| Vishal J Singh| Gurdwara Design | 12 May 2016 | Asia Samachar |
By Vishal J.Singh
There are marvelous pockets of paradise that can be found all across the landscapes of our splendid planet. These natural slices of heaven, so breathtaking to view, can range from the pristine white sands and turquoise waters of Mauritius, to the verdant lush greenery of the Amazon to the striking golden sand dunes of Arabia. However, one of the more well known of these earthly treasures is Bali (affectionately known as the Island of the Gods, due to its rich Hindu and Buddhist cultural heritage), which is part of the Indonesian archipelago of islands, that is easily one of the most beautiful places in South East Asia. Other than its indisputable natural beauty, the architecture of the island – its temples, palaces, villas and so forth – are a fascinating composition of ancient cultural elements expressed through the use of natural material materials, primarily stone, bamboo and timber, and through its signature colour that connects the vast number and types of structures in built in Bali, which is a specific shade of orange, derived from the availability of a kind of sandstone found in abundance in that part of the world.
So imagine for a moment, that there was an opportunity to build a Gurdwara in such a captivating environment, which would allow the Sanggat to enjoy the loveliness of Bali’s natural setting every time we needed to go to pay homage to the Guru Granth Sahib. With an immensely rich cultural and architectural heritage found in Bali, perhaps the best place to find inspiration for the design of the proposed Gurdwara would be in Bali itself as an attempt to create a design that truly blends in respectfully with is natural and manmade surroundings. Conclusively, the idea of using Bali and her history itself then becomes the main design inspiration for the construction of the proposed Gurdwara and therefore the Gurdwara will look like a modern building incorporated into the Balinese landscape but mixed with design elements from the past, specifically through the usage of the following elements:
- Sandstone walls ( with its signature orange colour identifiable with Bali )
- Stone slabs and walls (that divide external areas of the Gurdwara into specific areas for specific functions.
- Bamboo screens – that offer privacy and allow for natural ventilation – as part of the exterior walls for the Gurdwara.
- Bamboo roofs and canopies – that offer shade from the scorching tropical sun naturally.
- Water ponds and extensive landscaping – as a means of cooling down the spaces in the landscape while providing a tranquil environment along with lush planting of trees into the complex.
At this point I would like to credit Mr. Jagmohan Singh (fondly referred to as ‘Punjabi Hippie’ among family and friends) for some of the ideas that he had proposed to incorporate into the design of this proposal. His invaluable contributions led to the final outcome of this proposal and for that, I’d like to convey my utmost gratitude for his ideas and efforts.
With Bali being an island, it only makes sense that the element of water would play an tremendously important role to the people of Bali, both as a spiritual element (as a means of ritual cleansing) and as a physical element (such as bathing, cleaning, cooking etc.) that profoundly contributed to the development of Balinese society as a whole both practically and socially.
In recognition of the importance of water and its significance in Balinese culture and environment, the Darbar Sahib of the proposed Gurdwara sits entirely on a pool of water much like the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and here too, all 4 sides of the proposed Gurdwara can be accessed through a bridge. This connection of the proposed Gurdwara and the Golden Temple in terms of how both divine structures are built on water was a deliberate decision, where the proposed Gurdwara sits on water as mark of respect to water’s significance to Balinese culture (like an island in the sea), and as mark of respect to the Golden Temple itself, using the element of water as an identifiable spiritual connection of sorts common to the two holy complexes.
The entrance of the Gurdwara is marked with Sikhi’s most recognisable insignia – the Ek Ongkar and the Khanda – which place the main entrance of the Gurdwara through the construction of a moon gate. Walking through the entrance leads directly to the Darbar Sahib above via a main glass staircase.
The Nishan Sahib Plaza is located on the left of the complex, marked by an array of concrete slabs on the floor interwoven with carpets of grass and through the presence of the Nishan Sahib itself, set against the backdrop of a striking stone wall.
The Darbar Sahib is elevated above the orange sandstone walls and columns, as is done in traditional structures built in the tropics, as a means of capturing natural wind into the interiors, and can be accessed from the main staircase at the front. The Darbar Sahib is protected from the excessive sunlight outside through the incorporation of bamboo screens used as walls. Huge timber canopies shaped like giant umbrellas are placed in public garden areas, as a way to naturally shade the outside for the comfort of the Sanggat, situated next to the water ponds.
The Langgar Hall essentially is a big open air timber pavilion, resting on a stone base , where the Sanggat can sit outside to enjoy the blessed langgar prepared in the Gurdwara. The open air Langgar Hall takes advantage of the natural beauty surrounding the environment of the Gurdwara on a cool day whether as the area beneath the Darbar Sahib also has an internal Langgar Hall along with the kitchen that is used on a day to day basis.
The back of the Darbar Sahib also appears to celebrate the usage of the water in the Gurdwara complex and leads into the gardens of the site itself. This creates an overall strong connection with the natural environment and completes the aesthetic sensibilities of the proposed Gurdawara complex.
In modern architecture, it is not just the look of the building that is considered important, but of equal importance, perhaps even more so, is the preliminary study of the site itself in where the building is to be built. There are various contributing clues that the site naturally provides that can be attained through observation and study of the existing social and historical contexts of the location that can be used as a basis for the proposed design. By studying the many facets of what a site provides, for instance through seeing what materials are generally used for building at the location, other important cultural or social activities, historical influences etc, a design that is perhaps more “respectful” of its environment can be constructed, so that the proposed design can also help to enrichen the existing context of that said environment in which the building is to be eventually built.
This was the conceptual approach adopted for the design of this particular Gurdawara, and by adopting this method as a design strategy, than specific cultural elements of Bali itself is also celebrated, alongside the glorious presence of Sikhi and its teachings in such a gorgeous natural setting. Indeed, perhaps through this union, Bali really does provide true meaning to the phrase “a paradise on earth” while Sikhi provides true meaning to the notion of “a paradise for the soul.”
The next article will review what a proposed modern gurdwara in a congested urban setting, somewhere in the city of Kuala Lumpur, can look like. It will be supplemented with site photos and general information.
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FROM THE SAME AUTHOR:
Gurdwara design: A Sikh lantern in Far East (Asia Samachar, 6 Feb 2016)
Gurdwara docked by the riverbank (Asia Samachar, 23 Jan 2016)
Designing a gurdwara for Sikh youth, where pray meets play (Asia Samachar, 25 Dec 2015)
Gurdwara design that listens to earth (Asia Samachar, 1 Oct 2015)
Creating deeper social connections (Asia Samachar, 13 July 2015)
A sanctuary by the sea (Asia Samachar, 7 June 2015)
Rethinking gurdwara design (Asia Samachar, 21 Apr 2015)