Masons at Work

Pushkar Sohoni
University of Pennsylvania
Exploiting Slippage: Patronage, Building Technology, and Guilds
Using architecture from the sixteenth century, I will demonstrate how construction technology can be used to understand the relationship between patronage, style and 'influence'. In the Deccan, an area of peninsular India, the Nizam Shahs of Ahmadnagar (1490–1636) aspired to Iranian models of kingship and fashioned themselves along the lines of Persianate polities. The reasons for this aspiration were many, in part attributed to the Shi'i Islam, at the time centered in Safavid Iran, to which the Nizam Shahs subscribed. The Nizam Shahs strove and succeeded in attracting a large number of migrants from the Middle East to their kingdom. Their ideological and religious affiliation with Iranian lands was often given material expression in the form of the visual arts.

To construct design ideals from the larger Islamic world, local construction technology was used. While construction work was a bottom - up process, involving guilds and workmen who had learnt their craft through practice and gesture, the designers and patrons were nobility or literati, and their design principles were theoretically derived from geometry, models, drawings or literary memory. The imposition of designs was thus a top - down process. The friction between the design and the construction set up a variety of binaries: imported and indigenous, elite and vernacular, theoretical and practical. An investigation into construction practices with respect to design, therefore, cannot be limited to stylistic analysis. Utilizing a non-destructive archaeological approach of close observation, measurement and digital reconstruction, I interrogate construction details for a better understanding the processes of fashioning monuments. The results also become a contribution to the social history of the period.