Sep 10, 2012

The vanishing light of ‘Raushandaan’

Once, the pride of our buildings, occupying the highest edifices of the walls…literally, ‘Raushandaan’ is now an endangered species in the contemporary design space. This raises some pertinent questions, not only about its utility alone but also about our collective decline of social, traditional, environmental and creative sensibilities. 

With tropical climate of the Indian sub-continent, architects, designers and builders have been incorporating Raushandaan in all kinds of buildings: residences, havelis, kothis, tombs, temples or official buildings as well as public complexes. It served a dual purpose of illumination and ventilation inside the building. Built in all forms, shapes, sizes, Raushandaan could be seen beautifully crafted in ‘Jaali’ work, stones, stained glass, wire mesh, blinds, wooden doors and pivots etc. It has had various stylistic influences down the ages like Islamic architecture, Rajasthani motifs, European designs etc.

However, the reality of the day is that there are hardly any Raushandaan to be seen in any modern construction. Reasons could be aplenty. Is it because of a gradual shift in our aesthetic sensibilities or has it lost its function and purpose in today’s times? Or should the blame be put on the dramatically changing weather conditions? The huge demand for high-rise apartment complexes and office buildings has led to buildings with low height per floor ratio, glass facades and central air-conditioners. This mindless aping of the western style air-tight buildings may or may not actually be suitable to our climatic, social and environmental conditions! Yet, the reasons could be much more. 

Raushandaan was also a way to perpetually remain in connection with nature, which sadly remains cut-off from most urban homes today. The same was reflected in our social relations with family and neighbourhood. There was hardly a concept of ‘bed-rooms’. The kitchen, toilets, verandas and all other spaces were equally accessible to all in the family. But the change in social paradigms, increase in the number of nuclear families and a general sense of insecurity has led to the cropping up of completely enclosed spaces where there is no room for a ‘la Raushandaan

This also raises a larger debate of the increasing materialistic approach towards consumption and living. The general lack of creative sensibility, functional understanding and aesthetics, all have led to every town look the same! 

Whatever the reasons be, fact is that this traditional, beautiful  building design element called ‘Raushandaan’ is being pushed into obscurity.