This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to go to part of the garden conference held here at Colby. I went to the first talk, an exploration of gardens in India during the Mughal Empire. To modern Americans, “garden,” generally refers to a specific area of one’s lawn, in which vegetables and flowers are grown, and to British people, “garden” means the lawn itself. But the gardens that Professor Wescoat talked about at this conference were on a grander scale, with trees and paths, built to careful geometric specifications. Gardens were located outside of cities, where they could be a place of refuge relaxation or a place from which to survey the city. Emperor Akbar was even crowned in a garden!
The building of large gardens in India gave rise to a literary and painterly tradition centered around them. The Akbarnama describes Akbar’s birth in a mango orchard and calls him the “fruit of the garden of sovereignty.” One copy of the book contains 116 paintings, most of garden scenes. Although the paintings appear realistic, the artists actually painted composites; which we can tell because of things such as mountain ranges appearing in the wrong place. Still, the paintings give us a good idea of what Mughal gardens and arbors looked like.