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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

...Of The Shalamar

Shah Abdul Hakeem had seen the young Bulleh Shah wandering the streets of Qasur several times. He knew the young ascetic was searching for spiritual enlightenment in the form of a guide or "murshid". One day, he called Bulleh Shah and said to him, 'The one you seek is in Lahore. Go to him, present yourself to him and pray that he accepts you as his own".

Bulleh Shah left Qasur and reached Lahore. He roamed the streets day and night,his unkempt locks flowing and his clothes in tatters, searching for his Murshid. One day, he wandered into the Shalamar Bagh; the famed vision of paradise that the Mughal emperor Shahjehan had constructed in Lahore,. After roaming the walkways, he chanced upon one of the Baghbaans - gardeners who oversaw the royal gardens - tilling a field in the gardens. Something came over Bulleh Shah and he stopped in his tracks, filled with a mixture of attraction and awe.Something seemed to tell him that he'd reached the end of his quest, that he'd found the Murshid he was looking for.

Anxious to approach the Baghbaan but reluctant to express his feelings openly, the young Sufi closed his eyes and started performing "Zikr"- the silent remembrance of the Lord. Suddenly one of the mango trees - of which there were dozens upon dozens in the Bagh - dislodged all it's fruit. As the shower of mangoes descended close to the gardener, he turned around and on spotting Bulleh Shah standing at a distance, said, "Thief! How dare you steal mangoes from this garden".

 Bulleh Shah replied, "I'm standing in front of you. away from the tree. How could I have brought down all these mangoes without even touching the tree?"

At this the gardener smiled, closed his eyes and started performing "Zikr". Suddenly, in front of young Bulleh Shah's eyes, all the mango trees in the Bagh started swaying and in an instant, the ground was covered with mangoes. While Bulleh Shah was staring open mouthed, the mangoes lying heaped on the ground jumped up and re-settled on the branches of the trees.

At this, Bulleh Shah ran forward ,fell at the feet of the gardener and offered himself into submission.


So goes one of the versions of the story of how Bulleh Shah met his spiritual master, Shah Inayat. The Shalamar Gardens were the site of that fabled encounter, and although the mango trees - just one variety among the dozens of types of fruit bearing trees that grew in Shalamar Bagh- are gone, the Gardens and their adjoining regions of Begumpura and Baghbanpura are still at the centre of the cultural, historical and spiritual heritage of Lahore.

Constructed by Shahjehan, the most artistically inclined of the Mughal emperors, at a place "so delightfully adapted to the purpose that it was universally commended", the Shalamar Gardens were designed primarily for the enjoyment of the Emperor on his frequent trips to Lahore. The gifted engineer Ali Mardan Khan -who is buried close to his favorite creation - designed the garden along the pattern of the Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar, with fountained waterways fed by a specially constructed canal from the Ravi called the Shahi Neher. A series of aqueducts and tanks, carrying water transported uphill with the aid of oxen-powered water pumps fed the fountains in a remarkable feat of engineering.

The gardens itself were divided into three tiers. The topmost tier named "Bagh-e Farah Bakhsh" was reserved for the royal family. Along with the Bagh's characteristic fountain-lined intersecting waterways, it has two remarkable structures, the rectangular Diwaane Khaas-o-Aam with the unusual spiculated roof, and the central Barah-dari that overlooks the marvelous cascade that transmits water down to the second level.

Another attraction is the Moorcroft Building, a pavillion costructed during Maharaja Ranjeet Singh's reign for the explorer William Moorcroft. It is equipped with an ingenious ventilation system. The main component of the pavilion is the basement, which has two ventilation openings on each wall that open to the outside just above ground level. It's northern wall opens into a well equipped with a water pump that when powered by oxen, would result in a sheet of water cascading in front of the opening in the wall. Air entering through the well would be cooled after passing through this artificial waterfall and would exit through the eight ventilation windows.

The second level - "Bagh-e Faiz Bakhsh" houses the giant water tank - the Talaab - with its 152 fountains. Water enters it via the Great Cascade, a beautiful scalloped white marble waterway that brings water into the Talaab in a shimmering stream from whence it flows into the pool ,passing underneath the Emperor's marble throne. In the centre of the Talaab is the Mehtaabi, a central platform that oversees the third level of the Bagh, the "Bagh-e-Hayat Bakhsh". The second level houses four beautiful Barah-daris and it's four corners are overlooked by magnificently imposing towers atop the red brick boundary walls.

The "Hayat Bakhsh" houses the exceptional pavilion known as "Saawan Bhaadon" in which water used to cascade down three vertical walls with niches carved into them for placement of oil lamps. At night, water cascading over white marble, with hundreds of oil lamps glowing behind it must've been quite a sight. The rest of the level consists of spacious lawns where once there grew rows upon rows of fruit trees. Sadly, only a few of these are still in fruit.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Shalimar Gardens have undergone several renovations and one can see evidence of conservation work still going on in some parts of the Bagh. Perhaps it's just wishful thinking but I hope the conservation process is completed soon and visitors are able to experience the gardens as they were meant to be experienced - a vision of paradise on earth, with lush gardens filled with flowering plants and fruit trees, dancing fountains sending water cascading down waterways that flow in rivulets down the great cascade, with lamps illuminating the Saawan Bhaadon pavilion as visitors marvel at the dance of oil lamps behind a sheet of water and feel what the emperor Shahjehan must have felt when he first visited the Shalamar, as the court historian Inayat Khan wrote :

"His Majesty made a pleasure excursion to those paradise-like terraces. And the gardens and the agreeable pavilions which had been erected about the grounds, which all vied with the heavens in grandeur, were now found suitable to the royal taste. In fact, never before had a garden of such a magnificent description been seen or heard of on earth."


P.S All photos taken by yours truly. Watch this space for a few more come January, as I can't upload any more in December due to Flickr's obscene 100 photos per month policy.
P.P.S If you're in Lahore and haven't been to Shalamar yet, I can't help but feel pity for you.
P.P.P.S Ustad Vilayat Khansaheb has provided the perfect soundtrack to a walk in the Shalamar Gardens.

Found at: FilesTube

1 comment:

  1. a sufi fable, beautiful images of gardens in the homeland, and to top it all off vilayat khansaheb's sitar. wah wah wah. musab mian maza aa gaya. i must share this with my shujaat husain khan who is his son and annually visits montreal.