Romain Rolland, a French novelist and dramatist, once described the sayings of Swami Vivekananda as bringing about a thrill through the body like an electric shock. He describes Swamiji as energy personified and that his action was his message to men. He mentions, “Wherever he went, he was the first. Everybody recognized in him at sight the leader, the anointed of God, the man marked with the stamp of the power to command.”

Swami Vivekananda as an Architect - Sheet1
Swami Vivekananda_©belurmath.org

Introduction

Swami Vivekananda was an Indian monk who tried to awaken the religious consciousness among the people and lift the downtrodden using the concept of practical Vedanta. It would not be an exaggeration to say that anyone who admires this man would have, at some point, felt the eagerness to have met him and interacted with him during his times. How would it be if Swami Vivekananda was an architect? What would his design philosophy be like? Let us delve into it.

Nature of the architect

When we speak of the great Indian monk, what comes to our minds instantly? The most popular answer would be the power of concentration, the power to focus for extensive periods. Swami Vivekananda once said, the difference between mind and mind in the world is the fact of concentration and that the one who is more concentrated gets more knowledge. In the field of architecture, it is almost implicitly known by not just architects but everyone about the time spent in workplaces. But the question is, how much do we really concentrate? Thanks to the various sources of distractions, the one topping the list being the mobile phone, it has almost become a mammoth task to at least focus on for a couple of moments. This is where the difference lies; a master par excellence.

On entering Swami’s studio, what one would see is probably thousands of sketches all scattered over his drafting table, explaining the various possibilities of the design outcome. Absolutely still with a single-pointed focus, he would probably become oblivious to anyone coming inside his studio to check out the updates. His famous quote, “Arise, Awake, and stop not until the goal is reached,” would bear testimony to his approach to design. All designs previously stalled would gain momentum. Moreover, it would not be surprising to see the various stages of the project reach completion seamlessly, the mastermind working tirelessly to fulfill the goals.

The Design mind

Previously, Swami Vivekananda’s lectures were printed and distributed in pamphlets in New York. It happened once when Swami Vivekananda was at the breakfast table; the devotee who used to print those pamphlets asked Swamiji for a logo that would go with the content. Swami Vivekananda immediately sketched on the back of an envelope, tossed it across the table, and said, “draw it to scale and print it.” Today, this remains the logo of the Ramkrishna order. 

Would this be an overstatement if a client visits Swami Vivekananda for some new designs and inevitably gets flooded with Swamiji’s multitude of ideas and proposals? Not at all. 

Swami Vivekananda as an Architect - Sheet2
Swamiji in America_©imedia.chennaimath.org

The boldness

Once, when he was walking down in Varanasi, a bunch of monkeys howled, shrieked, and clutched Swami Vivekananda’s feet. As they started to come close by, he ran, and the faster he ran, the faster the monkeys came running behind him. One stranger called out, “Face the brutes!” Swamiji immediately turned and faced the monkeys, and the result was? All fell back and fled. 

The field of architecture has a variety of complications. Every stage in the entire process projects a hurdle that needs to be crossed with prudence. As a man of courage and boldness, Swami Vivekananda would be an architect with steadfast commitment and an unfluctuating pioneer.

Swami Vivekananda as an Architect - Sheet3
Swami Vivekananda, a man of courage_©imedia.chennaimath.org

The Ideal blend

Swami Vivekananda taught Indians how to master Western science and technology and, at the same time, develop spiritually. Moreover, Swamiji also taught Indians how to adapt Western humanism (especially the ideas of individual freedom, social equality and justice, and respect for women) to Indian ethos. 

This is where we see the combination of eastern philosophy and western philosophy. As an architect, this would certainly reflect on the blend of contemporary design ideas with the vernacular system. A concoction of Mangalore tiled terracotta roofing and red oxide flooring imbued with contemporary ideas of energy efficiency, probably! Or would it be a combination of a mindful usage of glass and steel with the ubiquitous Indic courtyards?

Swamiji in California_©en.wikipedia.org

Conclusion

Swami Vivekananda, in just thirty-nine years, fourteen of which were in public life, pervaded the country with energy that is felt even today. In fact, this is exactly what one can expect from his design of spaces. Suffused with divinity and keen attention to the minutiae would define his design philosophy. Is it just sensory architecture? No, it would go beyond to reach the spirit or the soul!

References:

  1. Vivekan, S. and a (2017). Romain Rolland. [online] Swami Vivekananda. Available at: https://www.swamivivekananda.guru/2017/05/07/romain-rolland/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2022].

‌2. The Indian Express. (2017). Who was Swami Vivekananda. [online] Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/who-is/who-is-swami-vivekananda-4838388/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2022].

‌3. VivekaVani. (2019). Swami Vivekananda’s Quotes On Concentration Of Mind. [online] Available at: https://vivekavani.com/swami-vivekananda-quotes-concentration-mind/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2022].

‌4. www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Swami Vivekananda’s Vedanta Teachings | Swami Sarvapriyananda. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qw6mZ-0gVes [Accessed 3 Apr. 2022].

‌5. donationsbm (n.d.). Swami Vivekananda. [online] Belur Math – Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. Available at: https://belurmath.org/swami-vivekananda/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2022].

‌6. The Indian Express. (2021). Swami Vivekananda’s thought is as relevant to India’s future as it was in its past. [online] Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/swami-vivekananda-national-youth-day-7144066/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2022].

Author

Meera Venkatesh, an architectural writer, finds it intriguing to recreate the same experience of space through words. Her love for architectural history has led her to pursue a Master's in History. Someone utters "Indian Heritage"; you may find Meera there! Now, what's her new interest? Writing for RTF!

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