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Tuesday, 28 June 2016 | Kritika Dua

Vikramjit Singh Rooprai spoke about folk art and India's splendid cultural heritage and architecture. Kritika Dua checks out

T here is a riveting relationship between folk art and architecture of India. A talk by Vikramjit Singh Rooprai inspired to dig deeper into India’s splendid cultural heritage focussing on Hindu Gods, temples, tombs, mosques and forgotten monuments et al. It started with an attempt to decipher the shape of Chumachi Khan’s tomb in Mehrauli. At the time of the Islamic invasion in India they wanted to build tombs in India and they explained it to Hindu masons in a way that they can remember it. First, make a cubical chamber which represents the earth. Second, make a circle which represents the heaven and within that circle in the center there’s a keystone which represents God. The moment you take God out of your existence, everything (heaven and earth) will collapse.

Faceless statues of God were made in the temple at the time of pre-Mauryan period, during it and after the Mauryan period (till 6th Century AD). The special thing about Mauryan architecture is that they used the Chakra symbol a lot. Chakra in our national flag has been taken from Ashoka’s pillar in Sarnath. The Chakra which has 24 spokes means a full life cycle as per Buddhism. There’s a chakra in the Sanchi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh. We can also know about the dressing style of ancient people through the architecture of that time and age. As time passed, dressing styles evolved with it. In Garhi Padawali area of Madhya Pradesh there are 200 Shiva temples and each shivaling is unique in itself. Also, there is a gateway with Goddess Kali on it, depicting heaven on one side and hell on the other and different canopies which, when put together can constitute almost all the Hindu mythologies one may have heard of. The interesting part about folk art is that each mason specialised in making just one God. Originally, Lord Krishna was painted gray, but with time the depictions  turned blue.

In Islam one is not allowed to imitate God and his creations like animals and nature et al. But in Moth ki Masjid and Alai Darwaza (situated in Delhi), built during the Lodhi era, one can see featureless faces of elephants in former and tulips in the latter. Also geometric patterns dominated the architecture of  the Lodhi era. Usually there are five pointed stars in Islam but in some Islamic monuments one can see six and seven pointed stars also. In Makhdum Sabzwari’s mosque in Delhi, when one looks carefully at the medallions, one can find Buddhist knots or shivshakti symbol of Hinduism. Also, many mosques and tombs have Hindu auspicious symbols like swastik, kalash with a coconut and mango leaves, six and seven pointed stars, faces of Lord Ganesha as they were made by Hindu masons.

Thus, one can trace ancient people’s lifestyle, cultural beliefs and clothing through the architecture made during that time and age.

Vikramjit Singh Rooprai, a heritage activist and founder of Youth for Heritage Foundation is known to bring out lesser known facts about our rich heritage. He has dedicated himself to promote and protect the architectural heritage. We talked to him about his prolonged journey. “My journey as a heritage activist started in October 2009. He started a website called, a Facebook page called Delhi Heritage Photography Club and combined it all to form a Youth for Heritage Foundation. All my initiatives fall under it. We conduct lectures, workshops for schools, colleges and corporate clients. We try to bring out stories to people, which are not simple folklores as we give a logical explanation behind everything.”

Vikramjit Singh Rooprai’s brush with heritage and history of India happened out of  inquisitiveness to know more about historical monuments. “There was a lack of resources and very few people had information about it. So, I started on my own by reading books, journals, finding archival manuscripts, going back and forth in date. I am fortunate enough as people like KK Mohammed and Sohail Hashmi and many veterans in the field of history and heritage have been my  guiding support in this journey.”

Youth for Heritage Foundation got official in January 2014 with a motive to promote culture and heritage. It was made to help people know of their nation’s rich cultural past so that they can cherish it in the present and the future. Youth for Heritage Foundation is a big group with over 50,000 people associated with it, hundreds of people volunteering for it and a core team of six to seven people. His next lecture will be in Cambodia.

“Folk art has influenced architecture as whatever we do today is derivative of our lifestyle, culture and tradition and  Folk Art has been the only medium through which it has been depicted. When we build tombs or mosques, the patterns on domes, walls and pillars can be traced through folk art and ancient stories of that time. In case of temples and havelis, the way crown is built- whether any animal face or human  figure is on top of the pillar comes from local traditions. So, architecture has been influenced,” said Rooprai.

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