Amit Pasricha’s lens looks at India the way few others do. One of the foremost panoramic photographers in the country, he uses a technique that stitches together multiple images to create a single image that is far larger or wider than a camera can capture, or indeed the human eye can take in at a glance.

A third-generation photographer, Pasricha, 51, has worked on several projects that have been turned into highly acclaimed coffee-table books. They include India at Home, a fascinating account of people from across India captured in their homes, and The Sacred India Book, which examines the role of religion in everyday life, all shot in his signature panoramic style.

India Lost and Found, Pasricha’s new project, looks at obscure, forgotten or simply lesser-known monuments. “Apart from a hundred well-known monuments in India, that are hero-worshipped, everything else is unknown,” said Pasricha. His goal is to achieve more than simply provoking curiosity. And he has found a new language of expression: Instagram.

Chausath Yogini Temple, Mitawali: This magnificent circular structure, with a radius of 18.5 m, was discovered at Mitawali, near Gwalior, and dates back to the 8th century. The temple is dedicated to the collectively worshipped chaunsath (64) yoginis (female divinities): the fierce, bloodthirsty female assistants of Shakti, a form of Devi or the Great Goddess. A female counterpart, counterbalance and equal of the Hindu god Shiva, Shakti is power and manifests herself in several forms, from the sublime to the terrifying. The yoginis are engraved on the temple’s circular inner wall and its 64 rooms, each of which enshrines a lingam, Shiva’s phallic symbol.

Pascricha has always been passionate about India’s architectural splendour and has been increasingly concerned with the apathy many of these structures have been subjected to.

His India Lost and Found already has more than 100 photographs uploaded on Instagram. Among them are Khusro Bagh in Allahabad, forts such as Jaigarh and Mohangarh in Rajasthan, the Pallava temples of Mamallapuram (or Mahabalipuram), ornate and derelict temples in Chhattisgarh, and the colonial forts of Daman and Diu.

Machhi Bhavan: To the west of the Diwan-i-Khaas of the Agra Fort and its terrace is a 17th-century court that is surrounded on three sides by two-storeyed colonnades. This scheme is interrupted in the middle of the south side by a projecting pavilion with fluted columns, intended as a throne niche. The court is known as Machhi Bhavan, or Fish Palace, presumably after the pool in the middle of the garden, that once supplied fish.

India Lost and Found goes beyond being just a collection of photographs. Pasricha is creating a network of academics and enthusiasts that he calls his “patron network”. “This network of people will participate and value-add to the constant feed of images that India Lost and Found will post, with their own insight and thought,” he said. “On Facebook they will share the India Lost and Found feed and on top add their valuable insights and share with their own networks.”

Pasricha says that prominent names like historian William Dalrymple, social worker Laila Tyabji and Arvind Singh Mewar of the Udaipur royal family are among his patrons. The varied areas of expertise and interest of this network is what he hopes will lead to a vibrant discussion on social media, throwing up a lot of information. “Fashion designers may speculate on the fabrics of the times, landscape experts on the quirks of a Lodhi-era monument sitting within an English garden, artists may populate these worlds like a [Thomas] Daniell’s painting, the travel community may consider micro-tours beyond their standards,” he said.

Ajmer Baradaris, 1636, Ana Sagar Lake: To fulfill a vow made as thanksgiving for a successful military campaign, Shah Jahan ordered the construction of a Jami (prayer hall) immediately behind Muin al-Din Chishti’s tomb. The white marble prayer hall has a 45-metre-long line of 11 arch-shaped openings, borne on slender pillars and sheltered by an angled chhajja (overhanging) below. The interiors are divided by slender pillars into 22 bays and have flat ceilings throughout, possibly to preempt architectural competition with the dome that rises above the saint’s mausoleum. The focal mihrab (niche) of the mosque has a part-octagonal recess with net vaulting above. Around 18 years later, Shah Jahan added an imposing arched gate that served as a monumental entrance to the dargah. Shah Jahan’s daughter Jahanara, another passionate disciple of the Ajmer saint, added the elegant marble entrance porch. Among Shah Jahan’s other contributions to Ajmer is a series of baradaris built beside Ana Sagar, the great artificial lake on the outskirts of the city. These pavilions occupy the site of a garden residence laid out by Jahangir. Shah Jahan’s white marble baradaris have pillared verandas sheltered by angled chhajjas. The verandas lead to flat-ceilinged rectangular chambers, one of which has a balcony looking out over the lake.

These discussions will then be collated on a website and distributed as PDF files as well as through knowledge resources such as Sahapedia and Archnet. The information being collected by the project, Pasricha hopes, will act as “a virtual museum of thought so that when we visit these sites, we may be able to imagine the pulse of the place”.

Another important part of the project is engaging with young people. “It’s a given that the youth are disconnected from India’s historic culture and heritage,” said Pasricha. “The way history is served to us leaves no room to trigger the imagination of the youth about these civilisations gone by.”

Alamgir’s Mosque: The most prominent Mughal monument in the holy city of Banaras is this mosque that emperor Aurangzeb erected in 1669. Built on a terrace high above Panchaganga Ghat, it can be reached by a steep flight of steps from the river below. The vertical proportions of the prayer hall’s triple-bayed facade were once accentuated by a pair of slender corner minarets that rose 50 metres above the terrace, but they do not exist any longer. Battlements conceal three domes of almost equal height, chhatris (elevated dome-shaped pavilions) at the rear corners serve as lookouts. The interior, which comprises a line of only three chambers, is roofed by domes with intricate plaster decoration.

With that in mind, Pasricha is organising workshops in schools where he plans to teach students the basics of photography and how they can use the most commonly-available camera – their mobile phone – to create better images.

Pasricha generally avoids being drawn into discussions about gear and technique. Neither, he says, is relevant. His book on the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Dome over India, featured panorama shots with a 3.3 megapixel low-end consumer camera. But as his technique involves stitching together multiple images, the end result is a high-resolution image. “As far as technique is concerned, my entire take has been that it comes from a need,” he said. “What you want is to devolve a visual language that will attempt to satisfy the needs of your soul. That is the part technique plays and thus it is continually morphing.”

Jahangiri Mahal: A sequence of interconnected chambers, some embellished with plaster walls, leads to the riverside court of the Jahangiri Mahal, that was built between 1565 and 1569, in Fatehpur Sikri. It is defined by apartments on three sides, that on the west presents a triple-bayed, double-height entrance framed by slender stone columns that imitate timber originals. These features contrast with the arched recesses at either side and with the arched portals flanked by similarly-shaped recesses leading to the apartments on the north and south. A small octagonal pool set into the middle of the court is fed by a narrow water channel. The eastern perimeter of the court consists of a line of jalis (latticed screen) that permit views across the river. The walls (as seen from below) are adorned with polychrome panels set between octagonal towers with chhatris, as on the frontal facade of the pala.

India Lost and Found, though, is all about the photographs. The sweeping panoramas show the monuments in a rare perspective. In print, Pasricha’s panoramas are so enormous that they require viewers to physically turn their heads to take it all in. On Instagram, he often breaks up a panorama into three square images which can be viewed as a whole in the application’s grid view. Tranquebar’s Fort Dansborg, locally known as Danish Fort, can be seen in its entirety, viewed from a high vantage point, with the Tamil Nadu coast behind it. The Kailash and Kotumsar caves of Chhattisgarh can be seen in a perspective that Instagram would not otherwise permit, due to the app’s restrictions on the aspect ratio of images.

So what according to Pasricha qualifies as a lesser-known monument? On what basis does he select what to photograph? According to India Lost and Found publicity material, anywhere between 35,000 to 7 lakh monuments lie unprotected in India with more than 1,000 of them in Delhi alone. “Case in point is Champaner, which despite being a world heritage site, is hardly visited and not even known to most Gujaratis,” said Pasricha.

Shah Pir’s tomb: In between the Yamuna and Ganga, some 55 km northeast of Delhi, is Meerut, a city that rose to prominence under Akbar. The principal Mughal monument here is the mausoleum of a local saintly figure, known simply as Shah Pir, said to be a spiritual teacher of Jahangir. Though the patronage of the tomb is credited to Nur Jahan, the building was never completed, leaving the saint’s grave exposed to the sky. The dome-less, red sandstone structure is superbly finished, with well-articulated arched recesses on both its exterior and interior walls. The recesses are filled with diverse, jaali-like geometric patterns in intricately worked shallow relief, realised as perforated windows at both levels in the middle of each side. The tomb is raised on a terrace and was intended to be surrounded by a colonnade, but only a corner portion of this was finished.

Since the project is primarily photograph driven, it has admittedly certain limitations. Monuments that are historically significant but not necessarily aesthetically pleasing will get passed over. Pasricha says this is unavoidable in the light of what he hopes to accomplish. “I do not want to photograph a pile of rubble which may have a beautiful story behind it,” he explained. “Take for example the numerous Pandav Gufas [where the Pandavas supposedly lived during their exile] across the country. Mostly they look like nothing and I am not going to be particularly interested in photographing them, however mythologically important they may be. The purpose [of the project] is to change the relationship of the people who are in intimate contact with these places. To change their relationship we must introduce the young Indian traveller in their midst, having travelled hundreds of miles to be there. That being the purpose, visuality is extremely important.”

The Vishnu Temple: The construction of this temple at Janjgir in Chattisgarh was by started by the Haihaya kings in the 12th-century, but was never completed.

Local chapters of The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Or INTACH, have been collaborating with Pasricha, helping him select sites and organising the necessary permissions for shooting. After covering states like Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, Pasricha’s next target is Bengal and he is currently in discussions with the convenor of INTACH’s West Bengal chapter.

Historian Swapna Liddle, part of INTACH’s Delhi chapter, said the aesthetic quality of the panoramas is only reason why India Lost and Found is important: Pasricha is “capturing views that might be in danger, either because the monuments themselves are in danger, or the view is threatened by insensitive development in their close vicinity”. She hopes the project will help draw attention to India’s built heritage and to its precious and often threatened setting.

Sahasra Bahu ruins: These are the remains of the 10th-century Sahasra Bahu temples just outside the city of Udaipur in Rajasthan. The name refers to the 1,000 arms of the Hindu god Vishnu, the preserver.
Daulatabad: The Daultabad citadel became the first headquarters of the Mughals in the Deccan after it was captured in 1633. Shah Jahan made several notable additions to the site, beginning with a baradari that he erected just beneath the summit of the artificially-scarped hill, rising more than 180 metres above the Deccan plain. This pavilion has an internal arcaded court with halls opening off on four sides. The hall in the east has a projecting, part-octagonal balcony with a wooden overhang affording views of the fortified city below. More extensive was the complex that Alamgir laid out within the ramparts beneath the northern flank of the hill. This probably served as his principal Deccan residence before shifting to Aurangabad. The Daulatabad palace comprises a formal entrance gate, private mosque, men’s quarters with audience hall and residential apartment facing onto a square char-bagh, now in a dilapidated state. Nearby is a zenana consisting of a trio of palaces for women, each with its own private char-bagh, as well as two hammams (Turkish baths).

All images and image captions by Amit Pasricha.