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Cultural Referents

Jean-Marie Lafont

By Bindu Manchanda
Roli Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 192, price not stated.

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

Forts and palaces in India are increasingly becoming a cultural reference for the concerned regions and communities of the country. They are also a new source of income for their private owners (be they the descendants of the erstwhile princely families or more recent owners) or for the different states considering the increase of tourism in India for the last number of years, and its expected growth in the coming ten years. Hence the number of recent books usually well written and richly illustrated, like the Rajput Palaces by G.H.R.Tillotson (1999), becoming the source of a new, regenerated approach to this old history of princely architecture and military traditions.   Bindu Manchanda’s Forts & Palaces of India tries to encapsulate in a few pages and many beautiful illustrations the essence of imperial, royal and feudal India from its earliest time (6th -10th centuries in the case of Mandu) until the eve of the Independence of India (the Umaid Bhawan of Jodhpur, started in 1929 and completed in 1944).   The author, who was Director (Projects) of INTACH and is Secretary of the Jaisalmer Heritage Trust, has written a short presentation (pp. 14-21) to introduce India as “The Land of Forts and Palaces”, spanning almost three millennia of Indian history from the “pur” (Greek “polis”) of the Vedas to the “Modern Era”. After summarizing what we know of Sanskrit texts dealing with palatial architecture, the author asks the inevitable question of why there are so many references to imperial and royal residences in classical literature (including visual representations in sculptures and paintings, like in Gandhara art or the paintings of Ajanta) when there is a quasi absence of impressive archaeological remains today, before what she calls “the capitals of the later empires, such as Delhi and Agra”. For example, Megasthenes’s description (in Greek) of Pataliputra in the last years of the 4th century BC and the subsequent archaeological discoveries done in Patna should be the norm, not the exception. We must therefore acknowledge that wide scale destructions took place in Northern India at least from the time of the Hephtalites Huns (Mihirakula and his devastating raids in the Ganga-Jamuna valleys in early 6th century AD), while the Tarikh i-Yamini gives explicit descriptions of the behaviour of the Ghaznavid Ghazis (Jihadis) during their raids in northern India (early 11th century AD). The Ghorids, one century later, did not behave in a much ...

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