The new book examines over 200 Jali designs with 250 illustrative photographs

‘JALI: LATTICE OF DIVINE LIGHT IN MUGHAL ARCHITECTURE’ by Navina Najat Haidar is an illustrated survey of more than 200 lattice screens of jali, following artists and designers whose contemporary practices are rooted in historical design.

The jali is a glorified art practiced across various Indian cultures. Apart from their aesthetic and cultural significance these architectural marvels can be instrumental in cooling down buildings without electricity, hene they are now seeing a resurgence around the globe in various architectural projects.

Navina Najat Haidar, Curator of the Department of Islamic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York sheds light on how the aesthetic and sustainability used to be integrated in architecture. Penning many famous books like Sultans of the South: Arts of India’s Deccan Courts (both 2011) and Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy (2015), She had been involved in the planning of the museum’s galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.

As per the book, the cob-webbed designs are also found in the temple-inspired designs of the Gujarat Sultanate, in the awe-inspiring Mughal structures, in the stunning  architecture of Rajasthan and central India as well as commanding facades of the Deccan.

The project of documenting them was developed over many years because of the photography and research required over several sites and regions. Working with distinguished photographers such as Sanjit Singh, Ram Rahman, Nirad Grover and Abhinava Goswami.

The skilled techniques of drilling through a surface to create a trellis can be found as early as in the 2nd century BC, such as the rock cut Buddhist chaitya hall at Bedsa, Maharashtra. From those early origins, jali walls became a feature of later temple and shrine architecture, often imitating lost wooden prototypes.

Mughal architecture evolved the Jali feature to an extraordinary height, developing a language of celestial allusion and new styles such the naturalistic trellis, reflecting the ideals of Mughal art.

Embracing European art and ideas, Mughal added the naturalistic flowers and motifs, such as lyres and knots in their architecture, widely seen in the transformations of the Shah Jahan period. These broad trends have been contextualized within the role of each patron, master craftsman or workshop in the book.

In modern times the pierced screen feature is perhaps one of the few features of the past to survive into this mode. From the new museum buildings around the world such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi or the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, to edifices such as the American embassy in New Delhi, the jali feature has been adapted to give the structures specific character while offering practical function.

Jalis have also been employed by renowned architects such as Laurie Baker, for their instrumental role in sustainability and environment friendly designs which favours natural cooling and ventilation of public spaces.

Images by Faqir Chand Bookstore

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