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Gaud in tones of grey

Except for Delhi, the most ancient examples of early Islamic architecture can be found in Bengal. Constructed mostly with bricks and stone, many such impressive monuments have survived in Gaud, a populace of Sultanate Bengal that first came up near Malda in 1213-1334 AD. It saw its glory days during the reign of the sultans of the later Ilyas Shahi and Husain Shahi houses (1436-1538). The Daniells, in their prints, had depicted Gaud as a romantic pile in ruins where nature ran riot. Yet, masonry of the most majestic nature still reared its proud head through the giant trees and creepers that tried to engulf the monuments.

During the Raj, much of the precious stone used to construct Gaud was systematically pilfered to build other structures, St John's Church being the most notable of them.

Thanks to the Archaeological Survey of India, Gaud has been cleared of all the unwanted vegetation. Without the masses of foliage the monuments certainly look majestic but they seem to have lost some of the mystery and aura that one associates with ruins. Though this is definitely the only way of preserving them for posterity, but without the greenery gone wild, they look somewhat bare and bald.

Shiharan Nandy presents the glory that was Gaud through a series of 49 black-and-white photographs at the State Archaeological Museum near the Behala tram depot. Last year, too, Nandy had held an equally impressive exhibition of black-and-white prints depicting the colonial architecture heritage of the districts. This exhibition is more stark and the tones range from misty grey to charcoal.

Nandy has a fine eye for detail and his lens focuses on the rich, though sparingly used, embellishments on the mosques and massive portals of Gaud. The huge masses of masonry with their rows of domes above are present in all their weight and gravity. The Bais Gaji wall that used to enclose the royal palace is several feet deep and has a height to match. The multi-cusped arches inside Gunmant Masjid look as if they would leap into the air like a ballet dancer.

Apart from the architecture, there are photographs where Nandy captures the mood of the moment. The large expanse of water near the Bais Gaji wall, the Bridge of the Seven Arches with a jeep and some men on it, the lyrical views of the Bhagirathi and of the double embankment.

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