Christopher V. Hill


Deccan gardens in South India during the Islamic period (1206-1756) frequently had an Edenic quality about them.  As noted by Flatt (2007), Hanaway (1976), and Inden (2007), among others, the design often represented aspects of the supernatural or paradise, with representations of the pleasures of this life and the forthcoming joys of the afterlife.  The garden often served a symbolic function, in that it represented the divine recognition of the temporal authority of the Sultan. British gardens in the Deccan in fact had a similar symbolic purpose.  The legitimacy of British rule, as represented by the garden, rested not in divine authority, however, but in the power drawn from the Enlightenment.  Reason, in the form of science and technology, increasingly became the proof that the British faced a divine mission as well: to civilize the savage.  No place represents this ideal better than the Victoria Gardens in Bombay. While the gardens focused on nature, it was a nature to be understood and classified, not to be enjoyed for pure aesthetics.  Under the leadership of Sir George Birdwood, the Victoria Gardens became a museum for British enlightenment and scientific justification for rule.  Included in the gardens were the Victoria and Albert Museum, a botanical garden, and a zoo.  Plants were imported from around Asia, Africa, and the Americas, not for their beauty, but for cataloguing.  The museum, which formed the central focus of the gardens, categorized types of South Asians through tiny models, along with catalogued examples of Indian craftsmanship. In short, in a Linnaean fashion, the gardens were there for colonial study and a superior representation.  As one colonial administrator noted, the gardens were “one of the greatest boons which England could have conferred on India” (Nicholson, 2007).


Archeology, George Birdwood, Bombay, capitalism, Deccan, ecology, Enlightenment, imperialism, Linnaeus, Perediniya Gardens, Sultanate, Victoria Gardens, Gilbert White

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Copyright (c) 2013 Christopher V. Hill

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Journal of South Asian Studies
ISSN: 2307-4000 (Online), 2308-7846 (Print)
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