Fragrance, Symmetry and Light: The History of Gardens and Garden Culture in the Deccan

Directors: Dr, Daud Ali (London) and Ms. Emma Flatt (London) in collaboration with the Centre for Deccan Studies (Hyderabad) and the Department of History, University of Hyderabad (Hyderabad)

Fragrance, Symmetry and Light is a collaborative project drawing together scholars based at various universities in Europe, North America, India and the Middle East and from diverse disciplinary fields, including Art History, Archaeology, Social, Economic and Cultural History and Literary Criticism.

Starting from the premise that the predominance of Mughal gardens in the historiography of garden culture in South Asia has obscured divergent traditions predating the advent of Mughal rule and in areas outside or peripheral to the Mughal empire, this project aims to stimulate scholarly work on the gardens of the Deccan region of South India. In this way, we hope not only to shed diverse scholarly light on relatively neglected material, but in doing so, to further our overall understanding of the history of gardens in South Asia from a multidisciplinary perspective. We also anticipate that this project will make a wider contribution to other fields like the history of landscape, ecology, aesthetics, leisure, science and cosmology.


The project addresses a number of broad research themes:

Typology, Nomenclature, Structure

One theme of the project focuses on developing a useful typology of garden spaces and types including garden tombs, temple gardens, pleasure gardens, orchards/ market gardens and medicinal gardens, as both separate entities and with overlapping functions. There will also be concern to understand the place of gardens in wider architectural contexts, whether public or domestic, urban or rural. Effort will be taken to analyse contemporary vocabularies of space, nature and monument and situate the Deccan gardens within these understandings.

Landscape, Water and Plant Technologies

A second research theme examines the relations that gardens implied between habitation and nature, including the relationship between landscape and agriculture, the nexus between aesthetics and cosmology embodied in landscapes, the technological aspects of water management and irrigation and issues of plant aesthetics, technologies, visual exhibitionism, and connoisseurship in real and imagined settings.

Representation and Practice

Some of our researchers will also consider questions relating to the social ‘habitation’ and exploitation of garden spaces. Archaeological, art historical and textual sources will be used to explore the ways in which men and women constructed, beautified and transformed garden spaces and their representations. Analyses of how they visited, resorted in and benefited from gardens during royal rituals, festivals, courtship and moments of work and leisure will throw light on questions of publicness and intimacy, individual and collective self-fashioning and behaviour.

Experience and Meaning

Another important research direction is the experience and meaning of gardens for the societies that created them. Considerations of the aesthetics and sensualities invoked by gardens and the cosmological images of gardens in various religious traditions will be among the subject of this panel. Various genres of literature, material culture (including textiles and decorative arts), architecture and built environments, as well as painting will be fruitful domains of investigation.

Gardens and the Evolution Hyderabadi Culture

A particular focus on the city of Hyderabad as a site of gardens and garden culture will allow the project to document and analyse the changing roles, uses and meanings of gardens over time. Of special interest will be the gradual transformation of a ‘medieval’ capital into a modern day city. Oral accounts and modern archival (visual and cartographic) records will form key sources for this research theme.

Contact Information:
Daud Ali
Emma Flatt
Dept of History
School of Oriental and African Studies
Thornhaugh St
Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG

Conference Report

Gardens Bibliography

List of papers