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Lighting up Lodhi history

art-and-culture Updated: Oct 07, 2010 02:31 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times
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A glossy little marker — part stylish, part nothing special. Gol Gumbad, the 15th century Lodhi dynasty tomb at the intersection of Lodhi Road and Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg, has become one of Delhi’s must-see monuments.

Last month, the unremarkable tomb, tucked in a corner of Centenary Methodist Church, got a new look. In a project funded by the Ministry of Tourism, and executed by INTACH, Delhi Chapter, the monument was set up with night-time illumination. The effect is pure magic.

Reach after sunset. Rows of tube lights are fitted on the floor; the domed roof is bathed in a bright orange glow. As you enter from the side gate (on Lodhi Road), the white light falling off the tomb’s wall shows you the way. A few trees are lit subtly; others are left in darkness. Inside, the chamber is washed in a deep-gold shade; strobe lamps are arranged artistically at several vantage points. Someone outside the complex could mistake this blaze for fire. Delhi hasn’t seen anything like this.

Actually, there is no reason to dislike the unlit, ignored, even abused ruins. It is thrilling to mess around in an abandoned tomb; the overgrown grass, the damp walls, the musty smell, the bird droppings on the floor and bats flapping their wings on the roof. You may not know about the ruin’s history but you feel it in the air. Civilising the savage, however, runs the risk of losing his wild streak. The unwise placement of a single lamp could have rendered Gol Gumbad soulless. Then it would have merely been vulgarly lit; its secrets sucked out and its sad romanticism smashed. No such mishap here.

The tomb is a passion statement — a new way to look at monuments. The electric lights have not diminished its mysteries. The radiance coming out of the recessed arch on each of the four sides is intense. There are many Lodhi-era tombs in Delhi and all are alike: stone flooring, walls of random rubble masonry and locked stairways. The uniformity and the fact that we have no clue of the buried men make these structures banal. But the beamy atmosphere in the chamber of this tomb is beautiful.

The light rays cast melancholic shadows on the austere niches. The dome’s artwork catches the eye easily. In the night, standing alone inside the illuminated tomb, you spin into a roller-coaster ride of longing, love and regret — just what a ruin should do.

Nearest Metro Stop: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium