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The Beauty in Ruins

Mankind has always lived among its own ruins. We've searched for, found and explored them. Some of these ruins find ways to adapt into the present context, while others stagnate, deteriorating as the day goes by. This is not new, of course, no piece of built environment is destined to live forever, just as nothing is relevant to all ages. Spaces are abandoned all the time. War shelters become eerie ghosts after the conflict is over, entertainment venues fall out of favour, business run out, and government changes course rendering public-architecture inconsistent. And yet somehow the discovery of a derelict piece of architecture evokes a strong sense of nostalgia and a tingling down your spine, even if it isn't an architectural masterpiece or truly beloved in its heyday. Somehow these structures, for the mere fact of their abandonment, draw our attention.


Picture 1 : Achutharaya temple in Hampi


I recently visited Hampi. Nestled in the northern part of Karnataka and seated on the banks of the River Tungabhadra, it is encircled by rough hilly terrains and massive boulders. The history of this place dates back to as early as the 3rd century BC and known to be a part of the Mauryan empire. It later triumphed as the capital of the Vijayanagara empire. The Vijayanagar Empire was utterly destroyed in the mid-1500s. Palaces and temples razed to the ground, deities shattered and monuments demolished. The farmers who remained in the small villages of Hampi and Kamalapuram sowed paddy outside once-magnificent palaces, used debris from the ruins to fortify their huts, and women hung their clothes out to dry on fallen columns.


Aesthetically speaking, ruins have always appealed to us. They are purposefully preserved in a state of distress and if were reconstructed, would not have the jagged edges and overgrown nature that are so pleasing to our eye. This invariably links to the concept of "Wabi Sabi"which extols the beauty of imperfections. Every year, millions of people travel miles to see Greece's architectural ruins. These ancient ruins have arguably become Greece's most valuable asset and a very present evidence of the absence of a former glory. When people silently stand before the ruins to cherish the past, it seems these concrete relics arouse their cultural memory, even magically preserving it in a state of timelessness.

But what makes these places so fascinating, is beyond the rich history linked to it or mere aesthetics.


There's a sense of wonder you experience at these abandoned sites. You try to imagine what these spaces were like when they were filled with busy people, how they were dressed, or even how they walked. Spaces that were bustling with activity, now remain still- stuck in time. Something that was so glorious and significant for a remarkable amount of time, now reduced to mere physical remnants- insignificant in the present-day context. A living room is no longer the place where the family gathers in the evening, nobody serves lunches in the dining room any more, and no one meets guests in the hall. And day after day, the skin of the remains loses lustre, turning into a lifeless skeleton.


Picture 2: Ruins in Fort St. George


This is a reminder that "nothing is permanent". Such a simple statement may actually carry the most peace. What is temporary can also be beautiful exactly as it is, regardless of any potential permanence. In our daily routines, it's quite easy to be stuck in our own little bubble and be oblivious to the huge and wonderful world outside. Coming to the realization that everything in our world is temporary- including emotions, time, and even people, allows us to embrace the good and the bad. In that moment, you surely aren't thinking about that deadline you have to meet tomorrow, or about what you are doing later in the day. An endearing quality of ruins is that while they are symbolic of the passage of time, they make us feel vividly aware of the present. They represent the past but let us experience the moment we are alive in with greater humility.

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