How do you know where to go, if you don’t know where you’ve come from?
Human beings have over 70,000 years of history on this planet. And to understand this history it is imperative to visit the various places that hold these ancient sites. But hold on a second, why should a designer care about history? Why invest time and energy in understanding it, when one could use their time scribbling down design ideas or working on their software skills? Shouldn’t we be working our way ahead, instead of dwelling in the past? What is the point of it?
You can find the answer to that in the drawing tablet that you use to bring out your best ideas. This modern day sketching tool has become such an integral part of a designer’s digital life, that it’s not even given a second thought.
But the first appearance of a sketching tool was made 73,000 years back in South Africa, in the form of natural pigment crayons and the surface of a cave wall. From there we have evidence of the 40,000 year old cave paintings and hand stencils in the Spanish cave, El Castillo.
A couple more stops from there, and then we arrive at the tablet that has become an everyday essential in 2018 CE. So if you think about it, this very uber cool idea to make beautiful art with a tablet has its origin over 70,000 years back!
In fact, everything around us today, toothbrushes, posters, cars, computers, houses – none of them have been created out of thin air. All these products have evolved with humans.
Contemporary art and culture may drastically vary from the past. But the design principles that these are based on, have stayed constant. This is because of the unchanged human behavior in all these years. The way people responded then to both visual and sensory experiences, is exactly the way we respond today. Hence, one will find principles of colour theory, patterns and textures, warmness and coolness, lightness and heaviness, compositions and proportions, perspectives and illusions, and so many more waiting to be discovered.
Visiting ancient human settlements is one of the best teachers as one witness’s exceptional examples of design.
Apart from the numerous lessons, traveling is terrific for inspiration as well. Creative ideas are not conceived in a void. They are the result of external triggers. The environment is filled with solutions, only if one observes. And places that are particularly dripping with ideas are ancient travel destinations.
Every ancient civilization in the world has been a pinnacle of art, culture, design and lifestyle, in its own unique way. Here we can find timeless solutions to design problems that we encounter even today. In that sense traveling is a great way to discover how the same problem was tackled in the past.
Traveling has a lot in store for the seasoned and established designer as well, as it also offers a very humbling experience. When you feel you are at the top of your game and the master of your designing domain – go travel. And watch your illusory bubble burst, and let yourself come crashing down to ground reality, as you realize that we aren’t the world’s first creators.
The quest for a better designed solution, that is visually soothing, and in line with the ‘user experience’, is a fairly old concept, probably as old as our cave men ancestors. Isn’t that the reason why we’ve come so far from then?
Today, we hear of thought leaders who want to disrupt and forge the path ahead. But for this, one must know the past to know where to lead the future. It is a great responsibility when one chooses to show the way. One needs to fully grasp the impact of their actions, which is only possible by understanding the past, learning about the origin of things. The origin of design.
And for all this wisdom, one can simply start by traveling the marvels of India. So, to get you going we’ve put together a few Indian historical beauties.
Location – Aurangabad district, Maharashtra
Period – 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE
Ajanta caves are ancient rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments. They constitute ancient monasteries and worship-halls depicting Buddhist traditions that are carved into tall walls of rock. They also depict detailed pictorial Buddhist tales.
Why you should visit this place – These caves are believed to be ‘the birth of Indian Art’. They are among the finest surviving examples, particularly expressive paintings that present emotion through gesture, pose and form.
Location – Bellari district, Karnataka
Hampi refers to the group of monuments in Bellari district. Hampi was once the flourishing capital of the Hindu Vijaynagar Empire, and by the 15th century became the richest city in India. It is a sprawling grand site with over 1,600 surviving remains of the last great Hindu kingdom in South India. The site consists of forts, Riverside features, royal and sacred complexes, temples, shrines, pillared halls, mandapas, memorial structures, water structures and more. The elaborately decorated Virupaksha temple, adjoining the marketplace, is active even today, with countless pilgrims visiting the holy complex every year.
Why you should visit this place – The various remains demonstrate an evolved art style. Many elementary design principles like repetition, patterns, horizontality, etc., can be seen in practice.
Location – Lepakshi village, Anantapur District, Andhra Pradesh
Veerbhadra temple was built in Vijayanagara architecture style, the prevalent South Indian architecture style of the time. The carvings, painting and frescoes are intricate and depict stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Purana. These pictorial representations are bursting with vibrant colours that have been well preserved.
Why you should visit this place – The temple has a fresco on the ceiling which is Asia’s largest and measures 23 x 13 feet. The pictorial art that adorns the walls, throw light on the period costumes and facial expression. The composition of the paintings brilliant and have a lot to teach.
Location – Konark, Puri district, Odisha
The Konark Sun temple, as the name suggests is dedicated to the Hindu Sun God. The remains of the temple complex are in the form of a gigantic chariot with large wheels and a horse. The main idol of the Sun God was made to suspend in the air with the aid of the huge magnet at the peak and another fixed at the basement. This was before the temple was desecrated by Jahangir in the 17th Century. The Chariot shaped temple was built such that it creates the illusion of movement and dynamism, especially during dawn when it looks like the chariot is rising from the sea, carrying the Sun god.
Why you should visit this place – The temple is known for its elaborate iconography that is seen along the walls and the sides of the gigantic chariot. It is breathtaking at the break of dawn as it is aligned in an east-west direction; the light pours in on the huge chariot creating a dramatic effect.
Location – Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh
Period – 10th – 12th Century AD
The Khajuraho Group of Monuments consists of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples. This reveals the acceptance of diverse religious views at the time in the region. These monuments were built in the Nagara style of North Indian architecture. The walls and sculptures are extensively intricate and decorative. This group of monuments is a fine example of Indian art and architecture.
Why you should visit this place – These temples are made out of sandstone without any mortar. The stones are held together with mortise and tenon joints, which then stay put on account of gravity. For this absolute precision is required.
Location – Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
Taj-ul-Masjid is India’s largest mosque. Its interior is spread over 4,300,000 sft, and can accommodate over 175,000 people. The construction was initiated under the reign of the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. The mosque, with its pink façade, endless expanse, towering 18 feet high minarets, and the impressive main hallway, has a majestic appearance to it. The construction and interiors resemble typical Mughal style architecture, similar to the one seen in Jama Masjid in Delhi.
Why you should visit this place – The harmony and balance of the entire structure are impressive. The patterns of the fine screens are awe-inspiring.
Location – Sanchi town, Madhya Pradesh
Sanchi Stupa is an ancient Buddhist complex that also has the famous great stupa. This mound-like structure is one of the oldest stone structures in India. It was initially commissioned by King Ashoka. The famous Ashoka pillar is seen here erected on the side of the main gateway.
Why you should visit this place – The Sanchi stupa is of great significance to India and Indian art and culture. The stone relief work on the stairways is unique.
Period – Established in 1673
Pondicherry, a union territory of India, was once upon a time colonized by the French East India Company. During the time of their control, the French brought a lot of their cultural influences into Pondicherry. Today, even after Pondicherry belongs to free India, some of these influences have remained, turning the region into a melting pot of south Indian and colonial French styles. This city is based on the French grid pattern where the streets are perpendicular. The town is distinctly divided into two parts, the French Quarter and the Indian Quarter. Most of the French section retains the French colonial architecture style, with yellow, white or earthy villas lining the streets. Apart from the architecture, the art too is very inspiring, as it depicts the colonial European school of thought.
Why you should visit this place – The city of Pondicherry demonstrates how a foreign style can seamlessly blend into an Indian setting, visually and experientially creating something inimitable and warm.