Wonder of the world
Walking through the flowers and green beds you will see arcaded pavilions entirely built with white marble. Water was flowing under the pavilion of the upper terrace, cascading down over a carved marble slab mimicking a waterfall effect
The meaning of the word ‘Shalimar’ remains a mystery, but it is probably of Arabic or Persian origin. The Shalimar Gardens, a Mughal garden complex, are located near Baghbanpura in Lahore. Its construction began in 1641 AD and was completed the following year in the era of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The project management was carried out under the superintendence of Khalilullah Khan, a noble of Shah Jahan’s court, in cooperation with Ali Mardan Khan and Mulla Alaul Maulk Tuni. It is one of the greatest gardens in the world, representing of the Islamic concept of Paradise. The site was inscribed on the World Heritage List, along with Lahore Fort in 1981.
The three-terraced Shalimar Gardens are a grand manifestation of the ingenuity and craftsmanship of a group of architects, hydrologists, horticulturists, engineers and master craftsmen of Emperor Shah Jahan. Cleverly sited on a naturally terraced terrain, the Gardens run approximately five kilometers north-east of the walled city of Lahore. Going to the gardens you will first encounter a high red sandstone wall with small decorative booth like kiosks. This sort of a design is a mark of Mughal architecture which we see anywhere the Mughals went. Besides privacy and security the gardens are a hub of nature and greenery. The first glimpse you will come across is a row of fountains in a water channel stretched a long way. The gardens have been laid out from south to north in three levels of terraces, which are elevated by 4–5 meters (13-15 feet) above one another. The upper level or the third terrace is named Farah Baksh meaning Bestower of Pleasure, the middle level or the second terrace is known as Faiz Baksh meaning Bestower of Goodness and the lower level terrace is the Hayat Baksh meaning Bestower of Life. These are the interesting and meaningful names of the terraces and maybe this is the reason historians call it the Islamic concept of Paradise. The upper level terrace has 105 fountains, the middle level terrace has 152 fountains and the lower level terrace has 153 fountains. No doubt with such a beauty of fountains it was a spiritual world.
Walking through the flowers and green beds you will see arcaded pavilions entirely built with white marble. Water was flowing under the pavilion of the upper terrace, cascading down over a carved marble slab mimicking a waterfall effect. Originally this pavilion was used by Mughal Emperors and their family members to enjoy the coolness created by about 410 fountains. Standing by the edge of the pavilion, you can enjoy the views of the middle and lower terraces.
At the end of the middle terrace is a beautiful structure called “Sawan Bhadon”. In this sunken three sided tank, the water falls down from it in sheets, in front of the niches, producing the sound of rainfall. In the olden times, small oil lamps were placed in the niches, which reflected myriad colors, through the water. The lowest terrace in old times was the public entrance.
Here come some interesting facts of Shalimar Gardens. The site originally belonged to an Arain (a local cast) family of Baghbanpura. The family was also given the royal title of ‘Mian’ by the Mughal Emperor, for its services to the Empire. Mian Muhammad Yusuf, then the head of the Arain Mian family, gave the site of Ishaq Pura to the Emperor Shah Jahan, after pressure was placed on the family by the royal engineers who wished to build the garden on the site due to its good position and soil. In return, Shah Jahan granted the Arain Mian family governance of the Shalimar Gardens. The Shalimar Gardens remained under the custodianship of this family for more than 350 years. In 1962, the Shalimar Gardens were nationalised by General Ayub khan. The Mela Chiraghan festival used to take place in the Gardens, until General Ayub khan ordered against it in 1958.
Ever since the Shalimar Gardens were placed in the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger by the World Heritage Committee in the year 2000, there was an increased concern regarding the state of conservation of these gardens
Ever since the Shalimar Gardens were placed in the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger by the World Heritage Committee in the year 2000, there was an increased concern regarding the state of conservation of these gardens. The Culture Section of UNESCO Islamabad was successful in obtaining funds from Norway, the World Heritage Centre (UNESCO Headquarters) and Getty Foundation (USA) for emergency work to be carried out. The Getty Foundation support has been utilised for baseline surveys at the Shalimar Gardens with a view to facilitating the conservation process. The findings have also served as a source of information for the Punjab government to undertake conservation work at the Gardens. The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. UNESCO Islamabad applied for the Getty Foundation Architectural Conservation and Planning Grant, to carry out baseline surveys and identify conservation needs at the Shalimar Gardens. Funds from Getty Foundation came around the same time as Emergency Assistance from World Heritage Centre in early 2005. The dual source of funding provided considerable support to initiate a systematic process of conservation at the Shalimar Gardens, based on scientific studies and evidence. While funds from World Heritage Centre were to be used for the stabilisation and conservation of Mughal Chambers, the grant from Getty Foundation helped in undertaking studies in various disciplines crucial for the management and maintenance of the Shalimar Gardens in the long run. Comprehensive graphic and photographic documentation was carried out through detailed field work and surveys. The trained personnel were provided the guidelines according to which field work was undertaken. Structural stability tests were also carried out on various structures, envisaged to be conserved during the implementation period, following the planning phase. Finally after a successful conservation the name of Shalimar Gardens was removed from the Heritage Sites in Danger in 2012.
World Heritage Site Shalimar Gardens historic hydraulic tank system that used to provide water to the 410 fountains was in a dilapidated condition but the Department of Archeology, Government of the Punjab is working on its conservation. A technical committee of eminent scholars, architects, archeologists and civil society has been formed to look after and examine the tasks of conservation. I am happy that the conservation work is in progress to save our heritage and I hope that this world heritage sites also escapes from the orange train digging and development. These historic buildings are a symbol of our culture and history and if we lose them than we lose our heritage.