Within the fields of sociology, politics, philosophy, and ordinary grammar, the term multiculturalism has a variety of interpretations. Because of the heterogeneous structure of many modern countries, which is reflected in growing evidence of cultural variety and identity-related disparities, the subject of multiculturalism has gained prominence and urgency in recent years. Multiculturalism’s primary appeal is that it aims to provide solutions to difficulties posed by the cultural variety that cannot be addressed in any other way. It promotes peace and understanding amongst cultures. 

The history of India goes back 3300 BCE from the Prehistoric Era to the modern period, which can also be called the post-colonial period. With a plethora of influences and assertions on India, it has become a diverse country with different cultures, traditions, lifestyles, and ideologies. Through this minority communities have emerged in the Indian subcontinent. However, Indian architecture is no exception. The architecture is a consequence of this diversity in the country. 

From prehistoric caves to modern towers, the history of architecture is not a static idea; it is always being written with each passing day and each new phenomenon. India’s architecture continues to diversify as the country grows, reverting to its traditions while adhering to modern trends and minority communities. 

Here are some ideas of how the architecture of India depicts its multicultural heritage:

Architecture as a Cultural Artifact

Seeing architecture as a powerful artifact of history, technology, and culture has become one of the most interesting tools for dissecting architecture’s multicultural heritage. The elements of design, construction and occupancy patterns provide significant evidence of continuity and change within society and community, from foundation to roof.

Consider architecture as a cultural artifact of people who migrate and travel away from their land of origin. For instance, in Mumbai, within a diasporic culture architectural form has very distinct meanings and allusions. The architecture of the diaspora often challenges the fixed ideas of culture and architecture that emerged from historical surveys of architecture. The architecture of a diaspora is often not visually different from the architecture of the host country (although certain visually distinct forms get reproduced; and such retention of exotic forms can become an object of inquiry). Rather, migrants occupy preexisting buildings and landscapes carved by preceding residents.

Case of Mumbai

Consider Mumbai, which was originally held by the Koli and Aagri (a Marathi fishing community), then by the Maurya Empire, which transformed it into a Buddhist cultural and religious center, and ultimately by various indigenous dynasties. The city then experienced Islamic domination, the Portuguese period, and then the British period, often known as the colonial period. This transfer of power from one culturally oriented society to another resulted in a combination and accumulation of a built environment which demonstrates a concoction of elements of ideas of culture and architecture. 

How does the architecture of India depict its multicultural heritage? - Sheet1
Mumbai City in modern times_©IHSMumbai

However, the influx of migrants into the city in search of employment and livelihood forced them to inhabit the existing building fabric. This phenomenon challenged the preexisting building landscape. Through employment, human encounters, and interactional dynamics, migration stimulates cultural variety and multicultural heritage.

How does the architecture of India depict its multicultural heritage? - Sheet2
Mumbai City as Living heritage_©Financial Express

Case of Ahmedabad

Ahmedabad, a walled city, was founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah. It lies on the eastern bank of the Sabarmati river and has a rich architectural heritage from the sultanate period that includes but is not limited to Bhadra citadel, the Fort city walls and gates, and numerous mosques and tombs. However, the city has a blend of Hindu and Jain architecture with Bird feeders, public wells (Kund/step-wells), and religious institutions. These are some common elements of the urban fabric established by densely packed traditional homes (pols) in gated traditional streets (puras). 

How does the architecture of India depict its multicultural heritage? - Sheet3
Ahmedabad City in modern times_©Rutul Joshi Scroll

Within the existing framework of architectural heritage, the city demonstrates a unique multicultural heritage of its own which is contented in this walled city. The architecture of the Sultanate era monuments displays the ancient city’s multicultural heritage that is linked to complementing traditions represented in other religious structures, as well as the ancient city’s highly rich household timber architecture, which includes separate “Havelis”, “pols”, and khadkis (inner entrances to the pols). These latter are presented as an expression of community organizational networks since they also comprise an integral component of the urban heritage of Ahmedabad.

The multicultural heritage of the city is demonstrated by the architectural manifestation of many cultures, embraced by the Sultanate era and modern period. The tangible and intangible essence of heritage is accepted throughout the country, although some have their implications, since they may come through to the minority differently.

Ahmadabad haveli in modern times_©Rutul Joshi Scroll

The center around which the concept of multiculturalism revolves is diversity. Although such diversity may be linked to age, social class, gender, or sexuality, multiculturalism is usually associated with cultural differentiation that is based upon ethnicity. It implies multiculturalism is just not about mere difference/diversity but cultural diversity or culturally embedded difference. The architecture of India very well illustrates the culturally embedded differences through the above instances. 

Culture is not a static concept. Ability to become and unbecome to become a new type of culture. It’s now the result of various forces of lifestyles, climate, religious practices, a social life that has a dialectical relationship with built form.

References

‌Sen, A. (n.d.). Making Sense of the Architectural Production of “Others”: Architectural Design and Multiculturalism. [online] Available at: https://www.acsa-arch.org/proceedings/Annual%20Meeting%20Proceedings/ACSA.AM.98/ACSA.AM.98.50.pdf 

Anon, (n.d.). Architecture as Artifact | Museum-Ed. [online] Available at: https://www.museum-ed.org/architecture-as-artifact/

INDIAN CULTURE. (n.d.). Historic City of Ahmedabad. [online] Available at: https://indianculture.gov.in/node/2537401

Maharana, D.K. (2010). IN DEFENCE OF INDIAN PERSPECTIVE OF MULTICULTURALISM. The Indian Journal of Political Science, [online] 71(1), pp.69–83. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/42748369 

Author

Vaishnavi Gondane is trained as an architect and has grown to be a hybrid thinker. She is a research enthusiast in the field of art history and architectural theory. She believes that reflecting on history and theory will help to develop a sensitivity towards culture and heritage.

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