight divisions of the Paradise of the Koran mentioned in the previous chapter. In other cases seven was the number chosen, to symbolise the seven planets, and the ground plan of every garden was designed in accordance with some symbolic or mystic idea. No wonder, then, that Babar was disgusted by the surroundings of his new Indian capital-the far-reaching plains and the lack of natural beauty which prevented the realisation of the great char-bagh of his dreams, the Imperial garden-palace, which, with its terraces and fountains, should rival and outshine all those on the hillsides of Kabul and Samarkand. In these terrace pleasure-grounds the main pavilion, the climax of the garden, is in nearly every case placed either on the topmost terrace, from which wide views were visible, or else on the lowest embankment to enjoy the long vista up the line of dancing, sparkling waterfalls and fountains. At Sikandrah a different scheme is followed, which may be taken as a type of the Mughal gardens of the plains. The plan is of extreme simplicity-the fourfold field-plot of Babar, and also the Hindu mythologised geography of the world. This was a Holy Land, with Mount Meru in its midst, from which the waters of a secret spring flow north, south, east, and west in four great fertilising streams. Qn the central mount grows the sacred tree, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, with Naga, the holy water-snake, the embodiment of the spring, coiled about its roots.

These same ideas of the sacred mountain and the holy tree with its secret spring and guardian snake are connected with all early conceptions of a Paradise, and in every language the very word Paradise, or garden, means 'enclosed.' Such was the Eridu of the Assyrians; the Eden of the Jews; Mount Olympus, the Greek Garden of the Gods; the Vara or Pairi-daesa of Ancient Persia, where 'on the white Homa tree sits the Saena bird and shakes down from it the seeds of life, which, as they fall, are at once seen by the bird Kamros as it watches for them from the top of the heavenly mountain Hara-Berezaiti, and are carried by it, and scattered far and wide over the world.' The Paradise of the Hindus was Ida-varsha, the garden of Ida, mother of mankind; there on the sacred elopes of Mount Meru grew the 'Tree of Ages' and the fragrant 'Tree of Every Perfect Gift.' Back and ever backward through the ages this Paradise idea extends until it is lost in the beginning of all human things, the worship of the first wonders and necessities of life, the sky and the mountains, the water and the fruit-bearing trees. And still a flicker from the old tradition lingers on and lights our children's Holy Tree at Christmastide.