Marigolds and Munshīs: Horticultural Writing and Garden Culture in Mughal South Asia
Roth, Nicolas Jan
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CitationRoth, Nicolas Jan. 2020. Marigolds and Munshīs: Horticultural Writing and Garden Culture in Mughal South Asia. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation explores the role of gardens and gardening in the intellectual and material culture as well as the social life of early modern South Asia through the study of writings on gardens and horticulture across multiple languages and diverse textual genres. In addition, it draws on the pictorial record of the visual arts and surviving garden sites as well as continuing horticultural practices to contextualize and interpret these. The study argues that by the sixteenth century, a particular conception of the (elite) garden began to crystallize that combined a Persianate formal layout and temperate plant species introduced via West and Central Asia with Indian horticultural practices and vegetation, as well as an increasing number of new plants introduced from the Americas and East Asia. This idea of the garden, widely generalized across all but the southernmost regions of the Indian Subcontinent and transcending religious and linguistic divisions, emerges as a hallmark of the cultural world shared by the Mughals and most of their vassals, competitors, and eventual regional successors. Gardens are are thus both materially and symbolically prominent sites, and in turn feature extensively throughout the literature and arts of the period. Two distinct traditions of technical literature on gardening and farming – one in Sanskrit, the other in Persian – saw a spate of new and subtly innovative compositions and recompilations from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries that reflect their encounter with each other as well as with the material reality of the Indo-Persian garden. Moreover, they can be situated in the context of a global efflorescence of gardening manuals beginning in the sixteenth century. While the sudden proliferation of such works in Western Europe has been attributed to the rise of print, a similar trend manifesting at the same time in South Asia, the Ottoman Empire, and even East Asia suggests a much more widespread phenomenon with more complex causes. Beyond gardening manuals, writers in Persian as well as vernaculars like Urdu and Brajbhāṣā produced lengthy and sophisticated – and uniquely South Asian – descriptions of gardens both real and imagined. Literary works, especially in tightly constrained genres like the Persian and Urdu ghazal, were also enriched by elaborate conceits based on detailed and specific botanical knowledge. The image of the well-tended garden was a central metaphor in the Mughals’ conception of their state, and the upwardly mobile class of highly educated clerks tasked with the everyday running of that state – the munshīs of the title – produced some of the most personal and expressive records of Mughal horticulture. Gardens and gardening, in real life as well as in text and image, became an important nexus for a complex array of societal relations and a site for assertions of status and of community or individual identity. A garden could be a public display of power and prosperity, but was also imagined as an escape from society’s moral strictures. It could be an Islamic symbol of paradise or allude to the sacred landscapes through which the Hindu god Kr̥ṣṇa cavorts with his beloved Rādhā; it could proclaim ethical refinement or a personal passion, and express, paradoxically, both conformity and individuality. Through this kaleidoscope of meanings, gardens and gardening – and what South Asians chose to write about these topics prior to European colonial rule – serve to illuminate the contours of an incipient Mughal modernity, and of the intellectual and material foundations onto which the developments of the colonial and post-colonial periods have subsequently been built.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365756
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