ITS Issues-Ferrous Oxide And Flights Of Fancy


ITS Issues-Ferrous Oxide And Flights Of Fancy

Five years ago, I had taken a group of architecture students from a private college, to a village near Chennai,  India , for a case study.

I was teaching there at that time and had just joined the faculty team.

They were all students between the age group of 18-20 and they had to study

a typical village as part of the curriculum.

I was teaching design and I had accompanied them along with another faculty member who was senior to me in experience and designation.

The village had an ancient Vishnu temple [ called "Perumal" temple in TN] and, for most villagers, life more or less revolved around that temple .

There was a temple tank too [ a manmade water body one typically finds in temple towns in Tamil nadu] and the place looked idyllic.

Under different circumstances I would have visited the temple but in this case I had to oversee the case study work and along with the senior lecturer I was busy answering questions from students.

We were standing near the high wall that surrounded and demarcated the temple zone.

That's when the senior lecturer said "Those symbolise menstrual blood".

I choked on the coffee I was drinking and the students around us were startled for a moment too.

Some giggled, while some of them looked uncomfortable.

"Those" were the almost 8 inches wide saffron bands painted on the lime finished wall of the temple.

All temples in Tamil nadu have surrounding walls that are white washed and have these bands of saffron color at intervals that are as wide as the bands.

Try imagining a loud striped design -saffron bands against a white background and you can "see" a typical temple's surrounding wall in Tamil nadu.


Photo courtesy:internet
image indicative and not of the temple discussed in the article.

These bands are signages that tell people that "Here, this is a religious building. This is a holy place. This zone is not be abused in any way. Treat this place with more respect".

Also, like all signages , they also serve as markers for people who might be searching for the place itself.[ not all temples have tall "gopurams "/ pyramidical towers that can be seen from afar.]

The painted bands get that color thanks to ferrous oxide a cost effective pigment that is widely used in Tamilnadu-we mix that pigment with cement to get saffron/rust colored floors .

 The "kolams"[ decorative patterns] Tamilains typically draw on the floors using wet rice dough look very attractive against the reddish color.

More information about the material that is called "kaavi" in Tamil [ saffron] at this link.

They are used because people want to add colors that are cost effective and  environment friendly and not because their minds don't function in their head region.

But I did not say any of these things at that time there [ that was the first time I was hearing colorful theories],but simply said, "I don't think you are right".

I was also a junior member of the faculty team then and I said what little I said fighting a deep sense of embarrassment.

Some girl students later on talked to me [ as they felt they could talk to a " Ma'm"]and I told them not to get misled by such talk.

The man, who made this statement authoritatively, was otherwise a good, hard working teacher and a highly respected colleague.

I have thought about this quite often and wondered how many students there [ who didn't talk to me but who bought this one] carry this lie within their minds and worse, how many would help spreading this sort of lies to more gullible people.

I wanted to post this in some blog site but kept putting it off but now I feel as a member of a small group called "architects", I should speak out at least now.

We discuss a lot on symbolism in the built form and modern color theory talks about how blue is "cool" and how white is  "pure".

This theory about the color red or  ferrous oxide , an innocuous pigment that adds some color to an otherwise drab white washed wall, I am  sure can't  be safely extended to the other "religion " founded by Karl Marx…

When we think saffron we think "sacrifice" and when we think yellow , we think Sun and Sun flower. We don't think bile or anything else.

To associate all things to one bodily[ waste] fluids or others is thinking without the brain in its rightful place.

Not that the people who originally made these theories believe this one, but we know their idea is to malign and distort ideals that are sacred to one group.

And this is just one theory -may be that which haunts me still.

There are other "theories", less embarassing to talk about, but designed to deal a death blow to our collective pride as a people.

More such thoughts filled the discussions and I got to hear [ had already heard while I was studying ] that the ancients never built any places of worship until they saw Buddhists do the same…

We had taken theories on Indian architecture by western authors , as the absolute truth.

True, the facts in those books are a product of a lot of research but now we realize all that's is said need not be factual…and there is a need for us to use our thinking and read books that were written many hundreds of years ago in this our land.

For example ,ancient Tamil literature that are atleast two millennia, old  talk about holy sites like Tirupati and Thiruvanantha puram.[ while we were told temples weren't built until 5 th or 6 th century]

I am now reading up on these issues as I realise that we had been probably misled when we were students and we probably transferred these data to young adults when we became teachers ourselves.

There are more such issues that specifically concern people involved in the art and science of building .

As a person to whom history of architecture is a special area of interest and as a person who has just "woken up" and have started to read books from ancient India too, I feel there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed dispassionately.

I have just made a beginning here and would be working on more papers and hopefully [though it would only be a small effort compared to large scale "efforts"  funded by "scholars"] it would make some difference to somebody who is willing to listen.


At first,I thought I'd post one more poem instead of a topic like this one.

But unpleasant as it may be , I feel  issues like these needs to be discussed  and I am posting this after a lot of deliberation.

—————————————————————————I emailed this article to the ID given at this link.

It was meant for a seminar to be held at Dallas , USA between 12 th and 14 th of October this year.

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