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Towards re-Writing a History
of Indian Architecture
|by Ashish Nangia|
Reflections on the Validity of ‘modern’ Architectural Histories
The categorization above is perfectly reasonable except for one thing : there are few buildings that fall into such neatly defined categories. For example: where would one classify the ISKCON or the Ba’hai temples? As religious buildings? It is true this is their primary purpose, but they also equally represent other things – the pluralism of religious belief in India, the wealth and power associated with successful and mass religious appeal, exercises in political wrangling and bureaucratic procedures, associations of each of these movements with social agendas – the list can go on.
Once again, how would one classify buildings such as the Bombay Stock Exchange or the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) buildings? Once again, a more traditional classification as institutional buildings does not adequately represent the complexity of the symbology that these structures communicate.
The BSE is not just a building where brokers and traders work – it is equally a symbol of an economic boom, of wealth and capital, and perhaps even of social inequity and a society that still has a large gap between its very rich and very poor.
And so we can continue to question the validity of slotting architecture into neat categories, because, as has been just seen, symbolism is a multi-layered thing, and to refer to only one aspect would be once again to fall into the same trap – of having a single definition of ‘perfection’.
Perhaps a far more valid approach in this globalizing world is to examine, as far as possible, single, diverse examples and look at the forces that produce them, and continue to shape their present and future. An analysis of this sort would not only look at architectural form and period of production, but would also look at the forces that contributed to the shaping of this built form. We can hope that such an approach would do at least partial justice to the complex mix of social, political and cultural agencies that go into the building and production of architecture – that mysterious object, which though still searching for an elusive ‘perfect’ definition, is perhaps best left without one.
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