Monday, February 09, 2009

Geometry is not merely a technical device; it is the very means by which to infuse inner meaning

Joy Sen: The Search for Unity: the Goal of Indian Aesthetics - Viewpoints from Architecture Muse India Issue 15, Sep-Oct 2007

“This aesthetic side of a people’s culture is of the highest importance and demands almost as much scrutiny and carefulness of appreciation as the philosophy, religion and central formative ideas which have been the foundation of Indian life and of which much of the art and literature is a conscious expression in significant aesthetic forms.” Sri Aurobindo The Foundations of Indian Culture

Introduction: Study on Built environments show that they have layers of purposes. One, to shelter people and their activities and possessions from the elements, from human and animal enemies, and from supernatural powers; two, to establish place; to create a humanized, safe area in a profane and potentially dangerous world; to stress social identity and indicate status; and so on. Thus the origins of built-environment or architecture are best understood if a wider view of causal factors is taken into consideration. These factors indeed are more important than climate, technology, materials, and economy as they form the inner core of human existence. It is this inner core that gradually evolves surpassing the outer influences of economy, climate, materials and technology and other external factors. In effect, the highest expressions of human mind-interaction and communication skills are only then formed, of which art, literature, music and architecture and even sciences becomes a conscious truthful expression.

In view of above, the purpose of organizing space and time in architecture is to structure communication (human interaction, avoidance, dominance, and so on). Through ritualized behaviors (or habits) and various ways of marking territories explaining these habits, meanings after meanings are given to places (habitations) and behaviors (habits). From lower to higher, complementarities are achieved, one after one, shades after shades till the highest raptures are formed. This takes the search of creative instincts through layers of lower to higher reasons and logic to a crescendo of poetry that is embedded in the fountainhead and heart of an all-embracing creative inspiration.

Habit-Habitation Complementarities: In the case of human beings, when environments are being organized, it is these four elements – space (sparsha-sabda), meaning (artha), communication (bhava-bhasa), and time (kala-parikrama) – that are being organized. That is, the organization of environment as a series of relationships between things and other things, things and people, and between people and other people are established. These relationships are complementary and orderly; they have pattern and structure; and it is finally realized that the human environment is not a random assemblage of things but a conscious expression of a settled and ever-expanding human mind.

The nature of organizations can vary from space to space; from one level of interaction to another level of interaction and it is finally available as a tangible physical expression of domains. In fact, in the scheme-making of built-environmental design at all levels and their variations, from vast regions to furniture arrangements, the structuring and organization of space in effect reflect the needs, values, and desires of the groups of individuals doing the organizing. Complementarities of the two – inner habits and expressed habitations are effected.

Symbolism Embedded in Complementarities: In India for centuries and ages, a deep-set system of tradition has evolved through experiments happening in the inner laboratory of the human mind. That is the Indian way. But the outward was exempted. The experiments of contemplation had held the key to realizations of the powers of human mind that does not deny the world and its material expressions but is the very driver-fashioner of complementarities of the two – between all external sustainable traditional situations and the sustainable minds behind the bearing of these traditions.

This is particularly true when one attempts to penetrate and understand the very origins of Indian system of art-aesthetics and architecture. In effect, an ordering schema has evolved based on the sacred, since the realization termed as ‘religion’ and the externalities as support termed as ‘rituals’ are central to such schemas. In the level of highest complementarities of built environments and the true humanization of these environments, livable places tend to become sacred or sanctified. In Indian traditional set-up of religious built-environments – which encode and manifest ideals – the tangible expression that are formed are also expected to encode the sacred, since that represents the most significant inner meaning. So a journey from the outer to the innermost is established to retrace the ‘trickle-down’ from the inner-most to the outer. In the icon there are contrasts i.e the inner-most, which is a dot (a bindu) is the whole, where as the outermost, which is a large visible schema over space (kshetra) is only a part of that whole. This inversion is the very heart of Indian ethos and the root of the symbolic model.

Symbolism of complementarities: American Architect-anthropologist Amos Rapoport has viewed the traditional system of Indian Art-Architecture as dynamism of space, time and matter. In this dynamism manifestations are that of an all-pervading creative mind and in that mind material space and material things (bhuta-akâsha) make visible the centrality, the pivotal and ideational role of that universal schema (realized as interconnected universal spaces called chida-akâsaha). This is the model of the universe called the Mandala. In his words, the art-architectural environment is a reflection of this model and this has three necessities:

It stresses limits of control: one changes oneself rather than the environment. Thus, building –which is a major modification of the environment – requires rigorous adherence to the appropriate cosmological model and also requires stress on ritual purity. Behavioral change complements evolving environmental situation from chaotic to orderly.

In effect a cosmological model is realized emphasizes the centrality and the peripherals, which are the two classes of akashas or spaces. Centrality is most and this is expressed socially (ritually) and aesthetically (materially).

Ideational space are transformed by symbols (like stupas, mandalas, yupas, skambha) and the various physical-mental rituals (like darshana-âswadana, pradakshinâ, parikramâ, tirtha-yâtrâ, pranâma, dhyâna-chestâ) are embedded in the model that the makes the divine visible in material reality. This is the whole purpose of Indian creative surge encoded in ‘Vâstu Stahaptya Vidyâ’ and ‘Nandan Kalâ Vidyâ’.

To understand this universal science of art-architecture, we must understand this divine cosmological model that underlies the design components like sculpture (bhaskarayam), axis (yupa) and grid (panjarâ) to erection of house-units (nibâsam and prâsâdam), temples (mandirams), landscapes (bithis), villages (purams); and finally to towns (nagaris) and settlement conurbations or regions (mahâjanapadas or mahâkhetras).

Even secular architecture (lokavâstu, grhavâstu) carries in them the implication and strengths of the ancient tradition of India. The parallelism of Sulva and Silpa is constantly demonstrated, as in the case of the Yupa, or sacrificial post, and its anthropomorphic transformation in the image of the Purusha or the universal spirit behind the cosmological model. Again, the common element which justifies the title Vâstusutra (the tread of construction or nirmâna) is the sacred geometry underlying sacrificial altars (Sulva), anthropomorphic images and image-panels (Silpa) and sacred or secular architecture (Vâstu). But here geometry is not merely a technical device; it is the very means by which to infuse inner meaning (bhâva and artha) into the work of art-architecture. This infusion is the spirit of Indian aesthetics.

The Crescendo: It is a psychological fact that sense-impressions through the eyes and ears have a more compelling, a more direct action on the sub-conscious strata of the soul (inner Koshas) than discursive arguments. The subconscious obeys and is directly dependent on universal cosmic laws. When art forms take their being from fundamental cosmic principles, they participate in the essential structure of the universe and contain a natural symbolism to which unsophisticated human beings respond instinctively, unconsciously. Thus in effect one arrives at a transcendental unity of all art-manifest body-forms at the higher level of human mind and spirit. Frijtof Schuon, in his book: ‘The Transcendent Unity of All Religions(De l’unite’ Transcendente des Religions, Gallimard, 1948) says that the sensible form is what corresponds most directly to the intellect, by reason of the inverted analogy (by a step-by-step evolutionary ordering of human behavior) which plays between the ‘Principle’ and the manifest (order of things), so that the highest realities (summits of cultural expression) manifest themselves in the most striking manner in their most distant reflection, which is the sensible or ‘material’ order (built-environment).

In India, art and sciences, even the every mundane realities of domestic life, are covered with a mass of poetic conceptions [(marriage of ameliorated rhythms (chhanda-rasa) with refined mental attributes (bhâva-artha)]. This is the very basis (cause) and intent (effect) of a deep-set aesthetics system, which are pressed forward till the material-sensuous (personal) touches the universal-super-sensuous (impersonal) and the real (the small) gets the rose-hue of the unreal (the vast). It is this aesthetic side of a collective people’s culture is of the highest importance and demands very careful appreciation as the philosophy, religion and central formative ideas which have been the foundation of Indian life and of which much of the art and literature is a conscious expression in significant aesthetic forms.

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