‘Cock-a-doodle-doo’, a rooster disrupted my sound sleep. As I rubbed my eyes in utter dismay, I immersed myself under the quaint chants of the Gayatri mantra followed by a distant melody of the Azaan. Well wrapped within an envelope of optimism, I thanked the Lord for unravelling a mani-fold culture. People nearby were slurping ‘chai’ and having their breakfast. Thus, drenched under the fragrant spices and soaked in tradition, I welcome you to my land, I welcome you to India.
Winner | RTF Essay Writing Competition May 2021
Category: Essay: Complex Pasts – Diverse Futures
Participant: Ruchika Deshpande
I sprout as a mysterious culture along the Indus river, as early as around 2500BC. I was a simple baked-brick city, with disciplined grid streets, well-functioned drains, granaries, and water supply. I dignified my human heritage, who deciphered fundamental mathematical and scientific principles long before the world did. To protect them better, I would often lend out my natural caves for rituals and habitation. In return, they not only worshipped me back but also rock-cut designs to spruce me up. As Buddhist missionaries’ folked here, they explored crevices and sharp rocky basalt edges to carve out elaborate facades, arches, and pillars for their shrines. People value some of them, like the Ajanta and Karla caves, even today. Thus, they form a crucial chapter of my ancient heritage.
( The Kailash temple, the largest mono-lithic temple in the world_©Pinterest.)
“The more, the merrier” tears of joy flowed through my rivers as I cheered with an open heart for the Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains, to unite diversely for the construction of the largest monolithic rock-cut temple, the Kailash temple. A UNESCO world heritage site unified my people for a common purpose, to set an example of unity in diversity. However, in recent times I have heard that people engrave their names on me. Many of them touch and scrape my paintings, create waste and laugh at my simplistic depiction of heritage. As I wipe off my sorrow, I ask,”Ain’t you proud of the unfolding stories?”
As time forged ahead, I went under an episode of complex history. Many rulers and invaders ruled over me, robbed me, some even destroyed me. But, each of them sowed a seed of their culture in my land. I, a staunch believer of “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, nourished each seed, sprouted it, and learned from it to have a diverse future. These learnings replicate from the mighty Himalayas to the river plains. Maurya, Kalinga, and Magadha empires rose with the sun towards the east. Many rest and worship places that supported the Buddhists residing there came into the picture. Built heritage like the stupa at Sanchi and the University at Nalanda, wonders supporting local economies to date, embraced me during this period. My people identify them with learning and, this makes me even happier, despite complex invasions. Progressive, liberal, and secular, I witnessed a golden chapter in my history.
Bengal, ruled by local Malla rulers, apprehended my locality and hence, built heritage explored clay, terracotta, and laterite that mirrored lifestyle as against counter states. The Jorebangla temple with its typical roof, Madan Mohan temple, the five spired Shyam-Rai temple, communicate volumes of built heritage. My state of Orissa proved to be the confluence of the Aryan, Dravidian, and Adivasi cultures. Hence, built heritage focused on racial and cultural amalgamation and provoked modernist thoughts. Suffocating under a complex history of various kingdoms, Orissa stands unique with its shovelled rock facade sculptures. Heritage here summons the artistic skills and craftsmanship’s to successfully illustrate some of the finest examples of built heritage like the Sun temple at Konark.
( The sun temple at Konark_©Odisha Bytes.)
Though Dravidian architecture was at its peak, I chose to differ in the south. With the help of the many dynasties of Karnataka, I added my twist to develop the Kadamba heritage. The mighty hands of the Chalukyas and the Vijaynagar Empire polished me further. Dravidian architecture bloomed in my further south. It progressed under various permutations and combinations of the Thanjavur Nayak, Pandyan, Pallava, and Chola empires. In stark contrast to the simple Nagara heritage of the north, the south portrayed towering gopuram gatehouses.
At the advent of the Islamic rule, I merged my already complex history with a new perspective to create diverseness of the TajMahal, the Qutub Minar, marvels never seen before. As I trespassed the junction of foreign rule with regional styles and responses, I felt unique. Nowhere on the globe would anyone enjoy the merging of cultures. Mughal architecture blended well with the Rajput temples and step-wells and Sikh heritage like the Golden temple. The black cotton of Maharashtra was on a completely different page of regional marvels, a page of the Maratha empire. Heritage structures of this period, like the Shaniwarwada, depict traditions of the Mughal and Rajasthani heritage to portray prosperity. These heritage structures have added economic value and have driven community action until now.
And doom! Termites attacked my papyrus as I entered colonization. My heritage started reflecting the British, French, Dutch, and Portuguese styles to diverse from the residing heritage. They marked my lands with heritage structures as the Victoria Terminus and converted my street-like outlook to industrial hubs of the Indo-Saracenic style. Thus, ‘sone ki chidiya’ moved towards the bird of modern heritage.
Contrasting briefly with the kingdoms that ruled me in the past, post-independence, I climbed the stair to a new vision of freedom. Concrete ruled over the precious stone and volumes over one point perspectives as in the thousand pillared halls at Ramanantha Swamy temple. I picked up the flight to a diverse future, a future of contrasts and contradictions. A sky where a thin line separated the boundaries of wealth and poverty with that of regionality awaited me. Religious and linguistic differences seemed over-powering, while destitution guided the brief. In such circumstances, the golden light of the father of architecture Le-Corbusier guided many lost and wavering ships to the shore. Chandigarh remains the masterwork of modern heritage and iconism. This modern heritage, styled with internationally acclaimed architecture, revolutionized thinking, analysing, and processing seems unbeaten. It helped develop a free-thinking approach detached from the barriers of religion, economy, and dynasty. Thus, my modern heritage blends functionality with a minimal aesthetic and divides my built forms into two chief expressions. My modern heritage is an expedition for new models. It is the struggle behind the processing of masses that catalyse story-telling and mythological communication, delivering conceptual process and derivation to my public. It redefines on-site production with pre-fabrication.
However, many-a-times, a revolutionizing public vision and sensitivity fail to touch the essential core and soul of modern heritage. I feel miserable. I succumb as my modern treasure feels converted to just a piece of visionary mass, as against the ethical and full-fledged project it should be. This modern heritage stands as the sole witness to a city’s growth and its ever-changing skylines. Since my freedom, modern heritage has been a crucial part of my heart and is the real game-changer that helped me win a wavering and seemingly distant trophy. Modern heritage also changed the faces of age-old amenities, like Louis Kahn’s IIM Ahmedabad did for educational institutions.
I faint. It’s a nightmare. Did my people trade my heritage for monetary returns and greed? In this age where privatization rules, the public realm, and culturally responsive heritage structures sink. The principles of the founding fathers go unnoticed. In this unfortunate age, my precisely carved heritage stands as the cost of everything and the value of nothing. However, I have hope. I believe in the honest conservationists, sensible architects, and my priced human heritage. As I close my eyes today, waiting to be cured, waiting to be the golden bird again, I dream, a dream that hopefully converts to reality. A fantasy of glass and stone, of mountains and beaches and saffrons and greens, reuniting again, singing
“Jana gana mangala dayaka jaya he
Bharata bhagya vidhata,
Jaya he, jaya he, jaya he, Jaya jaya jaya, jaya he”