Interdisciplinary Practices In Secularism Factors Cultural Studies Essay

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Secularism, a small word with a big meaning. Secularism holds a lot of importance when we talk about India. Its history can be traced back to 1976, the 42nd Amendment Act when, after much discussion, the word was finally added to the Indian Constitution. In the Indian context the term is basically applicable to the State implying absolutely no kind of intervention in matters related to religion. The essence of the expression is accepted very differently in India and the Western countries where it is understood in the sense of or purely this worldly approach, rejecting the other worldly beliefs. India is a country where religion is very central to the life of the people. India's age old philosophy as expounded in the Hindu scriptures is Sarva Dharma Sambhava meaning equal respect for all religions. Even before the advent of Christianity and Islam, India was a multi - religious in nature. Christianity and Islam added more religious traditions to existing Indian traditions. Thus it would be correct to say that India is bewilderingly diverse country in every respect - religious, cultural, ethnic and caste.

Indian architecture is that vast tapestry of production of the Indian Subcontinent that encompasses a multitude of expressions over space and time, transformed by the forces of history considered unique to the sub-continent, sometimes destroying, but most of the time absorbing. The result is an evolving range of architectural production that none the less retains a certain amount of continuity across history. [1]

The earliest production in the Indus Valley Civilization was characterised by well planned cities and houses where religion did not seem to play an active role. The Buddhist period is primarily represented by three important building types- the Chaitya Hall (place of worship), the Vihara (monastery) and the Stupa (hemispherical mound for worship/ memory)- exemplified by the awesome caves of Ajanta and Ellora and the monumental Sanchi Stupa. The Jaina temples are characterised by a richness of detail that can be seen in the Dilwara Temples in Mt.Abu. Early beginnings of Hindu temple architecture have been traced to the remains at Aihole and Pattadakal in present day Karnataka, and have Vedic altars and late Vedic temples as described by Pāṇini as models.

Later, as more differentiation took place, the Dravidian/ Southern style and or the Indo-Aryan/ Northern/ Nagara style of temple architecture emerged as dominant modes, epitomised in productions such as the magnificent Brihadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur, and the Sun Temple, Konark.

With the advent of Islam, the arch and dome began to be used and the mosque or masjid too began to form part of the landscape, adding to a new experience in form and space. The most famous Islamic building type in India is the tomb or the mausoleum which evolved from the basic cube and hemisphere vocabulary of the early phase into a more elaborate form during the Mughal period where multiple chambers are present and tombs were set in a garden known as the char-bagh.


Well known examples are the Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur and the Taj Mahal, Agra, the latter renowned for its beauty in white marble, its minarets and its setting. With colonisation, a new chapter began. Though the Dutch, Portuguese and the French made substantial forays, it was the English who had a lasting impact. The architecture of the colonial period varied from the beginning attempts at creating authority through classical prototypes to the later approach of producing a supposedly more responsive image through what is now termed Indo-Saracenic architecture- a mixture of Hindu, Islamic and Western elements.

With the introduction of Modern Architecture into India and later with Independence, the quest was more towards progress as a paradigm fuelled by Nehruvian visions. The planning of Chandigarh- a city most architects hate/love- by Le Corbusier was considered a step towards this. Later as modernism exhausted itself in the West and new directions were sought for, in India too there was a search for a more meaningful architecture rooted in the Indian context. This direction called Critical Regionalism is exemplified in the works of architects such as B.V. Doshi, Charles Correa, etc.

The next important factor influencing the indian architecture for a long time is the Indian caste system. India is one country where the concept of caste rigidity evolved and still plays a major role in religious, social and cultural matters. Caste dynamics in Indian life, even in Christian and Islamic societies, plays larger than life role. Since most of the conversions to Christianity and Islam took place from lower caste Hindus, these two world religions also developed caste structure. There are lower caste churches and mosques in several places. Secularism in India, as pointed out before, meant equal respect for all religions and cultures and non-interference of religion in the government affairs. Also, according to the Indian Constitution no discrimination will be made on the basis of caste, creed, gender and class.

The characteristic of Indian society the strikes one as distinctive of it is what is termed as 'Varna Dharma' or Caste. [2]It was a social system in which people were divided into separate close communities. These communities are known in English as caste. The origin of the caste system is in Hinduism, but it affected the whole Indian society. The caste system in the religious form is basically a simple division of society in which there are four castes arranged in a hierarchy and below them the outcast. [3] The basic castes that could be seen in the society were the Brahmanas ( Priests and Teachers ), Kshatriya ( Warriors and Rulers ), Vaisya ( Farmers and Merchants )and the Shudra ( Labourers ). After them came the untouchables.

Coming back to religion, caste and culture, each of them has its own specific features and styles in every field, including Architecture. Religion and worship have, in all ages and conditions of human nature, extended a powerful influence on Architecture. [4]

Time is also an important factor in architecture, since a building is usually comprehended in a succession of experiences rather than all at once. In most architecture there is no one vantage point from which the whole structure can be understood. The analysis of building types provides an insight into cultures and eras. [2] History of India - H.V Sreenivasa Murthy, p. 82


[4] An Historical Essay on Architecture, illustrated by drawings - Thomas Hope

These styles often reflect the need of a specific way of life. Architecture is a fluid art. Architectural styles do not start and stop at precise times. It is a timeless and an ongoing process. In a similar way, architecture can also be studies through the ages.

As in most traditional cultures, visual symbols are a powerful means of relaying religious and social ideals, as well as history. Since much of the population was illiterate, visual images developed to serve as an aid to memory for orally transmitted literature and history. This use of visual aids to memory and the transmission of culture is common to all traditional, preliterate cultures. Among the most impressive examples are the intricate carvings that cover the surfaces of Hindu temples. Temple architecture in India tends to be filled with carvings of gods, heroes, and the tales of their lives, all well known to those who are immersed in the cultural traditions. The effect is again one of multiplicity unified by a visual style that reflects and expresses the life and history of India itself.

Buddhism first arose in India in the 6th c. BC as an alternative to Hinduism. It was accepted By King Asoka in the 3rd c. BC, and enjoyed a period of preeminence during the following centuries. Buddhist monuments and shrines are to be found in many parts of India. Among the most important are the stupas. A stupa is a monument which either shelters a sacred relic, or marks the site of an important event in the life of a Buddhist saint. The oldest of the stupas dates to the 3rd century BC, built by King Asoka. Another important Buddhist monument is the shrine of the Ajanta caves, a complex that dates back to 150 AD. However, Buddhism was to have its most lasting impact outside of India; therefore we will discuss the nature of Buddhism elsewhere. Early Buddhist art in India relies on the imagery and aesthetics of earlier Hindu traditions. The poses, gestures, and accompanying figures, plants, and animals seen in representations of Buddha and buddhist saints (bodisatvas) draw on Hindu images. The first use of a halo anywhere in the world to denote a holy figure is purported to have been in an Indian carving of Buddha dating from the first century.

Islamic art in India includes fine examples of painting and architecture; the best known example is the Taj Mahal , a tomb built for Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of the Mogul emperor, Shah Jehan. Islamic style in India shares many features with the Islamic traditions of Persia, which are discussed elsewhere. [5]


The last important aspect influencing the Indian architecture is globalisation. Globalization (or globalisation) describes the process by which regional economies, societies, and cultures have become integrated through a global network of political ideas through communication, transportation, and trade. The term is most closely associated with the term economic globalization: the integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign, capital flows, migration, the spread of technology, and military presence. [6] However, globalization is usually recognized as being driven by a combination of economic, technological, sociocultural, political, and biological factors. [7] The term can also refer to the transnational circulation of ideas, languages, or popular culture through acculturation. An aspect of the world which has gone through the process can be said to be globalized.

As technology advances and India progresses it gets more difficult to disagree with Amartya Sen when he says that globalization is inevitable. Today in virtually everything, be it in people, places or commodities, it is easy to see the crossing of national boundaries. In a recent issue of Tehelka, writer and Architect Gautam Bhatia talks about the influence of globalization on architecture and how architecture has become just another commodity in today's world.

He begins by saying that the increase in land values and the demand for floor space is without question responsible for putting Architecture on the fast track of change. But more importantly it is the people's perceptions of style that seems to blame for accelerating this change.

Ten years ago, the Punjabi Baroque was an emerging style of Delhi's houses, in which the persuasion to elevate modern domestic buildings to higher levels of ornamentation, was just a joke. The styles included those of Bania, Gothic, Early Hawai and Marwari Mannerisms. At that point of time this type of architecture seemed to have no purpose other than that of exterior decoration and was just thought of a passing stage that would soon die down without a doubt.

But the short span of 20 years of globalization seems to have had an adverse effect on architecture. Bhatia gives a perfect example of an elderly Raja, reminiscing about princely India while standing outside an ancestral palace that has now become a heritage hotel. Architecture, once a profession considered to be that of creating spaces with an aesthetic value that will live through the ages has lost its meaning.

Architecture seems to have given in to the age of globalisation. It has lost its purpose of influencing people and the society. It has lost its purpose of making habitable spaces to one of simply assembling masses in space. Bhatia expresses his view by saying that architecture is merely an accumulation of new technologies and products, in which function and simplicity have no say in the matter.

[6]  Bhagwati, Jagdish (2004). In Defense of Globalization. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

[7] Sheila L. Croucher. Globalization and Belonging: The Politics of Identity in a Changing World. Rowman & Littlefield. (2004). p.10

No longer is making a beautiful building out of ordinary objects the architect's driving passion. Now it is about assembling new products in ways, which will sooner or later lose its value, which exactly architecture is.

Mahatma Gandhi - The Father of Nation (India) once said, the ideal house should be built of materials and skills gathered from within five mile radius of the site. But in today's world where people seemed to be charged with economic motion and governed by newer levels of greed, the constructing of the ideal house as said by Gandhi seems reliance, technology and even Human dignity.

The last twenty years of globalisation has taken Gurgaon from being a sleepy village of buffaloes and mud houses to a city of multinational tower blocks and apartments. Here the idea of Punjabi Baroque seems to have acquired a great deal of respectability. Today young architects barely out of school, attack projects with impatience like a business deal.

The quality of architecture is now lost in the adrenaline rush of such architects. Architecture has now become a lifelong materialistic buffet that relies on technology to display newer forms of abundance, and make them available to a growing market of Indian consumers. In the age of malls, cinemas and multiplexes there lies a hunger for novelty and delight. The fate of a building is now that of a commercial commodity. [8]

The old definitions of architecture as creating spaces of rest, containment, comfort and protection don't make sense anymore. Architecture can only be directed towards real life situations, built on an assumption that any desired change is effective only if it is an enhancement of the present condition.

In the end, it is important to understand that architecture is the mirror of society. A society's culture, religion and habits are reflected in its basic architectural form. The architecture of a place helps in understanding its style of living or the lifestyle of the inhabitants of that area.

Religion and caste do not symbolise being an Indian student getting architectural knowledge from a united kingdom university and tutorial from a Mexican tutor will affect my architectural design instead of ideas like religion and caste. It develops as a result of the knowledge gathered from different areas and countries which is put together to give birth to some kind of innovation. Secularism and the caste system have become a country affair. They have affected and have been affected by globalisation. In times to come we can only hope for

better and varied developments and new ideas being incorporated to create a beautiful world.