The Emperor Shah Jahan
Standing on a Globe
The Emperor Shah Jahan Standing on a Globe

Try to imagine Shalamar garden as it was during Mughal times: a magnificent royal stopping-place in the eastern suburbs of Lahore. In those days travelers would approach the garden on foot or on horseback. Even if one were in Lahore, it took many hours to get there. During that time, the traveler would realize how closely Shalamar garden was related to the Ravi River. The garden stood virtually alone upon the riverbank. Its three broad terraces stepped majestically down to the floodplain. A broad canal led from the river to the garden, feeding hundreds of fountains, pools, and lushly irrigated plantings. The surrounding landscape seemed flat, dry, and scrubby in comparison.

View of a Kashmiri Garden
View of a Kashmiri Garden

The waterworks and terraces of Shalamar were unprecedented in Lahore. But gardens in other regions like Kashmir helped to shape Shah Jahan's innovations at Shalamar. Actually, there were five geographical sources of inspiration for Shalamar: Central Asia, Kashmir, Western Punjab, Persia, and the Delhi Sultanate.


Shah Jahan was a boy when the first great Kashmiri gardens were built. They far surpassed the gardens of Agra, Lahore, and Delhi for their beauty, layout, and innovative uses of water. In building Shalamar, Shah Jahan sought to bring Kashmir down to the plains. The three terraces, the central water axis, and the marble waterfalls all reflect the influence of Kashmir. And like Kashmir, the upper Ravi River contained the ideal elements of Mughal garden design: a mountain stream with sloping fields and shady forests. This is exactly what the Mughals sought to recreate in gardens like Shalamar.
Middle Terrace of
Shalamar Garden
Middle Terrace of Shalamar Garden

It is well known that contemporary Mughal sources refer to Shalamar garden, Lahore as Farah Bakhsh and Faiz Bakhsh (Baqir, 1984; Latif, 1892; Kausar, Brand, and Wescoat, 1991). Construction of the garden was ordered in 1641, as the Shah Nahr canal from the Ravi River drew near Lahore (Begley and Desai, 1990, 277). The garden officially opened in 1642.

"And the gardens and the agreeable pavilions which had been erected about the grounds, which all vied with the heavens in grandeur, were now found suitable to the royal taste. In fact never before had a garden of such magnificent description been seen or heard of; for the buildings alone of this earthly Paradise had been erected at an outlay of six lakhs of rupees" (ibid., 298).

Abdul Hamid Lahori described its dimensions in unusual detail, especially given their irregular, non-decimal proportions which bear no comparison with the layout of the Shahdara gardens.

The Red Sandstone Pavilion
of Shalamar Garden
The Red Sandstone Pavilion of Shalamar Garden

Illuminated Chinikhanas,
Detail from Lower Terrace
Illuminated Chinikhanas, Detail from Lower Terrace

Shalamar is also the site of moving spiritual stories and poetry. One case involved a prominent Sufi of the Qadriyya order, Inayat Khan, and his pupil Bullhe Shah. Lajwanti Rama Krishna (1977, p. 42) reports that Inayat Khan was the head gardener at Shalamar when Bullhe Shah came to visit and displayed his magical prowess by causing a mango to fall into his hands at his command. Unperturbed, the head gardener Inayat Khan uttered the same command and all of the mangoes fell to the ground; he uttered it again, and they all returned to the trees. As an Arain gardener, Inayat Khan was looked down upon by Bullhe Shah's family which reflects the low social status traditionally accorded garden laborers vis-à-vis garden builders (cf. Ibbetson, Maclagan, and Rose, 1978, v. 2, 13-16).

These stories remind us that, although historical texts situate Shalamar for the most part within the dynastic chronicles of movement and encampment, it was also a locus of intense spiritual and poetic experience.

Conservation Update: In Shalamar Bagh, the water supply pipes on the lowest terrace are being changed, and new flooring will be laid in the water channels. The flooring of the water channel on the upper terrace is also being replaced. The work of dismantling the existing floor is in progress. The brick on-edge flooring on the eastern walkway of the upper terrace chahar bagh is near completion. A new layer of clay was laid in the garden and fresh grass was planted last year; now the garden is a lush green. Another important contribution has been made in the eastern quadrangle of Arz Begi: the structure was repaired and the paving around the perimeter wall is now complete. The jharoka building has also been repaired, and the apron around the jharoka is near completion. It is expected that once the pavement is finished, the lawns will be improved and a public entrance to the garden will be opened from this side.