Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stones that speak

After 32 years in IIT, Delhi, what inspired Professor S. Swaminathan to write about Mahabalipuram? Gowri Ramnarayan meets the engineer-turned-author

How did a mechanical engineer turn into an expert in ancient monuments? How did Professor S. Swaminathan, after 32 years at IIT, Delhi produce a coffee table book on Mahabalipuram: Unfinished Poetry in Stone with photographs by Ashok Krishnaswamy?

A casual trip to Ajanta in 1963 triggered a life-changing experience. Swaminathan realised that he had no background on the breathtaking wonders of the 29 caves. “Our monuments have become picnic spots. We have no understanding of heritage.” His anguish took positive shape when he devised a course in art and technology. “IIT is an export zone. The student's mind is in the U.S., he knows Cincinnati, not Tiruchirapalli. But a 5,000-year-old heritage cannot be trivial! Where is identity without culture?”

Five years of research on Ajanta resulted in a book with exhaustive details about every cave and fresco — location, layout, stylistic phases, politics, patronage, theme, composition, technique, pigment — even details about portrayal of women and methods of rendering limbs.

Full report here Hindu

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