Thursday, 30 November 2006

(Book Review) YAKSAS Essays in the Water Cosmology

Essays in the Water Cosmology
Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

Editor: Paul Schroeder
India Gandhi National Centre For The Arts, New Delhi
Oxford University Press
Hb xviii + 339 pp, ISBN 019 563385 7


“Our problem is not so much of the rebirth of an Indian culture, as it is one of preserving what remains of it. This culture is valid for us not so much because it is Indian as because it is culture.”
— Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (The opening lines of his address at Harvard University on 15 August 1947.)

The right question will provide the right answer, and the right answer would have efficacy of an “act of truth”. [P.138]

(I)n Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, the older esoteric interpretations have been made public while the mysteries as have been lost. [P.138]

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy has given us a monumental work. The theme of this book dates back to third millennia B.C. and continues to the present. It deals with not only history but also the foundations of Indian culture; India not of the political boundaries. Presently some part of India lives in the space age, while the other is in the Neolithic Age. It is a new edition, revised and enlarged. The first two parts, ‘Yaksas’ and ‘Water Cosmology’, were published in 1928 and 1932 respectively. The part 3, ‘What are the Waters’ was not published before. It is timely publication to welcome 21st century and third millennium.

In his characteristic style Coomaraswamy investigates, and analysis by taking evidence from texts – Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit – Vedic and post-Vedic literature including folk–lore, Ritual and Plastic arts and architecture. He traces the origin, the meaning and development of Yaksa Cult, Tree Cult, Water Cosmology and Life Cults prevalent in India, beginning from prehistoric time. He examines their parallels in and common roots with other cultures and countries and presents the mysteries, which are of timeless value. It helps to give insight in Indian people in the context of present times. It is a handbook the householder, social activists, environmentalists, the NGOs, the policymakers and the scholars alike. If looked up carefully in the context of the present wave of ‘cyberspace’ and ‘animated virtual reality’ and its background of the crisis of ‘Environment – Ecology – Energy’ and their progressively deteriorating state at local and global levels, simultaneously, has much significance.

Yaksas as Spirit, ‘Atman’, as Single Primal Principle, in various forms and aspects, as deities control waters, i.e. Essence (Rasa) in the waters, which is one with sap (in trees), Amrta (Elixir), seed (seamen) in living beings, so also, milk, rain, hoeny, mead (Madhu), and liquer (Sura). Refeferances to the Yaksa aspect as Agni (Fire), or in modern idium ‘Energy”, who is “deadly to be touched” has various aspects: in Kamadeva as ‘fire‘ or ‘love’, ’Life’, ‘Universal Life’; in the sun (Mitra) as the friend; in Yama as Devourer, Death i.e. want, privation and Desire; in Vanaspati as ‘Lord/s of the Tree or Forest; Palasa (The Flame of Forest) being Agni’s birthplace.
In the modern context we can verify and judge for ourselves the cocktail effect of unrestrained tapping of Energy, ‘Agni”, whether from hydal–fossil fuel – electrical – nuclear, or seemingly benign Alternative Technology sources such as wind – tidal – solar – bio-gas sources. Does that lead to Greenhouse Effect, besides various health disorders!

The aspect of Varuna who represents “ideal kingship”, Coomaraswamy has brought up the issue of ‘governance’, which is a ‘hot’ subject today at local and global levels he quotes variously, “When king’s virtue fails, the order of nature is disturbed”, “(T)he fertility and prosperity of the country depends upon the king’s virtue; the direct connection between justice and rainfall here involved is highly significant.” Who are the kings in our times? Are the people, or the high offices of the State, or those who hold monopoly over the resources of the Earth and the Waters? This question leads us to “Yaksa worship” and “Bali–Karan”.

Animal and human sacrifices as a form of worship have been prevalent, though the Bodhisattva forbade. It was believed that the human sacrifices were made when Hoogly Bridge was built. It is a belief that the spirit of the sacrificed person protects the building and the wealth. In the developed modern society the modus operand has changed from “Bali–karan” to “Bhook–Bali” i.e. death by starvation, which is common phenomena. May the “Bhook–bali” be on a mass scale or a stray examples: the Ethiopians, the Boat People, or at home the Tribal in Thane,
Melghat as well as elsewhere, which go unreported? These are, of course, the marginalized and underprivileged people. It could be indirect cause for the ‘protection’ of wealth and prosperity created by the modern development, therefore, of the privileged class.

Rituals of Water Cosmology take place from birth to death and in ancestor worship. One may find a person at a liquor bar in Mumbai city; he dips his finger and splashes a drop of liquor before taking his sip. In urban areas the rituals may have been miniaturized for instant delivery, where meanings and mysteries are difficult to retrieve. This may be due to loss of natural environment from built urban habitat, where canned water and synthetic plants and flowers are served, which is more of hedonism. This is aggravated by new ‘cults’ of endless production – consumption – waste, a new triad, through arms, trade and passive entertainment, but no place for contemplation.

The first two parts – ‘Yaksas’ and ‘Water Cosmology’ – are interspersed into each other, which deal with Life, Sustenance and Spirit. The first two parts are metaphysics show life and sustenance is supported by spirit in all beings, while the third part, ‘What are the Waters?’, deals with how Life and Sustenance help the person to liberate from birth till death by Way of Uajna and Yoga in Enfranchisement (Mukti) and thereby receive Invulnerable Happiness in both material and spiritual aspects, here and now,. “Yajna being work – Karma – ritual, or all works done Sacra mentally, as Sacrifice, work as Vocation (Swadharma)”. Yoga is a Way, Reunion or unity of the embodied self with the Self in itself. Perhaps in a subtle way this masterwork shows what is amiss in the global search for much wanted ‘sustainable development’.

The spatial plan of the book is analogous to a archetypal tribal hut, or a typical Indian temple. The first two parts are like Mandapas, the third is alike kitchen or a room for confinement in a tribal hut, or the ‘Garbhagriha’ with ‘Shikhara’ in temple, indeed a culmination, a pinnacle of the thesis. The first two parts are complex intricate, rich in texture of the outside of a temple. The third part is rustic, ascetic, without ornamentation i.e. as Coomarswamy says, “without extended documentary evidence“. It is graphic presentation (in words) of ascent of Life from Birth to Enfranchisement (Mukti), death being only transitory stage. It is the spherical ascent in spiral movement of the ever–expanding, ever–ascending Person towards fruitfulness and fullness of Life through Yajna (Sacrifice) and Yoga (Reunion) here and now to reach Sovran Good (Rta) and Invulnerable Happiness – ‘Ananda’.

The editing and production of this book is par excellence, which is at once visible from the beginning to the last detail: in selection of paper, appropriate typefaces, layout, the cross references provided to the text, notes, explanatory notes and plates, the bibliography and index which are carefully executed. It is a reference book for art students, architects, planners, landscape designers, and of course, movie–makers and ‘Vastu–consultants’.

Remigius de Souza
[Revised 18–8–2001]
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Friday, 24 November 2006

Child Labour: Myth and Reality

Child Labour: Myth and Reality

Challanges of 21st Century

UN poster girl

Myth: UN poster girl (TOI, Nov. 21, 2006)

A branded bathing soap by a MNC, nowadays, in an ad on TV channels in India, send children to clean a waterlogged cricket stadium to drain the field. They are voluntary child labourers from elite class urban families. They have excellent communication gadgets and bicycles. What a noble cause! How tremendous human energy!

I was born in a village in Konkan – a rice bowl of Maharashtra State. During my childhood in nineteen forties, due to the shortage of food, the government was supplying grains, imported millet – red Jowar, through its public distribution system on ration shops. It needed thorough cleaning and washing. We called it “dukari” meaning “pig-food”, or so believed to be used in the West.

This was perhaps a side effect of war in Europe, called World War II. We were then fortunate to get that much. Now the conditions are much worst; the tribal, for example, in Orissa, as reported, were eating dried carnal of mango seeds, or in Gujarat kill their hunger by drinking fermented toddy arrack, in Maharashtra there are instances of death of tribal children by malnutrition or starvation in the backyard of Mumbai.

A standard reason for this malady put forward by the experts, the celebrated hypocrites, is “Population Explosion”, but they never mention, in the same breath, “Sensex Explosion” in the share market that corrodes the rightful claim of the posterity to healthy Environment–Ecology–Energy.

Later we heard that in Vietnam an entire generation was born on the war-field and grew up with guns in their hands ready to fight. Thanks to the power greedy warmongers and profit greedy armament industry.

Much later, very recently, we read in the media that the “UN poster girl” that appeared in a campaign against child labour is still subjected to child labour in Bihar. It is as if by being a “poster girl” she had reached an exclusive status of “Miss World”, or a celebrity! What about the millions of children in the cities and countrywide?

Perhaps after the two World Wars in Europe many orphanages, SOS institutions for the children and homes for the aged might have been founded, so also, many brothels flourished. And the West being highly industrialised and wealthy, and less populated, may have also abolished ‘child labour’.

However, here, the children among 700-800 million Indians, who are subjected to harsh disparity, educate themselves by ‘experiential learning’ in every possible occupation, vocation, trade of their families and communities, from dish-and-cloth washing and child rearing to agriculture, carpentry, abode building, pottery, smithy, running grocery shop etc. from early age.

They also acquire skills in hundred and one errands to support living. This education, of course, has no recognition by the official systems. Thanks to the absence of burden of books typical of modern urban elite style of education that despite their labour and meager level of literacy, they still get some time for leisure and play, and at countryside be with whatever natural environment there.

A few years back, I met one of my ex-students, an aspiring young architect, near Churchgate Railway Station area in Mumbai. This is a very prestigious and prime location of downtown Mumbai. Besides, this young lady and her family have been residents of this area, perhaps for generations; obviously she belonged to a high society of Mumbai. She has been conducting a survey of hawkers in that area on behalf of the local residents’ association and some NGO.

I asked her, “In your survey is there a question to find where these people – individual or group – come from? Do you find from which place they come and why? And where do they live in the city? Does this aspect figure in your questionnaire?”
With surprise she answered "No, Sir."
Predictably she did not think even about their families, leave aside children.
Now the hawker-menace from that area is largely removed.

With the rise of industrialization in India, earlier only male family members used to leave for cities for work, which fragmented families, yet womenfolk with help of the children and the aged managed their families.

But now here there is another war, a war without a bang, that displaces not only families, even villages. There is one definition of “Dharma” – religion: “Dharayati Sa Dharama” – religion (is) that supports (society).

What could a decadent fragmented society, which fails to evolve with changing times, do? It needs a law to abolish ‘child labour’, but law cannot guarantee morality of any society. Neither the system – legal or moral – nor the fundamental right by the Constitution to sustain oneself to be alive has any viable answer.

We have a saying in Marathi, “Mother doesn’t give to eat, father doesn’t allow to beg.” What would be the fallout of anti-child-labour law?

During the past two decades, how many youths in the country have turned to crime, extortion or ended at the hands of the fundamentalists or terrorists? Indian politics, as is sentimental as well as fashionable, perhaps has an excellent record of enforcing law and enacting development projects long before or even without rehabilitation of the affected people. Would child labourer turn a beggar?

Water play at River Narmada, Bharuch, India

Reality: Children at play, Rive Narmada, Bharuch City, Gujarat, India. (Pic by the autor)

(The article was published in JANATA weekly, Mumbai.)

©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Saturday, 18 November 2006


Recurring floods: Central Mumbai (On the top left are the slums that too are flooded

A Tip of the Iceberg

by Remigius de Souza


CALL THIS CITY Bombay (former island city) or Mumbai (now a metropolitan city), the dichotomy remains. While speaking and writing in Marathi it has always been Mumbai, while in English, ‘Bombay’, even before the British left.

So also there has been south-north divide; south of island city being the seat of power. Now north is extended beyond the island city that includes ‘suburbs’ and ‘extended suburbs’.

There have been several flood- prone areas in the north of island city for more than five decades, whatever may be the reasons; negligence could be one of them. The divide between the First World and the Third world (and the Fourth World of tribal communities living in the nearby districts of Thane and Raigad) too continues. Media’s attention during deluge, of course, was Mumbai / Bombay; the woes of slums in the city and Raigad District were scantily noticed.

High, very high, highest-in-a-day rainfalls, likewise, cyclones, earthquakes, typhoons, are common natural phenomena. Floods causing damage to lives and property are mostly due to human folly, whether at countryside or in mega-cities. People learn, or should learn, their lessons over a period of time.

Mumbai has been witnessing for last few decades phenomenal rise in almost every aspect of city life: Stock Exchange Index, population, pollution, vehicles, traffic jams, scams… to name a few, so also the increasing slum dwellers and hawkers that are branded illegal though they struggle to earn their daily bread and to survive with dignity, in the wave (or Tsunami?) of development. These are symptoms of a sick society at large.

Boast about Mumbai’s ten million people! Thankfully it is not going to be a global city in the near future, perhaps never. Mumbai is only a fashionable product. The city picks up technologies for their cosmetic use… with disregard for possible fallout.

The experts, specialists, planners, architects, builders, policymakers, legislators, administrators, of Mumbai thrive on foreign collaborations – ideas, aids, funds, loans… and flattery by the foreigners – institutes or individuals – who have vested interest in trade, market and profit. Almost in every field of city-life they takes on ‘Bollywood Effect’ to please or fool themselves and the citizens, or for the self-interest.

A city’s services, for example, have to stand the test for two to three hundred years and the trial by any calamity – one in hundred possibilities. City can’t be a product by a single visionary genius, or by authorities, or by fancy of a politician. City is not a container made in a factory or in a boardroom. It is a work of collective creativity of people over centuries.

MOTHER NATURE unravelled some of the chapters of sordid past and present of Mumbai / Bombay by the deluge of 26th July 2005.

The first rape of Mother Earth took place when the British founded Bombay; they destroyed the islands and hills, bulldozed the lakes, wetlands and creeks, and reclaimed the sea, which drowned some coastal areas in Konkan.

Since then the land grabbing has continued unabated with religious fervour till this day. Mumbai otherwise could have been the Oriental Venice, so to say. The City of Venice, built upon 137 islands, too, gets flooded and is sinking in the sea.

The second assault came when the hills of nearby Raigad District were deforested to build the city. The gods in the religions, scriptures and epics of the world may assume human traits, but Mother Nature is indifferent to the entire human species, not alone to the underprivileged but even to the so-called superior, developed societies. Yet there are millions of people choose to live in harmony with nature.

All human habitats are vulnerable to ‘calamities’ caused by human nature or Mother Nature. In the age of democracy if the citizens give away their responsibilities, therefore, their rights, to the so-called authority of politicians, experts, policymakers, authorities, without making them answerable, without subjecting them to public scrutiny.

The citizens have to face consequences and bear the responsibility; their ignorance, illiteracy or wealth/ poverty cannot be an excuse, or they face annihilation.

This must be happening all over the world. It is time to get educated in the rights and responsibilities, but most urgent are ‘civic sense’ and ‘hygiene’ for everyone, from the presidents and prime ministers to a pauper on a street, throughout the world, without exception. These would cover issues from deadly nuclear power, to dumping toxic wastes, to dumping food in the garbage, to all the issues affecting air - land - water.

Sixteen years ago, on 24th July 1989, there was very heavy rainfall that caused equally devastating floods all over Raigad District. Mumbai also was flooded then. Even that time the authorities were slow to reach the affected areas of Raigad District; the people helped themselves.

That time there were unusual floods also in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. This is a clear indication of more and continued deforestation south of Raigad District. When water in the Koyna dam reached danger-level, the authorities were caught napping.

In sixteen years they did not learn their lessons. Where and how did the policies, physical–economic–social planning and implementation fail?

Can the built environment compensate the destruction of natural environment, collapse of ecology at national, regional and micro level for development? While taking remedial measures for Mumbai’s sickness, the city cannot be isolated from the region/s.


It's not ‘growing’ as popularly said. Growing implies healthy natural organic process. Swelling is a malady, a sickness. Like floods, slums, etc. this is one of the national indicators, visible, loud and clear than any official statistics or proclamations.

On 26/7/2015 the services, systems, regulators, health, safety, civic sense… and justice failed resulting into a calamity. These indicators are visible at several places during several events – natural or manmade. These maladies are symptoms of sick society, inevitably of the nation.

City is a symbol of centralised power throughout the ages throughout the world. Some call it a magnet to hide the fact. A megalopolis wields immense power by its invisible tentacles over the regions, far and wide, even across the borders of sovereign state, beyond the oceans and continents. What is not perceived is how the metropolitan cities devour the resources of the region/s and the nation. It is even beyond the control of so-called metropolitan/urban region development authorities.

Some prominent citizens may harp on the taxes paid by Mumbai to the nation, but what is the size of ‘black money’ that circulates in the parallel economy, who generates it and who is accountable? How much energy does Mumbai consume and what is its ratio to the State or National energy consumption?

Some talk of appointing CEO, or to appoint a CM who is local citizen (ninety percent of Mumbai’s citizens are migrants), or to block the entry of slum-dwellers to the city, or to make Mumbai an independent state, etc. These are only ‘curative’ measures. This is how some influential citizens use their credibility to consolidate the centralised power. What is needed is ‘corrective measures’ with ‘care’, and rigorous investigation by field work with participation of the local citizens.

Mumbai is beyond a manageable size for its civic authorities and the government. In fact Mumbai is spilling over in Vasai-Virar area, in Thane and Kalyan-Dombivali cities, besides Navi Mumabi; it’s a vast agglomeration, though separated by boundaries. Eventually all oversize institutions fail.

To speak only about Mumbai for a while, the immediate corrective measure is to ‘decentralize’ the power of the City of Mumbai. The first vital measure is to separate Mumbai in three municipal corporations: 1- the island city, 2- the former suburbs and 3- the former extended suburbs. Name them whatever – Mumbai, Mumbapuri and Mumbai Nagari.

The second vital measure is to ‘shift the capital of Maharashtra State to some interior area such as, Beed, Parbhani, Jalgaon, Sangli etc. but not at any major city like Pune or Nagpur. The cash-stripped Maharashtra Government could rent or sell the existing Assembly hall and Secretariat buildings to multinational / Desi corporations instead of selling the city’s open spaces, to make money. In any case we have been dividing the states, districts, even villages, and building new capitals.

To divide the City of Mumbai into three separate corporations is a ‘corrective action’; and to shift the capital of the state, in the words of Patrick Geddes, is a ‘painless surgery’.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Click below for "Flood Fraud" in Mumbai:
Late News (14.01.2007)

Remigius de Souza
(Published in Janata, Mumbai)
©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Butterflies on Mobile

by Remigius de Souza

Red Mobile by Alexander Calder | Source Wikipedia

From an egg to larvae to caterpillar to butterfly the life-form passes through change. Call it evolution, creation, change, growth, rebirth, chemistry, or whatever you may. Does it happen to a person in human life? Being conscious of ‘person’ within inevitably could bring about change. Consciousness is helped by contemplation and awareness in oneself, and alert watching. Watching the real life helps attention, but while watching ‘virtual’ reality or an idol may lead to chains of conditioning and judgments that leads life astray and to decadence hence loss of creativity.

We have been witnessing it enough at societal level within individual and the society outside. At global level this situation is now more exposed than ever before in the age of Electronic/Information Technologies and transit systems. Rational thinking and senses together must be used until both come to their inevitable end – death –, i.e. end of space-time, for creativity to blossom. Within the bondage of space-time there is no liberation, creation, celebration of life. It is only a manipulation, repetition, and adjustment – readjustment, reaction – counteraction. End of rational thinking and senses does not mean their negation or denial, but on the contrary their full use.

The dance of creation (destruction) is continually happening in the Nature. Man is part of Nature but the intellect and senses that are divorced from it do not come to the end of rational thinking and therefore is caught by the irrational. It may appear in the forms of state, religion, philosophy, progress, development, dogma and what not. Evolution, creation, growth, rebirth etc. remain just the words on the fringe of Life. One cannot attach or decide any meaning or purpose or goal to Life; it is not a concept. Our living or routine has goals. But to attach them to Life is to demean it.

Alexander Calder’s mobile sculptures fascinate me. After him, when there was newborn baby at home, I set out to make a mobile with butterflies, to hang it on the cradle. But instead I mounted myself on the clouds and took a ride. Their colours, mass, density, shapes, velocities were constantly changing. Suddenly I come down with billion drops on the ground. There I entered the soil particles and watched a billion seeds breaking their shells. Calder left a lesson for me in his mobile sculptures.

Instead of making a mobile of butterflies in imitation of Calder, I mounted myself upon clouds, buried myself in the soil, and witnessed the dance of creation (destruction). Down to the earth, I lifted baby Rhea, sat under the canopy of the foliage and flowers that were swinging with breeze, real butterflies dancing, and the baby in my lap, watching with amazement, her whole body smiling.

Remigius de Souza
©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Design Teachers' Dilemma

Design Teachers' Dilemma: Architecture of Diatoms
by Remigius de Souza

So far more than 70,000 species of diatoms are documented each with uniquely shaped shell. Shells range in size from millionth of meter to thousand times as large, and can very in structure (New Scientist, 17 January 2004).

There is no scientific definition of life, says James Lovelock, and gives its attribute, “Life is social. It exists in communities and collectives … homeostasis or ‘the wisdom of the body’ is a colligiative property of life” (The Ages of Gaia, OUP. 1988, P.18). This is evident in algae as well as bacteria in the gut.

The attribute to design in Nature is cryptically described by Martin Jones bio-archaeologist, “In whole organisms, randomness structure is uncommon. Everything seems finely tuned by brutal rigours of natural selection. There are no spare limbs to be found and hardly any dispensable organs. This forced economy of organism design has always limited the use of bodily form as evolutionary timepiece” (The Molecular Hunt, Penguin 2002). He gives most apt definition of design for any artefact from product design to regional planning, and institutions by humans.
Institutes that teach architecture obviously aspire to produce geniuses on their assembly lines; the students, however, produce homogenised designs.

Algae’s habitats are ocean, river, lake, pond etc.
Remigius de Souza
©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.
Postal address: 69, 3rd flr. 243 S. B. Marg, Mumbai 400028 India

Saturday, 4 November 2006

Architecture and Biodiversity in India

Architecture and Biodiversity[1] in India

A Context to Aesthetics in Our Times

by Remigius de Souza

(This paper has no visuals or graphics or photographs of any examples of architecture for obvious reasons. You, however, can draw any number of examples from your experience, of from the folk architecture from any region.)

Prologue: Way of Nature

THE ATTRIBUTE TO DESIGN IN NATURE is cryptically described by Martin Jones, bio-archaeologist, “In whole organisms, randomness structure is uncommon. Everything seems finely tuned by brutal rigours of natural selection. There are no spare limbs to be found and hardly any dispensable organs. This forced economy of organism design has always limited the use of bodily form as evolutionary timepiece" (The Molecular Hunt, Penguin 2002). This is most relevant definition of design even for manmade objects or institutions. Nature – within and outside – is the first and the last guru, irrespective of the tools – arts, sciences, religions or trades. All wisdom and knowledge originate in the nature. It is time now for ‘Srishtiyog’ – union with Nature.

Garden under a Glass Cage…

WE ARE THINKING OF ARCHITECTURE at primary level it is everyone’s need – from a shelter to farming to damning a river. It has emerged as a most costly commodity not merely economically but also environmentally.

Architecture – good or bad – is concrete manifestation of abstract thought. Any thought is always abstract. Language, script or graphic is abstract. So also, sciences, philosophies or religions are abstract. We comprehend abstraction by our perception of reality. Art also is abstraction; it is surreal. A farmer is an artist, who works with elements on the canvas of soil, where thought and senses are unified in action as a way of life. He works at tremendous risk. His work is concrete and spiritual at the same time. We are not referring to industrialised farming.

Architecture is primarily a utility; its interpretations, however, are abstract and various. A thought involved in architecture is abstract; it may even be superstitious, whether it is scientific, philosophical, social, economic or religious, or legal such as, building by-laws or development control rules for cities and regions. The superstition may appear by way of imitation, reproduction, adoption or mass production. Architect is a thinking person, unless of course one is physically, mentally and spiritually involved in the construction, even if it may be a modest artefact, where thought is dispassionately tested in action. The word architect is variously to various occupations, for example, building a nation in politics, writing a constitution for a nation, or creating virtual reality on computer.

Buddhist religious thought, for example, we assume, is translated in its religious structures, such as, Stupa, Vihara and Chiatya. However we are not informed about any example of Buddhist secular architecture. Hence we presume that when Buddhist religion is a person’s way of life it’s a concrete form. Can we interpret any architectural edifice – secular, religious or monumental – of any time or place as a way of life? The archaeologists do that taking help of many disciplines, though with their perception. Or is Buddhism yet another brand for mass conversions in defiance of another brand? Or is Buddhism, in our times, merely an intellectual kick in discourses or at coffee-table-talk? It is said that Vihara was derived from the tribal village halls or men’s clubs, and cave ethos share with ‘Gotuls’ or youth dormitories of Muria Tribe. This has been the way of life of the tribal, even now. The tribal communities were, still are, republicans. Knowing such facts, now even vernacular architecture is acknowledged along with classical, historical, ancient or so-called modern architecture.

Zen Buddhism has enriched daily living in its expressions in gardening, painting, poetry, drama, Ikebana, Tokonoma and tea ceremony that are elements of architecture and planning. In the India too there are innumerable such expressions. Call them customs, rituals, religion, or traditions or whatever you may. Undoubtedly they originate in and relate to Nature.

The industrial civilisation emerged with the Mechanical–Industrial Revolution (generally called Industrial Revolution), in the West. It started mass production; so much so, that communities turned into a homogenised mass society, which took to monoculture. It also started many institutions. It has institutionalised almost every aspect of private and collective life of an individual and the society, and reduced their autonomy.

It took a few hundred years to build (!) Ajanta–Ellora. Here we notice a remarkable consistency and diversity both in the edifices as they materialised over a long period of time. How was it made possible? It took a few decades to build Taj Mahal. Now it takes a few months to build a skyscraper or a township.

Today technology renders several buildings and building types obsolete before their building-life is over. The West now has developed “controlled demolition technology” to ground multimillions dollar worth new buildings in the heart of cities, with total disregard to environmental-energy-ecology cost. The large industrial establishments are decentralising and shifting their manufacturing units to different places and countries. Technologies and products including those for modern buildings are abandoned. Some prove hazardous to health.

We are in state of flux than ever before. Whatever may cause this flux it is man-made. Where can we draw a line between that which is permanent, universal or timeless and that which is transient or temporary? Homo sapiens have not changed biologically ever since they appeared.

Are the architects merely going by conventions of the past, or by those set elsewhere? Do they comprehend the present and foresee the future? Are architects obliged to accept, follow, or imitate blindly or piously the architecture of the 20th century that originated in the West? It, of course, is a by-product of the Industrial Revolution. A 20th century “form-giver” aptly said, “House is a machine for living in”. Now the investors and profiteers, hand in hand with science and technology, after exploiting the resources of the earth, have turned their eyes on biology and biotechnology[2]

Biotechnology is now becoming the buzzword of the 21st century in the industrial society. It, of course, is motivated to investigate and exploit new avenues for profit and power. It is banking on genes of every kind of species of animals, insects, plants, including man, after defiling land, waters and air, and biotic and abiotic nature, and after causing extinction/ annihilation of fellow human beings. Biological diversity however is the lifeline for the survival of mankind.

Who shall be the next master to be the 21st century form-giver? Who shall write the guidebooks? What shall be the new slogan of 21st century? It may be perhaps, “Garden under a glass cage is a house for the clones” who will live at the command by remote control in New York, London, Paris, Brussels, and Tokyo… or New Delhi, Mumbai!

Built Environment and Biodiversity

WE ARE THINKING HERE OF ARCHITECTURE ALSO because it is major consumer of energy that affects ecology in a major way and modifies environment through its six design fields. Architecture is no more “a plot and a monument”. The scope and context of architecture has widened with environmental awareness. Here we consider architecture as “built environment”, which has six design fields: Product Design, Interior Design, Architectural Design, Urban Design, and Town Planning, now added by Regional Planning. Any of these six design fields have bearing on all other fields, which include land, water, air, and biotic and abiotic nature. These could be verified in any example at any place and time.

What legacy the Industrial civilisation has given us? We know that industrial civilisation only takes from the earth but never returns. We may generalise it in brief. About 10 percent people of India may have made it theirs. They rule and force others to accept it. It is not a willing acceptance or by understanding it. It has left increasing gulf between the educated (now armed with computer education) and the illiterate, the rich and the poor (including those below poverty line and the starving, the unemployed whose skills are redundant in industrial society and the educated unemployed).

Yet in spite of environmental and ecological degradation all is not lost in India. There are a large percentage of people that still remains outside the folds of industrialisation. There are still a number of social and cultural sub-groups who are not trapped by the cult of monoculture. These diverse subgroups have their kinship with biodiversity in their regions. Their languages, culture, life-supporting skills, traditional wisdom, and of course architecture, are akin to the biodiversity. There are fifteen regional languages recognised by the State, leave aside fifteen hundred vernaculars, and as many bioregions and as many “styles” of vernacular architecture.

The ruling minority has made persistent efforts to colonise them or to bring them into its web of economy, education, planning, law and institutions but they have remained outside. Are they defiant in spite of being a weaker section or is the system not keen? Perhaps both. The system has failed them again and again though no one will want to admit it. It is happier in self-gratification. In such a situation the people – the masses – become easy target for attacks by either the State and the power mongers or the terrorists.

We fail to recognise even at the turn of the last century in the historical context, if not democracy, that no person or a group has any credibility without people. There is no credibility for any brand – economic, social, religious, political or any other – without people. We mention religion not with any bias but it is our mindset, irrespective of rites, rituals, castes, sects, creeds, or superstitions.

It is a historic flux. We are parting our ways mentally, morally and culturally from nature and the living traditions, while dilly-dallying between old and newfangled ideas. We easily begin by falling for commercial brands issued in attractive packages and with compulsive justifications through multimedia and propaganda in the name of information and communications. Leisure, for example, is free for anyone, but now it comes as entertainment with a price tag of money, time and health. We are indeed destitute in time by being helpless, complacent, or contented, or irresponsible to the society and the posterity.

In such a state, we – individually and collectively – have only one option left to our discretion. It is to sift, screen, and select between the needs and wants: personal, social and beyond personal. While the needs are permanent, universal and timeless, the wants always remain transient, temporary and passing fads. No one ever needs to justify needs. But the wants, now and then, need justifications. Manufacturers and traders tell us what we must want and have. Architects are not far behind them to advocate through their products and designs to tell people how they must live in a mass society. This is a joint venture to make people opt for the ways of industrial society.

All products (and ideas) supplied and sold, or even donated, by the industrial society in the name of needs, wants, conveniences, or altruism, must be tasted in the laboratories of environment, ecology and energy for health of man and nature, and scrutinise their price, cost, benefit and value. But it may not be our priority, not being a profitable venture.

Science, religion or philosophy, unless responsible for the sustenance of all the living beings, may remain a dead irrelevant matter. In spite of all the glamour, the Einstein and the Nobel Prizes are irrelevant, even irresponsible to the large majority of the needy. Perhaps that is why mythologies have lasting value for people. Sooner or later we, and the future generations, may even loose them, or get them distorted. Why does an arrow (archery) have a symbolic meaning and not the ICBM? Why does ‘Hermit’s Hut’ come in the discussion on architecture? Is there any example of mythical value in the modern architecture?

Modern architecture is a by-product of industrial revolution, and born in city. A city has always been a symbol of power. In modern times, Metropolitan City has emerged not only as a symbol of unlimited centralised power but also as a parasite on the planet. It has extended its footprint beyond its physical boundaries for its sustenance into the regions near and far. It extends even beyond the sovereign state and beyond continents. This (globalisation) does not mean that any place should adopt the dictate of International Style of architecture. It is not obligatory.

Regional planning becomes a pressing problem in India due to the accelerated mechanisation and industrialisation, migration and the neglect of hinterland, large population and biological diversity of the country. We must note the difference between the conditions of developed countries and India. In the West the urban population is about 80%, while in India it is about 30% that includes a large number of slums. In 1890 almost 30% of entire US population was living in the cities.

Environmental awareness has brought up the grave issue of destruction of biological diversity and the need to conserve it. It is time now for architecture or the built environment to bring biodiversity into its discipline. Or revive itself in the realms of biodiversity instead of becoming an instrument or expression of inequity and exploitation of people, land and waters. This revival, having sufficient understanding of the Indian agrarian society, should bring forth the ethical and new aesthetic values; their roots are already in the land and her people.

But who will bell the Cat?

THE LAWS AND ACTS that affect built environment must first understand the aesthetics of biodiversity. They were made to venerate industrial civilisation. In the wake of biodiversity, it is not only the prevailing standard building bylaws but also the development plans and the development control rules of towns and cities will need to be overhauled and changed. They were devised for the delight of the regimental officials of the departments. Every town and city – old or new – and the region will have to device their own codes based on its people and the region, i.e. its bioregion. The same should apply also to the “ghettos of development” that mushroom in the rural areas as public or private development projects.

Look at any development plan. It typically shows land-use zones, floor space indices (FSI), and road network for automobiles and centres for services/ shopping. Of course the grey zones of the existing slums are not visible. People rarely figure in except as population densities or numbers, which mostly go topsy-turvy. The boundaries show as if there exists nothing beyond the city – an island in ocean. There is hardly any thought given to the ergonomics in social, economic, political and physical context of a person and the society, land and waters, flora and fauna, and biotic and abiotic nature. Sanjay Gandhi National Park at Borivali in Mumbai is a classic example. The panthers at SGNP recently started attacking humans. So the easiest ‘curative’ measure devised by the ‘authority’ was to deport the panthers to other place. Ironically the Warli tribe living in this forest for ages venerate their ‘Vaghdeo’ – tiger god – as a keeper of the forest.

Typically the regional plans look like replicated, enlarged city plan. The major features indicate more industries, services and infrastructure, of course, to serve the main cities. These do not offer any solace to the locals, particularly the weaker sections – children, women, the poor and the marginalized. The rich elite, industrialists and the real estate developers purchase large tracts of land in these regions. One could hardly imagine the plight of the small farmers, the landless labourers, and the tribal. There is no succour for the land and water from pollution or deforestation. The consequence is that the diversity of the region turns into despair.

In the preparation and execution of any plan or law, the following important and most essential issues emerge.

  • To ascertain the likely fall out due to a plan or a law in the affected areas – people, land and waters, flora and fauna – directly or indirectly, in the near or distant future, and within and outside the planned area.
  • To prepare appropriate policy, infrastructure and measures for implementation to preserve, conserve, rehabilitate and restore the affected areas mentioned above, as an essential part of the compe4nsation package.

  • To create and use appropriate means of communications to inform the citizens – the starving, the illiterate, the half-naked, and the elite – of the planning action at every stage of its process, from the inception to after-implementation of the plan or a law.

  • These measures should be taken before the plan or law is sanctioned and enacted.

  • To file regular returns to the public of the planning and implementation actions, the success and failures, and functioning of the project every year till the end of the project period.
We are in the age of information and communications. We have made large investments in satellite and other technologies. These should offer the means of direct communication to inform and educate people about the planning process. It is the first step towards the “public participation” and “transparency”. It is as worthy as, even more than, any election at a national or state level.
The issue of biodiversity needs to be taken up on emergency basis before it is totally destroyed. (Here biodiversity is not limited to plants and animals only, but also include people and their cultural sub-groups.) The world has seen the worst effects of industrialisation. Now under the auspices of biotechnology the GM foods are already taking the world by storm. No one knows its full implications. Experiments on the dumb animals for cloning are already on the way, which may facilitate the powerful to start with human cloning, though, of course, not without a strong opposition.

It is high time the legislators, policymakers, lawmakers, executives, architects and planners educate themselves in biodiversity and ecosystems at the ground level, and then evolve the plans and designs. Even the Supreme Court (SC) has admitted at one stage (‘Clean Ganga Project’) that it had to educate itself on ‘environment’. But SC should note that it is only a beginning.

Learning is possible with the help of the locals. Planning and designing without user participation amounts only to self-glorification. The so-called masses are the people with body mind intelligence and creative ability. Anonymous people in millions have understood biodiversity over millennia in its multiple dimensions for their sustenance.

We are thousand millions now, and that’s our strength. For example, there are about hundred colleges of architecture in the country; of course this is a negligible number. Unfortunately even they are ill equipped in the domain of biodiversity. India will require over one thousand colleges of architecture to work with biodiversity on their agenda.

We are not talking here of any established theories of aesthetics. The essential action first, theories will follow as has been happening throughout the history of mankind. There is no hope of help from the foreign consultants. It is also not possible with bureaucratic, regimental mindset. The volumes of information must be tested at the ground realities, because every place is unique. The planning ‘authority’ then cannot be a dictator or demigod but is only a facilitator.

We are looking down to earth, as is, where is, for help and succor, here and now. Biodiversity-oriented architecture and planning is a collective action; it anticipates people’s autonomy and participation, decentralization of power, human scale and collective creativity.

Epilogue: Architecture of Diatoms

DIATOMS – microscopic algae – are known for their beautiful and elaborate glass shells, each with uniquely shaped shell. Nanotechnologists are interested for their several commercial applications rather than their aesthetic merits. Our challenge is what wonders we – the hundred crore people, particularly the silent majority – could work in harmony with nature in true freedom when we look up to humble algae!

We end, or rather begin, with optimistic note by quoting Ben Okari, Nigerian writer: “The full potential of human creativity has not yet been tapped. Along with the ever-increasing miracle of love, this fact is one of the brightest hopes for human race.” (Ben Okri, A way of Being Free, 1999, p 28).


Remigius de Souza
Postal Address: 69, 3rd flr. 243, S.B. Marg, Mumbai 400028, India.
16-11-2002 (23-8-2004)


1 Biodiversity: ‘Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from al sources, including interallia, terrestrial, marine and aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species; between species and the ecosystems.’ (Article 2 of the Convention of Biological Diversity, UNEP 1992)
2 Biotechnology: (a). Biotechnology is the application of biological organisms, systems or processes to manufacturing and service industries (Spinks, A. ‘Biotechnology’ report of a Joint Working Party, HMSO, London 1980).
(b) ‘Biotechnology is the art of manufacturing living forms as though they were machines’ (Stephan R. L., and Clark K. “Modern Errors and Ancient Virtues” in Ethics and Biotechnology, Eds. Anthony Dyson and John Harris, Routledge, London, 1994)

(Note: This paper was presented to PAITHRUKAM 2004: Seminar/Workshop on Aesthetics in Indian Architecture: Past, Present and Future, at MES College of Architecture, Trissure, Kerala. December 16 – 18, 2004)