Chashma Shahi ("Royal Spring") received its name from its water source, a spring located on its uppermost terrace. The garden, one of the smaller Kashmiri gardens around Dal Lake, is found on the southeastern side of the lake.
Chashma Shahi was built by the Mughal governor Ali Mardan Khan under the emperor Shah Jahan in 1632-1633. It is said that this date is derived from a verse found on the site: "Guftamash bahr-i chashma tarikhe/ Guft bar go kausar-i shahi," which translates to, "I enquired of him regarding the date of the spring/ He replied: Say 'Kausar-i Shahi'." The term "Kausar-i Shahi" is synonymous with Chashma-i Shahi (the royal spring). Calculating this term in the 'abjad' system yields the hijra year 1042, or 1632-33 CE.
Two baradaris (pavilions) were originally found on the site, one on the second terrace and the other enclosing the spring on the third terrace. While the term "baradari" literally means "twelve doors," from the Persian summerhouses with twelve archways to let in breezes, it also indicates a garden pavilion. Currently, only the baradari on the third terrace remains; that on the second terrace was removed.
Chashma Shahi is found just to the north of Pari Mahal, a garden palace, and south of the Nishat Bagh, another Mughal garden. Chashma Shahi is laid out as a rectangle, measuring 108 by 38 meters along a north-south axis. While numerous sources say that the site has been enlarged since its inception, no specific information is available. Its southern side marks its highest point of elevation and the source of the garden's water.
The design of the garden, similar to other Kashmiri gardens, is a version of a traditional Persian garden that has been modified to fit the steep site. Because of the site's topography and the limited options for flowing water (its water could only run in one direction, from top to bottom), the double symmetry of the Persian garden was reduced to a central water axis. Instead of a flat ground plane, the garden is composed of three terraced planes. An axial water channel runs the length of the garden, from the spring source on the third terrace to a five-fountain-pool on the first (lowest) terrace.
Approaching the site from street level, the visitor is received by a flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs, a gate controls the access to the garden. Passing through the gate onto the first terrace, one can see a square five-fountain-pool receiving water from the second terrace by means of a steep chadar. (A chadar is a special water ramp that transfers water between garden terraces). The chadar is centered in what was once a base for a Kashmiri baradari on the second terrace. Two flights of stairs, located on the sides of this base, take the visitor to the second terrace. On the second terrace, a water channel carries the water from the spring on the third terrace to the chadar with a large one-fountain pool in the center. At the end of the second terrace, a smaller chadar and two flights of stairs bring the visitor to the third terrace. On the third terrace, the water spring is surrounded by a two-story Kashmiri baradari.
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