Ancient Indian manuscripts can provide perspective to current design studies

New Delhi, April 7 (IANS) The Western aesthetic has been known to dictate grid structures but Indian cultural heritage and its various manuscripts are good examples of the existence of an alternative that could lend variety and perspective to current studies of design – as an exhibition here demonstrates.

Graphic designer Dimple Bahl’s exhibition, ‘Scripting the PAST for the FUTURE’ that is on till April 8 at the IGNCA here, provides an in-depth study of grids in the Indian culture, with a focus on Jain scriptures that talk about Ayurveda, religion, rituals and the manner of living.

The exhibition culls grid structures from ancient Indian manuscripts to give a local vocabulary to the global design language.

“These are the scriptures of the past, I have studied them to give information in the present to encourage the future generations to translate it into something much bigger than what we are doing today,” Bahl told IANS.

There is very little knowledge of the rich legacy of the creative use of grids left behind by our ancestors simply because it is not taught as a part of our design curriculum and because our knowledge and research about them is inadequate and dominated by Western pedagogy, according to her.

“I created little things to understand the grid structure and how they were prevalent in our own culture. Then, I moved on to grids in Indian manuscripts narrowed it down to Jain manuscripts because they are beautifully illustrated and they have a lot of variation of form,” she said.

Planned in a mere 20 days, the exhibition is very basic and breaks away from religious connotations.

“If we showcase what were the graphic designs used in India, there is a possibility that people may start appreciating it, they may start evolving a language which is more rooted in our culture,” said Bahl who collaborated with National Mission for Manuscripts and studied 1,099 manuscripts for her research.

“We could have a comprehensive compendium to show what existed in India,” she added.

“One of the books displayed in the exhibition that describes the Jain cosmos is capable of being an entire exhibition but nobody is trying to document these things to make them available to the next generation as in India we don’t respect our scriptures that much.”

She questioned why we don’t take inspiration from the grid lines and the way the layouts were happening in the past.

There has been no distinction between art an craft in India, as amply illustrated by our historical grids. Indian design philosophy treats design as something to be adopted across all spheres of life, she said.

She asserted that she could relate the meanings of the scriptures with their aesthetic visuals.

“The content of the scriptures has so beautifully been translated into the visual grids. I could connect the aesthetics and the meaning and come up with these examples.”

Bahl presents a study of these as a doorway to countless everyday possibility of evolving a strong, indigenous graphic language that could speak eloquently its own vocabulary while adhering to the predominantly western principles that form the current bulwark of modern design education.

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