We live in a world of manifest phenomena.Yet, ever since the beginning of time, man has intuitively sensed the existence of another world: a non-manifest world whose presence underlies – and makes endurable – the one we experience every day.

The principal vehicles through which we explore and communicate our notions of this non-manifest world are religion, philosophy and the arts. Like these, architecture too is myth-based, expressing the presence of a reality more profound than the manifest world in which it exists.

As the centuries progress, the myths change. New ones come into being, are absorbed, ingested, internalised – and finally transformed into a new architecture. Each time this metamorphosis occurs, a new era – a vistāra – opens up to our sensibilities. To classical Indian musicians, singers and dancers, the expansion outward into space is also, simultaneously, a journey inward into our own selves. Experiencing these expansions, these vistāras, heightens our consciousness.

The history of Indian architecture has been an extraordinary progression of such vistāras.

Central to all these vistāras – and to our exhibition – stands Purusha, a large-scale replica of an ancient Jain icon representing man in his two principal aspects: human and cosmic. For this is how, thousands of years ago, man perceived himself and his context.

Down the centuries (and perhaps across the globe as well) man does not change. But the context in which he perceives himself to exist varies considerably. The fiqure of Purusha here is thus being used to represent not only man human and cosmic, but the more generalised condition of man and his context (i.e. the encompassing circle).

In Vedic times, that circle is the cosmos itself – and man’s central concern is to define himself and his actions in relation to it. Thus even the buildings he constructs are models of the cosmos – no less. They are generated by magic diagrams called Vastu-Purusha Mandalas. 

These represent energy-fields, the centre of which is simultaneously both shunya (nothing) and bindu (the source of all energy) – a truly mind-blowing concept, astonishingly similar to the black holes of contemporary physics.

With the coming of Islam, the circle changes: man’s context is seen to be in part a judgemental relationship with an all-powerful Divinity, and in part a social contract (as in the Christian precept: Love thy neighbour). The central mythic images underlying architecture change too – as one can see by comparing the metaphysical landscape of a Jain cosmograph with the sensuous delights of the char-bagh of Islam.

Later, with the arrival of Europeans, the context changes yet again. The circle becomes the Age of Reason – and its concomitants: Rationality, Science, Technology. Perhaps today, as we reach the end of the 20th century, the circle is changing once more. In the West, the myths of technology and progress are being replaced by a concern for environment, for ecology. Man’s thoughts, actions – and architecture – will change to reflect this, and a new vistāra will open up.

In each successive metamorphosis, the human aspect of Purusha seems to stay constant. This is vividly exemplified in the habitat which he builds for himself, using a vocabulary and a syntax that seems immutable. Thus we have the mud houses of Banni, simultaneously both only a few years old – and a few thousand as well. In these building processes, as natural and organic as birds building nests, the mythic values seem implicit in human nature itself – hence the generic title Manusha (i.e., of man) for this section of the exhibition. Here we find examples ranging from the fortress town of Jaisalmer to the squatter colonies of Bombay.

But even in these squatter colonies, generated by the brutal economic forces rampant on our urban scene today, we find all of a sudden a gesture, an image – the rangoli before a front door, the butti on a sari, the bindu on a forehead – that makes us realise these patterns have been generated by an age-old deep-structure of more explicit myths: the yantra, the mandala, the char-bagh.

With time, of course the myths change – sometimes through outside interventions, sometimes re-surfacing from our own past. The resulting conflict, tension, churning, that then takes place, we have called Manthana. In this churning, it is crucial that we distinguish between a process as basic and structural as a Transformation, and one as superficial as a mere Transfer. Transformation involves as absorption, an internalisation – and ultimately a re-invention – of the myth. Hence Diwan-i-khas in Fatehpur-Sikri, where Akbar is sitting in the centre of a mandala on a column which clearly represents the mythic axis of the universe. Akbar has not only created an extraordinary piece of architecture, but also an incredibly powerful political statement. He is using the old myths to tell us that a new order has arrived. Compare this transformation with what Lutyens did three centuries later in New Delhi: a mere transfer of some imagery from Buddhist architecture without any care whatsoever for the profound mythic values from which it sprang.