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“DOMESTIC MANDALA: ARCHITECTURE OF LIFEWORDS IN NEPAL” CREATES BRIDGES BETWEEN ARCHITECTURE AND ANTHROPOLOGY, SINCE IT IS A SUSTAINED DISCUSSION OF THE COSMOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF HOUSES IN KHOLAGAUN HAMLET IN THE VILLAGE OF BANASPATI IN KATHMANDU. SPECIFICALLY, THE ANTHROPOLOGIST JOHN N. GRAY ARGUES THAT THE HOUSE IS SEEN IMAGINATIVELY AS A MANDALA THAT ACTS TO BRING THE MEANINGS OF THE SACRED ORDER OR COSMOS IN PEOPLE'S LIVES LITERALLY CLOSE TO HOME.
Domestic Mandala: Architecture of Lifeworlds in Nepal
By: John N. Gray Published in 2006 by Ashgate
“What could be more ordinary than houses and the straightforward mundane life that people live within them? Yet, the themes of this book are that underlying the ordinariness of houses are rich and complex ideas about the cosmos and that commonplace domestic activities are simultaneously cosmogenic acts of building the cosmos and revelatory acts of knowing its fundamental principles.”
John N. Gray's ethnographic exposition, “Domestic Mandala: Architecture of Lifeworlds in Nepal”, which begins thus, is part of the Ashgate series on Anthropology and Cultural History in Asia and the Indo- Pacifi c. The book creates bridges between architecture and anthropology, since it is a sustained discussion of the cosmological signifi cance of houses in Kholagaun hamlet in the village of Banaspati in Kathmandu.
Gray argues that the house is seen imaginatively as a mandala
or mystic diagram that acts to bring the meanings of the sacred orderor cosmos in people's lives literally close to home. Unifying the analysis is the concept of homology and mystical connection between different domains of existence, seen as macrocosm and microcosm. In this way the house can be seen to be a part of and also to replicate the wider cosmos; while the human body itself may be seen as a further microcosmic version of a mandala.
As Gray points out, these correspondences are not just a matter of abstract cognition. They are embodied and practical, guiding people in terms of rituals they need to perform in order to ensure their health and fertility. At the same time, people are enjoined by their cosmological notions not to become too attached to worldly concerns, so that they can see through the impediments of illusion and grasp the unity of the cosmos as something beyond themselves.
It might seem a tall order for the architecture of houses to express all these levels and contradictions of cosmological thought,but Gray points out that architecture in general produces embodied meanings and creates meaningful space; or, as we might put it, meaningful places that encapsulate both practical concerns and cosmological values. In the case of Kholagaun, Gray argues that there are actually two spatial modalities at work in houses: a mandalic mode, which emphasises concentric spaces around a centre and leads people to understand the unity of the cosmos; and a yantric mode, which deals with cardinal directions and the ritual ways of achieving auspiciousness and success in the world. Both persons and houses are intersections of these two modes, and both are also related to the foundational myth of the cosmic being Purusha, from whose self-sacrifi cial body came everything in the world, and a kind of sacred geometry associated with the construction of circles and with central points.
All this is extremely elaborate and also appears to be a part of the conscious models of the people themselves rather than simply a construct pieced together by the anthropologist. The general idea, moreover, that houses and bodies may be seen as deeply bound up with the cosmos has considerable comparative applicability.
As they engage in everyday domestic activities, Kholagaun Chhetris are at the same time fulfi lling their sacred duties. They are also confi guring their houses into functional spaces for these activities and building them into microcosms where they acquire revelatory knowledge of the cosmos within which their enigmatic life world has a richer and more comprehensive meaning.