Carr Stephen: “The Archaeology and Monumental Remains of Delhi”

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

2010-06-08

The Archaeology and Monumental Remains of Delhi
Carr Stephen

Aryan Books International
ISBN 81-7305-222-0

I bought this book many years ago, when I first started photographing the monuments of mediaeval Delhi. I was familiar with the history of the period, but knew very little about its buildings, or about the way they were built, fell into ruins, and were later excavated. Much of what I know now, I learned from this book.

The preface begins:

The following pages contain a description and history of every object of archaeological or monumental interest in, or about, Sháhjahánabád or Modern Delhi: beginning with the site of the semi-mythical Indra-prastha, the capital of Yudishthira, which dates back to the year 1450 B.C., and concluding with the tomb of Emperor Akbar II, who died in the year A.D. 1837.

Delhi is filled with buildings from that period, and I found it very rewarding to follow the evolution of its distinctive architectural style with this book. As someone who had, for the most part, read history as a rambling story and was just beginning to pay attention to the process of acquiring historical knowledge, I found Carr Stephen's writings to be a pleasant and practical introduction to historical research (though that is not what they are meant to be).

The book covers 135 monuments in roughly chronological order, and in considerable detail, providing historical and architectural context, excerpts from other works, and translations of selected inscriptions. Its account of the development over a few hundred years of the Qutab Minar complex, and how the ruins were excavated and restored, added an entirely new dimension to my appreciation of the monument. (Unfortunately, many of the less well-known monuments are hard to find, and their condition is severely degraded from the time the book was written.)

It was first published in 1876, and was long out of print before being reprinted in 2002 by Aryan Books International. The new edition includes reproductions of many fascinating old illustrations and maps. It is not easily available, and at INR1800 is too expensive for the casual reader, but invaluable to anyone seriously interested in the history of Delhi.

Aryan Books also publishes Zafar Hasan's more comprehensive (and even more expensive!) four-volume survey of the “Monuments of Delhi: Lasting Splendour of the Great Mughals and Others”. Written at the beginning of the last century, it covers 1200 monuments, and has translations of the inscriptions on many of them. It covers the major monuments in detail, but many obscure (and, unfortunately, long gone) buildings receive only a brief mention.