Pari Mahal represents the best of Srinagar city's traditional architecture
By Tanveer Lone
Located at the top of Zabarwan mountain range, and above the charismatic Chashm-e-Shahi gardens, Pari Mahal is a seven-terraced garden. Undoubtedly, Mughal architecture has maintained a synonymity in their planning and ornamentation. Mughal architecture was even fond of developing the gardens in terraces. The Shalimar garden which is the biggest Mughal garden in Srinagar is three terraced in style. Nishat garden is the second largest Mughal garden in Srinagar with 12 terraces representing 12 zodiac signs. Pari Mahal or Peer Mahal also known as the Palace of Fairies is a seven-terraced garden. Popularly known as the abode of fairies, the historical monument sits on top of the Zabarwan range overlooking the city of Srinagar and the Dal Lake. Pari Mahal, besides its traditional architecture, is also a main attraction for numerous colorful flowers and exotic fruit plantations.
Exceptionally well maintained, Pari Mahal, a true wonder of architectural marvel, was built by Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the mid-1600s. It is a specimen of Islamic architecture and patronage of art. Pari Mahal is 122 meters long and 62.5 meters wide and is built according to the typical Mughal garden design. Pari Mahal overlooks the Dal Lake, golf course and the famous tulip garden as well.
It is also believed that Pari Mahal was once a Buddhist monastery. Dara Shikoh had a great interest in mysticism, and it is believed that he built the garden for his Sufi tutor, Mullah Shah Badakhshi. Dara Shikoh built Pari Mahal for his tutor and later it was used as an observatory for teaching astronomy and astrology. The top terrace of the garden was used by Prince Dara Shikoh for its teaching. Unlike other Mughal gardens, this garden has no waterfalls to supply water to its terraces, instead the Pari Mahal has many water tanks with underground water pipeline connections that supply water to each terrace through water tanks.
Dara Shikoh had deep love for Kashmir and was himself a great admirer of mysticism. He often visited Kashmir and liked to have discussions with learned men, who visited with him. It is said that during his visits to Kashmir, Dara Shikoh used to live in Pari Mahal.
Dara Shikoh was a man of learning, broad-minded and inquisitive. Unlike the rest of his family who did build lush gardens in Kashmir, Dara raised a centre of learning, where scholars and saints could meditate and exchange ideas. Dara authored several works, and is said to have written a part of his most famous book, Majma-ul-Bahrain: The Mingling of Two Oceans of Sufism and Vedanta, at Pari Mahal.
However the exact purpose and determination of Pari Mahal was used for is unclear. The garden with the water tanks, the placement of rows of rooms – itself designate that it was a place of spiritual retreat. It is also to be added that Prince Dara was greatly engrossed in the study of comparative religion, and at Pari Mahal, likewise mystics and prominent scholars of all religions would come to meditate and share knowledge.
The name: “Pari Mahal”
There has always been a debate among the scholars as to how Pari Mahal, often denoted as an abode of fairies, got its name. Some scholars believe that this palace got its name after Dara Shikoh’s wife, Pari Begum, others believe that the place was originally known as Pir Mahal, which later changed to Pari Mahal. It is also believed that the building was originally called ‘Pir (saint) Mahal’, and later changed to Pari Mahal.
Furthermore, there have been stories of an evil magician keeping abducted princesses here. Many believe that multiple tales of sorcery around it may have given it the name ‘Pari Mahal’ — in narratives that are not very accurate. Some prominent scholars and historians of Kashmir valley are of the view that ‘abandoned buildings are occupied by demons’. And this adds to the list of reasons that the ruined complex got the name ‘Pari Mahal’.
Walter R Lawrence, an eminent British officer, in his famous book ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ (1895) writes: “…nothing is perhaps more striking than the ruined Pari Mahal, standing grandly on a spur of the Zabarwan Mountain… Strange tales are told of the Pari Mahal, of the wicked magician who spirited away kings’ daughters in their sleep, how an Indian princess by the order of her father brought away a chinar leaf to indicate the abode of her seducer, and how all the outraged kings of India seized the magician.”
A water tank (3.43 meters long, 1.52 meters wide) with an arched wall is set against the mountain slope on the uppermost terrace. The water tank received water from a spring located in the Zabarwan hills and has since gone dry. From the sixth terrace, a baradari, or pavilion, overlooks the lower terraces. (Baradari, also Bara Dari, is a building or pavilion with twelve doors designed to allow free flow of air. Because of their outstanding acoustic features Baradari’s were well-suited for dance performances, private concerts by various musicians and poets in front of the ruling kings of the time. Baradari’s were highly valued for their fresh air during hot summers. Bara in Urdu/Hindi means twelve and the word Dar means 'door'.) The baradari/pavilion on the uppermost terrace is built on two levels, projecting out over the retaining wall between the fifth and sixth terraces; the upper level of the pavilion is entered from the sixth terrace, while the lower is entered on the fifth terrace.
Fifth terrace of the Pari Mahal has also a water tank built of white marble and measuring 12 meters by 8.07 meters. In this tank as well no water canals are evident and it appears that this tank received its water through an underground system of pipes. The retaining wall on this terrace has twenty-one arches of rough masonry construction, which decrease in size moving from the center of the terrace outwards. There is a smaller series of arches which lies above the arches. However the upper arches increase in size towards the outer corners of the terrace, visually balancing the decreasing size of the arches below. Rough masonry construction is exhibited in most of the arches construction except the lower part of the baradari from the sixth terrace which is plastered.
The entrance complex is located on the fourth terrace of the garden, which also features an arched rough masonry wall. Much better in repair than the two upper terraces, this wall is ornamented with niches within each arch. Here the arches are uniform in height and above them is a series of rectangular shallow niches which further adds decoration to the wall. This terrace also has a baradari on the edge with multiple opening on all sides.
As the top three terraces are complexly designed, the lower three are much simpler in design than the above ones. This also brings in surmises that the three uppermost terraces were reserved for the prince. The third terrace also has a water tank, and also has rectangular niches which are subdivided into small squares, probably intended to host pigeons.
On one hand, Dal Lake which is at the foothills of Pari Mahal attracts one for its serene and calm space, Pari Mahal on the other side will appeal to you with its extravagance wrapped in relaxed air. The geo atmosphere at this place exhibit of a fairy tale and this place has good reasons to justify its title.
The architectural brilliance of the bygone era exhibits and echoes the grand history of Mughal period. And it was here that the younger prince Aurangazeb put to death his own brother Dara Shikoh to win over the Mughal reign. All in all, Pari Mahal may not greet you with ‘fairies’ but it has for sure a variety of flowers, serene environment, elegant monument and pleasant weather to welcome its visitors.