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Posted at: Nov 17, 2019, 8:36 AM; last updated: Nov 17, 2019, 8:36 AM (IST)

Granada and its India connect

Some dance forms and architecture in this Spanish town have an obvious Indianness about them

Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

In Spain we found the greatly celebrated descendants of Jats; the curious origin of the US dollar sign; and a Spanish Babri moment with a happy resolution. We discovered all this in Granada. Granada reminded us of our home. It spreads across a valley at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains as Dehra spreads in a valley at the feet of Mussoorie’s range. 

For 800 years, today’s Catholic Spain was a Muslim nation. In Granada, Moorish merchant-princes once lived in walled mansions with vine-shaded courtyards. This is a leisurely, shopping-browsing, area now. A woman in a caftan ambled past a bearded man in chappals, arranging bright displays of tooled leather. A trader held out a pair of black shoes, saying “genuine toro bravo hide”. A toro bravo is a fighting bull. The Mediterranean farmers gave the bull roughly the same pride of place as the Vedic pastoralists gave to the cow. They, however, treated bulls as symbols of power, manliness and wealth, to be challenged and subdued, not propitiated. Spain’s famed bull fights and the Tamils’ jallikattu are expressions of this combative ethos.

Spirit of eclecticism

Later, in the old town, we found another historic Indian connection. One night we entered cave-like dwellings off the steep streets of the Sacromonte district. These cuevas are the homes of the gypsies noted for their lively flamenco dances. The origin of the flamenco have been traced back to migrating Jat tribes and many features of their renowned dance resembled those of the Kalbelia of Rajasthan: their costumes, verve, singing, hand movements, foot stamping and use of castanets were similar. The atmosphere of the cuevas was electric with the crashing guitars, the rat-a-tat-tat of the dancers’ heels and the appreciative shouts of ‘Ole’! Significantly, their guitar, which is an essential instrument of their music, is called a baja. 

We saw the same spirit of eclecticism in the great cathedral in the heart of Granada. Its massive walls had been raised when it was the principal mosque of this once-Muslim city. “It was only after the old mosque had begun to crumble with age that it had been reconstructed as a church,” explained a guide. The cathedral was awesomely magnificent. It dominated the heart of the town, light filtering through its great stained glass dome, glinting off an emperor’s ransom of gold plundered by Spanish conquerors from the kingdoms of South America. Local people still refer to their cathedral as the mezquita: the mosque. They also still refer to their magnificent fort by its Arabic name: Alhambra.

Islamic connection

Formidable and exquisitely impressive at the same time, the Alhambra expresses the finely-honed tastes of many generations of Spanish people who practised the Islamic faith. They were followed by the present rulers who, with amazing maturity, preserved and built on their predecessors’ achievements and created an eclectic culture. This is its greatest appeal to digitally-empowered global travellers questing for bonding across the globe. Increasingly, tourists want to relate to other cultures.

Walking around this great complex, we were frequently reminded of our own Mughal heritage. There was an unending series of beautiful palaces, halls with exquisitely carved ceilings, corridors with delicate columns and arches patterned after encrusted stalactites. The fountains, reflecting pools and formal gardens reminded us of Kashmir’s Shalimar. Both were the architectural dreams of people from arid lands hankering after their vision of the cool, watered, Gardens of Paradise.

In their Gardens we also discovered an interesting design. It expressed the courage of Christopher Columbus in defying the belief that two rocks, called the Pillars of Hercules, marked the ends of the world. He sailed through them and discovered America for Spain. This achievement was captured in this design, which later evolved into the US dollar sign.

Looking for a souvenir that would capture the magic of the Alhambra, we chose an alicatado tile. Their patterns, more intricate than a yantra, expressed both the dynamism and the complexity of reality, captured in mosaics of inlaid stone and ceramic. Social, cultural and military revolutions could be seen as historic wrongs, when viewed up close and personal. But, in the longer perspective of history, they fall into place as the inevitable swing of the pendulum of heritage back to its central position.

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