The Rashrapati Bhavan’s gardens are blooming with spring flowers and spreading the scents of Basant. Better known as the Mughal Gardens, it is thrown open every year from the second week of February to early March and is the biggest attraction in Delhi as far as gardening goes.
Last year, a new attraction was the introduction of two roses ~ one named after former President Pranab Mukherjee and the other after his wife Surva Mukherjee. A yellow flower bears the ex-President’s name and a purple and pink one that of Mrs Mukherjee. The flowers are from the species developed by two West Bengal agriculturists~ Ashok and Pranay Maity. The person to whom a rose is dedicated has to approve of it. However, since Surva Mukherjee is dead, the decision in both cases was obviously taken by her husband. The final confirmation is made by the Indian Rose Federation and the American Rose Society.
Spread over 15 acres, the gardens have 140 famous varieties of roses named after such personalities such as Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, late US Presidents Abraham Lincoln and J F Kennedy, Jawaharlal Nehru, Christian Dior, the French fashion designer, Arjun and Bheem, the Mahabharataheroes, the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower of France. “Apart from roses, about 14,000 tulips and 60 types of bougainvillea and more than 70 varieties of other seasonal flowers are grown in the garden,” according to the Press Secretary of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Other attractions include 30 airpurifying plants, flower walls and floral inscriptions~ “India and Jai Hind”, according to scribe Parvez Sultan. The complex, comprising spiritual, herbal, bonsai and musical garden (where various musical instruments are played for the entertainment of visitors), will remain open until 12 March, except for Mondays, between 9.30 a.m. and 4 p.m. One of the days, the gardens will be exclusively open for farmers, differently-abled persons, paramilitary forces and the Police.
The Mughal Gardens were known as the Viceregal Gardens before Independence, with more than 90 gardeners working on their upkeep prior to World War II, with cannas and aureoles occupying pride of place (the number of gardeners must be more now).
Gordon Sanderson, Superintendent for Mughal and Mohammedan Monuments under the Archaeological Survey of India, who died during World War I, did much to beautify these gardens and later President Zakir Hussain added a rosary, with a collection of rare plants from all over the world.
The gardens are designed after the Mughal terrace gardens of Kashmir. Two channels running north to south and two running east to west divide them gardens into three sections, rectangular, long and circular known as Pearl Garden, Butterfly Garden and Circular Garden. Besides flowers, climber vines or creepers, shrubs, giant dahlia and shady trees impart a magical touch to the gardens. All the Presidents, who lived in Rashtrapati Bhavan added to their beauty in their own way.
The art of Mughal gardening was introduced into India by the founder of the Mughal dynasty, Zahiruddin Mohammad Babar, who conquered Hindustan in 1526. Babar found the heat and dust of the country too much to bear, used as he was to the cool vales of Kabul in Afghanistan. He laid the first garden in Agra and called in Charbagh as it was divided into four sections. He laid other gardens too and was buried in the Charbagh temporarily after his short reign of about five years. Later his body was taken to Afghanistan for the final burial, in accordance with his wishes.
The succeeding Mughals made their own contribution to Indian gardening in accordance with their conception of paradise, with flowers, green grass, leafy trees and flowing water. Humayun was buried in a garden tomb in Delhi which became the model for the construction of the Taj Mahal.
Akbar laid gardens in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. Jahangir was also a lover of nature which inspired his paintings. He spent his summers in Kashmir, where both he and his son Shah Jahan laid gardens. The Shalimar Gardens are among the famous ones, on the lines of which the Shalimar Garden of Delhi was laid by one of Shah Jahan’s wives, Akbarbadi Begum.
This garden was used as a pleasure retreat. Her husband laid gardens both in the Agra Fort and the Red Fort of Delhi, among which were Mehtab Bagh and the Hayat Baksh garden. Another, Mehtab Bagh, on the outskirts of Delhi, was redeveloped by Gen David Ochterlony, the first British Resident at the Mughal court, who liked to spend his summer months in the Shalimar Garden. He posed as an Indian nawab, maintaining a harem of 13 Bibis, the chief of whom was Mubarak Begum, after whom too a garden was named by him.
Ochterlony is said to have died after catching exposure in the Shalimar Bagh. After his death Mubarak Begum married a Mughal soldier, Wilayat Khan and fought alongside him in the First War of Independence in 1857. The beautiful mosque built by her in Lal Kuan, Old Delhi, is named after her as Mubarak Masjid though some derogatorily call it Randi-ki-Masjid as she had been a Brahmin dancing girl before her conversion and attachment to Ochterlony.
Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, beautified the Taj gardens and Lady Willingdon redeveloped the Lodhi Gardens in Delhi which were earlier named after her. Mrs Moynihan, wife of a US Ambassador to India, inspired by the book on Mughal gardening by Ms C M Villiers Stewart did research on them and discovered Mughal gardens in Deeg too, a stronghold of the fort of Bharatpur. Their leader Surajmal took away the Sawan swings set up by Shah Jahan in Agra and installed them in a Mughal garden of his own. It is worth mentioning the other Mughal era gardens in Delhi, the last of which were laid in Safdarjang’s tomb, described as “the last flickering lamp of Mughal architecture”.
Tracing the history of Mughal Gardens, Roshanara Garden deserves special mention. Qudsia Bagh was laid by Qudsia Begum, wife of Mohammad Shah Rangila and mother of emperor Ahmed Shah. The garden was on the Yamuna bank and was supposed to be the best in Delhi at that time as it included the remnants of Princess Jahanara’s garden at TisHazari which boasted of 30,000 saplings, the extended garden had fruit trees and shady avenues and also a masjid. An imposing gate led to it and still stands.
Roshanara Bagh was laid by Shah Jahan’s younger daughter, Roshanara Begum, whose tomb is situated in it. The British made their Roshanara Club in it after 1919, which became the first venue of cricket matches in the Capital.
Though Roshanara Bagh survives, the Tis Hazari garden laid by her elder sister, Jahanara no longer exists. However, part of her Begum Bagh near Chandni Chowk survives as Gandhi Park. Talkatora Bagh is a garden with a lake or tal shaped like a katora, or cup. It is believed to have been laid by Mohammad Shah, though some date it to Firoz Shah Tughlak’s time. In recent years some fancy gardens have also come up in Delhi. The Garden of Five Senses is a park spread over 20 acres in Saidul Ajaib village, opposite Saket.
The park was developed by Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation, at a cost of Rs 10.5 crore, over a period of three years and opened in February 2003. Partly built over a rocky terrain, the garden has various theme areas, including a section on the lines of Mughal Gardens, plus pools of water lilies, bamboo courts, herb gardens and solar energy park.
Buddha Jayanti Park commemorates the 2,500th birth anniversary of Lord Buddha, and is situated on the Delhi Ridge with a seated Buddha statue, installed on an island in the waterway system and placed on a square platform surrounded by a circular stone fence and a circumambulatory path, called Parikrama.
Deer Park in South Delhi comprises many subsections such as Duck Park, Picnic Sports, Rabbit Enclosures. The park has tombs of Mughal era and is accessible from Safdarjung Enclave and Green Park. The Deer Park, along with the connected District Park and adjacent Rose Garden, are collectively called “the lungs of Delhi”. It is known as Deer Park because it houses a large number of deer.
The Aravali Biodiversity Park spreads over 692 acres on the South Central Delhi Ridge within the Aravalli Range. In it planting of native species like dhau, babul, kair, and dhak has been carried out. A rangeland with native grasses has been developed. A conservatory of butterflies, orchidarium and fernery has also been developed in the park, which was opened on June 5, 2010. Thus the spirit of Mughal gardening survives even in the 21 st century and the one in Rashtrapati Bhavan is its showpieces.