I am very happy to welcome you on behalf of the Lalit Kala Akademi, a task which should really have been performed by the Chairman of the Akademi who is not, unfortunately, present here today owing to ill health.
I should like to congratulate the Akademi for organising this Seminar on Architecture which is perhaps the first seminar on architecture organised in India. And it seems odd that there should have been no seminar on architecture earlier than this, for, in a way, architecture comes so close to life. It is one of the forms of art to which every one of us responds and must respond, consciously or unconsciously. We have architecture from the time when men started building dwelling houses of their own, or perhaps not even building dwelling houses, but fashioning some kind of shelter on tree-tops or caves or a construction out of different kinds of leaves, bamboos and reeds. Since the time man has fashioned them into a sort of dwelling house, architecture in its rudimentary sense has been in existence.
I saw the remarks of the Convener in which he calls architecture the 'mother of arts'. I do not think I would go as far as that. I do not think that in the case of arts there is any question of mother or daughter. If one can use the Greek simile, every one of the arts arises fully developed, fully grown like Athenae from the head of Zeus. Or if we take the Indian analogy, they aresvayambhu, they are self-originated. I believe architecture has, nevertheless, a special significance in that, in architecture there is the requirement of social solidarity and social endeavour and, social cooperation in a degree which we do not find in other forms of art. There may be a great lyric poet, though the society in which he flourishes may be static; there may be great painters and they may paint out of the ecstasy of their heart without the support of their immediate environment. Even in such cases, there is a certain relation though it is comparatively loose in the other form of arts. The artist in other mediums experiences on his own and he is comparatively free. But in architecture, as perhaps in drama, he is closely linked with society, rooted in the society. The expression of his art depends upon the state of social development, upon the environment in a way which is far more intimate than in any other form of art.
This is one reason why we find that in different countries the forms of architecture have taken different shapes. We find that the Gothic churches in Europe with their spires remind one of the gloom and the mystery and the beauty of the pine forest. The arches which we find in saracenic architecture immediately remind us of the palm trees with their branches and swaying leaves. In our own country we find how different forms of architecture have been closely linked with the locality. Architecture must be rooted in the atmosphere and the environment.
We can be proud of the fact that in our country we have a glorious tradition of architecture which goes back to centuries. In all these years, there has been development in architecture in consonance with the spirit of the times, in consonance with the environment and the local background. When we think of the great temples of the past, in Konarak, in Khajuraho, in Madurai, in Rameshwaram, in Vellore and others in different parts of India, we are reminded of the social solidarity of the times, the sense of unity of the individual and the society and the way in which this feeling was translated into these great works of art.
There are the great stupas of the Buddhists and here again we find another form of art, an art reaching towards the infinite but based upon the immediate experience of the people. In the Pathan period of Indian history, we find another form of art developing. New ideas, new materials are again coming in but based upon the old. Very often, the interfusion between them is so intimate that we cannot say which element has come from abroad and which element is indigenous. That applies also to the earlier forms of architecture in India. In the Moghul period this synthesis went even further, and we find in this period that even though some of the motives, some of the purposes came from abroad, yet, the synthesis reaches a level and degree of perfection which has few parallels in the world. So far as the Taj Mahal is concerned, I do not have to say anything at all, but take even a dome like the one at Bijapur. There is perhaps no better specimen of a dome of that type anywhere in the world.
In spite of this great tradition of our architecture somehow, in the last 150 or 200 years, we seem to have lost our moorings. While there has been a great deal of construction in this period, we do not meet any great achievement in architecture. We do not find that sense of social solidarity which brings out the history and the traditions of the people, an architecture which is rooted in the cultural heritage of our country. There were great impacts from the West and these impacts have had great beneficial effects in many departments of our life but in the field of architecture, somehow, they did not seem to have that effect.
Even today, we are groping for the forms suited to our genius. Today we have architects who are sometimes content merely to imitate our own past. We have others who are content to imitate only some of the fashions—and sometimes they are the passing fashions—of the West. They forget the difference in the environment, that in Europe the need is to have light and more light, while in India, very often we have to keep out the light as far as possible, to preserve coolness and space and shut out the cruel Indian summer. We have architects today who call themselves modernists, but who imitate the West without understanding the differences in environment, the difference in the atmosphere, the difference in the requirements. Imitation, whether it is imitation of our own past or of contemporary Europe—all imitation is bad. In art perhaps there is no greater condemnation than to say that a thing is common-place and a mere imitation. We have many architects who are content to be imitators and yet they have today an opportunity and a challenge of which perhaps there has been no parallel in the past.
Today, there is construction of every type—public buildings for public purposes, or dwelling houses for the rich, the not-so-rich and the poor. There is an attempt, a concerted attempt, a social endeavour, to raise the standard of living of everybody. The State under the leadership of our Prime Minister is pledged to build a Welfare State in the country which will bring equal opportunities to ail, which will give everybody the chance of blossoming into his or her fullest capacity. India today offers unrivalled opportunities to the artist as well.
Again, there have been technical developments in the use of building material. At one time, only wood was used, sometimes only bamboo or cane. Even the stone architecture which we find in our country was shaped by the medium which the craftsmen or architects used before. Their past unmistakably influenced their present even when they built in stone. Today, many of these limitations have disappeared because of the use of steel, concrete and a hundred other new materials which are coming into use. Architects have far greater scope in both their materials and their aims and therefore the architects will have to rise to that challenge and I am sure that they will.
Sir, we are very happy that you have agreed to inaugurate this session. You can certainly call upon the builders who are building in stone, cement and steel, brick and mortar and other new kinds of material, and ask them to help build the India of which you have dreamt, the India which you are building on the level of ideas and ideals. You are today engaged in the task of reconstruction of national life and the architects have to give a physical shape and material base to these ideals which you have in your heart,
I hope, Sir, that the fact that you have, in spite of your heavy preoccupations, agreed to inaugurate this Seminar, will act as a challenge and an inspiration to the architects of today. I hope that the Seminar which will be in session for the next few days will lead to much debate and much discussion, to clash of ideas and differences in regard to forms and techniques. We often try to deny differences and they only go underground. It is far better that differences should come out in the open and there should be free discussion and debate. Out of these discussions and debates, they will be able to supply the requirements of a new India, a free India, a democratic India which is aiming to be a Welfare State, an India which is aiming at reconciling differences and combining them into a unity.
I have great pleasure in requesting you to inaugurate the Seminar, and we consider it a great privilege and honour that you have accepted our invitation.
March 17, 1959,