Monday, January 11, 2010

George William Russell once said, “People tell me that the countryside must always be stupid and backward, and I get angry, as if it were said that only townspeople had immortal souls, and that it was only in the city that the flame of divinity breathed into the first men had an unobscured glow.” The trip to Paithan, a small town in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra made me realise how wrong ‘people’ are. The wadas, ghats and mandirs were all reflections of the character of the people and the history that Paithan has. It is one of the few inland towns mentioned in the famous 1st Century AD Greek book, ‘Periplus Maris Erytharaei’. The city was the capital of the Satavahana Empire of ancient India that ruled from 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. The town is mostly famous today for its beautiful Paithani silk sarees which are intricately bordered with silver or gold.
Being a student of architecture, I noticed the doors and windows, the shingle bricks and roofs that were mostly timber joists with stone slabs, rafters and trusses. Lime mortar and slaked lime stucco plaster were also used. The courtyards in the wadas and the materials used to construct them gave us an impression of how educated the people who designed them were about using the hot and dry climate to their advantage. The 200 BC ruin had a mystical appearance. The Sant Dnyaneshwar Udyan, a famous garden developed on the lines of Mysore Garden on the banks of river Godavari was beautiful.
However, once you visit Paithan, you realise that architecture isn’t just about how efficient the building is or how good it is to look at. It’s about the people, their lifestyle and the aura of the place itself. Whether it is pure devotion and belief that all wishes are fulfilled by praying at the temple where the beautiful black coloured Sand Idol of 20th Jain Tirthankar, Bhagwan Munisuvratnath is installed, the celebrations of a wedding by dancing and playing music on the streets, the laughter of children or wisdom in the words of the elderly, Paithan came alive because of the people who live by the river and on both sides of the narrow, dusty streets that were so beautiful, in a way I cannot explain. Before my classmates and I left for Pune, I sat by the river on Nag Ghat and watched the bright afternoon sun shine on the water, making it seem translucent. That’s when I said to myself, “This is why I love rural India.”