Masters of Timeless Architecture
by Remigius de Souza
ARCHITECTURE, LIKE POETRY, is now a branch of humanities. Architecture – good or bad, classical or vernacular – is a source to read prehistoric, ancient or modern cultures for the archaeologists and anthropologists, besides other disciplines.
The people of ethnic communities have the understanding and autonomy in their vernacular architecture, which also had been the source for classical styles (in music, e.g., the Late Pt. Kumar Gandharva).
The same may not be the case for the modern (mass) society that occupies modern architecture, a by-product if industrial revolution, which may be a cause for disillusionment, and physical and mental maladies that is not fully investigated.
Architecture, among the academia, is a holy cow, by aphorisms such as: “Architecture is mother of all arts”. In practice, market seems to be mother of all arts!
Indeed all shall pass away. Then what is timeless even while I am alive?
Tukaram is people’s beloved saint-poet of Maharashtra. I met him in my childhood at my native village through oral tradition. Later I met Kabir of North India: both centuries later.
There is a story, or perhaps a myth: Tukaram’s ‘Gatha’ – the collection of his poems – was thrown in the River Indrayani by the high caste Hindus. However it comes afloat untouched by water. The truth is that his poems have survived in the river of time to meet the ocean of millions of people. Myths have enduring meanings.
Kabir says he cannot read and write, but certainly he is ‘bahusruti’, meaning ‘well-heard’, an equivalent of ‘well-read’ for the literate. Both speak in vernacular tongues.
Both are rebels, but not discontented. All creative action is rebellious but all rebellions are not necessarily creative. They both practice and speak freedom while living a family life. Their poetry gives joy and courage to the multitude of downtrodden and the exploited, and helps them to liberate themselves. Truly they are masters in true sense, and their poetry has the quality of timelessness.
Are there any masters or works of timeless quality IN ARCHITECTURE? Fortunately I met two, for example.
One is Lomas Rishi Cave, carved in a solid rock in a hill, which stands for millennia. It was built by a community of artisans, not by slaves. Entering in the Cave is entering in the womb of the Earth: Death occurs followed by rebirth. Once you are inside you could hear your heartbeats and you are led to a profound silence: the chattering of mind stops.
Another is a tribal house in the Satpura Ranges. Tetya Nusa Koli, has his bamboo house built with community participation, of course, as is customary. Fragile that it may look it has ability to stand an earthquake. The house has lived for millennia in remote antiquity by regeneration.
The Cave must have been an experience for the artisans who worked for several thousand man-days as it was materialising, for their families, and the people in the following centuries. Tetya’s ancestors must have rebuilt the house during last ten thousand or more years, but surely without strictly imitating the lines of the previous one, or may not have built it in the same place. The humble bamboo house regenerates from time to time.
On each event of meeting them I am reminded of my childhood experience. I started learning to write on a slate. I write and wipe the slate clean to write again, and again every time. There is neither an attachment to whatever was written, it is lost, because what is learnt is inscribed in the body, mind, psyche, brain, and practice.
The Cave and the tribal house have similar plans. There is outer chamber / room for the community, and an inner chamber for meditation / preparing food and for confinement that are sacred actions. Both have, as if assumed, a concrete form the poetry by Tukaram and Kabir, which have an outer / gross level of matter, and inner / higher level of spirituality, religiousness.
Tukaram, Kabir, the Cave, the tribal house have roots in the antiquity, and they are our archetypes – ‘collective unconscious’ as Jung says, or ‘deep structures’ as Noam Chomski says – embedded in our psyche. Thus they have the proven quality of timelessness. None of them are not after any official recognition.
Industrial civilisation, by its money and military powers, has robbed and plundered the resources of other societies, other living beings, and the earth. It has invented laws of Copyright / Intellectual Property Rights to protect their wealth built on the stolen resources, and is continuously engaged in warfare, directly or indirectly, visible or invisible, under various garbs. Modern architecture too is built out of the plundered resources of the earth that rightfully belong also to other living beings.
In the wave of industrialisation who could predict the future of these that face the danger of ‘mining’ through the means, such as ‘development’ and ‘multimedia’, with their onslaught on body and mind that takes place without a moment’s hesitation? Who knows if we would go through a genetic change in the changed environment? Perhaps a cultural / moral / patriotic brigade might try to conserve them in the urban jungle of World Wide Web in virtual reality for the occasional quotes and comments, for the intellectual kicks, in the scholarly treatises, duly protected by Copy Rights.
Otherwise, all architecture (Remember Buddha’s statue in Afghanistan that was destroyed!), including the so-called modern architecture born in the West, is perishable (e.g. Imperial Hotel in Japan by Frank Lloyd Wright), and even though Tetya’s bamboo house has possibility of regeneration… It is believed, ‘Word’ is ‘AKSHAR’ – imperishable. At present, most of us – the illiterate, and even the literate – continue to go by the word of mouth!
Remigius de Souza
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