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Enchanted Aesthetic Spaces

Rajan Gurukkal

Edited by Daud Ali and Emma J. Flatt
Routledge, New Delhi, 2012, pp. xvii 201, price not stated.


The volume under review is a delightfully knowledgeable anthology of nine well researched articles, the fallout of a conference held at Hyderabad, marvellously printed with enchanting pictures. It takes us beyond essentialist notions of Islamic and Timurid gardens that have dominated the discussion of gardens in South Asia, and to overcome the seeming evidentiary impasse which has effectively muted discussion of South Asian gardens in non-Mughal contexts. To do this the authors have had recourse to the serious advances that have taken place in the scholarly field of garden and landscape studies over the past two decades.   The volume starts off with the editors’ introduction, distinct for its intellectual depth, which declares the perspective and sources of influence. One of the major influences stated is J.D. Hunt’s work, which transcends the usual focus of garden design and pays attention to what he terms ‘afterlife’ of garden, through a scrutiny of multiple ways visitors have experienced gardens. Hunt’s study is instructive of how garden histories can enter into fruitful conversations with literary, social, economic, political and geographical aspects. Another significant influence is Craig Clunas’s study on the gardens of Ming China, which powerfully and persuasively argues for considering both literary writings and paintings on gardens of their times as consciously constructed representations rather than unstructured mines of information mirroring the reality, especially the complex, dynamic and multifaceted nature of what he terms ‘garden culture’. A few more such non-conventional studies too enable the volume to interrogate the widest possible range of sources—monumental, textual and visual. Apart from monumental and physical sources, the volume has used sculpture, painting, epigraphy and a variety of written sources, including historical chronicles, maps, sumptuary manuals, poetry, plays, religious texts, letters and treatises on medicine, perfumery and astrology.   The anthology is a combination of studies holding gardens as real places, sites of royal or aristocratic pleasure and those viewing garden as a represented space—in painting, poetry, and historical narrative. Some of the articles share the idea that gardens forming parts of resplendent cities represented imagined landscapes of rare enchantment quite symbolic of the heavenly realm. It has been shown that ‘the larger-than-life gardens’ constructed by the kings and nobles were modelled on the artistic or poetic imagination. A few articles demonstrate how the wondrous and fantastic elements of imagined gardens were reproduced in actual garden spaces.   Of the nine articles, the ...

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