Old Motifs for the New World

Did you know that the motif of the ‘Tree of Life’, which appears on the logo of India’s premier management school, The Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad (IIM-A), takes its inspiration from an exquisitely carved stone latticework jaali or window of a 16th-century mosque in Ahmedabad.

Popularly known as ‘Siddi Saiyyad ni jaali’, or the Jaali of Siddi Saiyyad the mosque is one of the most iconic monuments of Ahmedabad, and a must stop for visiting dignitaries.

In 1880s De Forest, an American interior designer was so inspired by the intricate craftsmanship and the work done here that he set up the Ahmedabad Woodcarving Company in 1881

The latticework jaali decorates the arches of the Siddi Saiyyed mosque situated in the old City of Ahmedabad . The mosque was built in 1572 CE by  a Siddi (Abyssinian) official named Siddi Saiyyed who served under Sultan Muzaffar III of Gujarat. Built of yellow sandstone, the mosque is considered the finest-known example of the pre Mughal Gujarat sultanate architectural style and ironically also its last. Just a year after it was built, in 1573 CE, the Mughal armies defeated Muzaffar III and annexed Gujarat to the Mughal empire. This is also probably why, the mosque remained incomplete.

Siddi Saiyyed Mosque
Siddi Saiyyed Mosque|Harsunit Pal

There are a total of eight arched windows which are adorned with beautiful jaali work in the mosque. The most significant of them has the exquisite ‘Tree of Life’ carved on it. Local legend claims that a total of 45 craftsmen worked on these jaalis.

The mosque and its intricate jaali’s were mostly forgotten until the 19th century when it was brought into prominence by the efforts of the noted American interior designer Lockwood De Forest, who first popularised Indian crafts in the United States.

During a visit to India in the 1880s, De Forest was so inspired by the intricate craftsmanship and the work done here that he set up the Ahmedabad Woodcarving Company in 1881. The company employed local craftsmen from Ahmedabad to create exquisite furniture, which was then sold to wealthy Americans.

Lockwood de Forest in Greek costume
Lockwood de Forest in Greek costume|Wikimedia Commons

The Ahmedabad jaali was showcased at the 1903 Delhi Durbar Exhibition and photos from this exhibition traveled across the world

Amongst the first local designs that DeForest got copied was the jaali work from the Siddi Saiyyed Mosque. This jaali soon became so popular that by late 1880s,  a wooden model of the jaali was even put on display at the South Kensington Museum in London.

The Ahmedabad jaali was also incorporated in The Bombay Room, a display of the arts and crafts of Bombay province, showcased at the 1903 Delhi Durbar Exhibition. The photos from this exhibition traveled across the world.  From then on, the mosque and the jaali continued to be used as the ubiquitous motif or symbol to represent the city of Ahmedabad.

IIM - Ahmedabad official logo
IIM - Ahmedabad official logo|Wikimedia Commons via IIM-A

Not surprising then, that when in 1961 Ahmedabad got its most famous institute, The Indian Institute of Management, IIM-A took inspiration from this unofficial symbol and made it its own by making it part of the official logo. Different IIMs have different logos depending on the designs that inspired them at the time of thier formation. For eg, IIM-Bangalore has the rising sun, while IIM-Indore has four quadrants, that represent that business management is multi-dimentional.

Even today, the Siddi Saiyyed mosque and its exquisite jaali ‘s continue to enthrall visitors as well as art connoisseurs, alike.


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