While travelling in India, I became fascinated with the variety of patterns in its architecture. Historically, they’re mostly a legacy of the Sultanates and the Mughal Empire, and Islam’s tradition of non-figurative art. But interesting patterns can also be found in Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and modern architecture, and also in natural forms.
These galleries collects all the photographs of patterns I took during my visit. I’m releasing these into the public domain. They are far from comprehensive, and others can be found in various places such as Wikimedia Commons.
Rajasthan retained a large degree of autonomy and aristocratic Hindu culture under the Mughals. Its art and architecture is therefore more figurative, and outside the scope of these galleries. However, Mughal influence can be seen, especially in the patterns of Amber Fort in Jaipur, below. Also, I couldn’t resist the peacocks, which are almost abstract in their kaleidoscopic exuberance.
In Jaipur, we visited the Albert Hall, an ostentatious Indo-Saracenic pile built by the British and now housing the state museum of Rajasthan. While we were there, I noticed a phenomenon occurring which I’ve often wondered about before. A young man was walking around the museum exhibits, scanning each cabinet and shelf with a digital video recorder. He wasn’t taking any time to look at the exhibits himself, just watching the swivel screen as he quickly passed from case to case, to make sure he captured every object in his sweep.
Now, let’s establish some basic truths. This video would be completely unwatchable. Not just because of the sickening motion of the camera (have you ever noticed how in television and film, almost all filming is done with static camera shots? And ‘tracking shots’, where the camera moves, are used only very sparingly, by expert directors? There’s a reason for this) but also because of the awful tediousness of the subject. I’m willing to bet that no-one in the entire history of humanity has ever sat down and watched one of these videos after their holiday. After all, if you don’t find the exhibits interesting enough to actually look at them while you’re there, you’re hardly going to want to watch them on a shaky, blurry video afterwards.
As you can tell from the previous few posts, our tour of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra included a lot of visits to tombs, forts and palaces. Throw in a couple of mosques and museums, and you’ve pretty much summed up the trip.
Except, that is, for the Jantar Mantars.
A Jantar Mantar is a uniquely Indian artifact: a set of giant, building-sized instruments for taking precise astronomical measurements. They were built in the 1720s and ’30s by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur in several cities, including ones in Jaipur and Delhi, which still exist.
If you’re excited to read my opinions on the tombs of Jaipur, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Jaipur’s not a very tomby place. It’s more of a palacy, forty place. So here’s a quick look at some of those.
This isn’t really a palace at all, but an old haveli (a mansion composed of courtyards) converted into a hotel. It’s where we stayed in Jaipur. It was lovely. The courtyards are decorated with fresco painting and have trees and fountains. While we were there, the hotel was hosting an International Sufi Festival, and had performances of sufi music and dancing every evening.
One of the annoying phrases I’ve grown used to in India is, “I’m a guard, not a guide.” This is the start of a sales pitch by a security guard for tour guide services in the place he’s supposed to be guarding.
Actually, it’s not the start of the sales pitch. The usual opening is for the guard to just walk up to you, and without any request or agreement, start talking to you about the site or exhibits. Usually he’s not going to add anything that isn’t already written on signs and labels, and any information that does go beyond that is of questionable accuracy anyway. So you don’t want him to do this, since he’ll expect some kind of payment afterwards if you go along with it. It’s when you first tell him, no, you don’t want his information, that he assures you he’s a “guard, not a guide”. That’s when he’ll start haggling for the price of his guide services.
If you’re providing guide services, and expecting payment for it, you are a guide. And while you’re guiding, or touting for it, you’re clearly not being a very good guard, either.
I’m currently on a two week holiday, visiting the classic tourist destinations of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra with my girlfriend. There will be a short blogging hiatus during this time. Normal service will be resumed after the break.
Edit 22/10/13: Actually I’ve got a bit of spare time while we’re in Jaipur for a couple of short posts.