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CWG sexes up a Delhi ruin

The tomb is a passion statement – and a new vision of monuments. The electric lights have taken nothing out of the mysteries of the tomb. Its stirring, emotionally satisfying pull lies intact.

india Updated: Oct 06, 2010 13:28 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

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. In September 2010, the unremarkable tomb, tucked at a corner of Centenary Methodist Church, got a new look. In a project funded by Ministry of Tourism and executed by INTACH, Delhi Chapter, the monument was given nighttime illumination. The effect is pure magic.

Gol Gumbad Lodhi Road

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; a few 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 could mistake this blaze for fire. Delhi hasn’t seen anything like it.

Actually I don’t dislike the unlit, ignored, even abused ruins. It is thrilling to mess around an abandoned tomb; the overgrown grass, the damp walls, the musty smell, the bird shit on the floor and the bats flapping their wings on the roof. You may not know about the ruin’s obscure history but you feel it in the air. Civilizing the savage, however, runs the risk of losing his wild streak. The unwise placing 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 dead. No such mishap here.

The tomb is a passion statement – and a new vision of monuments. The electric lights have taken nothing out of the mysteries of the tomb. Its stirring, emotionally satisfying pull lies intact. 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 extraordinarily 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 and sparse tomb, you spin into a roller-coaster ride of desire, longing, romance, regret. Just what a ruin should do.