Photographer Vinay R Thakur had to call in the fire brigade for this one. It was the only way to get the perfect shot of the Supreme Court of India. Hoisted in a basket nearly 45m high, Thakur had to get as close as he could to the building to get a clear view of its shape. Spread across 17 acres, designed by chief architect Ganesh Bhikaji Deolalikar, the first Indian to helm the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), the final court of appeal in the country is shaped to resemble the scales of justice. “It turned out just the way we had imagined it,” says Thakur.
His latest book, Architecture of Justice: A Pictorial Walk-through of the Supreme Court and the High Courts of India (Rs 6,000), co-authored with Mumbai-based visual artist Amogh Thakur, presents the buildings against the backdrop of their history and context. The 223-page coffee-table tome is self-published and is a sequel to Vinay’s earlier book, The Courts of India — Past to Present (2016), where he showed the Supreme Court, the 24 high courts and 12 benches.
Thakur says, “As a lawyer, one rarely stops to appreciate the beauty of a courtroom building, even though you visit the place every day. My training and experience in photography helped me look at the court building in a completely different light as against when I was a practising lawyer. I started noticing the more aesthetic side of the building, and, in the process, learnt many new aspects. For instance, I learnt, that the central hallway that leads to the courtrooms, is called the ‘Piano Nobile’, drawing from its European architectural background. Also, the official seal of the court engraved in stone signifies the protection of dharma, wealth and power.”
Nagpur-based Thakur presents the structural magnificience of some of India’s finest high courts. One sees the Nizam’s distinguished style in Hyderabad, with the long verandahs and royal durbar hall; in Madras, the Chief Justice’s court with its exquisite stained glass, fretted woodwork, silvered panels and painted ceiling make a charmed appearance; while the colonnades in Calcutta and Bombay’s Gothic touch in its stairs and carvings testify to the grandeur of these hallowed temples of justice.
Senior advocate Harish Salve in the Foreward to the book, writes: “The walls of these buildings have been silent spectators to great moments…These monuments have been constant when everything else has changed about the legal system. They have retained their grace and beauty, and have battled age and the elements.”
An interesting aspect among the quietness of these buildings are the photos of proceedings at the Gauhati High Court, Itanagar Bench. “I was amazed to see how a rudimentary system of justice deliverance applies even today. It seemed like life was moving in reverse. The customs, the costumes of tribal elders, and the reverence of the locals to a system, was unreal. However, these practices are steadily on the wane, and a more modern method of justice is slowly making its way into this system,” says Thakur.
Filled with interesting trivia and anecdotes, the book is a look at “a piece of history from India’s pre-Independence days.” “It tell us stories of rulers and kingdoms and their outlook to art and architecture. Unfortunately, the newer buildings don’t really live up to the stature of these erstwhile constructions,” says Thakur.