Consulting a traditional builder

I have chosen that buildings at the pointReturn site should adopt best practices from tradition and bring in modern aids only where they make environmental sense. Village homes used to be built of dug out soil and roofed by curved tiles made by the local potter. Country wood from fast growing trees were used for windows and doors. Steel and cement played little or no part.
Vishwakarmas are a guild of craftsmen. Because they are hereditary, I suppose you could call them a caste. They have been referred to in Indian epics and are credited with great feats of creation. [ More…] There are three materials on which they display their skill – wood, stone and metals but you can’t quite limit the scope of their reach. They were architects, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, wood workers, armourers, cartwrights etc. of pre-colonial India.
They design and build following precise directions given in ancient texts. Amazingly, even though a village craftsman may not be literate in Sanskrit, he’d have internalised the grammar of design and practice and even know several verses to back his decisions. His knowledge ranges from the practical and seamlessly connects it with the divine. Every village had a few Vishwakarma masters or ‘Acharyas’ [-commonly, ‘Acharis’] who built homes, looms, carts, temples and tools.
They are a disappearing race now. And who can blame them for mingling in the teeming urban crowds for a slice of the bloating economic pie? Before I picked the pointReturn site, I had travelled several hundred kilometers to villages near Chennai, looking for land. In one village that goes by the beautiful name of Mariyanalloor, the scene in the village centre was captivating. There was a large catchment pond covered by lilies. There was an embankment and a narrow promenade on it, half-way around the pond. Stone steps led down the embankment for people to carry away pots of water.
At the foot of the steps, on the other side of the pond, under a large tree where birds sang all day, there was a little open-air smithy. There was a leather bellows to blow air through a short mud cave to a charcoal furnace. There was a large anvil, which looked beautiful for a century of use. An air of heart-rending simplicity prevailed. There was no one about. I enquired.
“Our old blacksmith died last week, aged 80,” I was told. “His sons have jobs in the city and have come down for the last rites. Wonder what will happen to the smithy. I think, that’s the end of their family trade.”

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