The city that never sleeps, described as Thoonganagaram, was the capital of the Pandya Kingdom in Tamilnadu. The city is also known as Athens of the East. Dindigul in the North, Sivaganga in the East, Viruthunagar in the South and Theni in the West are the cities that surround Madurai. The city is one of the best examples of how architecture shapes society and culture. The Meenakshi Temple formed the centre of the erstwhile Madurai town. The hierarchical settlements in concentric rectangles are in place based on occupational and caste considerations. Royal Palaces, Brahmins and Priests occupied the first rectangle; traders, Kshatriyas and Vaishnavas occupied the second; shudras, immigrants and lower castes occupied the third. Thus, architectural planning since the ancient ages led to distinct divisions in Madurai. The urban fabric of Madurai reflects the community’s behaviour and defines the identity of the people. Architecture plays a pivotal role in shaping the culture and society, as is evident in the example of Madurai. 

What role has architecture played in shaping Indian society and culture? - Sheet1
Main Gate of Meenakshi temple, Madurai ©Wikimedia
What role has architecture played in shaping Indian society and culture? - Sheet2
An aerial view of the compound from the top of the southern gopuram, looking north. ©Tamilnadu Tourism

Architecture is an art that serves to fulfil human needs and desires. It combines technological sophistication, aesthetic sense and expression of human behaviour to reproduce the socio-cultural forms. Religious architecture is the direct manifestation of culture that is geographically isolated identity markers. The shape, form, style, materials used and the design philosophy employed in the architecture of a region are cultural influences. For example, In Buddhism, the architectural elements include Stupas, Chaityas and Viharas; in Islam, Minarets, domes and masjids; in Christianity, gothic, classical and baroque are certain styles. Hence, different architectural styles exist due to the various cultural systems present in society.

There is also an active intermixing of styles that has given rise to blended forms. Indo-Islamic architecture is an example where the exchange of elements has led to the rich cultural heritage of India. Opening up for such combinations makes the diversities in culture expand further. For instance, there are exchanges between different cuisines, rituals and celebrations of festivals too. Thus, architecture paves the way for more cultural diversity.

Social principles, too influenced by architecture, traverse beyond buildings. Some cityscapes foster social capital through well-planned layouts and open spaces. Some others may be less successful as a space. We witness both examples of neighbourhoods promoting anti-social and nefarious activities and some others being welcoming and driving strong community ties. So good public architecture characterises an open, transparent, healthy and safe environment. Architecture does not just unilaterally influence society and culture but is also dynamically influenced by them. 

The artistic expression of culture and society through architecture is evident in the temple styles- Nagara, Dravida and Vesara. The gopurams of Dravidian temple architecture depict the socio-cultural practices of the local people. The religious beliefs and practices are reinforced by one another through the devotional components enhanced by architecture. 

The cultural representation of architecture is also a way to express nationalism, develop unity and boost togetherness. The fusion of indigenous Indian traditions with Islamic influences led to a unique architectural identity that showcased the cultural and religious diversity of the time. Hindu and Islamic elements integrated and created a harmonious coexistence, evident in structures like the Qutub Minar and Jama Masjid. This architectural evolution transformed the physical landscape and played a crucial role in shaping India’s cultural and social fabric, giving rise to Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb.

What role has architecture played in shaping Indian society and culture? - Sheet3
Qutub Minar ©Wikimedia
What role has architecture played in shaping Indian society and culture? - Sheet4
Alai Darwaza ©Wikimedia
Buland Darwaza ©Wikimedia

Architects and engineers have made significant advancements in construction techniques since ancient times. They have used materials ranging from crude stones and unburnt bricks to finely carved stone blocks and intricate stucco work according to the prevalent local tradition and culture. There are even advanced structural systems to create durable and visually stunning structures. This expertise has influenced subsequent architectural developments in India. Patronising artisans, sculptors, and architects to create exquisite works of art resulted in the proliferation of skilled craftsmen and a flourishing artistic tradition. Despite eventual decline and fall, many of India’s architectural marvels have survived the test of time. They continue to be pilgrimage sites, tourist attractions, and sources of inspiration for contemporary architects, thus ensuring the preservation and recognition of India’s architectural history.

Enhanced social communication is facilitated through architecture that connects people and the community as a whole. What makes public spaces essentially public is reflected in their openness, accessibility and freedom from the motive of capitalisation, thus making them merely meant for ushering in inter-communications. It ranges from streets, parks, playgrounds, plazas, recreational areas, markets, libraries, malls, subways and other privately managed open-to-all spaces. 

Though the pandemic has driven the need to rethink schools, collective learning has been given undue importance in a child’s growth and developmental years.  Schools as physical learning environments are crucial in shaping young minds to take future roles. Some issues in education include high drop-out rates, poor quality, below-average learning outcomes, low teacher-student ratio, educated unemployment, alien curriculum modelled on a one-size-fits-all approach, etc. Architecture can aid in mitigating some of the above issues by making education attractive by designing learning spaces that reflect the students’ aspirations, promote literacy and mould young minds to face the world. Thus, architecture shapes the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. 

Citations

The role of architecture in shaping cities and communities – Chitkara University: Blogs (2023) Chitkara University | Blogs. Available at: https://www.chitkara.edu.in/blogs/the-role-of-architecture-in-shaping-cities-and-communities/#:~:text=The%20Role%20of%20Architecture%20in%20Society&text=It%20impacts%20the%20urban%20fabric,the%20preservation%20of%20cultural%20heritage. (Accessed: 02 October 2023). 

Author

Nivedhita is an aspirant, for too many things indeed. She gets bored doing the same routine around the clock and so she takes big leaps or at least hops onto one thing at a time. She spontaneously ventures into new tasks and loves to get through deadlines, alongside juggling with life.