We are so intensely absorbed with the problems of the city and consequently so completely cut off from the village and the civic problems of the villagers, that the very idea of rural architecture may sound almost unfamiliar and unimpressive. Yet, the fact remains that India is indisputably a vast sub-continent formed of thousands of villages with the cities chequered here and there. The problem, therefore, of devising a philosophy of architecture, suitable to the temperament of the Indian villager and in harmony with his mode of life, assumed utmost significance. Our responsibility to the villager becomes all the more urgent in post-Independence India which has heralded an epoch of the common man, which in our country should necessarily be identified with millions and millions of people living in the villages, dotted throughout the length and breadth of our country. The pity is that so little attention is paid in this regard and much less done.
When we think of a village, we skip by years, by our modern civilisation and culture, and are reminded of something primitive and fundamental. We conjure up a rare landscape, replete with the mud and bamboo house, the thatched roof, the sense of openness and space, the quiet unassuming life and, on the whole, a glorious change from the nerve-racking and disgusting confusion of the city. Further up the passage of time, we have villages featuring the locally burnt tiles and still later on, the stone constructions. Strangely enough, during all these centuries, the village has remained the same and rural architecture has maintained its innate elemental character. The essentially humanist approach of rural architectural expression has always been true to, and grown out of, the soil and has been so intimately related to the atmosphere of peace and contentment typical of the village. The Indian village has been, throughout the ages, a most well knit unit untouched by sophistication and its accompanied ills peculiar to the city. The village has likewise been spared, almost, of the undesirable mechanistic and haphazard attributes of the city. Our villages have maintained this individuality, although the cities have had at regular periods many a violent shake-up. Historically, from the very beginning, the grandiose type of architecture of the palaces, public buildings, mosques, temples and mausoleums have come under various impacts of external origin. The cities have also been affected by the sociological and technological changes particular to them on account of their vulnerability to foreign influence. On the other hand, the villages have enjoyed a kind of isolation, which is a blessing in disguise, and have been thus able to preserve a tradition handed down from times immemorial.
The unit of rural architecture, the hut, could not have changed much since its first counterpart thousands of years ago and the same is perhaps true even of the existing pattern of rural architecture. In a country like India, it is this continued tradition of rural architecture which can lay claim to the title of a living and organic architecture.
It must be admitted that the overemphasis of urban demands has forced the villages to a state of complete neglect; in any case that was the state until recently. Now, we have started taking some interest in the problem. Unfortunately, what we are doing is in the wrong direction and, I may add, pretty disastrous. Under the aegis of our Community Development Projects, some activity in regard to rural architecture is visible. The pity is that the people in charge of rural upliftment find themselves in an utterly strange situation in the villages and some of them have not even seen a village. They are mostly architects and engineers from the cities whose one aim, it so appears, is to impose upon the villages third-rate suburban architecture. For example, the introduction of grid iron pattern, the horrid brick and plastered houses with buff coloured walls, the asbestos roofs and the badly proportioned designs are an anachronism in the villages. Let me refer here to a spectacle noticed in the D.V C. area. When the villages existing in the inundated areas were destroyed, new villages were built in their place in adjoining areas. These villages, although built with locally available materials, display a complete lack of feeling for the villager and his way of life Likewise, I have seen a number of villages in the North which are characterised by an indiscriminate use of brick walls and flat roofs. I may also recall here that the Prime Minister was considerably perturbed by the infilteration of specimens of suburban architecture in the N.E.F.A. area. Time and again, Mr. Verrier Alwin has also referred to the intrusion of urban architectural expression upon the villages in some of the interior areas.
What is of paramount importance is the need to create an awareness of the case for rural architecture among the intelligentsia and the authorities responsible for rural upliftment. We have to proceed with great caution in our attempts to improve upon the villages, for once we destroy the villages, they will be lost for ever. What we could do is to send young architects to villages so that they may live there, feel the pulse of life and get acquainted with the available local materials and later on build for the villagers as enlightened villagers and not as city-bred engineers and architects. But this would mean a long time and the programme can be effective only in the long run.
Immediately, we may as well take stock of the local builders in the villages, who are acquainted with the indigenous materials and traditional methods of construction. They should be educated in regard to ideas of sanitation and ventilation and other modem amenities which could be applied in the villages with benefit.
In any case, whoever is entrusted with the problem of solving the difficulties connected with evolving a rural architectural expression must be absolutely earnest, a kind of dedicated soul, in love with, and having sympathy for, the villager. There is a tremendous scope for work in this direction. But the man from the city, privileged as he is, must draw inspiration from the villages and must identify himself with the villager, with his ideas of life and living, before trying to improve upon them.
In conclusion, I would like to say that this paper is only meant to be a basis for a detailed discussion and I would only like to impress upon this Seminar the significance and urgency of the problem.