The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 8 Summer gardens of Kashmir

Kashmiri wood carving

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The garden, which had fallen into decay, was re-enclosed on a smaller scale by Gulab Singh, the grandfather of the present Maharaja of Kashmir. Opening out of the south wall there is a large harem building, with a Mughal hummum and a swimming tank for the ladies in the centre of the square. The actual pavilion through which the spring bursts out is broken down, and all that remains is an arched recess, a ruined portal set against the side of the cliff. One would give much to see in what manner the great rush of water was first confined and utilised. On either side of the reservoir into which it falls is a stone-edged chabutra shaded by big chenars. There are several Kashmiri pavilions built on the Mughal stone foundations; delightful little structures with their cream plaster walls and rich brown cedar woodwork, their airy latticed windows and their carved flower-bell corbels. They are neither as elaborate nor so fine as the older work of the same class scattered up and down the country; but they are beautiful and useful none the less, and represent a national living art, which the builders of the Srinagar villas and the pine huts of Gulmarg might with advantage make more use of than they do. In many out-of-the-way villages the old tradition lives, and the head mans new house springs up adorned with rough but tasteful plaster-work and the cunning carving of an older day. One reads therefore, with something more than astonishment, the Report written only five years ago, which, in its archaeological zeal for Mughal work, recommended that the Kashmiri pavilions should be pulled down to the level of the underlying stone, not on account of their ugliness or want of utility, but merely because they were not Mughal! Surely this is a short-sighted and unhistorical view. The antiquarian spirit in India is a pious one; but without a sense of proportion, a study of the life of the people, and aesthetic enthusiasms, it will have no force or driving power. Meanwhile the clever carvers of Srinagar spend their time on hideous, over-elaborated travesties of European furniture, tortured tea-tables, and uncomfortable chairs, not that they have forgotten the larger and bolder work so suited to their style, with its balconies and the flower-bell ends, but for the simple reason that nobody nowadays wants such things. The Delhi Durbar showed what Kashmir workmen well inspired could do. The gateway of their Maharajas camp was perhaps not very happy-a stone temple design carried out in wood-but the high pierced and carved railing on either side of it was one of the most beautiful and satisfactory examples of modern Indian craftsmanship.