For the Love of Gardens | The Ismaili Canada

In Arts and Culture

For the Love of Gardens

A witness to the first wedding at the Aga Khan Garden reflects on how the garden blends, nature, design and faith

Taslim Jaffer
Published September 30, 2020
The bride and groom seen through unique geometric patterns. Photo: Cosmin Danila.

My eyes flicked skyward at the grey clouds gathering in pockets overhead, as I drove the field-lined roads following Google Maps directions to an unfamiliar area. On any other day, a refreshing sprinkle in an award-winning garden would not have been a big deal. But that day’s visit to the Aga Khan Garden just outside Edmonton, Alberta, was more than an opportunity to appreciate a unique space; my cousin, Danisha Bhaloo, was marrying her love, Adil Shivji.

At the entryway to the 4.8-hectare Aga Khan Garden, gaily dressed guests gripped closed umbrellas at their sides. A simple sign etched into a low-laying stone wall declared the name of the garden and gave way to a boardwalk that led to the Woodland Bagh. As I approached the still waters of the oblong reflecting pool—the first of many water features of the garden—my thoughts slowed. The calm waters reflecting the towering branches above invited me to take notice of the present moment: the first wedding in a special space, which had only been open for one year and was already a popular destination for locals and travellers alike.

Five hundred family members and dear friends, and numerous dignitaries from both Edmonton and Calgary were seated in the area known as the Chahar Bagh, a central courtyard divided by walkways and streams of water. This quadrilateral feature is a defining element of Islamic gardens seen throughout Iran and South Asia, and now, thanks to His Highness the Aga Khan’s vision, in Canada.

The rest of the bridal party and I assembled on the grand steps lining the fountain at the centre of the Talar Terrace. A tiny flower girl posed, ready at the bottom of the staircase, while my son, the ringbearer, waited for his cue to proceed. A breeze played with the hems of our plum-coloured gowns as we paired up with the groomsmen to stroll along the waterway toward the grassy area of the Chahar Bagh.

The bridal party assembled on the grand steps at the centre of Talar Terrace. Photo: Cosmin Danila.

After the procession, the bridesmaids and groomsmen took their seats among the guests just moments before the bride, the groom and their immediate family members made their entrance. This was the big moment into which countless hours of preparation had been poured. Danisha’s white saree lent light to the subtle greys and greens of the early summer garden as she and Adil moved toward the signing table.

When the bride and groom sat down, the heavy clouds released their rain.

As canopies flew up seamlessly over the heads of the bride, groom and the leadership team of Edmonton South Jamatkhana, I thought about how we make plans and have ideas of the way a day should unfold. But the Creator takes into account the needs of every living thing: from the tiniest critters to each blade of grass to the fruit trees, shrubs and wetlands surrounding us. At the inauguration of the Aga Khan Garden in 2018, the Aga Khan noted that, in Islam, a garden is “...where the human meets further proof of the Divine.” A wedding on these grounds is both a proclamation of that faith and a prayer for His protection over a lifetime.

The garden is also a reminder of our interdependent relationship with nature. In the Aga Khan’s opening speech, he said, “A central part of the garden tradition is the high calling of human stewardship, our responsibility to honour, to protect and to share the gifts of the natural world.” Danisha and Adil’s efforts to create a minimal-waste wedding followed this line of thinking.

Danisha Bhaloo and Adil Shivji at the reflective granite basin in the Aga Khan Garden. Photo: Cosmin Danila.

In addition to their shared value of caring for Allah’s creation, Danisha and Adil also believe in the importance of building bridges in a pluralistic society. “This garden represents the cooperation of cultures and shows Alberta as a pluralistic province,” Adil muses. The Aga Khan made a special note toward the end of his inauguration speech about the Islamic garden in Edmonton which is a product of the dedication of many different groups of people: “It symbolizes not only the creative blending of the natural and the human—but also the beauty of multiple, inter-cultural cooperation.”

Dr. Lee Foote, Director of the University of Alberta Botanic Garden, who was also in attendance at the wedding, has said: “[Gardens] should demystify the ‘otherness’ that politics, media and special interests inject into our lives. Shared space, shared emotion are paths to pluralism that might not occur in any other venue with an agenda or entry requirement.” Glancing around the Chahar Bagh where the guests were seated, I saw many faiths and cultures represented. I imagine that over the years, as communities gather here formally and informally, the unifying power this space has will only grow.

As the wedding couple completed the signing ceremony, the clouds parted and the sun shone brightly, making the fallen raindrops gleam. There were blue skies and delighted children playing. Laughter rang throughout the rest of the day, as friends and family shared the joy of witnessing a wedding in this majestic space. After all, a garden is not just for self-reflection but, as the Aga Khan points out, “...the garden, through history, has also been seen as a social space—a place for learning, for sharing, for romance, for diplomacy, for reflection on the destiny of the human race.”


This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of The Ismaili Canada. 

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