The Lost Pavilions

Published / by Jehangir

The founder of the Mughal dynasty, Babur, complained in his autobiography
that in Hindustan “except their large rivers and their standing-waters which flow in ravines or hollows (there are no waters). There are no running-waters in their gardens or residences.”

No wonder the overjoyed Great Mughals laid out hundreds of gardens in Kashmir. Of the few that have survived into present times the remarkable ones are Nishat, Shalimar, and Cheshma Shahi – a series of exquisite gardens on the foothills of the Zabarvan Hills overlooking the Dal Lake in Srinagar – and Verinag and Achabal in South Kashmir.

Morning in the shadow of the Nishat Bagh,
evening in the breezes of the Naseem,
Shalimar and its tulip fields,
these are the places of pleasure in Kashmir and none else.

Millions of visitors throng these gardens every year and countless photographs find their way into print and are posted online. Very few people however know that these gardens looked quite different till just a few decades ago. It is interesting to compare photographs from the pre-independence era with current images of Kashmir’s famed Mughal gardens.

Nishat (The Garden of Delight)

At Nishat, stone bases still exist of the fluted wooden columns of a baradari* erected on the third terrace in the post-Mughal period. Later the first terrace accessible from the lake was converted into a metalled road with the result that the baradari would have been on the second terrace before it was razed.

The stone steps leading to the lake have been dismantled and only the lions-head fountain still gushes in the first terrace while the forgotten chini khana** is a hidden and lightless witness to past glories. In the heyday of the Mughals the twinkling of its lamps under a shimmering sheet of water would have guided boats to the Nishat Bagh at night.

A strikingly accurate watercolour of the interior of the baradari by Constance Villers Stuart compared to an undated photograph.

Cheshma Shahi (The Royal Spring)

At Cheshma Shahi as you reach the first terrace via a steep flight of stone steps an inelegant post-Mughal baradari built on the second terrace has thankfully been dismantled opening up the magnificent vistas of the Dal and the Zabarvan range above the chadar***.

Shalimar (The Abode of Love)

In Shalimar the traditional Pinjra-Kari# partitions are missing altogether while the carved devri## fountains are a marked improvement over the older ones. The unique burza pash### has been replaced with a practical modern metal roof.

Verinag (Abode of the Naga King)

In Verinag apartments on the first floor have been removed arguably improving the view from both sides – the pool and the watercourse.

baradari* Persian/Mughal pavilions traditionally had 12 entrance doors, three on each side lit. bara (twelve) dar (door).

chini khana** Tiered rows of arched niches behind a curtain of falling water that held flowers in the daytime and diyas (oil lamps) at night.

chadar*** Stone ramps engraved with varying scale-like patterns to form little wavelets, each design producing a distinctive gushing sound.

pinjra-kari# Wooden lattice work

devri## Local grey limestone extensively used in Kashmir. Stone was reputedly worked to a degree artistically comparable to marble by artisans in ancient Kashmir.

burza pash### A roof of birch bark covered with a layer of soil that permits the growing of flowers especially red tulips (Gul-e-Lala) narcissi (nargis) and irises.

As usual we turn to Walter Lawrence, “Sometimes in the village one finds the roofs of the larger houses and of the shrines (ziarats) made of birch bark with a layer of earth above it. This forms an excellent roof, and in the spring the housetops are covered with iris, purple, white, and yellow, with the red Turk’s head and the Crown Imperial lilies. In the city nearly all the houses of well-to-do people are roofed with the birch bark and earth, so that looking down on Srinagar from the Hari-Parbat hill one sees miles of verdant roofing.

On the Importance of Listening

Published / by Jehangir

Besides acquiring fame/notoriety as a journalist, comrade-in-arms, traveller, hunter and la dolce vita aficionado, Ernest Hemingway was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Even though his larger-than-life personality combined with a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize in Literature* made him impossible to ignore, yet Hemingway felt compelled to admonish:

‘When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen.’

Islam has rules of etiquette and a moral code involving every aspect of life as defined by Shaykh Abdul-Fattaah Abu Ghuddah in his comprehensive book on Islamic Manners. The learned scholar refers to the importance of learning how to listen by quoting Ibrahim bin Al-Junaid :

‘learn the art of listening as you learn the art of speaking. Listening well means maintaining eye contact, allowing the speaker to finish the speech, and restraining yourself from interrupting his speech.’

The honourable Tabi‘i** Ata Ibn Abi Rabah, the first Imam of Mecca related:

‘A young man would tell me something that I may have heard before he was born. Nevertheless, I would listen to him as if I had never heard it before.’

The spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama says:

‘When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.’

This post was inspired by a quote I came across on the internet that neatly summarises all of the above thoughts:

Are you really listening, or just waiting to talk?
Trust your intellect, open your mind.
Don’t prefabricate your responses.
Don’t try to showcase your wit.
Listen and respond in the moment.
You’ll be surprised at how much more you’ll learn.

*’The Old Man and the Sea’ (1953), which is one of my favourite books and films (starring Spencer Tracy).
** The Tabi‘un ( ‘followers’ or ‘successors’) were the second generation of muslims who gained knowledge directly from the Sahaba (Companions of the Prophet [PBUH]).

The Ides of March

Published / by Jehangir

In Ancient Rome the fifteenth of March was a momentous date as on that day in 44 BC Julius Caesar, having ignored a warning to ‘beware the Ides of March’, was assassinated by a group of conspirators. Interestingly the Romans did not number days from the first to the last day of a month but instead counted back from three fixed points of the month: the Nones (nine days before the Ides), the Ides (the middle of each month), and the Kalends (the first day of the following month, and the origin of the word calendar).

Happily, in Kashmir the fifteenth of March has a far pleasanter connotation as the day marks the advent of spring.

As per Kashmiri tradition a year is divided into six seasons of two months each starting from the fifteenth day of the modern calendar:

Sonth (Spring) / March 15 to May 14

Grishm (Summer)/ May 16 to July 14

Wahrat (Monsoon)/ July 15 to September 14

Harud (Autumn)/ September 15 to November 14

Wandh (Winter)/ November 15 to January 14

Shishur (Frost)/ January 15 to March 14

W. R. Lawrence in his encyclopaedic 1895 book ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ also informs us of the rural calendar which has twelve seasons.

According to Lawrence : ‘It is useful to remember these names, as the Kashmiris are somewhat hazy as to months, and months of agriculturists are usually one month in advance of the official months. It is said that the agriculturist calendar was introduced by Sultan Shamas Din, and the Kashmiri cultivators always talk of Vahek, Zeth, Shrawan, Bhodur, Ashud, Kartik, Mangor, and Tsitr, their equivalents for the Indian Bisakh, Jeth, Sawan, Bhadron, Asuj, Katik, Magar, and Chet.’

Indian / Kashmiri
Chaitra / Tsithur
Baisakh / Vahekh
Jeth / Zeth
Ashad / Har
Shravan / Shravun
Bhadon / Badrupeth
Aashwin / Ashid
Kartik / Kartikh
Margshirsh / Monjhor
Posh / Poh
Magh / Mag
Phalgun / Phagun

While autumn remains my favourite time of the year, spring always brings renewed hope for fresh beginnings.

nothing fails, or shall perish,
until we be born again,
until all that lay plundered
be restored with the tread
of the springtime we buried

~ Pablo Neruda

Or, the TL;DR version from Neruda himself:

You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming