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God is in the details

This coffee-table book by architect and photographer Yashwant Pitkar takes the reader up, close and personal to what is often overlooked by the untrained eye, writes Mini Pant Zachariah.

books Updated: May 15, 2010 00:27 IST
Mini Pant Zachariah

The Romance of Red Stone: An Appreciation of Ornament on Islamic Architecture in India
Photographs by Yashwant Pitkar, Text by Mustansir Dalvi
Super Book House,
Rs 3,000 pp 254

Visitors to the Taj Mahal in Agra are usually awestruck by the sheer scale of the monument. The magnificent edifice, however, often overshadows the intricate decorations on the structure.

This coffee-table book by architect and photographer Yashwant Pitkar takes the reader up, close and personal to what is often overlooked by the untrained eye.

The accompanying text by Mustansir Dalvi, Pitkar’s colleague at Mumbai’s J.J. School of Architecture, also makes the details of the works come alive.

The buildings included in this book date back to the days of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals. Though the book covers many well-known and some lesser-known monuments of the time, the reader will be surprised to find pictures of elements — some as small as six inches — that they would have probably never seen before. Itmad-ud-daulah’s resting place in Agra, for one, showcases craftsmanship so intricate that Pitkar rightly calls it the “jewel box”.

Because Islam does not allow idol worship, geometrical designs, floral and vegetal details, and calligraphy were used with tremendous effect by craftsmen to celebrate god’s creation.

The water bodies that signify rivers of paradise are a recurring motif in Islamic architecture, and appear in Pitkar’s pictures.

He also captures the auspicious symbols of Indian culture — the kalash, the kalpalata and temple bells — in these Islamic structures, reflecting India’s syncretic cultural richness.

The book lends a fresh visual perspective to a well-known history.