Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Beauty Meets a Refined Mind in Kashmir's Mughal Gardens

Saleem Beg describes how Mughals took gardens to a new level of sophistication in Kashmir, and laments public's poor taste in comparing Shalimar to Siraj Bagh

(Mr. Mohammad Saleem Beg, 57, was born and raised in Srinagar. He was educated at the S.P. College and the Gandhi Memorial College, receiving his Bachelor's degree from the latter. He was awarded a EEC fellowship in 1998 which allowed him to attend study courses at Universities of Luven, Belgium, and Trinity College, Dublin. Mr. Beg entered the State government service in 1975 and retired in 2006 as the Director General of Tourism. In the 31 years of public service (which included two deputation assignments in New Delhi), Mr. Beg promoted local arts and crafts, and raised public awareness of Kashmir's rich heritage and architecture. He was a leading figure in getting Srinagar listed as one of the 100 most threatened heritage cities by the World Monument Fund in 2008. Mr. Beg has traveled extensively and has attended numerous conferences, including the 1997 UN Special Session on Environment in New York, and the 1997 Kyoto Convention on Climate Change in Japan. His articles and essays have been published in various publications. Since retirement, he has remained active as the Convener of the J&K Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage - INTACH.)

Mughal Gardens-Architecture of Beauty

In Kashmir many gardens were laid by the pre Mughal sultans from 14th century onwards. Badshah is credited with construction of many gardens in his capital, Naaushehar; at Andurkote, Bag-safa and the island garden of Zaina lank within Vular Lake. Taking a queue from this, Mughals repeated the island gardens at Ropa lank and Sona lank in the Dal Lake.

It seems that the gardens built by the sultans also followed the pattern of paradise gardens prevalent in rest of the Islamic world. Sultans of Kashmir had developed close links with Central Asia in the field of arts and crafts. The cultural affinity between Central Asia and Kashmir predates arrival of Islam. Though the first Muslims to have visited here were perhaps Arab traders, it was under the influence of Sufis from that part of the world when initial conversions to Islam took place.

There are basically two types of Mughal gardens, those surrounding the mausoleum and those developed as pleasure gardens. The first type was invariably built during the life time of a Mughal king or the noble and after his death it was converted in to a tomb. The mausoleum garden would also be a char Bagh with tomb in the middle. One major departure from this set pattern can be seen at Taj where the mausoleum was placed at the end. This could be due to the fact that Taj was essentially a mausoleum with a garden and others have been gardens in which mausoleums were placed.

When Mughals came to Kashmir, they took the gardens to new heights of refinement. It was Akbar who looked at Kashmir as his summer resort where he laid the first garden at Naseem Bagh followed by another garden in Nagar Nagar around Hariparbat... To Jehangir Kashmir was a paradise which priests had prophesied and poets sung about. Jehangir spent fourteen summers in Kashmir, coming with blossoming of lilac and iris in the spring and moving back after the saffron bloom in autumn. The Mughal gardens of Kashmir owe their grandeur to him.

In the pleasure gardens of Kashmir, the site is at the lower elevation of a hill near the lake or a water source like a river. Except Verinag where the garden was developed around a spring. All these gardens have the standard central water channel and terraces as the main architectural elements. The Mughal engineering skills and aesthetics helped in exploiting the dominating natural landscape and the water resource achieving thereby an unparalleled perfection.

Mulla Abdul Hamid Lahori, the 17th century court historian of Shah Jehan makes mention of twelve prominent gardens besides those that have survived till now. These include Bagh-I- Bahar Ara at Nageen, Bagh-I- Illahi and Bagh-I- Aishabad in Srinagar, Bagh-i-Murad and Bagh-i-Khidmat khan at Dal Lake, Bagh-i-Feroz khan at Jehlum and Bagh-i-Zafar Khan at Khushal Sar.

Out of the surviving Mughal gardens, Shalimar is the greatest example of royal indulgence. This garden was laid out first as Bagh-i-Farah Bakhsh and later on another addition was made under the name, Bagh-i-Faiz Bakhsh. The two gardens were later on named Shalimar after the name of the village where these gardens were located. Shahjehan was so enthralled with this garden that he laid out another Shalimar at Lahore, the city he loved most. Another imitation was subsequently laid at Delhi under the name Shalimar.

Mughal gardens, finest examples of historical gardens have always been the subject of interest for the garden lovers all over the world. One can find a substantial network of garden societies in developed world whose life time aim and ambition revolves round the historical gardens.

There is a lot of renewed interest in the Mughal gardens and therefore efforts are afoot for their restoration and conservation. A project has already been initiated in Srinagar for restoring the architectural authenticity of Mughal gardens of Kashmir. An international network of Shalimars has been setup under the auspices of Department of Landscape architecture, University of Illinois, USA. The work in this network is being coordinated by Prof James Wescot, a leading authority on the Mughal gardens.

It is a pity that while the Mughal gardens are generating global appeal and interest, we as a society and the state have yet to realize their importance and potential as the most precious treasures of the world of historical gardens. It was very uncharitable on the part of State set up to compare Mughal gardens with tulip plantation or public parks and at times bestowing more favor and attention on these parks than the historical gardens.

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