Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
ART, YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
If we look at the Egyptian pyramids with open hearts and illuminated souls, they speak to us of the past. They tell us that even if the architecture of that time was not so advanced theoretically, it had reached a highly spiritual stage. They stand there as a token of the intelligence of this ancient people, and not only of their inspiration, but also of the depth of their mind. And if today or in the future, people inquire about the site that was chosen for the pyramids, they would find that it is exactly in the center of the solid part of the earth's surface. At that time communications were not as they are now, and the study of geography was hardly known to the world; yet the Egyptians were able to find the exact center and to construct something there which is unsurpassed in history. What was the meaning of placing the pyramids in the exact center of the earth? The real human heart is the solar plexus, and that is to be found in the center of the body, which is the shrine of God. That is why it was necessary for the sacred temple to be located at the center of the earth.
The ancient Egyptians had a symbolical point of view in their architecture, and their influence became the principal source of inspiration for the civilizations that followed. Very little is known about ancient Egyptian drawing or painting; nevertheless, in the examples that remain, we always discover some mystery, some atmosphere, some magnetism, something very wonderful. And the excavations which are being made today are proving that the Egyptians of that particular period had reached a stage where they were more advanced in art and architecture than any other peoples, and that they were also able to inspire later civilizations.
Egyptian architecture is expressive of mystery. It was a mystical age, and everything the Egyptians did was done without mechanical power; it was done with spiritual power. And that is the reason why what they have made will last after all that others have made has been destroyed, and when all other buildings have vanished from the earth. It would not be surprising if on the last day, when everything else has been destroyed, the pyramids still remain standing.
It is very interesting to notice that the architecture of the Mongolian races is distinct and peculiar to them, and that it has no resemblance whatever to any other architecture. What stands out, as being most expressive of the people's character is Chinese architecture, including that of Tibet, Assam, Burma, Siam, and Japan. There is a peculiar line, a peculiar curve, and a peculiar taste in color. This shows the exclusiveness of the Mongolian character, a character that is very distinct and remote. They have followed their tradition to such an extent that every insignificant form the Mongolians have made has that particular character. They are so attached to the form that belongs to them, they have been able to retain the type, the character of their architecture for thousands of years. They have never abandoned that form, and they do not change it nor add to it from outside, they develop it in its own character. Thus, Mongolian architecture stands out as something different and distinct, peculiar to itself.
The architecture of Persia was influenced by Arabian architecture. The peculiarity of Persian and Arabian architecture is the dome, which is called the Gunbad, and the Mihrab. Gunbad means dome, and Mihrab means an arch used in windows and doors which is not exactly round, but is formed of three or five parts; in other words, in five half-circles with the top made by two lines going upward and joining in the center. The mystics of Arabia gave the interpretation of this form. They called it Qasab-i Kousein, which means 'the meeting of the eyebrows'. When a person looks upward, naturally his eyebrows come closer to each other. The idea is that as the spirit soars upward, the tendency of the soul is to rise from duality to unity. By working with these two particular forms, they have arrived at such perfection that if the same form were continued for a hundred thousand years, one could never tire of it.
During the time of the Mogul emperors, this architecture of Arabia and Persia was perfected in India. The Moguls, who were worshippers of beauty and very fond of splendor and grandeur, spent enormous wealth in building something which would remain as a token of beauty. In India today, the most unique and beautiful signs of the past to be found are the Mogul buildings, for instance Moti Mahal, the mosque in Delhi, and best of all, the Taj Mahal in Agra. It was because of the emperor's great love for Nur-i Jahan that he wished this love to be remembered forever afterwards, and also he wanted the people to know that he really loved beauty. He spared no effort, no money, no time, to make the Taj Mahal perfect; when it was finished, it became the tomb of Nur-i Jahan. The Taj Mahal not only inspires one with its greatness and richness, but it also tells one of love, beauty, patience, endurance, idealism, joy, and peace; these are all there. It speaks without a tongue, and it will go on speaking for as long as it stands beneath the sun. Every little detail, the smallest piece of marble, was worked most carefully. There is not one inch in the Taj Mahal, of floor or wall or ceiling, which had not been made perfect.
This shows a love of perfection, a love of finishing something, a love of creating something beautiful. Would it have been possible to make such a building if the workmen had been on strike ten times a year? Not in a century! And what would have happened if the workmen had insisted on weekend entertainment? No, their pleasure was in what they were making. Each workman realized that what he was making would live for centuries, that it was the greatest blessing, the greatest privilege to be allowed to work at it. That was the spirit of every man who worked there. It was built with joy. One can still find this in its atmosphere, for as soon as one comes near the Taj Mahal one begins to feel joy; it is something living.
The builders have gone, but the work remains; and every artist who has a real sense of architecture will appreciate this. What is earthly gain, compared with the thought that the work that one has done will live on and give joy for ages to come? This in itself is a great joy for the artist, because a real artist is not born for this earth; he is born in the sphere of beauty and he lives in that sphere. The things of the earth do not count for him.
In ancient Greek architecture, the Doric, which shows Jalal influence in its character, is expressive of power. And where there is Jalal there must be Jamal too; thus the Ionic architecture is expressive of Greek wisdom, beauty, and fineness. And where one finds Jalal and Jamal, one will also find Kamal, and this influence is seen in the Corinthian architecture. No doubt when Jalal and Jamal clash, then there is something lacking on both sides; nevertheless these three aspects of Greek architecture are expressive of Jalal, Jamal, and Kamal.
When we compare the architecture of the Middle Ages with the Roman and the Greek, there again we find these influences. The Jalal influence of Roman architecture shows the ancient Roman characteristics of law and rule; the Jamal influence in Greek architecture shows the Greek love of beauty and wisdom. Gothic is the Kamal expression; however, Gothic architecture has taken its own peculiar form in every country. It seems as if the soil inspired the builders, both the architects and the workmen. The Gothic churches in France are different from those in Germany, and even if there is some resemblance between French and Italian cathedrals, there is an individual feeling in every cathedral wherever it may be. Gothic architecture has reigned over the Western countries for a long time, and although by now its influence has disappeared, it has made itself felt in a hidden way during many centuries.
It is very difficult to describe modern architecture. We hesitate to call it beautiful; but to say that it is not beautiful – no, we cannot say that! So instead of calling it beautiful, we might call it wonderful. If there is any wonder, it is in the immensity of the buildings. They are indeed enormous; the ancient people would never even have dreamed of such buildings. They would be horrified if they saw them. They are also wonderful in spite of the many floors they consist of, and yet they stand so firmly. And then the way in which everything possible is pre-fabricated in order to build very quickly – all this is most wonderful. Yet it is a drawback that only vertical and horizontal lines are to be seen; and when a traveler passes through countries where he finds the same kind of architecture in every city, it is just like looking at the same house over and over again – there is no difference. Instead of wandering through the city, he might just as well look at one house and be contented with that. Everyone must have the same kind of house built on the same plan, but we are not all made that way. Every person is different, and that is what makes life interesting. When every person is different, why should not every house and building be different? As the architecture of each country is expressive of the character of that country, so the architecture of each house should be expressive of the particular character of the owner of the house, and of the man who built it. But when the law of uniformity is forced upon people, there remains no choice in the matter – the choice has been taken away from the architect as well as from the owner of the house.
No doubt one sees a continual effort on the part of modern architects to produce something new. It seems that this effort is working as much in their minds as in the minds of painters and other artists; the need is to produce, to create something new. No matter what direction architecture takes, before long there will come a time when a better approach will be found. But what is necessary for this is the development of spirituality. The architect should not think that it is the study of different architectures that will make him capable of producing something new; it is the heart, it is the spirit, which must reveal to him what he should create. The work of the architect is of the greatest importance; it comes through inspiration and its origin is spirit, not matter. A house is built with matter, but made with spirit. And as the spirit of the world evolves, so architecture will evolve also.
In the future, one can foresee two improvements. One will be the giving of more scope to the personality of the individual to express itself. The other will be the evolution of an architecture which does not discard all that belongs to the past, but blends some of its best characteristics with the architectural conceptions of the present.