Gardens - Early history

The passage of time has led to the destruction of most of the early gardens of South Asia. At sites such as the Buddhist monastery of Sigiriya (100 BC), in Sri Lanka, gardens have been excavated by archaeologists. However, most of our knowledge of early, pre-Islamic gardens comes from descriptions in ancient manuscripts.

These tell us that both Buddhist and Hindu kings and nobles laid out gardens and public parks. Trees were the most important element, both for their practical virtues of shade and fruit, and for their sacred properties. Scented flowers increased enjoyment of the garden, while a water pond cooled the air. Seats, swings and hammocks were provided for rest.

Mid nineteenth century watercolour of pink lotus flowers.
Lotus flowers, symbol of eternity, plenty and good fortune.

Gardens were not only a haven from earthly cares, but also a symbol of paradise, viewed in Hindu mythology as filled with sweet-scented flowers, and groves of trees. In Buddhist religion, gardens were a place of meditation and were a central part of life in monasteries.

The Muslim conquests, beginning in about 1200, led to the introduction of Islamic gardens into northern India, which were much more formal. Few gardens survive from the period of the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526), except for the Lodi Gardens in Delhi, but the gardens of the following Mughal empire are deservedly famous.

Islamic gardens spread as far west as Spain. Built in the early 14th century, the Alhambra palace is composed of terraces arranged on the hillside, with pavilions overlooking a courtyard and lush gardens.