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How Cultural Manifestations of Beauty and Spirituality Aligned With Islamic Art Of Pleasure Gardens

Simran Singh is a student at Griffith University studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing and art history.

The cultural manifestations of pleasure gardens are extensively aligned with beauty and spirituality. History concerning the development of Islamic pleasure gardens provided a basis to understand how beauty and spirituality linked to pleasure sites. The Quranic imagery of Paradise inspired Islamic gardens, entrenching the gardens in religious values such as jamal (beauty). The architectural factors of Shalamar gardens showcased the importance of aesthetic beauty within the Islamic pleasure gardens.


The Quranic imagery of Paradise mimicked by Fener Garden, Bagh i-Wafa and Fatehpur Sikri, including water and vegetation, highlighted the importance of spirituality and beauty. Ultimately, Islamic pleasure gardens were entrenched in the ideals of beauty and spirituality from their structures to the way they were created to mimic the garden of Paradise.

Islamic Gardens

Context

The history behind the Islamic pleasure gardens presented a foundation into understanding how beauty and spirituality connected with the use of gardens as sites of pleasure. First acknowledged in the seventh century, Islamic gardens were established at the same time as Persian gardens.


Persian land taken over by Muslims in 651 became land used for gardens moulded by their religion. There came developments of Islamic pleasure gardens during the Timurid Kingdom in Persia, Central Asia, and the Mughal empire. The creation of such gardens inspired other Islamic gardens in Kashmir, Southern Spain, Alhambra, and India.


Functions attributed to the gardens included social functions such as royal ceremonies, while the environmental functions consisted of a resting place for enlightenment, meditation, and revelation.


Function and aesthetic went aligned with the gardens as they were symbolic for Paradise and political dominance such as the dynastic and territorial claims of the Mughals. Overall, the functional, political, and religious background created a basis for understanding how spirituality and beauty influenced Islamic pleasure gardens.

A Plain Natural Scenery

Figure 1: A Plain Natural Scenery, drawing, size 285 x 460. Istanbul‟s Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. Reproduced from https://www.ojcmt.net/download/islamic-gardens-with-a-special-emphasis-on-the-ottoman-paradise-gardensthe-sense-of-place-between

Figure 1: A Plain Natural Scenery, drawing, size 285 x 460. Istanbul‟s Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. Reproduced from https://www.ojcmt.net/download/islamic-gardens-with-a-special-emphasis-on-the-ottoman-paradise-gardensthe-sense-of-place-between

Mughal Garden Fatehpur Sikri

Figure 2: Swan tours, Mughal Garden Fatehpur Sikri, 2018, photograph, size 780 x 520. Reproduced from https://www.swantour.com/blogs/information-on-places-to-visit-in-fatehpur-sikri/mughal-garden-fatehpur-sikri/.

Figure 2: Swan tours, Mughal Garden Fatehpur Sikri, 2018, photograph, size 780 x 520. Reproduced from https://www.swantour.com/blogs/information-on-places-to-visit-in-fatehpur-sikri/mughal-garden-fatehpur-sikri/.

Paintings and photographs of Islamic gardens corresponded with the idealised Paradise gardens of the Quran, highlighting the importance of spirituality and beauty in pleasure sites. Islamic gardens were symbolic manifestations of religious values such as, “the concepts of tawhid (oneness of God), Khalifah (vicegerent), khilqat (environment), jihad (devotion), adl (fairness), ibadah (worship), ilm (knowledge) and jamal (beauty) highlighted in the al-Quran”.


For example, A Plain Natural Scenery depicted a beautiful Paradise scenery with elements such as the importance of water sources, the vineyards, gardens, and fruits. These factors depict luxury in addition to joys of spiritual and material joys. Alike the A Plain Natural Scenery, the photograph Mughal Garden Fatehpur Sikri depicted the concepts of tawhid through replicating Paradise, reverence for khilqat, and jamal through the decorative nature of flowers and the vivid harmony of colours.


Other elements which aligned with the Quran was how unique, high buildings were depicted in the photograph. Thus, the resemblance between the image of Paradise and the photograph of the garden of Fatehpur Sikri centralised the application of beauty and spirituality in sites of pleasure.

Shalamar Gardens Lahore

Figure 3: The Travel Shots, Shalamar Gardens Lahore, 2021, photography, size 1599 x 651 cm. Reproduced from https://thetravelshots.com/shalimar-gardens-lahore-historical-facts/.

Figure 3: The Travel Shots, Shalamar Gardens Lahore, 2021, photography, size 1599 x 651 cm. Reproduced from https://thetravelshots.com/shalimar-gardens-lahore-historical-facts/.

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Structural elements of Islamic pleasure gardens demonstrated the importance of beauty in sites of pleasure. The importance of jamal was how beauty was significant to the creations of the gardens as riches were poured into its structural elements. For example, Shalamar Gardens such the Chaharbagh, trees, fruit plants, cascades, gushing fountains, pavilions, and water channels created a picture of resplendence and grandeur. These elements could be found in Shalamar Gardens Lahore as emphasized by the dominating presence of water in the image, contrasted by radiant hues of pink flowers along with lush greenery.


The grand architecture demonstrated the importance of beauty as based on Paradise gardens, as noted by the development of Chaharbagh, which symbolised cosmic mountains while thrones represented positions of divine power. Resultantly, the values of the gardens, the depictions of paradise and structural makeup of the gardens demonstrated the critical role beauty and spirituality played in sites of pleasure.

Reflection of Farah Baksh Terrace (Upper Terrace) Main Building

Figure 4: Muhammad Ashar, Reflection of Farah Baksh Terrace (Upper Terrace) main building, photography, size 5,999 × 2,940.

Figure 4: Muhammad Ashar, Reflection of Farah Baksh Terrace (Upper Terrace) main building, photography, size 5,999 × 2,940.

The impact of spirituality and beauty on Islamic pleasure gardens were evident through the symbolism of water. The importance of water was demonstrated in the Quran as the word for Islamic law (Shari’a) meant “source of water”, further supplemented by how Allah “sends down water from the sky”.


This captured an image of how water was perceived as sacred and a gift of beauty from the Earth. Water was perceived as the energy source of harmony in the mind, garden, and soul, which was highlighted in the layout of the Shalamar gardens. For example, the Reflection of Farah Baksh Terrace (Upper Terrace) Main Building showed the extensive use of water in the foreground. This demonstrated the theme of flowing water in the gardens of Paradise was viewed in the 420 fountains whereas Paradise was recorded to have 2.


Further features of water included 5 cascades and channels through 20 feet of wider water. As present in the image, water dominated the Mughal Garden, creating a beautiful and poetic landscape influenced by the Quran. These depicted the symbolic relationship the Paradise Gardens had with the flowing water, along with how the intricate structures aligned Islamic gardens with beauty. Therefore, spirituality held a fundamental impact on the design of Islamic pleasure gardens as highlighted by the implementation of water in the Shalamar Gardens.

The Bagh-e Vafa

Figure 5: The Bagh-e Vafa, painting, size 469 x 600. Reproduced from: www.gardenvisit.com

Figure 5: The Bagh-e Vafa, painting, size 469 x 600. Reproduced from: www.gardenvisit.com

Fener Garden

Figure 6: Cornelius Loos, Fener Garden, 1710, drawing, size 400 x 294 cm. The National Museum of Fine Arts, Stockholm. Reproduced from https://www.doaks.org/resources/middle-east-garden-traditions/catalogue/C126.

Figure 6: Cornelius Loos, Fener Garden, 1710, drawing, size 400 x 294 cm. The National Museum of Fine Arts, Stockholm. Reproduced from https://www.doaks.org/resources/middle-east-garden-traditions/catalogue/C126.

Vegetation in the Islamic pleasure gardens demonstrated the importance of beauty and spirituality in sites of pleasure. Within the Islamic faith, it was their adherent’s position to beautify their environment and to create a world without conflicts, which would cause the Gates of paradise to open. The Bagh-e Vafa was a prime example of how beauty and spirituality were balanced within the cultivation of the Islamic pleasure gardens.


The image depicted fruits such as oranges, lemons, pomegranates and dark green plants which correlated with sources stating Allah created a garden of grapes, olives and pomegranates, plants dark-green in colour as portrayed by the painting along with dates and pomegranates, abundance of fruit, trees so green they appear black, and fruits mentioned in the Quran such as dates, grapes, pomegranates, cherries and bananas.


The trees in the painting were tall and lush as also viewed in Fener Garden, which referred to the Quranic recital of the sunshade and the beauty of Paradise scenery as part of the countless blessings of Paradise, creating spiritual pleasure in those who viewed them.


This longing for such beauty to quench one’s soul stemmed from humanity unable to forget the gardens of Paradise and recreate them. The gardens were perceived as a place for reflecting on the oneness of Allah and a place for resting. In this essence, gardening came to mean establishing “manmade reflections of the Quranic images of Paradise on earth”.


This highlighted how the creation of these gardens were strongly linked with the importance of beauty to create a peaceful mindset and connect with Allah. Hence, the impact spirituality and beauty were portrayed through the fruits, trees and plants shown in Islamic gardens such as The Bagh-e Vafa and Fener Garden, demonstrating how both concepts influenced sites of pleasure.

What Islam Has to Say About Gardening

To Conclude

The values and structures of Islamic pleasure gardens created a prominent picture of how sites of pleasure were ingrained with values of beauty and spirituality. The act of conquest and attainment of land undergone by Muslims paved the way for the celebration of Paradise through acts of gardening. Quranic values integrated into Islamic pleasure gardens were reflected in the beauty of gardens such as Mughal Garden Fatehpur Sikri as comparable to paintings of Paradise.


The structural elements of the gardens such as Chaharbagh gushing fountains and pavilions accentuated the importance of creating a beautiful landscape worthy of replicating Paradise. The heavy symbolism of water within the Quranic Paradise held a dominant presence in gardens such as Shalamar, providing an example of how gardens were intricately designed to embody spirituality and beauty. The importance of vegetation mentioned in the Quran bled into the designs of the Islamic pleasure gardens such as Bagh-e Vafa’s oranges, lemons, pomegranates, and dark green plants.


Conclusively, pleasure gardens were by-products of the cultural, spiritual, and aesthetic beliefs maintained within the society in which it was built, resulting in lavish beauty which continues to inspire those in present society.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Simran Singh

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