Constellations | Aga Khan Park, Toronto – Garden of Paradise: Peace and Felicity

For our faith constantly reminds us to observe and be thankful for the beauty of the world and the universe around us, and our responsibility and obligation, as good stewards of God’s creation, to leave the world in a better place than we found it.

The garden is, in this context, a particularly important space in Islamic cultures, the Moghul garden in urban environments, or the Bustan in rural environments. Bringing such beautiful spaces to Canada is one of our intended contributions to Canadian landscape. An example is the new park in Toronto which will surround the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre, as well as new projects in Edmonton and Burnaby, and our endeavor to link area development to our rebuilding of Ottawa’s War Museum for the Global Centre for Pluralism.

– His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan,
Acceptance address, 2013 Gold Medal
Royal Architectural Institute of Canada,
Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa Canada
November 27, 2013

The Holy Quran has more than 120 references to the 
Gardens of Paradise (Jannat al.-Firdaus) ranging from notions of blissful retreat to serene and safe refuge. Numerous messages of “Peace” (Salaam) inform the sentiment and vision of the Gardens of Paradise.

These gardens are the prototype on which all Islamic gardens
 of the chahar-bagh design are based. One of 
the principal functions of these “Gardens of 
Paradise” is to provide beautiful and harmonious surroundings, eliciting felicity, where the soul can be at peace and feel close to God.

AKP - AKM aerial view
The Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre, Toronto site is unified with gardens designed by the notable Lebanese  landscape architect, Vladimir Djurovic. Light, shadows, leaves, petals and flowing water, together provide a space for contemplation and inspiration.
AKP - Reflecting Pool
A rendering of the reflective pools in the unifying gardens of the Aga Khan Park and Ismaili Centre, Toronto.The Aga Khan Park gardens will be a peaceful oasis for local residents amidst the hubbub of urban Toronto. The gardens are a contemporary expression of the traditional Persian Chahar-bagh design and includes manicured areas with reflecting pools.

The design and architectural components of the building are an interplay of light and shadow. The walls of the Museum are chiseled and angular to allow the sun to cast a shadow on the lower part of the wall. The building thus behaves like a sundial.
AKP - AKM and Trees
The main tree in the Aga Khan Museum’s formal garden is the serviceberry, an environmentally friendly tree that blooms with white feathery flowers in early spring, red to purple berries in the summer, and an outstanding red foliage in the fall. The garden’s trees are organized in perfect rows separated by walkways with raised flowerbeds. Five reflecting pools surround the serviceberry trees and mirror the Museum’s building and landscape, creating a continuous melody of falling waters and singing birds.
AKP - Trees
Stunning reflecting pools and manicured gardens are a place of contemplation, celebration and felicity – amidst the full blossoming of trees and flowers, buzzing bees and singing birds.

The search for paradise on earth is,
 essentially, the search for peace — not just peace from the world but 
more importantly, peace from our ego and its desires (nafs).

Prophet Muhammad is known to have said that the greater jihad
 (al-jihad al-akbar), is the war we fight 
with our own soul. The subconscious longing of our soul, 
for felicity and serenity, is like a vague memory of our primordial state 
before the Fall when man was at peace with his Creator and therefore at 
peace with himself and his neighbor. In order to regain this primordial 
paradise, those seriously committed to the spiritual path 
must reach a state of constant remembrance of God (dhikr Allah).

Islamic garden can be an aid in this remembrance; like all sacred art, 
the chahar-bagh aims to draw the visitor closer to God. Thus the concept
 of paradise is symbolic of the true peace of heart and soul for which 
we all yearn.


Chahar-bagh (Quranic Gardens 
of Paradise)

The chahar-bagh is a garden divided into four by water-channels or pathways, with a fountain or 
pool at the center. This four fold design of the Islamic garden developed 
from a combination of the ancient Persian prototype and the Gardens of 
Paradise as described in the Quran and the Sayings of the Prophet.

inherent within the number four is a universal symbolism based on an 
understanding of the natural world: it encompasses the four cardinal
 directions, the four elements and the four seasons—and the cube, the
 three-dimensional form of the number four, represents solidity, the

The religion of Islam re-confirmed these ancient and universal
 truths and invested them with a rigorous spiritual vision. In describing 
his ascent to heaven (mi’raj), the Prophet speaks of four rivers: one 
of water, one of milk, one of honey, and one of wine. These four rivers 
are also mentioned in the Quran (Surah 47: Ayats 15,2).

In the Quran there is also to be found another, more esoteric, reason 
for the quartered layout of the Islamic garden. In Surah ar-Rahman
 (Sura 55: The All-Merciful), the longest reference to the
 Gardens of Paradise in the Quran, the four gardens are 
described. These four gardens
 are divided into two parts, the lower pair being the Garden of the Soul
 and the Garden of the Heart (reserved for the Righteous) and the higher 
pair being the Garden of the Spirit and the Garden of the Essence 
(reserved for the Foremost). Each of these four gardens contains, 
respectively, its own fruit—the olive, the date, the fig, and the
 pomegranate; each also contains its own fountain.

Thus the chahar-bagh became the principal symbol of the Quranic Gardens 
of Paradise.


Water (Reflecting Pools)

A fundamental and common element in 
all these gardens is water and in the case of the Aga Khan Park, the five reflecting pools. The five reflecting pools further lend symbolic meaning, embracing the five senses as the means to reach the soul.

Water is the supreme element in the Islamic garden, both
 on a physical and a metaphysical level. On a purely practical level, life on earth cannot
 survive without water; water is life-giving and in hot climates it is 
far more than this — it is a blessing from God. Water is also considered a direct
 symbol of God’s mercy. The idea of mercy and water is further reinforced in the Holy Quran, “He … sendeth down water from the sky, and 
there by quickeneth the earth after her death” (Surah 30: Ayat 24). However, water
 contains within itself far more than physically nourishing properties; 
as Titus Burckhardt beautifully explains, “the soul resembles water, 
just as the Spirit resembles wind or air.”

The concept of water as an 
image of the soul is a universal symbol appearing in Christian, Hindu, 
Japanese, and many other cultures as well as Islamic —and this
 symbolism derives from its very essence.

Water is used not just to
 cleanse ourselves of physical dirt but also to “wash away sins.” Examples include baptism in
 Christianity and ablution before
 prayers in Islam – water is used to cleanse the soul as well as the body.

The reflective water pools in the Aga Khan Park gardens represents the ever-flowing waters of the Spirit,
 constantly renewing the soul, like the purity of natural spring water
 constantly renewing itself.

 “I hope today that all the people of Toronto will feel that the park that will be around these building is their park!”

– His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan,
Remarks at the Massey Hall, Toronto Canada
February 28, 2014


Torontonians are sure lucky, as is the whole of Canada with the Aga Khan’s benevolence!

Accelerate your Awareness – Explore, Discover and Learn more about the Aga Khan Projects in Toronto

Aga Khan Toronto Park (Perspectives on matters of Felicity, Humanity and Nature)

Constellations - Aga Khan Park, Toronto – Echoes of Paradise - the Garden and Flora in Islamic ArtDYK - Nature Perspective - Ottoman Gold Leaf

Aga Khan Museum Series (Perspectives on matters of the Intellect, Knowledge and Wisdom)

Constellations - Aga Khan Museum – Building a Knowledge Epicenter - His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan on the choice of Toronto

Constellations - Aga Khan Museum – Evoking Wisdom - Prince Amyn Aga Khan on Peace

Constellations - Aga Khan Museum – Triggering Intellectual Anxiety - Louis Monreal on the purpose of the Museum

Constellations - Aga Khan Museum – A Symphony of Light, Shadow and Geometry

DYK - Intellectual Perspective - Avicenna - Cannon of Medicine

Ismaili Centres Series (Perspectives on matters of the Soul and Spirit)

Constellations - Ismaili Centres - Foundation Stone and Inauguration Ceremonies – Special Moments and Speeches of Mowlana Hazar Imam

Constellations - Ismaili Centres - Global Centres of Confluence

Constellations - Ismaili Centres - Architecture, Design and a Video MontageDYK - Spiritual Perspective - Prayer Book

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