A faith chronicled

A faith chronicled

If the study of religions, history and architecture fascinates you, then this is one photography exhibition you just cannot miss. World-renowned archival conservationist photographer Benoy K Behl’s latest exhibition- on Islamic monuments in India is being held at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan currently.

India has the largest herit­a­ge of Islamic architecture anywhere in the world. Not only do we have the maximum number of monuments of medieval Islam but also the finest and most varied kinds – a fact unknown to many. Benoy says, “Probably, the only piece of Islamic architecture in India known worldwide is Taj Mahal. But what we do not know is that the second oldest mosque in the world, after Mecca-Madina, is also in India. The Cheraman mosque in Kerala was built in 3-4 Hijri (the beginning of the Islamic calendar) which was within the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad.”

“During my past 34 years of work as a photographer of ancient monuments, when this realisation dawned upon me, I felt that someone needs to reveal this to the world. We, as Indians, must know how rich the religious-cultural heritage of our country is.”

From here onwards, Benoy started to put together photographs of Islamic architecture in India – monuments, mosques and dargahs, that he had collected during his many sojourns. For the sites which he hadn’t photographed, but felt were essential for this exhibition, he undertook another tour in 2011 across the length and breadth of the country. This journey took him from the northern-most tip of India – Kashmir to the southern-most in Kerala, from the western-most edge- Rann of Kutch in Gujarat to the eastern most in Tripura; and the results were amazing.

“It was a breathtaking expe­rience,” recollects Benoy. “Take for example, the ziarats (dargahs of saints) in Kashmir. They are carved of wood – a style of architecture unique to that region and they are exquisite, to say the least. Then, there is the Fatehpur Sikri Fort of Akbar in Agra, UP – the place where this great emperor held meetings with leaders of all faiths on his self-propagated religion - Din-e-Ilahi.

“It is made in Rajput style architecture with Persian influences – a confluence of cultures which only fair-minded and artistic rulers like Akbar could bring.”

“The Champaner heritage site in Gujarat has a number of monuments reflecting the excellent workmanship of Gujarati artists while Gedu Mian ki masjid in Agartala is certainly not as big but a beautiful monument to visit. The Gol Gumbaz of Bijapur, Karnataka, on the other hand, has the largest dome in the world of Islamic monuments, and only the second among monuments all faiths after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.”

After having photographed all of the above, and more, Benoy is already set to leave for Indonesia, Malaysia and then Bangladesh to photograph Islamic monuments in those countries. In all, he will cover 44 countries and present all these photographs at the Dargah Ajmer Sharif on the occasion of Prophet Muhammad’s birth anniversary in January next year.

“But the focus will still be India and how this great nation has contributed the maximum to Islamic architecture in the world,” says Benoy.  

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