banyan tree

Hindus: Mother! The flowers of our worship have crowned thee!

Parsees: Mother! The flame of our hope shall surround thee!

Mussulmans: Mother! The sword of our love shall defend thee!

Christians: Mother! The song of our faith shall attend thee!

All Creeds: Shall not our dauntless devotion avail thee?

Hearken! O queen and O goddess, we hail thee!”

–          Sarojini Naidu

These lines were recited, appropriately enough, at the opening of the Indian National Congress in 1915. If such a spirit continues to guide her statesment, there is no doubt but that India will again be numbered among the great nations of the earth.

“Oh I am tired of strife and song and festivals and fame

And long to fly where cassia-woods are breaking into flame.”

–          Sarojini Naidu

There is little doubt that Hindus revere nature; however, they have rarely felt the need to mold nature into a design of their own. Banyan trees were never trimmed or cut down; instead, they are allowed to spread their drooping creepers into the middle of any village square or road. The tree is revered for itself, personifying perfection with-out human interference.

This Hindu reverence for nature also spilled over into architecture, resulting in Hindu towns, palaces, temples, and buildings grow organically, with no geometric discipline. The Islamic tradition, informed by the Greek passion for order and logic, produced gardens and architecture that were guided by regimented lines in order to achieve perfect symmetry.

Indian landscapes are vibrant, textured, and colorful, and encompass the imprint of many a ruler that has invaded and controlled the subcontinent. Through all the invasions of the subcontinent, from the Greeks to the Mughals to the English, Indian civilization and Hindu religion have displayed remarkable adaptability, and it is that adaptability, the ability to assimilate, which has allowed Hinduism to flourish.

It is possible that the Rajasthani city of Jaipur was planned by principles of Vaastu shastras. But this is highly debatable. The Rajput rulers themselves were Central Asian transplants that felt the influence of  sixteenth-century Islamic design.

Hindu traditions informed design has been celebrated by Charles Correa’s work. Bhopal’s Vidhan Bhavan (State Assembly) won the Aga Khan award is a pastiche inspired by the nearby Buddhist stupa of Sanchi’.

In this city once ruled by a Muslim Afghani Khan dynasty Hindu design continues to struggle between recovering the great Hindu tradition and inventing the brave and promising future.


Other examples include Frenchmen Le Corbusiers modernism in the capital city of Chandigarh in the 1950’s. It was chosen by Prime minister Nehru  Albert Mayer’s vision inspired by Indian villages and bazaars,.

Or Julius Vaz auditorium for the capital city of Bhubaneswar, inspired by Buddhist stupa at Dhauli.

Now the tension between history and development are unresolved.

A growing middle class demand exports and luxuries that are fatiguing India’s environment. Even banyan trees are now being transplanted for road ways.

Hopefully increasingly urban India will turn to an architecture created from the natural world.