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Flyer for Aditi Chandra's talk

On Becoming a Monument: Landscaping, Views, and Tourists at Delhi’s Qutb Complex

Lecture: Other UCB Archaeology | April 29 | 5:15-7 p.m. | 425 Doe Library

Aditi Chandra, Lecturer, Visual Studies, California College of the Arts

Asian Art and Visual Cultures Townsend Working Group, Institute for South Asia Studies

Most scholarship on the afterlives of monuments, in the South Asian context, argues that monuments are sites of knowledge-production. The monument, it is said, has the power to shape the knowledge about a nation’s past and become a repository of its history and identity. I make an intervention by considering the reverse. Rather than accepting that monuments only produce knowledge, I suggest that certain forms of knowledge also produce the monument as a socio-cultural and physical construct operating in the public sphere. I link the notion of “becoming a monument” to a set of processes through which the usage and function of the site are defined. This talk will discuss one such process, that is, the landscaping works conducted by British authorities at Delhi’s twelfth to fourteenth-century Qutb Complex from the 1820s until 1922.

Although the Qutb Complex and the adjacent town, Mehrauli with its Sufi shrines, had become a pilgrimage destination for the Mughal Emperors even before the presence of the British in Delhi, the notion of “getting away” from the bustle of the city to the lush environs of the Qutb became popular as the Muslim elite began to associate with the British penchant for the picturesque. As court painters began to create views for the newly emerging tourist, the diverse buildings at the Qutb, including a mosque, madrasa, royal tombs, and minarets were made “intelligible” to European and wealthy Indian visitors in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in a zone enclosed for the elite. This was done by acquiring surrounding land, closing public access roads, planting grass and trees, and creating circular approach roads like those in English manor houses. Landscaping has rarely been examined as an integral part of colonial archaeology. Doing so reveals that it was the creation of precisely designed picturesque landscapes around historical structures, at the cost of those living around them, that defined the site as a monument only to be used for leisure and contemplation.