Mughal garden waterworks, pas and prospect.

It is exciting to see this new Mughal Gardens Initiative organized by Ameet Babar and Geert Robberechts, and supported by this Journal. It promises to build upon individual studies through a sustained program of investigations in which the whole becomes greater than its parts.

My special hope in this series is to learn more about waterworks associated with Mughal landscapes — from the aesthetics of fountain design to the science of hydraulics and social practices of tank conservation. Each of these has proven evocative and elusive up till now. Gar-dens were frequently sited and laid out in relation to water bodies (Koch, 1997). Few original garden fountains survive; many were fabricated and installed in post-Mughal times. Leading Mughal historians like Irfan Habib (1992) suggest that while there were skilled hydraulic construction methods they do not seem to have developed through formal scientific treatises — does that call for closer inquiry into historic landscape construction practices? Today many waterworks within and without historic gardens prove difficult to conserve. Exterior water channels and tanks are often depleted or degraded, stagnating as nallahs rather than flowing as streams. Collaboration with environmental engineers seems important for addressing these regional needs. Within gardens detailed waterworks conservation case studies would be helpful to advance beyond general studies (e.g., Wescoat, 2007).

Of the many valuable approaches to these waterworks challenges, two seem especially promising. Detailed studies of water in Mughal painting can shed light on their experiential and spatial qualities. Whether it is an image of Akbar ordering the desalting of a tank outside Nagaur Fort, geared wells driven by bullocks, a pairs of ducks in a fountain pool, or the fascinating perspectives of angular channels running through court and countryside, Mughal painting holds far more evidence than has been tapped to date.

Mughal waterworks archaeology also beckons. Garden conservation projects have begun to use ground-penetrating radar along with excavation of physical structures, masonry, and mortars (Aga Khan Trust for Culture [2013] on Humayuns tomb-garden waterworks, Nizamuddin baoli, and Barapulla nallah improvements). The scope for further work is exciting, and it extends to the archaeology of moisture regimes in garden soils and plantings (e.g., Gleason cited in Wescoat, 2013).

Currently, studies of water in Mughal gardens are widely dispersed across disciplines and publication venues. The LA! Journal series can help identify these sources, as can Mughal garden websites such as those hosted by the Smithsonian (2007), Dumbarton Oaks (2013), and ArchNet (2013). These have rich re-sources that are ripe for updating — and hopefully the series will help make that happen.

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