....Such was the happy garden state
while man there walked without a mate;
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet."
Thus mused poet Andrew Marvel. And how true he is ! But then, one also wonders on seeing a beautiful garden, how and when it dawned upon man to plant trees for pleasure and since when man actually started gardening. Looking back, we find that gardening in our country is as old as our civilisation, which dates back to 2500 B.C., i. e., even before the Aryans came. Since then right down to present times, India has seen monarchs and rulers come and go, each leaving behind among other things, his distinctive style of gardening. Sometimes even introducing and popularaising certain trees and plants. Here is a glimpse of gardening in India through the ages.
We got to read that Aryans were great lovers of trees and flowers, such as the Peepal(Ficus Religiosa) and the Lotus, which have been mentioned very often in the Sanskrit scriptures of the Vedic times. Instances have been given of beautiful gardens adorned with trees, bushes, flowers and often lakes full of lotuses in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata(compiled about 600 B.C). Artistically laid groves of shady trees were at times, a part of these gardens. The Ashokavana, where Ravana held Sita captive was one such grove of the majestic Ashoka(Sarka Indica) tree.
In the Mahabharata, detailed descriptions have been given of the pleasure gardens, parks and lakes around the palaces of Indraprastha, the capital of Pandavas. Champa(Michelia Champaca), Palash, Screw Pine or Kewra, Oleander, Golden Shower(Cassia Fistula), Krishnachura(Caesalpinia Pulcherina), Sal, Kadamba, Nagkesara, Banyan(Ficus Benghalensis) were most common trees of that time. Among the flowers, Lotus appers to have been the most popular and regarded by both the Hindus and the Buddhists as sacred. In fact, there are some very interesting anecdotes described in the epics and in the legends concerning flowers like the Lotus and the Rose. In one such stories, it is said that Lord Vishnu was once bathing in a lake where a lotus bloomed with Lord Brahma seated inside. Exquisite, dainty petals of the lotus braced each other and the flower bloomed in all its radiance. Lord Brahma, taking pride in the lotus, claimed that it was the most enchanting among flowers. Hearing this, Lord Vishnu smiled and invited Lord Brahma to his abode in Vaikuntha. There, Lord Vishnu showed him a rose which was as pale in its bloom as the divinely pale beams of the softly glowing moon and which was as enchantingly beautiful as beauty personified. The fragrance that emanated from it was so intoxicatingly sweet that one could not help breathing deep to let its magical charm linger in the senses. Lord Brahma stood in sheer rapturous wonder on seeing such unequalled, ethereal beauty and he had to admit that it was indeed the rose that was the most beautiful flower in the Universe.
We also read about Kalpavriksha, the wish-granting creeper. One such tree is preserved in the Kolkata Museum which is identified as the Banyan tree. The Kadamba tree was closely associated with the life of Lord Krishna. It is said that one of Lord Krishna's favourite pastime was to sit on a branch of the kadamba tree and play on His flute, the melody of which attracted the attention of the pretty maids of Dwaraka. Special mention has been made of beautiful groves with trees, flowers and creepers which were very much a part of Lord Krishna's life. In those groves He danced and played about with Radha and other maids.
Different trees were associated with the life of Lord Buddha too. He was born under the Ashoka tree in 500 BC, attained enlightenment under the Peepal tree, preached and spread His teachings in the shades of Mango and Banyan trees and left for His heavenly abode under Sal tree in a Sal grove.
Emperor Ashoka encouraged the planting of avenue trees, which till date is very popular.
Special mention had been made of some trees like the Palasha, Sal, Sirisa, Banyan etc, during Emperor Ashoka's reign.
Poets and authors, pilgrims and travellers, could not but mention the lustrous trees, flowers and gardens in India, in their literary works. Sudraka gave beautiful descriptions of gardens and flowers in his Mrichchakaticam. Poet Ashvaghosha too describes Lord Buddha's ecstasy on seeing beautiful flowers and trees in Nandana Vana.... beauty that soothed the saint's soul. Mahakavi Kalidasa, in his plays, mentioned trees like Ashoka, Kadamba, Arjuna(Terminalia Arjuna), Parijata(Nyctanthes Arbortristis), Palash(Butea Monosperma) or Flame of the Forest, Kamini, Jasmine, Screw Pine or Kewra with much admiration to the beauty they added to nature. In his famous play Shakuntala, description had been made of exotic pleasure gardens with flowers, trees, lakes full of lotus, creepers etc, among which, the creeper Madhabi(Hiptage Madablota) had occupied a prominent place. In yet another famous play, Meghdoota, Kalidasa described how, during the monsoons, women of Alkapuri adorned their hair with Kadamba flowers and their arms with pink Lotuses. In his plays, women mostly bejewelled themselves with a variety of fragrant flowers.
Vatsayana, in his book Kamasutra, describes gardening as one of the many duties of a loyal, virtuous and affectionate wife. He has described how a good wife ought to lay out a garden around the house, where besides other flowering trees, creepers and bushes, Jasmine and China Rose should also be planted. From his book, we get a glimpse of the joyful life of the people of that period and their taste of systematic gardening.
Huen Tsang, the famous Chinese pilgrim, writes in his account of life in our country with much enthusiasm about the Indians' love for flowers and how, in every occasion, flowers would always be there to beautify and sanctify. Every morning they needed fresh, unsoiled flowers to offer in prayer to the Lord and also to adorn women's hair.
Then came the Mughals to India, who we all know are renowned for their excellent taste for sprawling gardens with flowers like the Oleander, Hibiscus, Jasmine and Kewra. Babar, the founder of the Mughal empire, was a great lover of beautiful gardens with flowers. In fact, it was he who had introduced Persian Rose to Indian gardens. Rambagh, the tomb garden at Itmad-ud-Daulah and the gardens around the Taj Mahal(all in Agra) are a few example of the meticulous art of gardening of the Mughal period. One such garden in Lucknow is now the National Botanical Research Institute. Some Mughal kings also took interest in planting avenue trees. Sher Shah Suri who constructed the Grand Trunk Road and planted trees along both its sides was one such King.
The Rajput kings had also left behind splendid landscaped gardens with lakes and fountains to enhance the beauty of the trees and flowers. The Mandor garden near Jodhpur till today speakes volumes of the art and splendid taste of gardening of the Rajputs.
Right from the beginning, upto the arrival of the British in our country, the pattern of gardens was more or less similar in different periods. In all these periods, it is observed that mostly fragrant and flowering trees were planted in these gardens. But the British turned on an untouched chapter and changed the entire style of gardening in India. Indians have been carried away by the beauty and colour of these flowering trees to such an extent that till today we have only too happily and willingly remained slaves of these flowers, although of course and again happily, we are no more so to those who introduced such radient hued flowers into our country. These flowers, such as, Dahlia, Phlox, Verbena, Pansy, Sweet Pea, Larkspur, Carnation, Candytuft and many more adorn our gardens in present days along with other shrubs and bushes.
Coming through all the above mentioned stages, Indian gardening has now come a long flowery way and arrived at the present-day style of gardening which of course to an extent, resembles the English pattern of gardening. It was a kind of 'Green Revolution'. A present day garden boasts of trees like Araucaria, Thuja, Sago Cycas(Cycas Revoluta), Devdaru etc for their foliage, whereas Bougainvillea, Magnolia, Rose, Mussaenda, Ixora and many more for their beautiful flowers. On the other hand, today gardening remains incomplete without potted plants and that too is another priceless contribution of the English.
This writing, however, is incomplete without special mention of another contribution of the British, i e, flower arrangement. Prior to the arrival of the British, Indians made garlands and bouquets(guldasta) of flowers. But the concept of flowers in vases and in pin-holders placed in dishes and saucers came on only with the British and thankfully stayed on. Today, flower arrangement has become a part and parcel of the Indian style of living. And in what better way can man, whose very creation is traced back to a garden(that of Eden), live but be surrounded with flowers !
Do visit my garden : MagnoliaRuprekha Mushahary