Three-quarters of a century after independence a new Parliament was inaugurated in New Delhi on May 28, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Architecturally speaking, a new triangular Temple of Democracy replaced the old Indo-Saracenic-style circular Parliament. The circular Parliament was a British Colonial-era Council House that reflected the structure of English rule with its Chamber of Princes, a Legislative Assembly, and a Council of States.
In sharp contrast, the themes of the new Parliament are ancient India’s democratic roots, village panchayats, centuries-old cultures, rich tradition, and flora and fauna. For example, the new Lok Sabha has the central colour theme of India’s national bird, the majestic peacock. The courtyard and the café are centred around the national tree of India, the banyan tree.
The theme of the new design reflects inclusiveness within cultural diversity. This theme is reflected in the awesome artwork and artifacts created by traditional craftsmen from village communities across India. In a harmony between traditional and classical, the “Little tradition” and the “Great tradition”, the Lion Capital of Ashoka, of the Sarnath pillar (an emblem of the Indian State) stands proudly reflecting India’s rich history of sovereignty, echoing the Mauryan emperor’s desire to spread dharma from the lofty Himalayas to the boundless depths of the Indian Ocean.
The top of the new Constitution Hall (where the journey of Indian democracy is documented) has a large skylight from which hangs a Foucault’s Pendulum, symbolising the intermingling of the idea of India with the vision of the cosmos, showcasing the unity of the nation with the globe.
Why is the new majestic building triangular in shape? First, the plot of land that it is built on is triangular. Additionally, according to its architect Bimal Patel, the trikone (triangular) shape is a nod to the sacred geometry of various religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. With a built-up area of 64,500 square metres, the Lok Sabha chamber has 888 seats (up from the existing 543) and has the option of expanding up to 1272 seats, keeping in mind future expansion after delimitation exercises. The Rajya Sabha chamber, with the flower lotus as its theme, can house 384 MPs, up from 250.
The Old and New Parliament House stand on a diamond-shaped plot of land next to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. In the beginning, the old Parliament’s architect Herbert Baker proposed a triangular building. Edward Lutyens, however, proposed a circular building, and his opinion prevailed. Today, with the new triangular Parliament it seems Baker had the last laugh.
The inauguration of a new Parliament should have been a proud and unifying moment in the nation’s history, an opportune time to assert India’s sovereignty by evolving our collective democratic spirit from a colonial era, British-built Indo-Gothic architectural building to a made-in-India architectural marvel and masterpiece. However, by boycotting the inauguration of the new Parliament, on a rather trivial issue, the Opposition parties scored a self-goal. The government also ended up needlessly politicising a unifying moment in India’s history. Although democratic debates are central to this august chamber in all democracies, the purpose of a parliament is as Jean Jacques Rousseau brilliantly pointed out, to arrive at a consensus, since today’s minority might be tomorrow’s majority.
Happy reading Pravasi Indians!
Ajit Kumar Jha