‘Vistara’ from the name indicates the ‘extent’; i.e., the extent of architectural evolution in India. The author, Carmen Kagal, has revived the travelling exhibition of 1986 on ‘Vistara- The Architecture of India’ curated by Charles Correa with great finesse. It is a book that speaks of each time in Indian architecture which led to decisive notions of evolution. The book is a detailed chronicle of the architectural origins and the motion that drives the habitat-making practices in India. Carmen Kagal indelibly highlights the coverage of rural architecture with renowned architectural marvels exhibited. The exhibition was put forth in ‘The Festival of India’- a series of major exhibitions of the 1980s organized by Pupul Jayakar. This way, ‘Vistara’ actually touched the extent of London, Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin, New York, and other international venues with the help of the Government of India.    

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Vistara- By Carmen Kagal_©Vistara- The Architecture of India

About Carmen Kagal’s Vistara  

The initiation of the book takes place by elaborating on the diversity of India and its impact on developing architecture. It explores religion and philosophy being the driving forces to shape art and architecture. The book cover portrays the gist of the Indian myths associated with spatial configurations. The red dot in the centre is a man surrounded by the context in the form of grids which changes with the changing time. Carmen Kagal comprehensively links the civilizations, empires, and movements allowing the reader to picture the travelling exhibition of 1986. It also covers the ideologies and interviews of political and architectural influencers of the time like Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, B.V Doshi, Laurie Baker, and others.

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Vistara- Book Cover_©Vistara- The Architecture of India

Contents of the book- Vistara

The introduction to Vistara is by Charles Correa about the human and cosmic relations moulding the Indian Architecture in relation to the Vedic Diagrams like Vastu-Purusha Mandala and Sri Yantra. The idea is to offer a reason for how humans changing thoughts and actions unfold new vistaras of Indian Architecture. Further, the chapters of Manusha and Mandala elaborate on the changing myths and the justifications of architecture. Vistara incorporates accurate architectural instances to prove such mythic ideas and beliefs, giving birth to diverse architecture like the Havelis of Jaisalmer, the squatter settlement of Bombay, the Srirangam city of Tamil Nadu, and many more. This gives a sense of relevance to the reader and creates a journey for them to comprehend.  

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Jaisalmer’s splendid climate-responsive stone mansions- havelis_©Vistara- The Architecture of India

Carmen Kagal has created a blend of eras and manifolds of architectural power, which is seen in the Kund-Vapi- Subterranean Architecture. The various instances highlight the overlays of mythic and symbolic values among the religious styles of architecture. At this point, the reader is already going to have questions regarding the adaptations and transformations that took place in Indian architecture. Hence, the next chapter, ‘Manthana’, which means churning of mind, provides connections to the reader, elaborating on the response of humans to amalgamations of the tangibles and intangibles. The reader is then taken to the colonial era, the developments of the British Raj in India, the political ideologies, modernism, and the transforming architectural fabric.

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Subterranean Architecture- the dissolution of the cosmos_©Vistara- The Architecture of India

Notable aspects recorded by Carmen Kagal

The journey of the book takes the reader back to the roots from where it all started and where we are heading. It invokes a sense of responsive interrogations with Indian architecture composed of the macro and micro, the architectural statement pieces, and the need for fulfilling local architecture. The book offers a remarkable distinction between architectural languages of the Indian ethos in temples and indigenous habitats and the reframing of Indian architecture in city planning. It consists of an intriguing history of monuments, temples, and buildings for the readers as a takeaway to achieve their vistaras. For instance, in the elaboration of Diwan-i-Khas at Fatehpur Sikri, Carmen Kagal states that “If, as Corbusier said, a house is ‘a machine for living’, then the Diwan-i-Khas is truly an extraordinary invention: a machine for governing.”

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Diwan-i-Khas -Architecture of the Power_©Vistara- The Architecture of India

Lastly, in the book, there are interviews of B.V Doshi unfolding the narrative of Le Corbusier, Laurie Baker sharing his encounters with local materials, M.J.P Mistri and Achyut P. Kanvinde. The reader encounters the ideas and narratives that make these architects legendary and opens up astonishing perspectives on architecture. One of the thought-provoking ideas in Vistara about Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier by B.V Doshi to Carmen Kagal was, “Lou’s buildings are for meditation, Le Corbusier’s buildings sing”. Thus, if you are a history enthusiast or even looking for the collation of centuries-old Indian Architecture, ‘Vistara- The Architecture of India’, edited by Carmen Kagal, is absolutely a good and fruitful read for you.

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Vidhyadhar Nagar, New Jaipur- by B.V Doshi_©Vistara- The Architecture of India

Conclusion

The book is truly an epitome of Indian Architecture backed up with mythic, religious, and psychological beliefs driven by the technological development of the time, fulfilling the vistara’s needs. It is a documentation of the origin of Indian Architecture before its existence in the Vedas and Upanishads stepping toward Hindu architecture, and with the Islamic rulers comes their architectural and mythic influences, and it slowly creates a juxtaposition of culture, literature, art as well as architecture. Europeans entered India with the Age of Reason, and later one leading to another created overlays of values in architecture. This book acts as an archival to rejuvenate the roots and look beyond the blurred overlays rediscovering what is forgotten. With the unconventional credos of the prominent architects, Carmen Kagal addresses innumerable questions of young architects and brings vistara at their thresholds. 

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Looking Beyond- The start of a new vistara_©Vistara- The Architecture of India

References:

Books

  1. Kagal, C. (1986). Vistara: The Architecture of India. The Festival of India.

Online Sources

  1. THINKMATTER. Book Vistara- The Architecture of India. [online]. Available at: https://thinkmatter.in/2014/09/19/vistara-the-architecture-of-india/  [Accessed date: 03 April 2022].
Author

Trishla Doshi is a philomath designer and an architect in Mumbai. She aspires to foster cultural resurgence among people through reaching out to them sometimes in the form of words and sometimes design. She is in the constant exploration of the space between herself and her illustrative narratives breathing history.

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