A very interesting, sometimes fascinating, book about the gardens of Persia and India has been published recently:
"Paradise as a Garden in Persia and Mughal India," by Elizabeth B. Moynihan (Braziller, 168 pp, illustrated with 100 black-and-white pictures, $19.95 hard cover, $9.95 paperback).
In 1973, Moynihan accompanied her husband, Daniel P. Moynihan, then U.S. ambassador, now U.S. senator from New York, to India. She had studied architectural history and at the time was a member of the Landscape Design Seminar at the Radcliffe Institute.
"These gemetrically laid out, enclosed watergardens are so foreign to the Indian environment that they are almost startling. As my fascination with them increased, I sought out ruins aw well. Intrigued by the symbolic nature of the gardens, I attemted to trace their origins by working backwards from the 17th century through central Asia and Persia to ancient Mesopotamin (including field work in Iran, Afghanistan, Soviet Central Asia and Pakistan) and the concept of Paradise as a Garden -- one of mankind's oldest ideals.
"The most splendid old Paradise gardens are those of Mughal India. In 1974, however, there were no authentic remains of a garden built by Babur (the first Mughal ruler in India) although he described building several gardens in his autobiography, the Babur-Nama.
"Using a map made from the Babur-Nama, I followed the trial to the site of Babur's Lotus Garden at Dholpur which had been forgotten for centuries and was presumed to have disappeared entirely. There I found several rock-cut elements, just as Babur described them."
Her book is not intended as a guide, she says, but rather as an attempt to trace the development of the Paradise Garden.
"A truly remarkable aspect of these gardens is their uniformity of design throgh the centuries and across so large an area of the world with so unsettled a history.
"I have chosen not to describe every garden; instean I have included a detailed description of each type -- a palace garden, a tomb garden and a pleasure garden. However, unusual features of other gardens are discussed."
A mystical feeling for flowers and a love of gardens are ancient Persian characteristics, Moynihan says.
"The design of the garden, developed early and perfected to satisfy Persian taste and needs, persisted. In this as in many other artistic traditions, the Persians were conventional; when a design was perfected, it was seldom changed. The Persians were restricted by a harsh climate as well as a conservative tradition, and apparently their gardens were not horticulturally innovative.
"The reverence for water, the mystical feeling for trees, the symoblic division of the earth into quarters by the four rivers of life and the significance of a mountain are among the most ancient traditions of the Near East.
"The idea of Paradise as a garden is one of man's oldest ideals. Since the beginning of history, most probably in prehistory, societies which had nothing else in common shared the concept of Paradise as the ideal garden, a secure and everlasting garden. Almost universal in human experience, this concept of Paradise in which man transcends his frail human condition has persisted while many of the civilizations which adhered to it have disappeared.
"Belief in the myth has lessened the pain of life and fear of death. The image of a place of perfect and eternal peace and plenty can make a difficult temporal existence meaningful and its transitory nature acceptable.
"Among the oldest Sumerian cuneifrom tablets unearthed and deciphered is a 278-line poem of the Sumerian paradise myth.
"Dilmun was a land that was 'pure, clear and bright,' whose fortunate inhabitants knew neither sickness, violence or aging, but which had no fresh water. The Sumerian God of Water, Enki, ordered the Sun God, Utu, to create a divine garden by providing fresh water from beneath the earth; Utu obeyed and Dilmun was transformed into a Paradise of the Gods with fruit trees, green fields and meadow.
"In the Old Testment, the Hebrew word pardes, from the Old Persian pairidaeza, is used to mean garden. It was in the Greek translation of the Old Testament -- with its use of the world qaradeious for gargen -- that Paradise became identified with the garden of Eden, where primeval man dwelt in the gardens of the Lord. Through the Bible, earthy Paradise became identified with Heaven -- the celestial abode of God --remote and unobrainable, thus acquiring the transcendental image dominant in Christian tradition.
"The sacred vision of the Garden of Paradise varied from a single plase of total bliss to several gardens of varying degrees of of bliss. In the New Testament, Paul refers to a man caught up in the 'third heaven' of Paradise. The Paradise promise in the Koran consists of several terraces of gardens, each more splendid than the last. In the Islamic gardens in Persia and Mughal India, the terraces were often meant to correspond to the enclosures which made up the Garden of Paradise in the Koran."