India's architectural heritage

Published : Nov 21, 2003 00:00 IST

At Chandni Chowk, in Delhi. - BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

At Chandni Chowk, in Delhi. - BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Delhi: The Emperor's City by Vijay Goel; Roli Books; pages 176, Rs.850.

THERE has been, in recent years, a welcome widening of interest in India's architectural heritage. Formerly, it centred on the distant past. Cities like Delhi, Agra and Jaipur inspired profusely illustrated books with texts of varying erudition on ancient monuments. Now, the recent past claims attention. Predictably, Delhi took an early lead. Bombay of old has just about begun to catch up. One hopes Madras and Calcutta of old will not lag behind. Other obvious claimants to such distinction are the old parts of Srinagar, Ahmedabad and Udaipur. Lucknow never suffered neglect at the hands of students of the subject.

Over a decade ago, Pavan K. Varma, a diplomat who is now Director of the Nehru Centre in London, produced his book Mansions at Dusk: The Havelis of Old Delhi illustrated with Sondeep Shankar's photographs ("The Hoary Havelis": Frontline, June 5, 1992). T.S. Randhawa, an author and senior member of the Indian Administrative Service, published The Indian Courtyard House (Prakash Books; pages 156). The exquisite colour photographs which he took and selected for publication, the bibliography he compiled and the brief introduction reflect deep study. The book covers the haveli of northern and western India, the rajbari of West Bengal, the wada of Maharashtra, the naalukettu of Kerala and the Chettiar mansions of Tamil Nadu.

Vijay Goel's book is a welcome addition to this literature. He holds a Master's degree from Delhi University and has represented the Chandni Chowk constituency in Old Delhi for two consecutive terms. "Rediscovering Chandni Chowk and its Environs" is an elaboration of the book's sub-title. It is a labour of love. The author, a devoted Dilliwala, has done full justice to the city. Chandni Chowk (the Moonlit Square) lies at the heart of the Walled City, the Old Delhi. How long will the soulless, hybrid New Delhi claim the prefix? If names given by the British are to be discarded, why not revert to Dilli or Dehli?

The author writes in his Preface: "To us Dilliwalas it has always been Dilli; the capital city of the mighty Moghul Dynasty. New Delhi is a town the British built to showcase their hold over India. Dilli and New Delhi are two different worlds, two different cultures. New Delhi has peaceful coexistence. Dilli has the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, the best of Islamic and Hindu etiquette."

The forts and havelis of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer and the deteriorating situation of Chandni Chowk inspired this rare, sensitive and literate Member of Parliament to reflect on his responsibilities. "It shall be my endeavour through this book to highlight that there is still much to be cherished in Chandni Chowk." The book fully accomplishes this laudable objective. It draws attention to the ravages wrought by unscrupulous builders, aided by indifferent officials in civic bodies. The Archaeological Survey of India has been none too diligent, either. The author's plea that Chandni Chowk be declared a "Heritage City" merits a positive response, urgently.

A brief but comprehensive introduction prepares the reader for the march through the area with all its grandeur and style; the houses of worship and the world of work, work places, educational and other institutions. It is the havelis that make one ponder over their great past and their sad state today. They reflect the decay, if not demise, of the culture of Dilli.

The six "Heritage Walks" which the author prescribes, "Passages in History" as he calls them, are a must for the newcomer to the city. The bibliography he has prepared reveals study over time. It is, one hopes, not ungenerous to mention an omission. It is the voluminous Atharal-Sanadid (1846) written by one of the greatest Dilliwalas, Syed Ahmed Khan. An English translation Monuments of Delhi by R. Nath was published in 1979 by Ambica Publications for the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies. It had, besides the text, 130 sketches drawn by Mirza Shah Rukh Beg.

Photographs by Sunil Kumar Ahuja that Vijay Goel publishes in his work make the book a feast for the eyes. Together with the text he has written, they help the present generation to understand why the poet Zauq, exclaimed - "Par jae kaun Zauq Dilli ki galian chor kar" (But who would leave, Zauq, the lanes of Dilli?) (The author of the book, incidentally, is a member of the Union Cabinet.)

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment