Before we discuss the effect of Culture on Architecture, we wilt first try to understand the true meaning of the words civilization, culture and architecture. It would be impudent on my part to explain the word “architecture” to such a distinguished gathering of architects and I will, therefore, first deal with the conditions that create civilization and culture as architects to the present age—which future historians may record with pride when they write about India after her Independence.
Culture as Reflected in Architecture
The social order formed by civilization creates cultural progress, and apart from the country’s political, moral and economic conditions, the pursuit of knowledge and that of the arts forms the basis of the culture of one’s country.
It is true that various factors affect the culture and civilization of any country; any one factor may encourage or impede its flow of progress. For instance. the geological condition of a place, a region which is periodically covered with snow or periodically affected by volcanic eruptions can hardly contribute a major share of progress. Likewise adverse geographical conditions do create lethargy either by its tropical climate, or excessive rain. Both these conditions create parasites, disease and death.
Many of us and particularly the artists deplore the value of money and economic disparity created by it, but we do not find that prosperous countries with all their balanced economy are contributing a major share on the cultural side which other countries have taken centuries to do. Wealth is a double-edged sword and it is almost a law of history that the same wealth that generates a civilization announces its decay. For wealth produces ease as well as art, and it softens a people to the ways of luxury and invites invasion from stronger arms and hungrier mouths. Two concrete examples to bear this statement are of Persia and India. It is a popular but wrong notion prevailing amongst us that modem painting, sculpture and architecture have little cultural value. Actually the culture of any country is a living thing; it continues to grow, but it needs fresh air—good manure and right vitamins. Every one of us has come in contact with our farmers they are the sons of the soil and they do breathe, even now, the human culture. This essence of culture is to appreciate and respect nature. This essence is born in every man, and fortunately it is preserved most by the man who tills the soil. It is because he is closer to nature. We, therefore, naturally try to search for culture in the countryside, and civilization in the city. Culture and civilization have no colour bar, we find them in nearly equal degree amongst people of all nations. It is a wrong assumption that a great race makes civilization. Actually it is the great civilization that makes the people.
An Indian does not make Indian civilization; it makes him, if he carries it with him wherever he goes, and is more revealed when he takes his meal in his house in England or United States. Physical and historical conditions also generate civilization and these traits of civilization remain with man for a very long period even when conditions have completely altered.
The language, the education, the moral laws and rules of the game of life also play an important part in the culture and civilization of one’s country. Above all, it is the respect that man has for his own civilization and culture. The people must consider their natural culture as a proud heritage which they can with pride hand over to their children unsullied and with a hope that they will in their turn pass it on to the generation to come.
Culture and have an expression and it is expressed in language and more markedly in their Arts, namely, poetry, drama, music, painting. sculpture and architecture. We as architects will naturally try to concentrate our attention to the impact of culture on architecture.
The wood-peckers, the bees and ants gave man the art of provision and taught the virtue of prudence; agriculture, speech and writing differentiated man from other animals, and formed the main basis of culture. At first man was his own beast of burden till he was married, but the times have changed, and the introduction of a wheel changed the course of civilization; man also invented ropes, levers and pullies to lessen his labour. He then set the economics of civilization and thereby culture, through the mechanism of transport, the process of trade, and the medium of exchange. And these mediums were glorified by art and architecture by erection of magnificent structures.
Architecture throughout the ages was associated with beautiful buildings of grand proportions, rich in material, often delicate in design and profund in ornament. Architecture is not a mere building but a beautiful building. It is true that architecture in the past was more pronounced in the graves, tomb structure than in huts. The commemorative pillars throughout the world developed into statuary and the tomb grew into a temple. For primitive man believed that the dead were more important and powerful than the living and as the dead cannot leave their abode, their structures unlike huts were more permanent.
The houses of stone age reflect their culture in architecture; and architecture gained its full value. She then became the mother of all arts. The caves were used as houses—they were made into houses and the walls were decorated with sculptural reliefs. These reliefs had a three-fold purpose. It is said that primitive artists could sculpture so well the deer and the reindeer in true form that live deer used to flock around the sculpture, and it actually helped the Stone-Age men to capture the live deer with the least effort. The second purpose was to display a sumptuous dinner on the wall. How often, do we not see in newspapers the race horse owner holding the horse’s rein after the horse wins a Derby, or photograph of modern pigmy hunters with one leg resting on a dead panther or a tiger. The same vanity had a place even in the stone age when panels often showed the hunter on one side and a deer with the arrow in its body a distance away. The third purpose had a religious belief that the dead may come again to the house and there are instances of sculptural reliefs in Royal tombs in Egypt where a full dinner table with food is well laid and ready for the dead king even his queens are shown waiting for him in bas relief. We have also examples of mural paintings depicting several phases of culture and from series of examples, we find that painting developed from statuary, from the carving, from the round to bas relief and thence to mere outline and colouring; painting is sculpture minus a dimension.
The neolithic culture was responsible for training of animals and using them as beasts of burden. But the monkey and the parrot found their places as companions. They were all housed in the buildings and architects of those days solved their building problem with these additional requirements.
We have beautiful examples of architecture of buildings built for horses, and elephants. In Vienna, Jaipur and Baroda, the visitors are shown the Royal Stables.
The lake dwellers of 5000 B.C. lived more close to the trees and they became skilful carpenters, and their houses reflected not only the local material. namely, timber, but the skilful use of timbers in posts, brackets and rafters. We have a parallel in our country at Kashmir and Nasik and also in the Swiss country of Interlaken and Luzen, we find that the craftsmen of those days had the desire to produce a work of art out of the local timber.
In various civilizations and cultures, we have found the basic classification of the people, the King, the priest, the warrior, the craftsman-and the labourer. Whether the said classification is helpful to the society and particularly to the present Socialistic pattern of Society is a debatable question, but culture and craftsmen have proved in the past that one cannot ignore tradition that has come down, the basic training in crafts, father to son.
The cultural heritage of our craftsmen must be maintained at all cost. We know this from our practical experience as we have come in close contact with many local artists and craftsmen of this large country and know their ideals, desires and wants. Civilization and architecture depend upon geological, geographical, climatic, economic and physical conditions, and culture grows as the result of the assimilation of social values, namely, the respect for Church, State, Laws; human values such as conception of truth, manners and customs, education and love for things beautiful as exhibited in the arts of dancing, singing and sculpture.
We Indians look to the Himalayas; we do not look to the snow. We look beyond and we look up to regions beyond in veneration. This has given us a guiding principle in our architecture.
The Himalayas are serene in their atmosphere and only the real devotee can under stand the true value. Our architects have in the past built temples and they selected a high plateau, and even the building was made to rise to the sky. Where there was a level site as in the South India, the temple was built of such grandeur that the very appearance of it commanded respect. In life, us well as in the temple, the inner chamber is approached through other halls, and mandapas, and it is only after patient waiting one can get a glimpse of the deity in the inner chamber. Here we find the culture and architecture of all god-fearing—I mean all God-loving countries alike. The great Cathedral in Milan, The Dumo, is a masterpiece and even today no building can rise above the Cathedral. St. Peter’s Church of Rome and St. Peter’s Church of London are glowing examples of their faith. Culture cannot exist if there is no faith in higher values of life. Work was always worship to our craftsmen. It was a prayer to the Almighty and the prayer was said with utmost devotion.
The respect given to the king in the past was great. Even today, we respect King Asoka and his culture through architecture, brought him closer to us. The Asoka column was respected and valued as an architectural monument, before we adopted it as a national emblem. The king in a cultural city had his privilege. He had a palace—usually on a high level—with fortifications but in most of the Indian palaces we find a temple or, mosque attached, preferably in a secluded place.
Here architecture displaced the culture of the country, firstly by the dignity of site, the dignity of fortification, and the approach to the palace, the Courts of Justie—known as Diwan-e-Am and Diwan-e-Khas and the Royal chambers—and a quiet mosque or temple. I do not refer only to the Mogul palace of Agra and Delhi but to our palaces at Gwalior, Jaipur and Udaipur. The palaces were meant for kings but they were the bread and the very life of the craftsmen.
The two temples of Dilwara known as Vastupal and Tejpal are exquisite architectural pieces. They are even more valued today because two sisters-in-law contributed their jewellery for the construction of the temples. It was not only their money but their personal interest in the craft and the craftsmen in turn showed their gratitude by building another beautiful temple in stone. Here, we find Indian culture at its best. Here we see the great Hindu Trinity of Virtues—Karma, Gnana and Bhakti blended in one.
Our Indian culture is great because Indians as a class are deeply religious and closely follow the gospel of Gita. They honestly believe in Karma marg, Gnana marg and Bhakti marg, and towards the development of Gnana marg, we have various architectural examples. The great Buddhist monastery of Nalanda, south of Patna, accommodated 1,000 Priests, and for five hundred years it remained a seat of Learning for all pilgrims. The Chinese pilgrims, who visited India in 400 and 600 A.D., have left interesting descriptions of their visits to this University and other buildings.
Many sacred buildings were originally not temples to gods but monasteries or memorial shrines to holy men. Along with Bhakti came the rituals, and to have the serene atmosphere for rituals, architecture provided magnificent buildings of great repose.
Indian and Islamic architecture used a few symbols pointing to the authority of the Almighty. The tope and the umbrella top was accepted symbol of royalty and State.
The Indian builders appreciated the meaning of dominant and subordinate masses, and even experimented in the rhythmic repetition of a range of small temples. The beautiful minarets, pointing to heaven was an Islamic creation. It served to call the faithful to prayer and in bare unity reminded us of the Supreme Architect of the Universe. The Islamic arch also has the same significance to the faithful.
Religious and monumental structures were built so that we could admire their architecture during the day and also at night; that is one of the gems of Indian architecture. The glory of the Taj Mahal, ltamad-ud-daullah Tomb and Lake Palaces give ample testimony to this statement.
India was and is an open country. Its shores were open to her neighbours and the culture of Egypt, Persia and Assyria had their influence. The Greek influence was more pronounced in the Gandhara Period. These influences are all reflected in the architecture and sculpture of those periods. The Pathan and the Mogul had their own influence but the culture of India assimilated other cultures and yet maintained its own individuality.
In Free India, we have no ruling class, and naturally, no more palaces, the common man’s purse is always nearly empty, but he must enjoy things artistic which were once termed as luxury. We have, therefore, to cater to the artistic needs of the common man. Let us again have our Public Squares, our Panchayat halls with murals and sculptures and open-air-theaters and baths. Let our cities again throb with art and culture.
Our modern Railway Station, for instance, will have the murals and refinements to educate the common man. It will have more waiting-rooms for the common man—not because our trains often come late, but we have now realised in Free India that a third-class-passenger is also a human being. We have built Chandigarh—and the social centres of Chandigarh will be a pattern for other towns. Our future architecture will be more represented in sanatoriums and cultural centres, and in canteens and factory structures, our new architecture will have to blend the old culture and tradition to new shops. Let there be a study group to analyse the utilitarian aspect of our traditional architecture; and let our report be placed at a high level. Let our Improvement Trusts and Municipal Corporations know that Town Planning does not mean only 40 feet wide roads and 15 feet open spaces on four sides for a plot of 500 square yards.
This planning is a waste of useful land and money of the State and also of property owners. Let us study the houses of Jaipur, Nasik and Poona as street architecture. Let us build Indian homes with a Tutsi plant in the well-laid courtyard, which is the meeting place of the family in the evenings and a natural source of ventilation. It is only by the study of our ancient civilization and culture we can rightly solve our present problem. Let us serve our villages first—let their architecture speak of their customs, manners, and materials. Let us not import city manners and materials like cement and steel into villages. Let the villagers themselves build their houses to a guided pattern varying with the individual.
Today, the term “Architect” is used figuratively and it is hardly associated with architecture. Let the common man know what architecture is and how it helps civilization. This is the time when the architect must come down fr his high pedestal and lay his services at the feet of his country.
Let your Institute also serve the country. If the Institute is consulted on professional matters, its attitude should always be guided by professional ethics, remembering always that our basic culture is Truth and, therefore can never be a compromise of Truth and professional ethics.
As architects, your services are needed by the State, and they and are more needed by the common man, and service to common man is service to God.
Indian culture and Indian architecture are synonymous. Both are built on the solid rock of faith and both serve the Lord. The architects of today must remember that service is now to be considered before self, not only by rotarians but by common men—therefore, serve your Country to your best ability.