The development of scrublands into a park from the perspective of a designer – by Siddhena.
If you walk through Koregaon Park in Pune these days your road might pass over an old bridge that crosses a nalla, or waterway, and the land it occupies. You might notice the views on either side with many trees, waterfalls and a lush park. 30 years ago it would have been somewhat different – you would have encountered a neglected crumbling bridge crossing a parched wasteland with a handful of peripheral trees and a mere trickle of brackish water for a stream. You might have seen a few goats passing down the banks, grazing the grass that seemed lifeless even under the shade of those Gulmour or Neem trees that survived. Named Koregaon Park, yet the park in this conservative, moneyed neighborhood was shriveled, almost dead.
Osho Teerth Park is a story of the transformation of a wasteland into a paradise. It is another micro-realization of Osho’s vision, or dream as he called it. All projects around him challenged the old order of things, confronting the past, breaking open vested interests and conditional beliefs. And because of this pervasive attitude, the first part of the project involved convincing the politicians and conservative neighbors.
I remember gathering with their representatives by that bridge to make our presentation.
A small model piece of landscaping had been created as a sampling and I had made a lot of renderings to describe the vision. We needed to impress, inform and convince people who only understood position and power. They were just fine with the general neglect of their environment as long as their power remained intact.
Familiar? I think so!
Beautiful landscaping was doable, but the key to the project was the nalla stream itself. It entered at the top end of the area from a small village by the railway. The trains dumped their waste oil and the villagers used it in various ways. In fact all the village waste, including their excrement ended up in the nalla. How were we to make a park based on this? (A challenge far greater for India’s great river Ganges.)
So the first phase involved educating the villagers and creating a recycling system for them within the stream, involving wire screens for the oil – and building toilets. This now gray water was then moved through shallow settling ponds, aerated by fountains, and cleaned organically using water hyacinths.
I was handed a pile of books, mostly about Japanese Gardens – particularly those related to temples and shrines. Many pages were tagged and were examples of what Osho liked or wanted in and around the commune. The park was to be a series of gardens, ‘strung like pearls on a mala’ as Osho described it, to provide places for meditation, rest and enjoying beauty. As I live now in Japan I have come to know some of them directly, and see how their beauty has evolved over many years, in a climate somewhat different to Maharashtra. The Teerth Park project was not only a sizable area but was to happen in one season!
And so began the transformation, both adapting to the topography of bedrock and imagining Osho’s vision.
It was to quickly become an experiential learning.
Our first endeavors were more cosmetic than realistic – and a particularly strong first monsoon put us in our place! It showed us what would be needed – and the shaping of the land then followed nature rather than a picture in a book. Our rock settings clearly needed to double as riprap as well as statements of Zen. We acquired a lot of the local black cotton soil excavated from local building projects. A great financial deal, but it turned out not to be the right soil for burms (mounds) as it expands with water. Ground cover plants were vital to hold the soil together until shrubs and trees established themselves. Their selection happened by trial and error, at first to suit the look of the gardens and then to suit what actually worked, for maintenance too. Vedanand and Vedant started nurseries from the beginning and a lot of the issues were confronted there, but when large areas were planted out the irrigation system had also to be in place.
There were many Indian workers needed to maintain the speed we wanted, but India has its own pace. What we learned was not speed but rhythm, timing rather than planning.
The Mirdad pyramids were visible from the park and soon their courtyards would open onto the gardens. I designed the watercourse to swing their way and a reflecting pond to be part of its character at this point. Such features were not reproductions of traditional Zen gardens but responses to their design principle, particularly that of adapting to the situation at hand.
A hanging garden was called for and the prolific creepers and climbing plants of this part of the world lent themselves naturally to this feature. I had just learned about a spider that created its web like a canopy in the grass. Photos of this became the inspiration and I shared my ideas with Vedam, the creative engineer of the space frames around the commune.
The final structure and its canopy of plants would become the canopy for small orchid gardens and plants that needed constant shade.
From the outside the flowing forms of this hung garden were designed to fit with the forms of the main gardens too.
As the landscape design began to form, through the many rock settings, burms, and the now flowing healthy stream, the planting took on its own significance. Bamboo groves and sitting areas needed stone benches. When a crossing was required unique curved bridges were created.
A cluster of trickle fountains using old millstones.
A Vedam space-frame version for the hanging garden.
In all the time I could be in Osho’s physical presence and in his Buddhafield I was involved in design of some kind. Town Planning, Landscape Design, Architecture, Book Design, even Stage Design were my practice, my worship, and my play. Creativity is the very fabric of his ‘work’, yet it has never been exclusive, and in all the designing it was our collaboration and synchronicity that were the vehicle for giving form to his vision.
The challenges and the delights deepened the experience and the moments of self-learning. So the title ‘Designing Paradise’ could also be ‘Designing in Paradise,’ because as I see it the underlying purpose of any activity in the Buddhafield is transformation – individual, collective and beyond.
Humanity has blindly interfered with the big picture, and consequently brought the ecosystem to a tipping point. Osho Teerth Park was a particularly fulfilling project for me. It was of course tied in with the commune, yet it felt like the beginning of bringing his vision more to the world. Here and now things urgently need to change, and dominion needs to release its grip just like the neighbors of Koregaon Park back then. When science and beauty align we can enrich life and raise it to the levels Osho has shown us.
- From barren to blooming – Rashid remembers the beginnings of the Nalla Park / Osho Teerth Park project, now one of the places-to-visit in Pune