The Taj Mahal in a lush vista filled with water, trees and flower beds. The Taj is at the centre of a walled garden in the char-bagh, or four-plot plan.
The Mughal Empire (1526-1858) was founded by the Emperor Babur. After creating a number of gardens
in and around Kabul (Afghanistan) where he lived prior to conquering northern India, one of his first acts on
taking power was to lay out new gardens in Agra, Rajasthan. This enthusiasm for gardens was common among Mughal rulers,
especially Babur's great grand son Jahangir who built gardens around his palaces in Lahore (Pakistan). His son, Shah Jahan,
who reigned from 1627-1658, established the Shalimar gardens in Kashmir and laid out major gardens at and Agra and Delhi (India).
The Mughals were known for four major types of garden: palace, terraced, waterfront and tomb gardens.
Shah Jahan's most famous commission was the Taj Mahal, the tomb built for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
The gardens were built between 1632 and 1654. Lesser known and now largely in ruins is the "Moonlight Garden" directly across the river from
the Taj Mahal. This garden was built as a mirror image, especially for the enjoyment of the court for evening parties during the full moon from
which they could review the reflection of the Taj.
Gardens were also built by noblemen around their houses, creating 'garden cities' such as Mughal Lahore. Hindu rulers in northern India also built Mughal-style gardens. One of the most famous is at Amber in Jaipur (India).
The gardens of the Taj Mahal are typical of Mughal gardens, with a formal, symmetrical design and abundant water flowing through channels and pools. Typically, two water channels cross each other, dividing the garden into four quarters. A central pool or pavilion marks the centre of the garden. As well as flowing in channels, water is also used in cascades and fountains, and is appreciated for its air-cooling properties.
A woman holds flower sprays in a garden with marbled pools.
As in earlier gardens, scented flowers, in formal symmetrical beds, were important. Avenues of trees often included cypress trees, with their tall, narrow habit, fruit trees, and shade trees such as the plane tree. On forts and hillsides, elaborate terraces were constructed. Paths were usually raised above ground level.
Origins and representation
The roots of Mughal design lie in Persia (present day Iran). Persians are credited with introducing the formal four part walled garden known as
"chahar bagh." In fact, the word "paradise" comes down to us today from the Persian pairi = around and daeza = wall. Many well known
Persian poets wrote with delight of flowers one of the most famous being Sa'di's work called Gulistan or "The Rose Garden."
The most important element was water, which was channeled in geometric quadrants symbolizing the rivers of paradise mentioned in the Koran.
The rectangular Islamic garden, spread to central Asia. These gardens were so desireable that craftsmen skilled in garden making were often sought
after by other conquerors such as Timur (or Tamerlaine ) who laid out his gardens in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) in the late (c. 1400).
His descendant, the young prince Babur was greatly impressed by a visit to the gardens of Samarkand which influenced not only his,
but subsequent Mughal emperpors' ideal of garden beauty.
As is so often the case in garden design, Mughal gardens incorporated strong symbolic elements, common to all Islamic gardens.
So enthusiastic were the Mughals about gardens that floral designs can still be seen today in marble inlay on buildings as well into carpet patterns.
Most of all, they symbolised the Gardens of Paradise referred to in the Koran, enclosed and peaceful. In Mughal India, tombs were often
built with gardens, as at the Taj Mahal.
The great Mughal tradition of garden design went into decline following the death of the emperor Aurangzib in 1707. After this, the British were to have a huge impact on garden design on the subcontinent. The tradition did not entirely disappear, and the President's House (Rashtrapati Bhavan) in New Delhi features a beautiful 'Mughal' garden designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1918-1925.