South Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Gardens for Thought: Exploring the Anthropocene through Urban Nature

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Juniper, New Building

What would happen if we grapple with recent discussions on nature, ontology, or ecology/environmentalism through the perspective of South Asian gardens rather than forests? My point of departure is the fact that there is evidence that gardens as cultural and material institutions were prevalent in South Asia from early times. For example, gardens (and by extension, trees, and plants) played an important role in Buddhist traditions. Apart from the several gardens and parks that signal key events in the Buddha’s life, the Buddha appears against the identifiable backdrop of several named groves, discussing religious topics; scholars have suggested that these groves, as well as garden and plant motifs, signaled a new social order or hierarchies. There has also been some discussion of the ecological contexts of the Sanskrit epics. While Mughal gardens and botanical institutions of empire have received a lot of attention, recent works have explored non-Mughal gardens, those on the periphery of the Mughal empire, and some ethnographic cases from contemporary cities.  In my presentation, I focus on the relationship between gardens and cities in South Asia to see if they offer productive material and imaginative spaces for rethinking “nature” as well as the Anthropocene. Rather than “plant-thinking,” for instance, or a functional and utilitarian understanding of nature-in-the-city as green spaces or “lung” spaces, I suggest that we need to engage with the multiple geographies, genealogies and histories that produce the spaces of gardens and, thus, the complex possibilities they offer for embodied, constructed, and lived environments/environmentalism.  

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