Pinjore Gardens First birthday at 500

The murmuring water course and tinkling fountains, shady walks and colourful beds, the heaviness of perfumes and manicured lawns, the lushness of foliage and the unyielding outer wall of a fortress, now Pinjore’s Yadavindra Gardens, was his earthly anticipation of a paradise to come. Five centuries later, today, the Nawab’s legacy is still intact, blossoming, blooming and reminiscent of the days of yore.

 And this October, the Gardens celebrate its first birthday ever, of turning a venerable 500 years. And marking this historic occasion is Haryana Tourism with revelry galore, splashes of royalty and delightful strains of music, dance and regalia. On October 5, the festivities get underway with a string of lively performances and even a bazaar, Anarkali bazaar, complete with artefacts and traditional crafts, to rejoice in this t special moment in the long, colourful chronicles of the Gardens.

Pinjore, home to these splendid gardens, is a site steeped in history well before the Fidai Khan came along. The narratives go back in time down historical pathways and religious dimensions to the period of the Mahabharata, winding to the remains of a temple nearby built in the 9th century to the more recent raucous Bollywood tunes and lissome beauties serenading for film shoots in the gardens. One can catch glimpses of Pinjore in movies like Neela Akash, Kankan De Oley and Des Hoya Pardes.

 IDYLLIC SETTING: Surrounded by water, the Jal Mahal stands outThere’s reason to believe that Pinjore’s history goes back to the Gupta Period. It is substantiated by archaeological evidence and excavations of ancient pillars in the Morni area (20 km from Pinjore). Remains of the Bhima Devi temple from the ninth century have also been found at a stone’s throw from the gardens.

Legend has it that the Pandavas wandered in the jungles of Pinjore, then Panchpura, during their exile, long before the creation of the Mughal Gardens. It was much later, in 1669, that Fidai Khan arrived on the scene and laid the foundation of these eternally beautiful gardens like we know them today.
There is need to revive the natural waterworks in the Gardens

Carved on the lines of Kashmir’s famous Shalimar and Nishat Gardens, Yadavindra Gardens is one of its kind in a long line of Mughal Gardens. It is distinct from the others as it is made on a descending scale, unlike the other Mughal Gardens that show ascending steps. The seven terraces at Pinjore descend into the distance, creating an illusion of stretching into the zenith and achieving an alt magical effect. In the near distance, the purple-green Himalayas seem to tower over the battlements of the old garden walls and bastions, all undergoing restoration work now.

Nawab Fadai Khan, a great architect himself, is said to have designed the idyllic gardens. He planned it on the classical Charbagh pattern, complete with a central water channel which divides the garden into half, bordered green with exotic perfumed flowers, shrubs and shaded by trees.

From the stylistic Sheesh Mahal (glass palace) built in the Rajasthani-Mughal style, the watercourse with its never-ending bubbling music cascades from terrace to terrace, flowing under the towering Rang Mahal (painted palace), and then playing around the cube-like Jal Mahal (palace in water), which was added later by the Maharaja of Patiala.

Essentially a hub of art and literature, the Gardens served as the perfect retreat for the war-fatigued Nawab accompanied by his queens and consorts. However, the Nawab could not stay here for long. History reveals that the hill rajas got scared of the increasing interest of the Mughals in the area. Worried about losing their kingdoms to the Mughals, they sent goitre-stricken women (the area was deficient in iodine and goitre cases were common) to frighten the Nawab and his courtiers away.

 BIG CHALLENGE: There is need to revive the natural waterworks in the GardensThe plan clicked and the Nawab never came back. After Fidai Khan’s departure and the end of Mughal rule, the gardens was overtaken by wilderness. The palace fell into the hands of the Raja of Sirmaur (who plotted the goitre scare). The gardens changed hands several times thereafter till it was bought by the ruling Patiala family in the late eighteenth century.

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, a great lover of greenery, bought exotic trees from far and wide and planted them in the gardens. However, it was Maharaja Yadavindra Singh of Patiala after whom the Gardens get its name. He restored Pinjore Gardens to its former glory, rejuvenating it and frequently visiting it. In 1966, it was handed over to the newly formed Haryana state. The state’s PWD Department and then the Tourism Department took over its maintenance.

Sadly, now, a lot of the old structures are beginning to fall apart and spring waters that fed the water channel in the Gardens have been diverted. Instead, water is being fed to the channel by two tubewells. The six bastions and the outer wall sand gates belonging to the Mughal period are crumbling, the tile flooring of the water channels has been irreversibly altered. There’s also been a tremendous loss to the ancient fabric of the gardens, especially the painted frescoes. The use of cement plaster for repair work has led to the dilution of its essence. From being a private place for royalty, the Gardens has changed into public domain.

"We were well aware that the Gardens was in urgent need of attention. We floated an international tender, inviting applications from agencies that had previous experience of restoration works. We didn’t want inexperienced people wreaking havoc with history. Thankfully, restoration work has now gained momentum and all efforts are being made to preserve the ambience of the Mughal Gardens like it was meant to be," remarks Vijai Vardhan, Director, Tourism.

Experts roped in from professional agencies by the Tourism Department for conservation and preservation of the Gardens are of the opinion that it has been "remodelled" in the name of modernisation. They say the Gardens has changed from being a historical legacy to a cross between a theme park and a public garden.

Another eyesore is an amusement park that has completely hijacked the serenity associated with the Gardens. From morning till late at night, Harbhajan Mann, Daler Mehndi and Jasbir Jassi belt out Punjabi numbers, one after another. However, there’s little the Tourism Department can do about it but remain saddled with it for the next 11 years — when the contract ends.

 TIME FOR MAKEOVER: Masons carry out restoration work"The Mughal Gardens at Pinjore is important in terms of architecture and garden design. While the Gardens has been materially altered, t of its features are still intact. The big challenge before us is material conservation — reviving the natural water system of the central axis and modifying the landscape to bring it closer to the original look of the gardens," explains Gurmeet S. Rai, Director, Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative, entrusted with the "well-being" of the Gardens .

While work on conserving the fortress wall and bastions using a special mortar is in full swing, she does not approve of the blue tiles laid in the central water channel and the fact that the channels are cut off from the natural water springs around which the gardens is woven. "The Department understands our logic and probably the tiles would be replaced. Also, there would be an attempt to revive supply of water from natural springs by addressing Pinjore’s sewerage problem, which brings contaminated water into the garden," she maintains.

Remarks Nupur Prothi Khanna, Historic Landscape Architect, "From the perspective of heritage conservation, the gardens is significant as it represents probably the only example of terraced recreational gardens from the Mughal era which lie outside the vale of Kashmir. However, tourism and development pressures have tended to undermine the overall ambience and authenticity of the site thereby destroying or limiting its historic value."

Critical of the changes made in the last few decades, Khanna rues, "Transformations such as introducing a zoo (now discontinued) and replacing natural stone with glossy ceramic tiles, the introduction of amusement rides around the gardens have all contributed to lending Pinjore the appearance of a picnic area and taken away from it the look of a centuries-old Mughal Garden."

For restoration work, the experts are relying on research and on-site investigations, information available in the context of history and conservation of other Mughal Gardens in the Indian subcontinent.

It is time that the Pinjore Gardens is experienced as a historical landscape and not relegated to the category of just another public park. History will not come calling again. 

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