A wonderful analogue of ‘prism’ is coined by the organizers of this Symposium in context of architecture. If this is extended a bit further the three sides of this prism are culture, patronage and building arts. All these combined result into architecture of an era and when one probes through this prism, it refracts into various hues, which emerge from whichever facet you view this from. Culture reflects the way of life at a specified time. It includes the level of taste, aspirations and social richness which is reflected through the artistic and creative expressions of various arts. Patronage of these impulses is an indicator of the measure of need and awareness for collective identity. Building arts are indicative of the level of technological skills and the craftsmanship traditionally evolved at a specific time. Patronage is a measure of nobility that existed in prosperous communities which took upon themselves the responsibilities to uphold the traditional heritage and nurture the artistic expressions signifying the cultural traits, cohesive, harmonious, artistic through true to the life style, was the character of the settlements of bygone era, which was a result of collective, mutually agreeable, tasteful but true to the traditional culture of the society it represented. Collective will against individual interests, and the ideals of mutually shared community identity and existence was of paramount interest in the social thinking and responsibility. Material interests were always present but were not paramount and welfare of community at large was always a moral goal for the social harmony and well being.
Western Indian region has always been an area of our country subjected to constant pressures during all the periods of its historical existence. The pressures have been a continuing phenomenon and as a result it has always experienced a cultural vibrancy, which makes it a very interesting subject for all those who are interested in cultural history and its various aspects. The geographical boundaries in which Gujarat is encapsuled, covers a large part of Western India and the regional history covers periods from ancient times with some of the relics still standing giving testimony to its links with prehistoric and ancient times. The relics are obviously archaeologically very useful and in some cases traces fragments of built-environment giving us insights into architectural heritage which also is an important indicator of cultural status of people anywhere.
Historically the region, based on the geographical boundaries - was also culturally different. The peninsular Saurashtra of the immediate history was distinctly known as Kathiawar, which was controlled by five different princely states headed by the ruling families, each class culturally different including even their dialects were different- derived from Kathiawari. The early history of this region is a record of external forces and rulers from northern India raiding this area and dominating with their prowess, capturing at times and appointing their own agents to administer and keep control over the revenue from this region. Settlements and prosperity of various towns was totally dependent on the well-being of people at large and it is observed that this condition depended purely on governance of various regions. Such favourable conditions were observed only in distinct periods and it would be interesting to review these various phases in history of this region, which were productive, and have left an important cultural heritage.
In terms of Architectural developments in Indo-Aryan idioms Western India was one of the richest, in early times. Later between early 11th and late 13th centuries, was also an important phase of architectural development. Pre-11th century period was marked by raids from Afghans and the resultant strife. Once the Delhi Sultans took over there was relative peace and prosperity and this also resulted in establishment of communities due to prosperous trade and commerce in the region. Solanki rule also provided the much needed stability and Anhilwada-Pattan became the important center of culture in this region. The wealth, which came to this part was also largely due to its geological position on coast, which was enroute all the international routes from its long coast line. It was thus a focus of trade and commerce and the trading communities, whose general state of affluence was very high -diverted part of their resources to create a form of religious architecture and became one of the distinct form of architecture of that era continuing the finest traditions, which till date is ongoing. Many of the examples of these fine creations are no more, as the succeeding centuries of Muslim rule brought down many of these following 13th century. In 15th century this part was once again dominated by Muslim rule followed by Moghul take-over followed by brief and sporadic spells of Marathas until British finally took over the administration. Princely states in Saurashtra and other parts of Gujarat did continue, though, all were subjugated under British.
Architecturally, there was the period of early phases, the examples of which are surviving in coastal areas of Saurashtra. The pre-Solanki period from where only few examples survive, the Solanki period, which is evident of number of examples, which is our heritage today. The Muslim domination is perceivable from a very vast source since 15th century and we have that as our immediate history which has shaped our present. The review of post Muslim rule - after Moghuls took over, is marked once again by the fragmentation and dilution of architectural activity and it has been expressed as per the needs and pressures of forces that affected Western India.
The two significant and succeeding phases have been the Solanki rule and later the Muslims, who established the reign with Ahmedabad as its capital.
The Solanki period saw evolution of religious and its reflective aspect as domestic, which became a subordinated expression. The fine temple building traditions of stone structure found its corollary in exquisitely ornate house facades in timber construction. One with all the resources of the community in establishing a strong and durable form for religious on going traditions and the other for flexible, affordable yet exquisite in art and decoration to also stimulate the same feeling as Temple for the abode of people and family. These traditions survived for long time, even after the Muslim domination of the region and became a very strong evolving tradition in Western India.
The Muslim rule which followed after 15th century did realize the strength of the communities and their own establishments. They also recognized the strength of the then prevailing building crafts and the communities of craftsmen. The ‘mahajan’ and the craftsmen were both accepted in good confidence and were made partners by the Muslim rules in establishing their state and their institutions. The merger of such a mutually acceptable nature, in return, provided a very strong foundation for a very distinct architectural expression in Western India, with Ahmedabad and Gujarat as its main center and region.
This expression emerged out of a give and take from both cultures. A synthesis produced out of the mutual desire to appreciate and adopt from both cultures. The building expression displaying the content of one and the form from another. The ideas and needs of one and the craft and making from another. Patronage of the rulers and the skills and abilities of the local people. A partnership in peaceful and prosperous coexistence. This was also possible as the local merchant population was at peace as long as their trading interests were not harmed by the rulers and rulers were also happy as well, as long as there was enough prosperity and economic activities in the region indirectly helping the stability of region-state. This phase for this reason became one of the most significant phases for architectural development also.
The Solanki dynasty from 10th to 13th century was exemplified by temples at Sunak, Delmal, Kasara, Kanoda (all 10th century Gujarat) Mount Abu and Kiradu (Rajasthan) all 11th century, Rudra Mahal, Vadnagar, Siddhapur, Patan in Gujarat - also Somnath destroyed several times all in Gujarat in 12th century and ongoing Jaina Temples at Mount Abu and Girnar also in 13th century. This phase was also rich in examples of civic architecture connected with buildings for public use and also other monumental functions. City-gates, victory towers and also buildings connected with utilitarian function also became examples of exquisite building craft. Step-wells, kunds etc. on trade routes and temple precinct speak volumes of the architectural creativity, which continued in later centuries of Muslim rule. City-gates at Jhinjhuwada and Dabhoi (12th century), Ranki-vav at Patan (11th century) are the most important in Gujarat besides the Victory Tower at Chitor and other fortifications and towns in Rajasthan (12th century).
The period of Muslim rule after 15th century is once again marked with stability, the architectural expression as mentioned earlier borrowed from the local idioms. There was increased activities of buildings, religious - for Muslims and also city-building and buildings for public utilities. While building new institutions, Muslims improvised on some of the typologies of buildings, which were local and indigenous. Like the mosque became enlarged and included mandapa form as hall in front of mihrab with octagonal shaped plan within a square which suited best structurally to span the roof with a dome. A local Temple would have a pyramidal roof there on top of such an octagonal plan. A vav was elaborated into a sub-terranean resort around a source of water to ward off the summer heat as in the case of a well near Mehmadabad.
The Muslim architecture under Ahmed-Shah-Sultans could be categorized in three phases during its two and a half century rule - 14th century, 15th century first half and 15th century later half onwards, respectively. These phases produced some of the most notable structures under the patronage of Sultans, who did display a very remarkable taste for built environment. This was basically also a desire oriented to establish their might as rulers. The territory of Gujarat also possessed the unrivalled resources of crafts and building traditions, which was the other factor they had at their disposal, which provided a favourable climate. The Sultans exploited these resources and made the best use of it in building their own institutions for personal use as well as for the city, especially the City of Ahmedabad, which they established as their capital. The crafts communities, which hitherto were involved in building of Temples for local Jaina community were all diverted easily by the rulers to their own works and the craftsmen also obliged sensing ongoing patronage. The craftsmen did adhere to their own codes and canons of architecture according to their traditions, however, it was also imperative for them to modify the intensity of these codes to suit their work to the needs of their new masters, who were culturally poles apart and their building philosophy totally opposite to the one professed under traditional temple arts. Though there was a total change over required in thinking associated with building, the craftsmen did not find it difficult to apply best of their skills, which assumed the dimensions of patterns, carving and sculptural relief in place of sculptural iconography of temple architecture with definite symbolic significance. In fact since the patterns employed and the decorative filigree was left free to the craftsmen, their skills in moulding stone was abundantly displayed and reached an unsurpassed level of exuberance in the new synthesis under the Sultanate architecture of Gujarat, which then became one of the most important architectural idiom amongst the provinces of India. The important centres of this architectural development were Patan and Broach, Cambay and Dholka in 14th century, Ahmedabad, Sarkhej and Dholka in first half of 15th century and Ahmedabad, Mehmadabad, Batwa and Champaner all in later half of the 15th century. The third phase of development under Mahmed Beghara (1459-1511) was the richest period as far as the building arts were concerned. Ahmedabad and later Champaner has been the center of architectural developments and the synthesis of local and the imported traditions, where the fragments that exist today testify to the richness and glory of the achievements in building arts of that period.
Following this once again the region came under the rule of Moghuls and their regional administrator. The royal patronage was considerably diminishing. However due to the ongoing support of merchants and nobility the traditions of building survived. But there was an increased influx of foreign merchant class coming from overseas around 16th century which started making their presence felt. Gujarat was frequented by the english and portughese traders and in order to establish their trading interest, which were bilateral with local merchants and also the Moghul state, then started building factories, churches, convents, cathedrals and also fortresses for their settlements and tombs as memorials to their dignitories, who lived and died here. All these foreigners, like the earlier invaders, brought with them their cultural ideas for built-environments, involved local craftsmen, borrowed local materials and building practices and built their own settlements and buildings. The prominent examples of these are the towns of Diu, Daman with an architecture expressive once again of another type of synthesis with lofty buildings and characteristically Indo portughese idioms to their settlements. These building practices also induced a lot of influence to the region, which also under more permanent british influence brought drastic changes in the ongoing local traditions of building practices and as a result in the built environment.
18th century onwards the British presence was evident in a way all over the country and Gujarat was no exception. Building activities out of British patronage was controlled by the British engineers who were mainly carrying out their projects as they were used to do in their own country. The buildings built were essentially to house the administrative offices and also residences for both the British and Indian nobility in terms of Bungalows or garden house - local materials were promoted for building but English engineers brought in their brick and stone construction with them and with great difficulty trained the local ‘mistrys’ to undertake these practices in lieu of their traditional craft stucco, brick and rubble work became the new materials and methods which changed the course of building practices in many parts of India. The impact of monumental buildings all over also influenced Gujarat and regional princes and rulers accepted wholeheartedly the new progressive, westernized building practices which expressed a very strange mixture of oriental and occidental forms, stylized and preferential but completely lacking in integral characteristic, which the earlier building traditions displayed. The important example of these phases are in Baroda, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Bhuj, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Morvi, and many other towns including the towns of Upleta, Gondal, Jamnagar etc. where the new towns were also planned re-structuring the old existing town under the advice of British and European planners and architects in 19th century, some of the most remarkable structures are in Baroda, the Palace and Baroda college, in Ahmedabad the Town Hall (early 20th century), the Palace in Bhuj and Morvi and Wankaner. Almost in all princely towns scores of buildings for offices and educational institutions, libraries were built during this period which stand testimony to the changed attitudes to building arts. The craftsmen, though, once again exhibited their innate ability to adapt to the new situation and employ their best skills for the purpose, which the english architects and engineers found handy to adorn their designs employing their overall western ideas in Indian conditions and climate.
The post independence era in India brought in European masters to infuse new spirit in traditional but changing society awaiting new revival through a united country. Englishmen while working lately in India were guilty of neglecting the local traditions and not being able to revitalize the evolutionary trend for its upgradation. In their later efforts, English architects saw “the germs of a movement becoming observable, which suggest that a trend in the direction of reviving the styles of architecture indigenous to India is in contemplation, and it is hoped that some genius will arise who will combine the beauty and the spirit of the old national art with the methods and ideas of the new age.” But this was not the thinking of the new leadership of India at the time of independence. It was still necessary to look west for progress. And the masters invited to plan an Indian city and its ‘democratic’ institutions - to inspire the India of future. These masters did not believe in what English architects, after years of their experience in India started believing in. New masters planted ideas of modern movement, which were not acceptable to even the progressive westerners - the new expression - the alien one - in new material which was industrial - and an environment which did not induce any cohesion - were all untenable but in vague as it got patronage from those leaders who suddenly became benefactors of people at large and took the community at large as their subjects, as only the feudal lords would do. However, this was going to be the ‘universal’ vision of built environment and architecture of future for India.
Gujarat progressive as always in absorbing new currents had nobility, which got convinced about this new idea and was instantaneous in inviting these masters to give new expression to institutions. By then city authorities and the merchant associations were powerful patrons and the new cultural institutions promoted by them were awaiting new, modern expressions. Advent of the modern architecture in Gujarat in 50s was almost contemporary to what was happening in Chandigarh. And Ahmedabad already got a major share of Le Corbusier’s projects in terms of private houses and institutions, the similar number he hardly built anywhere in a single city even in Europe.
The modern architecture - individualistic, different, universal and stating designers’ will lifted ego of the patron. Its total aloofness was seen more as a virtue rather an aberration from indigenous. As work of architecture of another culture these buildings represented qualities of individuals in its making, but the type of format it offered for usage had no basis excepting fulfilling function. This did trigger off series of influences in the field of architecture and instantly following developed in terms of younger generation, Indian architects claiming western leanings and associations with masters and modern movement- followers followed and the scene of the architectural field went on getting disoriented as none of the works that followed had seriousness and promise of either new interpretations nor attitudes, which ever appreciated real needs of people at large. The new industrial material introduced by modern masters became the only acceptable material without ever acquiring the back-up technology that went with it. Local crafts were completely sidelined. Building activities became labour oriented (as against craft) and the processes became more and more detached. Architecture as an art was getting replaced by building as trade.
Architecture that the built environment of an era reflects is the collective expression of the community and in that sense it is embodied in its settlements. In earlier times the settlements were representative of community’s ideals and way of life. The characteristic urban settlements of 17th, 18th and 19th century stand testimony to this attitudes in many a towns and cities of Gujarat. For this reason the wooden facades of houses are even today in priceless heritage of Gujarati architecture of last three hundred years, and the symbolic religious architecture from corresponding era is also a testimony as a source of inspiration for the community’s preferences for the architecture of settlements. All these were perceived as long as the traditions were alive. But with grip of the economic and administrative control slipping into British rule, the social situations started getting rapid influences of western attitudes and thinking. Beginning of 20th century saw ‘developments’ of almost all towns and cities in Gujarat. Also providing a release for the affording class to swiftly opt for westernized living in bungalows outside the old towns and thereby adopting progressive tendencies of breaking away from traditional community bound living to more mixed, identifiable to social, economic standing. This then saw the rise of new urban middle class with segregated dwellings in a suburban environment posing for the first time a break away from the compact, homogeneous living of the pre-British traditions. With the westernization taking firm roots new institutions were gradually introduced to supplement the civic life and the new areas added to the towns virtually became an added adjuncts with western imagery dotted with parks, gardens and enclaves of educational buildings and public amenities. The architecture patronized thus by the British was obviously an import of ideas from west mixed with local masonry and craft-help working under British designers and British trained ‘mistrys’ trying to build under their training under what came to be known as Public Works Departments with British and at times, local patronage.
Looking backwards from present context in examining heritage scenario helps us re-examine our past with a basis in our own context of contemporary times. Latest scenario in building has its roots in our sociopolitical developments immediately after obtaining independence from foreign rule of last two centuries. The party involved in mobilizing the struggle for independence also takes on the power to govern the country, freshly united in an emotional upsurge to jump into an utopian dream of bringing together a very deverse and heterogeneous populace, which had a very long tradition of provincial rule. Social system was ingrained into people, who identified themselves with a feudal lord or king and the entire social system worked perfectly in tune with this. Economic means were controlled -though by and large, there was a responsible attitude towards welfare of common people. The new party comprising of freedom-fighters, whose main aim was to oppose the governance suddenly found themselves as governors of a country of a size which was at least twenty times larger than the states in which they lived. The contradictions arising out of this and the results which it showed in succeeding years is witnessed by all and this is well known. But to trace the single most cause of its ill effects to succeeding ‘development’ in built environment in urban areas all over has been the exploitation of land for vested interests connected with the power centers of present era. This was a fall out of the power the political leaders suddenly found in their hands-as in merger of states the biggest gain was the ability to assume ownership of land from displaced farmers from near the urban growth centres and the likely growth centers.
Land, a commodity for liverage in power struggle has become a stronghold around politicians. Subsequently building as a salable commodity for profit has become an ‘industry’. This is the real scenario in our built-environment all over the country and Gujarat is a strong market, where this ‘industry’ flourishes as there is a favourable market for the same. Land and buildings are also considered easy escapes for tax evasion and appropriation of unaccounted wealth, a part of which also can be divested to the power, which conjoins with those running the ‘industry’ in a mutually supportive existence.
In such a scenario in Gujarat, it is extremely important to make a distinction between mere buildings and works of architecture. Every building or built-environment is not a work of architecture and everyone who builds is not an architect. In past, architectural design and construction, mind and action worked simultaneously. Very often the owner together with the designer was directly involved with the construction team. This fine tradition is gone now. Probably the split of mind and labour, thought and action, are consequence of the social division of labour, so also are the need to build - and the trading of buildings as commodity are consequence of a new political clout. The separation of means and ownership continues and the results are obviously seen as impersonal environment, loss of standards and above all a loss of healthy, cohesive living supporting cultural exchange amongst all. For this reason, when it comes to describing contemporary excellence in the field of architecture, or to suggest the comparable towns and cities, which can be cited as strong descendants of historic precedents, we are at a complete loss. The only thing one can perceive from today’s built-environment is the lack of purpose and character and for this reason unimportant as heritage with significance.