Lighting and laser projection on some of Delhi’s iconic monuments in the run-up to the G20 summit has incited outrage among culture enthusiasts and citizens alike. Monuments such as Qutub Minar and Red Fort had been earlier illuminated aesthetically, but are now covered in multi-coloured garish lights. 

In the lead-up to the summit, Delhi has undergone a striking transformation, one that has ignited a passionate debate among its residents and experts alike. While the city’s historical landmarks have seen extensive restoration, beautification and enhancement efforts, it’s the recent introduction of vibrant, multi-colored lights that has stirred major heartburn among culture enthusiasts.

Disappointments galore

The city’s monumental makeover encompassed several iconic sites, from the tomb of Quli Khan in Mehrauli to a Mughal-era mosque, a gateway, and a turret at Lodhi Garden, along with Gol Gumbad and a Gumti near the Indira Gandhi International Airport. These changes aimed to create a visually appealing backdrop for the upcoming international summit. However, not everyone is pleased with the results.

Renowned historian and Jaipur Literature Festival co-director, William Dalrymple, couldn’t hide his disappointment, and took to social media to lament, “Oh dear: why oh why can’t India’s spectacular monuments have a proper, well-trained conservation agency with a decent budget looking after them, rather than undergoing a rush job every time there is some splashy international gathering?”

Delhi boasts of an impressive 173 monuments and heritage sites. An Archeological Survey of India (ASI) representative stated that there was no specific mandate to uplift all of the city’s monuments. ASI undertook extensive work to make these sites “more appealing” including cleaning, careful repairs, beautification, and even painting.

Not everyone is thrilled with these changes.

Beautification, nay vandalism

Architect, urban planner and conservation consultant AGK Mennon said that historical monuments are like historical documents and should be treated with care and respect. He condemned the alterations as “vandalism:, asserting that beautification should not come at the expense of authenticity.

“These monuments are a part of our history. They are technically historical documents, you cannot meddle with historical documents. There are protocols to converse with them. There is no question of ‘beautifying’ them. This is vandalism.” He added, “We are beautifying these monuments right now because foreign delegates are visiting the city, but all it shows is poor taste.”

The use of projection mapping to showcase the summit’s logo on these monuments has drawn both attention and criticism. While projection mapping is not uncommon for iconic landmarks globally, many Delhi locals and experts have decried the choice of fluorescent magenta, pink, blue and green lights as “atrocious” and “tacky.”

“Substandard work”

Gautam Bhattacharya, a veteran lighting designer, expressed disappointment at the replacement of warm and beautiful lights on the Qutub Minar with brighter colors. He criticised the projection mapping for lacking concept, aesthetics, and color psychology, calling it “substandard” compared to global standards.

Even Delhi’s renowned gardens received a facelift with freshly pruned foliage and flags of participating nations proudly displayed. However, these changes failed to appease the critics.

Historian Sohail Hashmi articulated the concerns of many, stating, “The lighting all across the city is, to put it simply, horrible. There is no color scheme; we are using reds instead of oranges. Even the fountains are not properly aligned. Is this the memory we want to leave for children who see these places for the first time?”