Monday, 29 February 2016

Babar, the Garden King

I came across an article in FT weekend dated 7-February 2016, titled “Seeds of a greener Kabul”, by Robin Lane.  The following lines in the article drew my attention - “...In Kabul the recently restored garden of Babur, the Bage [1]Babur, has just attracted its three millionth visitor since its restoration in 2008...Babur, the garden’s founder was a remarkable person, the most prolific garden king in history...”

When I read this article, I recalled my visits to some of the Mughal gardens in India. I also recalled the book BabarNama, the autobiographical work of Babar, which I had read some time back. BabarNama has been translated by Yugjeet  Navalpuri in Hindi, and published by Sahitya Academy. It is this book I refer to here.

 In India, Babar is known more for his conquests, battles, particularly the first battle of Panipat, the Babri Masjid that was demolished in the modern era by right wing Hindu fundamentalists and so on. I therefore thought of sharing the lesser known information about Babar, particularly his interest in nature and love for gardens through some select excerpts in BabarNama. The translation from Hindi to English has been done by me.  The Hindi version is a little difficult read and so few words may not have been translated accurately here. BabarNama is also available in English.

Babar. Source of the painting:

BabarNama- “In the end of Rabiaul [October 1504] Allah...gave me the regions of Kabul and Ghzani...

 Kabul is in its 4th season...surrounded by mountains on four sides...the town is adjacent to a mountain.  To its south west is a hillock named Shah-Kabul. It is so named because on its peak a house was built by one named Shah...on its slopes and foothill, there are gardens. In the days of my uncle Ulek Beig Mirza, Vaise Atka had constructed a canal on its slope. This canal flows through all the gardens on the slope... three streams flow on the side of the town. This place is suitable for a trip...close to the stream there are three patches of pastures/greenery/ the season, when the grass is green, it looks its north, nice houses with windows have been built...

From here [Kabul], cool/cold place as well as a warm place is close by. In one day’s travel one can reach a spot where it never snows and within...time, one can reach a place where there is always snow...Around Kabul, the harvest of meva [fruits] is in plenty both during warm and cool climates. The weather/air/atmosphere here is wonderful. There cannot be a better place than this [Kabul]. Even during summer, without wearing sosteen one cannot get sleep. In winter it snows heavily but it is still not that very cold. In terms of climate, Samarkand and Tabrez are famous. But its cold is torturous. 

In winter, among the fruits, grapes, pomegranates, apples, almonds, nashpati, khubani, bihi, sharife, nakh, aloobaloo, sanjad and yangak grow here.  The trees of Aloobaloo had been acquired by me and it is I who got them planted here. These have fruited very well. The trees continue to fruit even now. Among the summer fruits, oranges, turanj, amluk and sugarcane is brought from Lamganat. It is I who got the sugarcane cultivation started...Honey is available in plenty...Khira is so tasty that one cannot stop eating it... Grapes called Abangur available here are so tasty...

Agriculture is not good here...water melons are also not good...but yes, planting the Khurasani seeds makes it grow better...some distance away from the town, grazing land is good. The horses like it very much...the horses like the grass very much...flies are spring, mosquitoes harass the horses very much...

Kabul is a steadfast place...Seven roads lead from Hindu road is Shibre-tu-Dare. Except for this road, all other roads of Hindu Kush remain closed for four to five months of winter...In summer [possibly due to melting of snow] there are floods. In summer too all roads remain closed. The season to walk is the three to four months between the rainy season and winter... 

There are several communities [found here]. In the valleys and plains there are the Arab and the Turk communities. There are some Mughals. In towns and in some of the rural areas there are the Tajiks. At many places the Pashies, Paraji, Birki and the Pathans have settled. In the mountains of Ghazni, Hazra and Nikadri have settled...the languages spoken are Arbi, Farsi, Turki, Mughali, Hindi, Afghani, Pashai, Paraji, Girbi, Birki, Lamgani, etc. Such eleven to twelve languages are being spoken [here]. In no other region there are likely to be so many communities and languages as found here...

Some distance from Kabul, the terrain is rough...there are three to four mountains in between...there is presence of two places in between I have established two settlements. There is some peace there now...In between the warm and cold regions, there is one mountain named Badam Chashma mountain. It snows on that side of the mountain which faces Kabul but not on the side facing Lamgan. No sooner is the mountain crossed that the world changes. Rivers, gardens, animals, wood, forests, and grains, everything that is found is different. Customs, traditions, color, habits are all strange. Rivers are fast flowing. Rice, corn, oranges, pomegranates and turanj grow in plenty. Near the fort of Adinapur I planted a Charbaug [2] [or Charbagh]. I named it Baug-wafa[3]. I got bananas to be brought from Hindustan and planted them here. All [types of] trees were planted. They have grown well. I got sugarcane sown. The crop was good...

Babar seen supervising the altering of a canal. Source british Library through Wikipedia

The population of Gorband Tuman is very small...There is no dearth of fruits and liquor. There are two forests. Several types of lala[4]  bloom in the tarai[5]. Once I had counted thirty to thirty three verities [of lala flowers]. In one, there was fragrance of a rose and so I named it lala-gulbu... 

Kabul has its countryside too. On the mountain in the west there is snow all year round. Pamgan is also a big mountain from which several rivers flow. Grapes and all kinds of fruits grow in plenty. The best village is Istalif. A big and fast flowing river flows near it. On both sides of the river there are green gardens in bloom. These [gardens] are very pleasant... One baug [garden] was snatched away forcibly by Alu Beig Mirza. I paid its owner the necessary money. Outside of the baug there are tall chinars[6]. The shade is the baug there is one perennial canal. In the canal flows the water of a windmill. There are thick wood/trees on its banks. Earlier the canal was curved and with bends. I got it right. It has now become good and its beauty can be now seen...A little distance away there are several types of trees.  Just above the Khwaja-Sinh Yara stream there is Kheir[7].  Its shade is pleasing to one’s mind. On the slopes there are Balut in plenty. Below these are the thick forests of Argava[8]. This is the only Aragva [forest] in the region. It is said that these three types of trees are the gifts of the three Khwajas[9]. This is the reason why the stream is named so...On its banks I got many raised platforms constructed from where the whole of Argava-jar can be seen.  During the flowering season, nowhere in the world flowers bloom as they blossom here. The yellow Argava [flowers] blossom along with the red. I got a canal constructed here and got a raised platform built on the hill. And around [the platform] on all four sides I got tress planted...

Babar supervising the laying of a garden. Source: Mughal miniatures from

In Kabul the winter is severe. It snows heavily also.  But fuel is available close by. It can be got in a day. Khanjak, Batul, Badamcha and Karkand[10] are available for fuel. Khanjak is the best. It lights up easily, burns rapidly and gives plenty of light. There is fragrance in its smoke.  It also burns long. It can light even when wet. Balut is also good but gives out lot of smoke when it burns...its coal is lasting. It smells good too. When burnt it makes a sound and burns rapidly.  That is why its burning is quite a spectacle. Badamcha is found in abundance. Therefore it is burnt more...Karkand has small thorns. Both wet and dry wood burns equally. This is the only firewood available in Ghazni...” 

This chapter by Babar in the BabarNama goes on to describe in detail the birds found and the fish in the rivers as well as the practice of hunting both. He describes Ghazni also in some detail. Then he goes on to write, “[I/we] took advice from knowledgeable people residing in Kabul. Some advised [us] to go here, some there. At last it was decided to go to Hindustan. When the sun was ...we started for Hindustan. After crossing six mountains we reached Adinapur. I had never seen a warm place in this region before. The world was different here. Grass, plants and trees, animals and birds, customs and traditions, communities and castes, it was all so different! I was so astounded. There was reason to be surprised...”

I end the post here although Babar is known to have planted gardens in Hindustan too. But that will be a matter of greater research and detailing.  

[1] Garden
[2] A specific type of garden landscape with four different divisions with water flows, walkways and plantations.
[3] Baug means garden and wafa means loyalty.
[4]  A type of flower.
[5] Kind of area.
[6] A type of tree.
[7] A type of tree.
[8] A type of tree that flowers.
[9] Sufi saints/teachers.
[10] Types of fuel wood.