ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Scalloping Away

Many years ago, I spent a short while at a Biology Research Center - the idea was to learn (and do research in) Molecular Biology. Sometime during that short-lived experiment (I left the place, having totally failed to cope with the work, but that is not the story here!), I got to attend a Research Presentation. A lady researcher spoke on some deeply specialized aspect of fruitfly genetics and kept mentioning something called 'scalloped' almost as if the word was a noun (rather than a past-participle it very much sounded like) - "Scalloped gets expressed.... " types.

In those days there was no internet and I did not have the habit of looking up new words. At any rate, I left the place in another day or three so I did not find out what 'scalloped' - or 'scallop' for that matter - meant.

...

A few years down the line, I got a job in a team maintaining a rather elaborate piece of Software controlling milling machines - the software would automatically plot pathways for a cutting tool so that it could fashion a specified component from a lump of metal. One of the issues to be addressed was 'scallops' - long, cusp-cross-sectioned remnants of metal which used to be inevitably left over on the component after the machining operation was done. And in this context the words, 'cusp' and 'scallop' were used synonymously. I already knew well what a 'cusp' was so I did not search for the meaning of 'scallop'(although online dictionaries were available). And again, I did not try to find out what the lady-biologist's 'scalloped' was.

...

Last month, I got to run thru the Red Fort(*) in Delhi. I was particularly impressed by the compact marble edifices and their beautifully proportioned arches. I overheard a guide telling people how the liberal Shah Jahan embellished Islamic buildings with Hindu-style arches (he meant the ones formed by several small arcs with a sharp outward point in the center, for example, this ). Indeed, it is generally observed that arches with just the outward point in the middle (and no arcs) are Muslim and the ones with many arcs plus the central outward point are Hindu - the farthest arch in the above picture is Muslim while the rest are Hindu.

It is also known that Hindu temples, traditionally, never used the arch - they were all post-and-lintel affairs. This was a bit strange because the aesthetic appeal of the arch was well-known here very long ago, judging from the facades of Buddhist caves; perhaps the crucial step of constructing a *structural* arch from appropriately cut stones was never made here until the advent of Muslims(**). And even when the arch was adopted (after some initial resistance, it appears) into temple-designs (both Hindu and Jain) and into secular buildings such as palaces (mostly around Rajasthan), the many-arcs-within-the-arch pattern appears to have been so heavily favored and the single-outward-point one was so totally excluded (both for rather mysterious reasons) that the above 'communal divide' came about. Anyways, *both* patterns were (almost certainly) originally Muslim innovations (so, whether Shah Jahan was being 'secular' with those arches is a little doubtful; he almost certainly did not need to borrow their designs from temples - and Shah Jahan had no reputation for 'reusing' temple portions in his buildings).

Note: The capitals of some of the marble pillars did look unmistakeably temply in style though. And that many-arcs-with-central-outward-point arches are not much seen in Islamic buildings outside this subcontinent may after all indicate *some* Hindu contribution.

After some web-research, I discovered that that the many-arced-arch is often called a 'cusped arch' or 'scalloped arch' (again cusp is synonymous with scallop) - and a google images search with either of these as key will yield several pictures of those lovely Red Fort arches. Another phrase which means pretty much the same is 'multi-foiled arch'. The Moors of Spain, who were basically Muslim, also used many-cusped arches extensively in their buildings (for example, in the Alcazar of Seville which predates the Red Fort by a few decades: or in the more famous Alhambra , which is still older by a couple of centuries).
That the multi-foiled arches of the Moors do not have the central *outward point* maybe a matter of detail; anyways, the absence of this central outward point is, to me, the reason why the Moorish arches do not quite equal in grace the Mughal ones.

Now, to finish the scallop/scalloped story, here is what Merriam-Webster says:

Scallop (noun) =
1. Any of numerous marine,... mollusks, that have a radially ribbed shell...
2. A valve or shell of a scallop
(the logo of Shell Petroleum features a scallop)
3. One of a continuous series of circle segments or angular projections forming a border

Scallop (verb) = to cut or finish in scallops.


As for the fruitfly connection: 'scalloped' is the name of a particular fruitfly (drosophila) gene. Here is an online sample that I found today:

"Scalloped ... encodes a member of the TEA/ATTS-domain family of transcription factors... Scalloped functions downstream of Notch (from the context, another gene) signaling during development of the Drosophila wing and acts as an intermediary between the signaling pathways that pattern the wing and the regulation of wing growth."

I am too tired now to find out what it is about a gene - which is a sequence of biochemical units - that could have scallops. Maybe it is some anatomical feature of the fruitfly (guess: - fringes of its wings) which gets a scalloped appearance when that particular gene is 'expressed'.

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(*) The Red Fort is (mysteriously) not a World Heritage site. Humayun's Tomb (also in Delhi) which is on the list, struck me as a distinctly inferior building - it looks quite impressive from afar but from close quarters, the designs and patterns on its walls - incuding an unusual (to self) 'Star of David' which was repeated all over) - are not quite up to scratch.
Note: On further examining Humayun's Tomb, it looks a lot more impressive viewed from a corner than face on.

There is plenty of detail in the Red Fort which I could only gloss over - a foot square picture of the lute-playing Orpheus(!) atop the imperial box in Diwan-e-aam, the Scales of Justice,... and so much more.

(**) A bright Desi student of Architecture once told me: "If you ask me about ancient Indian architecture, it is, to a good approximation, Zero! No arch, no dome, no grand structural innovations, and no sense of space whatever - just walls and pillars and more walls and more pillars and sculptural decorations all over... Even large temples have only dark and conjested interiors!"

3 Comments:

  • At 2:05 AM, Blogger Manusmriti said…

    Regarding the comments on Indian architecture I'd like to add to your observations. The temple architecture of India is focused
    on their majestic appearance, but not essentially on a common platform unlike the Western monuments of the Norman or Gothic
    styles. In the southern part of India where there are distinct examples of architectural marvels from the Chola, Pallava and
    Chalukya realms, no common principle of architecture prevails to give a sense of continuity. Each monument reflects the distinct style of art that was prevalent during the time: ornamental, majestic, complex and too enormous in size, even if carved out from a single rock. And since none of these rulers ever reigned over the complete geography we now know as India, no distinct style of design was prevalent throughout the nation.

    This is in sharp contrast to the Mughal architecture which originated in the erstwhile Persia and continued through the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as the Mughal Quest developed through these lands. And till the Mughals reached India, individual Indian rulers didn't have a common enemy other than each other. The politics, diplomacy and subsequest interactions with the Mughals have left a significant influence over the Indian architcture as well, and hence the common factor.

     
  • At 5:14 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks manu for visiting.

    as you remark, there is no universal style of temple architecture common to all indians but there is a certain continuity (and commonality of basic plan)in the styles, from tamil nadu to the north. the kerala style is somewhat different, maybe due to chinese influence.

    the mughals did bring iranian and mid-easteran elements and designs but as in the case of the scalloped arch, they seem to have made some serious local adaptations.

     
  • At 5:19 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks manu for visiting.

    as you remark, there is no universal style of temple architecture common to all indians but there is a certain continuity (and commonality of basic plan)in the styles, from tamil nadu to the north. the kerala style is somewhat different, maybe due to chinese influence.

    the mughals did bring iranian and mid-easteran elements and designs but as in the case of the scalloped arch, they seem to have made some serious local adaptations.

     

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