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review - The Guide to the Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent By Takeo Kamiya. English edition, Goa, India, 2004. EU 23 Distributor: www. indoarch. org / archauto@sancharnet. in

Few countries in the world can boast an architectural tradition as varied and longlived as that of India. Spanning more than 2,000 years, Indian building traditions range from Buddhist sanctuaries hollowed out of basalt cliffs to sandstone Hindu temples with soaring towers and white marble Jain shrines with intricately carved ceilings. There are the palaces and tombs of the Mughal emperors (like the legendary Taj Mahal), European-style law courts, and railway stations erected by British colonialists.

Those authors who attempt a comprehensive survey of Indian architecture in a single volume are generally frustrated by shortage of space. Only too often there is a lack of photographs to adequately convey the technical virtuosity and diverse aesthetic qualities of India's religious and secular buildings. Here, at last, is a compact volume in guidebook form that truly does justice to the subject, at least visually.

Architects should feel comfortable, for the emphasis here is on photographs, site maps and building plans rather than continuous text. The format is geared to travellers, with the buildings arranged according to itineraries for the different parts of India. Regional maps locate 280 cities, towns and sites, among which are some remote spots that are little visited but of considerable merit: the spectacular fort at Gingee in Tamil Nadu, the diminutive brick shrines at Baranagar in West Bengal, the imposing domed tomb at Sasaram in Bihar, the towering palace-temple at Sarahan in the wooded hills of Himachal Pradesh.

Indeed, where else could anyone planning a tour anticipate the mysteries of the subterranean step-well at Adalaj in Gujarat, the elegance of the tiled-roof Hindu temples at Vaikom and Tiruvalla in Kerala, or the eccentric delights of the Indo-Saracenic palace at Kolhapur in Maharashtra?

Kamiya's extensive visual coverage juxtaposes general views of buildings with expertly lit interiors and constructional and decorative details. The abundance of images serves the double purpose of informing and seducing, and few readers will be able to resist their visual appeal.

When we learn that Kamiya made no less than 12 trips to India to assemble the 1,800 or so photographs and 300 site maps and plans reproduced here, we begin to understand the magnitude of his endeavour. The short texts accompanying the visuals should satisfy most readers, for they supply the basic information on architectural materials, form, purpose, chronology and patronage. What does it matter if the treatment rarely moves beyond the merely descriptive and there is little space for analysis? In any case, the essential data is supplemented by a useful glossary of architectural terms, reading list, index of places and schematic timeline.

So, no more excuses - start planning your architectural trip to India now!

George Michell is an architectural historian

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