MOVING FORWARD WITH TRADITION
Dr.S.S. Bhatti – Former Principle,
Chandigarh College of Architecture, Chandigarh
Cultural heritage is a people’s community-personality. It comprises everything manmade, from ideas to artifacts of all kinds. Ideas cover a vast territory of the spiritual, the metaphysical, the mythological and the secular. Artifacts cover plastic arts like architecture, sculpture, painting, etc. Performing arts cover dance, drama and music are also artifacts conceived and enacted/presented in time. Literary arts cover poetry, fiction, non-fiction and criticism. Among ideas the most exalted are those which fall under the umbrella-title of religion. Of the known artifacts, architecture is the most ubiquitous, touching as it does all individuals at all levels of their living. Built-environment in active use is Architecture. In ruins, it is archaeology: the tell-tale remnants of bygone civilization- either long past and dead or yet living in the collective unconscious of a people.
Considered in the light of the foregoing exposition, Punjab has the enviable distinction of having given to the world mankind’s most exalted sacred literature: the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita and the Adi Granth – in the realm of Timeless – Universal Ideas. The Golden Temple is a spiritual marvel that Punjab has produced for the Family of Man – thanks to Guru Arjun Dev’s inspired mysticism and creative genius. Goethe called Architecture “frozen music”. But the Golden Temple Freezes the Holy Word’s soulful melody in the hearts of innumerable devotees. It is a divine court (Darbar Sahib) which The True One holds for the emancipation of mankind. It is both a document and monument of human soul’s mute urge to find this way back to the Source: Sach Khand (Its Original Home). It is cultural heritage preserved by the undiminishing love of countless devotees. It is a living faith “frozen” in the unstruck music of gold, marble and semi-previous stones.
One wishes other monuments of historical importance were also preserved like this holy shrine. Our traditional architecture has a variety of magnificent structures: forts, palaces, havelis etc. But most of them are victims of widespread neglect – caused by lack of education, expertise, and the will to act on an upsurge of genuine pride in our glorious heritage. Little do we realize that Preservation is an integral part of the Act of Creation. No wonder the true concept of God spells out three essential functions: creation, preservation and destruction. In our misplaced emphasis on modernization we have wrought more havoc to our cultural heritage than done good to ameliorate the human conditions.
The subject of Preservation must be approached with Vishnu – like venity and versatility. We must cultivate the sensitivity necessary to identify, assess and communicate the value inherent in our cultural heritage. If heritage is a people’s Personality, it must be kept in good health and perfect fitness at all times. We might draw the required inspiration from simran, which gurbani exhorts every seeker to do at all costs. And it simply means a constant remembrance of the Holy Name. In the Preservation of our cultural heritage we have to constantly remember its value an essential component of our collective personality. The very fact that we are not doing so explains why other people have a dig at Punjab that is has no culture, only agriculture. With an exclusive emphasis on agriculture, our culture reduces to “eat, drink and be merry…” But that is exactly what Punjabiat is not, and must never be. Punjabiat is something which has everything robust about it; robust aesthetics, robust ethics, robust relationships, robust enterprise, and so forth generosity of spirit, robust enterprise, and so forth. The fault lies in our abject inability appreciate and enact the tenets of our Glorious Faith. Guru Nanak startled a slumbering psyche into a new wakefulness, beyond the arcane intricacies of metaphysics and the heady euphoria of mythology by a simple but penetrating exhortation. He made socially-beneficent action as the inescapable basis of Moral Law. I strongly feel that the act of preserving cultural heritage falls in the realm of socially-beneficent action. We preserve a people’s personality by ensuring their health and fitness.
How can we accomplish the task of preserving our historical monuments: forts, palaces, havelis, etc.?
The answer is: by putting them to active use. The problem, however, lies in finding an appropriate modern use for them. Some of the uses I have identified are: museums, art galleris, libraries – usages which are easily adaptable to various forms of architectural space. As principal, I introduced subjects like Conservation in thesis which is the culminating project, encompassing theory, research and design of the five years B. Arch. Degree course. From the several studies and designs done we came to the conclusion that historical monuments are best preserved when they are actively used. Rather than raise new structures it is saver to preserve historical monuments, for it is more economical to do so. For instance, it may be more sensible to house Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s armoury/weaponry in Gobindgarh Fort than construct a new building at an exorbitant cost.
All that we have to do is to start educating ourselves to appreciate and propagate the sanity inherent in community action. Just now we are too ego-centric to think of areas of common concerns. We have become stubborn individualists and see little beyond our selfish interests. The second step would be to identify experts who have experience and resilience to grasp the mystical and creative significance of various historical monuments.
An illustration of this aspect should be in order here. In the name of security against militants, the glorious ambience of the Golden Temple has been systematically destroyed. Innumerable structures of yesteryears, which once surrounded the Holy Shrine, have been razed to the ground. Now Darbar Sahib can be seen from afar – and the powers that be are thrilled at their dubious achievement. But my heart bleeds when I recall how wonderful it was to go there fifty years ago. My father (the architect of Takht Sri Keshgarh, Anandpur Sahib) used to take me regularly to the Golden Temple when I was a young boy. We walked from our residence outside the walled city, treading out way through narrow lanes – symbolizing seekers’ arduous journey – until there was a sudden and vast expense of the holy precincts with glittering gold and shining marbles, eternalized in shimmering reflections in the ‘pool of nectar’. It was an individual soul’s tiny spark enormously enlarged to burst into a grand conflagration of ineffable delight. The spiritual expanse of the Holy shrine seemed to advance to receive with open arms seekers’ wandering souls into the impregnable security of Divine Grace. The surrounding tenements had little architectural value in terms of costly building materials or stylistic embellishments, but they did most effectively represent the world-tarnished entity of workaday existence without whose presence the spiritual marvel of the House of God could never come into its spectacular fullness. Now all that is gone forever. What remains is the obvious crudely underlined by the faltering strokes of a blind man’s worn-out pen.
You don’t have to agree with me to be convinced. Think for yourself, clarify, resolve and act – before it is too late to retrieve the loss of our collective personality: Our Cultural Heritage.