Archi Feature > Mewar Complex
The Mewar Complex is dedicated to Rana Pratap (1540-1597), who fought for a free kingdom when numerous Rajput Kings were forming alliances with the Mughals. Being always at war, Rana Pratap didn’t have time to build anything in his name. The Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation aims to redress that.
Why do we make memorials? Perhaps we want to anchor a visual memory to a place, like we do with photographs in our wallets, so that its constant existence turns it immortal. But what determines the shape public memorials will take? The ones we see in India, Vijay Stamb, India Gate, Gateway of India, Victoria Memorial and around the world, the famed holocaust memorials, the Hiroshima memorial, the pyramids – their character is defined not just by their content or purpose, but also by the politics, belief and mindset of that time.
Long before the Taj Mahal was a tourist attraction, it was a memorial that stood by the waters of the Yamuna, protected by its walls and nothing else. It was not a place to live in, a fortress to secure anything, it was a memory located somewhere, and by being there, it changed the view of the horizon, evoked a new meaning.
Traditionally, memorials in Rajasthan were mostly chhatris (canopy) – elevated, dome-shaped pavilions which paid homage to the dead. The larger ones had multiple rooms and the interiors walls were at times decorated like those in Havelis. Located by the river or the road, these have over time become journey markers and reborn as community spaces for people to meet or spend time in.
The Mewar Complex is a loose cluster of three main memorials – Yuddh Smarak, Vijay Smarak and Raj Tilak Sthal. Each commemorates a specific event, serving to narrate the story of Rana Pratap’s life in chapters. The Complex alters the desert landscape for those who pass by. What are we to make of them? How do they affect our interaction with the desert and the countless stories buried in the sand? Does a memorial commemorating Rana Pratap need to look like how he would have built it in war-torn feudal times, or how we see him in our democratic present? Does the past need to be represented as a mime or as an understanding? Much of this forms the conversation with one of the architects of the project, Meghal Arya. But first, a look at the Mewar Complex itself.
The aerial map gives us an idea of how the memorials are scattered. While they are all bound by the same protagonist, the event commemorated keeps the feel of each distinct from the other – both naturally and by intention.
Raj Tilak Sthal, Gogunda
A narrow long corridor with openings to the sky and large picture windows which surprisingly opens up to a wide amphitheatre canopied by two trees. A tall stone wall cuts it off on one end and a flight of stairs leads to a flat top. That seems like the terrace if you’re in the corridor, but once in the amphitheatre, it’s the same level as the top steps thus making it seem like a gradual incline rather than separate floors. This memorial commemorates Rana Pratap’s Raj Tilak (coronation). The materials are local, rough cut stone, rugged and devoid of traditional decorative elements, not at all the opulence one sees in coronation venues – though it seems fit for a king at war. The element of the audience for such an event is satiated by the amphitheatre – it is theatrical in intent and suited to the occasion.
Yuddh Smarak, Chhapli
The War memorial has seven ascending walls along a curve. When one walks in, it has a larger surface area at the back with a series of free-standing walls with doorways to walk through. The paths from one door to the other are marked by a swaying path, like pathways through passes in a mountain. At first sight, it seems like a large bunker, with peep holes. The structure is rugged and except for a narrow roof, is largely open to the elements.
Tourist Centre, Devair
The Tourist centre is at the base of the Vijay Smarak. It will house a restaurant, information centre, toilets, admin offices and is also the point where people can park their cars if they wish to walk up the hill to the victory memorial. It has stairs that lead to a terrace to give a more elevated view of the landscape and the smarak. The stonework is lovely and forms patterns on the walls.
Vijay Smarak, Devair
A long winding path leading up the hill to what seems like the ruins of a fortress. As one climbs up, the balcony in the centre commands attention. It cleaves the memorial in two and towers above it. Inside a circular corridor runs along the walls and a flight of stairs cuts through to lead further up to the balcony, and a view of the entire landscape. Even if this memorial were not named Vijay Smarak, the body language clearly marks it out from the rest. Walking up the winding pathway, entering the memorial, striding up the flight of stairs that cuts through the memorial and standing atop viewing the endless land spread around, it is designed to create the feel of victory for every person who visits the space.
What strikes me about the Mewar Complex is that elements of traditional storytelling are absent. There are no statues, no paintings, no recreation of an epic, just a coming together of stones and space to stand for a nomad king’s life. Yet, the memorials depict strength, solidity and a sense of challenging the elements. It reflects who we are today, as well as, the history of the desert. The picture that emerges is of king to be taken seriously, in any time.
– In conversation with Meghal Arya –
Indian By Design: What was the origin of the Mewar Complex? What does it seek to represent?
Arya Architects: Mewar complex is a series of points in the landscape around Udaipur seeking to mark important events in the life of Rana Pratap. Rana Pratap was always on the move, fighting the mughals and hence could never build anything, unlike all other kings who spent some part of their lives creating edifices. This was the government’s attempt to build something to commemorate his life. The buildings are built more like his life – rugged, grounded, part of the landform which was quite contrary to the expectations of the bureaucracy and government. They wanted it to have more of the ‘rajasthani’ character complete with jharookhas, kangooras etc.
Indian By Design: What interested you about the project? What egged you to explore building it the way you did, contrary to what was expected as being ‘rajasthani’?
Arya Architects: We were looking at establishing relationships with a traditional architecture that would embed cultural values but would not fall back upon pastiche* to do that. It became a question of interpretation and we used the word syncretic*. Over the years, we have moved on beyond the words but continue the essence of what we were looking for – how to establish architecture in its locale? This project was really more of a search for this question than any answer and hence it was the challenge we were looking for.
Today, we realise that along with relating to the traditional, we also need to build for the present. Considering these were sites in the middle of nowhere, with little movement of people, they had to evoke a degree of timelessness. Therefore, ‘rajasthani’ style was obviously not the answer.
The projects were shaped from an understanding built over years of studying Rajasthan architecture, the use of traditional skills available in the area, the landscape around as well as from our own need to ‘create’, something new, something that will give a sense of freedom. In this particular project, there have been two responses to the landscape simultaneously: one is to bring in the landscape into the building and the other is to reach out thus creating the tension between the built and the expanse of landscape.
Indian By Design: Yuddh Smarak, Vijay Smarak, Raj Tilak Sthal – how did you work to bring in the essence of the event without the usual pictorial or sculptoral aids that are commonly used?
Meghal: Each are located at points of important events in his life. Hence, tilak sthal is the place of his coronation as a king (while on the run), yudh smarak is where he won a battle against the mughals, the battle being won in seven valleys of the mountains (hence the seven walls), and vijay smarak commemorates an important victory. The staircase and the robust architecture definitely expresses victory – hence the tall stair. At this place, he is said to have killed the enemy by splitting him and his horse into two by one sweep of his sword – hence the stair splitting the bastion in two. Also, the stair points towards Kumbalgarh which was Rana Pratap’s dynastic headquarter but which he could never occupy. There is a lot of symbolism embedded in the architecture which is and is not overt.
Indian By Design: What has this project meant for the practice?
Meghal: The project has enabled us to straddle the two important spheres of our work – research in the traditional architecture of Rajasthan and contemporary architecture in the Indian milieu. It has given us an opportunity to explore dimensions of construction and relation with craft traditions of the area.
Indian By Design: What are you currently working on?
Meghal: We recently completed a book on the architecture of a Fort in Nagaur titled ‘Architecture of a Royal Camp’. Vijay is also completing a sports facility. This is once again a public project in which the sponsor is the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and the client is the people of eastern Ahmedabad (an area so far marginalised by the mega developments of Ahmedabad).
Project Credits: Client : Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation; Consulting Architects: M/s Minakshi Jain Architects; Principal Architect: Vijay Arya; Team: Meghal Arya, Urvi Sheth, Devang Rana, Sanal Thathatuzha; Structural consultants: Samir Patel. Photos: Ariel Huber, Switzerland
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Tags: Indian Architecture, Meghal Arya, Mewar Complex, Minakshi Jain Architects, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, Rana Pratap, Vijay Arya