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When Sir John Marshall — Director General of Archaeological Survey of India from 1902 to 1928 — was conducting the restoration of Sanchi Stupa,his host was the Queen of Bhopal.

Written by Vandana Kalra |
September 9, 2010 3:58:58 am

An ongoing exhibition of Sir John Marshall’s photo albums offers glimpses of the archaeological history of India

When Sir John Marshall — Director General of Archaeological Survey of India from 1902 to 1928 — was conducting the restoration of Sanchi Stupa,his host was the Queen of Bhopal. “It was comfortable living,with all the regalia,” says archivist Joyoti Roy,as she moves towards a photograph of Marshall on an elephant,accompanied by an entourage. The image is among the 50 plus frames from the British official’s collection that is now framed on the walls of Shridharani Gallery at Triveni Kala Sangam. “Several rules of restoration laid by him are still followed by archaeologists in India,” adds Roy. So appropriately,just before the exhibition opened,in one corner of the hall,Rahaab Allana,curator at Alkazi Foundation for the Arts was playing a video that juxtaposed photographs of historical monuments from Marshall’s albums with their current images,including the Surya Temple at Martand,Char Minar in Hyderabad,Agra Fort and Jama Masjid in Delhi. “This will help give visitors a perspective,” says Allana,flipping through pages of the publication,Marshall Albums-Photography and Archaeology (edited by Dr Sudeshna Guha) that was released alongside the exhibition.

In the sepia photographs — acquired by Alkazi Foundation at Sotheby’s auction in 1995 — the viewer gets a glimpse of India’s archeological history. It includes the “earliest known” photographs of Sanchi taken by James Waterhouse,director of photographic division of Calcutta in the 1880s; Alexander Hunter photographs the seven pagodas in Mahabalipuram in the 1850s as well as images of the restoration of Diwan-e-Khas at Royal Palace in Agra,dated 1906,and the Tomb of Iltutmish in 1919. In one image showcasing restoration work at the Ajanta Caves,Allana points to British military officer Robert Gill,who stayed on the site for several years to paint it in his watercolours and photograph it. “He married a native woman there,” adds Allana.

Meanwhile,detailed captions pasted alongside each frame and the text from the publication add to the information. One section comprises photographs of the Marshall family — among others,at the Eastern Gateway of Sanchi Stupa and Marshall with Edward VIII,who visited Taxila in 1922. In another,one finds photographs documenting conservation work conducted in India before Marshall was assigned the task by Lord Curzon. The myth that Marshall was actively involved at all restoration sites is also dispelled. The publication talks of how,with the exception of Taxila and Sanchi,he was not present at any site “for not more than two seasons”. This includes Mohenjadaro ,Sarnath,Rajgir and Nalanda.

“The archival photographs have an educational role,” says Allana. While the current display fulfills the purpose,soon Allana will be back to sifting through the archives — this time to pull out heritage photographs of Delhi,for an exhibition slated in October.

The exhibition is on till September 16. Contact 23719470

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