Green tales from India’s gardens

After travelling to Pune, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai, and Hyderabad, Tracing Narratives will be showcased in Chennai.

Published: 19th June 2017 10:41 PM  |   Last Updated: 20th June 2017 04:17 AM   |  A+A-

Visitors at one of the previous exhibition

Express News Service

After travelling to Pune, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai, and Hyderabad, Tracing Narratives will be showcased in Chennai.Hosted by the Chennai Architecture Foundation, the exhibition will follow our country’s connect with gardens.

CHENNAI: Humans have always had an intrinsic compatibility with nature; the idea of paradise is, after all, a garden lush-green with plants, fruit laden trees and flowery bushes. Be it in our painting patrons, romantic songs in cinemas shot in expansive tulip fields or garden-like sets — India has always had a soft spot for its green. The vast history of gardens and landscape design in India has been compiled into an enthralling exhibition, Tracing Narratives, to be exhibited in Chennai from today, hosted by the Chennai Architecture Foundation as part of Landscape Week.

“We were beginning to ask ourselves, what the idea of Indian gardens is. We typically ended up discussing the gardens associated with temples, palaces or Mughal and colonial gardens. But for a vast subcontinent like India, these cannot be the only expressions of gardens over time,” explains Aniket Bhagwat, a leading landscape architect based in Ahmedabad.

As part of Landscape Environment Advancement Foundation (LEAF), which was founded by his father, late Prof Prabhakar B Bhagwat in 2003, they set up a ‘million garden initiative’, asking people to send in names of places they felt constitute a garden. “This brought up places that we normally don’t consider as gardens. For example, a place in the middle of the desert in Kutch, Kala Dungar, where a priest feeds wolves, an ancient crater that had become a lake around which there are many gardens and temples,” Aniket recalls.

This expanded their idea of what a garden meant. They then began questioning why landscape architecture, instead of being celebrated, is being disregarded. “We concluded that it’s perhaps a fault in our genesis. The genesis of landscape architecture as a profession is the idea of the garden. There’s a huge embedded relationship gardens have in our culture. Because of our over-intellectualising things and assuming that we know our genesis, we have actually forgotten our basis, and fractured it,” he rues.
LEAF dissected and researched on gardens in India over two years, the result of which is a monograph called ‘Tracing Narratives’ and a travelling exhibition of the same name. Dedicated to two landscape architects of India — Prabhakar B Bhagwat, India’s first landscape architect, and Mohammad Shaheer, who was involved in restoration of Humayun’s garden, Agra — Tracing Narratives eloquently documents the idea of gardens and landscapes in India. Through over a 100 panels, it redefines the whole idea of what a garden is — a not just typical conventional park with trees and shrubs, but also waters structures that dot rivers and tanks, like Abhaneri stepwell in Rajasthan, gardens attached to temples, cemetery gardens, step wells, folklore, etc.

The exhibition takes you through literature, paintings, cinema, documents and photographs, with interesting nuggets of information — for instance, did you know that tomatoes were introduced in India from England by the Agri-Horticultural Society of India, in 1857? From works of literature where gardens formed prevalent backdrops, it goes to 19th Century paintings of colonial gardens, the use of landscapes in old and contemporary cinema. Important botanists, horticulturists, writers, foresters and their contributions have also been acknowledged. The voices of various gardens are given a platform — the ancient Mughal gardens in Himalayan backdrops, projects by landscape architects, like the rehabilitation of an old quarry into a forest teeming with over 40 species of birds and trees, intricately illustrated with photographs and illustrations.

“We’ve done this to educate ourselves first. It became an exhibition as a matter of chance,” Aniket says, adding that it seems to be bringing the discussion about landscapes to the fore. “Exhibitions can have a strange way of affecting the mind. They don’t always affect you immediately. A residual idea stays in your mind and keeps niggling at you for a long time,” he remarks. The exhibition will be held in Auroville, Kochi and Bengaluru.

Expect to be enthralled

Books, movies and paintings which depict landscape and gardens
Visual Journey through several gardens across India, from Srinagar to Vizag
Understanding agricultural patterns and highways
How invasive species were introduced in India
How nurseries came into existence in India
Personalities who influenced the discipline of landscape design
Books and volumes that document and guide gardening practices
Practitioners of gardening and stunning landscape architecture examples

The exhibition will be held till  June 26,and will be inaugrated today at 5pm, at Lalit Kala Akademi. For details call 9789975521

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