June 18, 2015 18:43 IST
The Golden Lands by Vikram Lall
In his recent book on architecture of Buddhist world, Vikram Lall weaves a historical narrative of its architectural traditions.
Buddhist architectural heritage hasn’t really engaged us except for our touristic outings and other recreational activities. While history of the faith is analysed, understood and followed the world over, its architecture somehow bypassed our attention largely. But architect Vikram Lall is fixated on this aspect of Buddhism and has been researching it for years now. The principal architect and partner of Lall & Associates, Lall launched “The Golden Lands”, a book describing the history, styles, and interpretation of Buddhist temples, monasteries, and ancient monuments across Southeast Asia. It was released last year in London, Brussels, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. In India, it was launched by Buddhist leader Dalai Lama.
At India International Exhibition, Lodi Estate, Lall is currently holding an exhibition of some of the photographs from the book. A book discussion also took place alongside with the likes of Lokesh Chandra, Kapila Vatsyayan, S.C.Mallik, Shyam Sharan and Nalini Thakur. Lall, who has designed buildings like Akshardham Temple and Buddha Smriti Park in Patna, takes a few questions about his pet project on email. Edited excerpts from the interview:
Do you think Buddhist architectural heritage got overshadowed by the faith or never understood properly?
Indeed, while there are several works on Buddhism’s philosophy and history as well as on its art and archaeology, there are very few exclusively on its architectural traditions. The architectural understanding of its important monuments is low but most importantly there is negligible work done so far on constructing a historical narrative of its architectural traditions. As Buddhism spread out of India to diverse regions from Afghanistan to Japan, deep cultural connections were formed between these places – and its architectural traditions can be truly understood if we look at all of them together, holistically. And this is what I have been endeavouring to do over the years.
In India so much more attention has been given to tombs and palaces of the Moghuls and Rajput kings and temples of Central and South India in comparison to the thousand years of architectural history that existed abundantly, though now mostly in ruins.
As a consequence Buddhist architectural heritage, has lost its sense of meaning and context and is being packaged as tourist attractions or picnic spots, much as the head of Buddha serves as an icon of spas and massage parlours. Architectural remains of Buddhist monuments serve as isolated settings for tourism – or cinematic settings for song and dance sequences in Hindi films.
This is not a diatribe against the neglect and misuse of Buddhism heritage but about the absence of sufficient architectural knowledge of the built environment that was shaped by Buddhism. And this is the project that I have started, though quixotic, to make a comprehensive narrative of architecture of Buddhism.
How does it hold its own among other architectural styles that preceded or succeeded it?
The architectural traditions of Buddhism are rooted in the architecture of its own times and that which preceded it. In stylistic terms there is more in common between what has been labelled as Hindu or Buddhist or Jain architecture as they all emerge from the same pool of speculative thought, cosmology and patterns of patronage — which are universal. However, their buildings were influenced by local architectural traditions of places where they were conceived. And Buddhism has spread to places that often had varied building traditions such as Japan and Myanmar. Continue reading