Sandstone and Impressions That Last Forever

Oh boy, what you can do with sandstone. You’ll find the most intricate, delicate shapes in sandstone. This is because it’s softer to carve than granite or marble. This allows highly-decorated temples and mausoleums to be carved of sandstone. It’s like they’re embroidered with zari borders of stone, and ornamented with sequins of sand. And they stand the test of time. Let’s see some famous samples from India …

Patterns at Fatehpur Sikri. Image credit: meinzahn of 123RF stock photo:

At the Red Fort in Delhi. Image credit: imagex of 123RF stock photo:

I don’t know exactly where this pattern is from, but it is the sort of pattern with Islamic and Middle Eastern roots that is common in North India. Image credit: anyamay of 123RF stock photo:

Patterns carved in sandstone at Fatehpur Sikri. Image credit: mrpeak, 123RF stock photo:

Carved detail in a wall of the Red Fort. Image credit: carlesneto, 123RF stock photo:

Here are more patterns from the Red Fort. Image credit: saiko3p, 123RF stock photo:

Fatehpur Sikri was a capital of the Mughal Empire for a very short while during the 16th century. Because red sandstone was readily available in the area, the city is built entirely with it. Not too long after it was constructed, it was mostly abandoned, until the late 1800s. It’s only about 40 kilometers from Agra and the Taj Mahal, so if you’re traveling to the area, it’s worth visiting Fatehpur Sikri.

The Red Fort is in Old Delhi, and was a residence of Mughal emperors centuries ago. It’s a massive complex covering 255 acres. The name Red Fort comes from the red sandstone. Designs carved into the sandstone are a Mughal style blend from Persia, Europe and India.

Both are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites so their art can be preserved for all to enjoy. I’ve shared close-up patterns here, but you can always search Google Images to see panoramic photos.

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The Patterns of the Cholas, Part 3

In Part 2 I introduced you to the Cholas, an empire that governed parts of South India many centuries ago. While they ruled, they built enormous and astounding stone temples for Hindu gods during the 10th to 12th centuries. Several temples are now protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They’re called The Great Living Chola Temples:

I haven’t yet had the chance to visit temples from the Chola period and photograph them myself. So to show you some patterns from them, I purchased stock photos from

Via anandkrish16, 123RF Stock Photo:

Via anandkrish16, 123RF Stock Photo:

Via dimol, 123RF Stock Photo:

Via anandkrish16, 123RF Stock Photo:

Above are close-up photos I found of bas relief and patterns carved into stone. But you’ll find beautiful patterns on the exterior too. Via obelix, 123RF Stock Photo:

While researching temples of the Chola period, I learned a few interesting things:

  • The Gangaikondacholapuram temple was deemed a good source of stones by a British officer, who ordered its demolition. Locals protested and the temple was saved. Really, I’m cool with knocking down an old Pizza Hut building and replacing it, but some architecture should be left alone!
  • My suspicions were confirmed — that the Dravidian style architecture carried forth by the Cholas was also the inspiration for Angkor temples, including Angkor Wat. The steep towers and the columned galleries should be recognizable to visitors of both South Indian and Angkor temples.
  • The granite used to build massive Chola temples at Thanjavur is not native to the area. So huge granite blocks were transported from very long distances away. It would be interesting to see how they designed/engineered the transportation but unfortunately I don’t think there’s an Indian da Vinci who left drawings for us.
  • Ruling empires that came after the Cholas sometimes built onto the temples or painted over Chola art. So to be honest, I really don’t know if the patterns above are truly “Chola patterns.” It takes obsessively diligent tracking to identify the provenance of an area of a temple, much more than you get from a stock photography website’s descriptions!
  • In one area of the largest Chola temple, there are 108 carvings of dance postures. Doesn’t the number 108 show up everywhere in history.
  • The inner sanctum of these temples is designed as a home for the deity that is there. It’s not designed to hold throngs of human worshippers. This is why these areas are small. I did not know that. This explains why, after a harrowing climb up two sets of 70-degree (plus or minus, doesn’t matter, they’re steep!) stairs at Angkor Wat, reaching the inner sanctum for Vishnu was so … anti-climactic. It was not designed to thrill tourists. And yes that’s a surprise many people may not know and another connection between Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and India — Angkor Wat is a temple for the Hindu god, Vishnu.

I found gorgeous photos of many more patterns carved into temples throughout India. More will be shared here!

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The Patterns of the Cholas, Part 2 (with a little side trip to Angkor Wat)

In part 1 of this series, I revealed that I’m seeking design and pattern inspiration from South India for our apartment there. The Chola era is first up for inspiration. Let’s get onto this journey into history!

So, who were the Cholas? They were a dynasty that ruled parts of India and beyond for many centuries during the Middle Ages. They spoke Tamil, a language with lyrical-looking letters that lives on today. They were a literate, educated society that connected with other cultures through overseas trade. Roman and Chinese coins can be found in the Indian earth they ruled.

Chola Parvati
Chola Parvati (Photo credit: Peter L Barker)

They were builders of massive temples and lovers of many arts: sculpture, dance, music, theater and architecture. I’m sure they had their own versions of Michelangelo and DaVinci in their time; we just don’t know today who the Chola creative geniuses were.

The Cholas left a legacy of temple architecture and bronze sculptures that extends beyond India, into Southeast Asia. In fact there’s some resemblance between the architecture of South India temples and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat! This connection, you will see, will pop up a few times while I explore Chola patterns.

Here are temples from the Chola period in India:

A temple from the Chola period. The Cholas uni...
A temple from the Chola period. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: This is the architectural marvel buil...
Temple built by Raja Raja Chola. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Rajarajesvaram Temple, Chola Dynasty,...
Rajarajesvaram Temple, Chola Dynasty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Compare with Angkor Wat photos from Cambodia, taken during our trip there:

Most Chola pattern inspiration for the India apartment will come from the stone temples built by the Cholas. To find patterns, you have to step up close. Because the profiles of many temples are so iconic, rather than repeating those photos, I like to stand close to get the details you don’t often see. I like to imagine while standing there, photographing a carved column, that a person stood in the same spot so many centuries ago. Carving. And carving, and carving some more. Seeming endless carving.

How long were they there working? How old were they? Did they have children or were they still children themselves? What were they wearing? Did they enjoy their work here? Or were they under duress? Did they get injuries? Was their blood and sweat on this same stone? What did they think about while carving? What did they talk about with their fellow craftsmen? Did they sing while working?

Yes, I close my eyes for a moment and try to see the people who were here in this same spot, making this place possible. Imagining who made sights like this possible at Angkor Wat:

When I think of patterns from India Chola temples that I’d like to weave into the India apartment, it is carvings like these from Angkor that I had in mind.

And, I have found some! To be shared in the next post …

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The Patterns of the Cholas, Part 1

You don’t need much knowledge about India design to know that India is bursting with color and pattern. Widely varying patterns too, did you know? There are so many regions and peoples across India, and their histories and cultures are reflected in the patterns in their architecture, homes, jewels and clothing. Their patterns tell their stories. From the chunky tribal designs of Nagaland in the northeast …

… to the fine gold and silk weaves of Kancheepuram in the south …

But honestly, I’m a very elementary student in this world of India pattern. I grew up in a suburban Midwestern U.S. home devoid of noticeable patterns. (Well except for the Fair Isle sweaters … and some crochet square afghans made by great aunts in the 70s.) No criticisms, it’s just the way it is in many homes here. Having traveled through my adult life and seen everything from bold  Acoma Native American pottery in the Southwest to shimmering red and gold Thai palaces … wow, there’s a whole world of pattern out there. It’s time to bring it closer to home …

Continue reading “The Patterns of the Cholas, Part 1”

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