Saturday, 26 November 2011

Symmetry and Geometry

Akbar's Tomb in Sikandra on the outskirts of Agra is a gem. It was my clear favourite on our trip to Agra and Sikri. There is such a lot of hype over the Taj Mahal and such a mad tourist rush there. Compared to the Taj, I found Sikandra quiet and dignified as a tomb should be. The inlay work was exquisite. 

Some of the geometric patterns involving white marble inlay on red sandstone are mind-boggling. Considering I had to retry and erase several times before I got these to look the way they do in a simple line drawing, it's really stupefying to think of the work done centuries ago - the attention to detail and the sheer level of skill.

My sketch doesn't give a sense of the scale of these patterns. They are huge in comparison to the human scale and help make the towering monuments look less gigantic. It was hard enough to draw them separately that my courage ran out and I didn't try to put them on the walls of the building. 

The play of geometry is, of course, not just in these inlay friezes that adorn the main entrance gateways. They start with the arrangement of the spaces in plan, and the massing of the building. Cardinal directions and the spiritual axis give us repetetive 6 sided and 8 sided geometries in the arrangement of chambers, openings, flooring patterns and finally the surface ornamentation.  The layers of complexity are infinite and you can discover as much as you have time for. 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Buland Darwaza

This is the south facing public gate to the mosque at Fateh-pur Sikri. "Darwaza" meaning gate or doorway and "Buland" meaning high or great in Persian.  The scale of the Buland Darwaza needs to be seen to be believed. The mosque along with the palace buildings at Fatepur Sikri sit atop a ridge and the city with its people was to its south, sloping down to the plains.

While the mosque has gateways from the north, east and south, the southern gateway is the largest - the public gateway for the city. The ridge is scaled by a series of steps and standing at the base of the steps you can't see the rest of the mosque building. Towering in front of you are a pile of red sandstone steps with the Buland Darwaza and people flocking to it looking like ants.

On my recent trip to Agra and Sikri this was one of my two favourite buildings. Will tell you about the other soon. But the experience was marred a bit by the over-aggressive guides at Sikri. They started stopping us on the highway before we even entered Sikri, pretending to be officials collecting toll. And once we were stopped they tried forcing themselves on us. All the way up these steps we were hounded and harangued by scores of them who stood in front of you not letting you see what you came to see. We were probably part of the minority - independent tourists, not part of a tour group and not wanting a guide - and in India you always have to fight it out if you are part of the minority.