September 20, 2016

Professor Examines Cultural Lessons in Delhi Ruins

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Prof. Vivek Anand Taneja, religious studies and anthropology, Vanderbilt University, explored the implications of thought, ethics and utility on the viewing of medieval ruins in modern day Delhi at a lecture Tuesday.

Taneja said he has done extensive research on the history of Mughal-era Delhi ruins and their impact on modern day communities.

Taneja opened his talk by illustrating current tensions between the Archaeological Survey of India — the governing body responsible for the preservation of cultural monuments and documents — and the local population.

“Records were in disarray, moth eaten, and the files illustrated a culture, not of authorized memory, but of authorized forgetting,” Taneja said, adding that the push for a more secular state led to neglect of Islamic records.

Even while not fully appreciated by the Indian government, many of these ruins have now become fully functional living spaces.

“In the ruins of Firoz Shah Kotla, worshippers write letters of appeal to jinns [saints] and deposit them in various niches and alcoves as if writing to a government office,” Taneja said. “The 14th century comes together with the 21st in the ruins of a medieval space of sovereignty, as people walk through thick masonry walls and high arched passageways, indexing another way of being than that afforded by the craft, boxy architecture of contemporary Delhi.”

Taneja emphasized the influence of jinns on oral traditions and common folklore.

“All time in Delhi becomes the endless present, except the stories told about jinns in contemporary Delhi, where long lived jinns act as messengers of transformative authority and blessings, connecting mankind millennia apart in time,” he said.

When asked about the lessons society can garner from his research, he said people should make “a greater effort to make these monuments, and monuments like these around the world not just places to be looked at, but places where people can live.”

“What I think people should learn is that the coexistence of these religious spaces and urban places throughout the city, is that they are not incompatible — that they can be brought together and have different forms of life coming together in one place,” he said.