Landscape design for a religious space brings with it challenges different from other projects. Architect Kalpak Y. Bhave worked around design limitations and environmental challenges to create a much-loved green space at Dargah-e-Hakimi in Burhanpur.
Burhanpur, in Madhya Pradesh, is a holy place. The Dawoodi Bohra saint Saiyedi Abdul Qadir Hakimuddin (1665-1730 AD) is buried here and the tomb complex ‘Dargah-e-Hakimi’ attracts thousands of visitors each year.
In 1995, Architect Kalpak Bhave was commissioned to do the landscaping for the Dargah. The vast complex is spread over more than 75 acres of farmland and gardens and includes mosques, gardens, and accommodation facilities for visitors. Since 1995, Bhave and his team have designed the entire landscaping of the complex in various stages and continue to work with the Dargah even now.
The brief given to Bhave was to develop a formal style of landscaping which matched the well-defined and precise habits of the Bohra community. “As this was our first experience with designing for a Dargah, we studied the history and lifestyle of the Bohra community and observed a certain sense of clarity which we tried to bring out in our design,” says Architect Bhave.
There is no specific religious reference or symbols in the landscaping scheme. Popular designs, Japanese or informal styles were consciously avoided. The final designs were clear and defined, but do not reflect any style or period.
The Bohra community is spread around the world and the Dargah attracts visitors throughout the year. The landscaping therefore had to be fresh irrespective of the season. “We relied on plant material that stays intact,” says Bhave. Burhanpur has extreme climatic conditions – winter nights see temperatures plummet to 4-5 degrees Celsius, while summer days are hot at around 45 degree Celsius. Plants had to be hardy to survive this wide range of temperatures.
Flowers were deliberately not chosen as there are few varieties that were suitable for this type of annual display.
Instead tropical plants and perennials were picked based on their colour and their ability to withstand changes in the seasons. “We chose plants that were sturdy and had bright colours. The colour of the foliage was important for its selection,” explains Bhave.
The results are stunning in their simplicity. Lush green lawns are sprinkled with interesting geometric patterns, admirable for their formal symmetry. In some gardens, plants are coaxed into patterns reflecting nature – leaves, the curve of a flower.
Some of the buildings have a wall of ivy trawling all over creating a pleasant green welcome. “In addition to looking nice, the Ivy acts as a protective layer on the buildings by creating a greenhouse effect. It keeps the building cool in summer and keeps the heat in during cold winter days. Ivy needs to be maintained, or the roots can damage the walls when they penetrate the structure. The Ivy at the Dargah is trimmed constantly so that it does not overgrow.”
Bhave and his team have worked on the landscaping of the Dargah since 1995 and are required to come up with new designs every few years, but keeping the same formal structure and sensibilities in mind.
The design team worked out schemes for different areas of the Dargah including the Main Axis, the large Mawaid (dining hall), the entrance and courtyard, and the residential area for pilgrims.
The landscaping of Dargah-e-Hakimi has set a benchmark for gardens of other Dargahs across India. Bhave has since been involved with the development of dargahs in various cities including Mandvi, Jamnagar and Udaipur. His firm was also invited to work on projects in Iraq.
For pilgrims seeking peace and contemplation, what better setting than acres of well-tended greenery and bright colours around every corner that soothe the eye and makes one appreciative of the bounty of nature. Architect Kalpak Bhave’s team has done justice to the Dargah-e-Hakimi and their painstaking attention to detail has gained them accolades and the gratitude of thousands of pilgrims from around the world.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy The Architect