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Hybridity and commodification in heritage architecture of Jaipur


Illustration by Dhruv Shah Aka Lodaya, 2020.

Modernity is a process of ‘continual constitution and reconstitution of a multiplicity of cultural programs’.[1] Modernity, therefore, doesn’t have a defined linear path but instead follows a cyclic process of defining and redefining the modern.[2] The temporal journey of the often trans- geographically ‘modern’ forms an integral part of the process, and its arrival more often than not marks the epoch of a new cycle. These cycles occur simultaneously, each at their own pace generating a complex mechanism of cultural, ideological, political, social and architectural, transformation and modernity. The process of definition and redefinition more often than not results in shifting architectural identities, oscillating between novel, foreign, traditional, and exotic. On one hand, modernity has been expressed through the generation of new architectural styles, such as Art Deco in Mumbai, India; and on the other hand, we have seen appropriation of older architectural sites and objects, such as the Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, India. This appropriation of architectural and cultural heritage has led to a process of packaging and filtering to create a final product in alignment with the redefined ideologies of social and political modernity. Generic ideas of Indian-ness become parameters for the retrofitting of modernity within these objects, further deciding what gets highlighted and what gets hidden. The generation of antagonistic identities of modern and traditional and the subsequent placement of heritage buildings in the later have led to a temporal disconnection between these buildings and societal modernity. As a result, these buildings remain frozen in time, generating a theatrical fantasy to allow their consumption.


One such example would be the creation of heritage tourism, by repurposing palaces and forts, as hotels and buildings of hospitality. These structures are often appropriated and juxtaposed with social and cultural modernities while continuing to be frames of culture and history. Spaces transform from the public to private, open to defined, owned to shared. Through the process of imaginability and global outreach marketing, these often become platforms for the global portrayal of an Indian-India and its history.[3]


The ontological connection of these structures with hospitality continues while the nature of this relationship has transformed. The appropriation of these buildings has led to the dispersion of heritage as a commodity from the experience and lifestyle of the elite to a product for consumption by everyone. Hence the architectural object has become a site of conflict and balance between modernity and heritage, consumption and conservation, production, and privatisation. The process of modernity has been slow and transformative beginning from the Rajput princes and their hospitality to the British and Europeans to the now heritage tourism industry in India.[4] The transformation of cities has led to an ontological disconnection of these experiences of heritage from the context itself rendering the architectural object as a means of economic and often racial disconnection creating museums of orchestrated cultural histories.


Jaipur in Rajasthan, India, has found itself at the heart of the heritage tourism industry – the city alone is home to 8 hotels registered with the Heritage Hotels Association of India. This hybridity can be associated with the framework offered by the British during colonial rule as well as the rulers of the state itself. Since the Princes of Jaipur were under an indirect rule of the British Empire the influence the empire had was diluted and highly controlled by the rulers. This political situation also led to the identification of the Rajputana as the ‘other’ to colonial India. Making the Rajput princes a representation of the Indian culture and Rajasthan an easily accessible home for the same. Jaipur became one of the first presidencies to have two development authorities namely the Imarat led by the Indian court architect and the public works department led by Sir Swinton Jacobs. With the fall of the monarchy and the shift from a feudal system to a democratic one, the palaces became hard to maintain with deteriorating wealth.[5] With a long history of hospitality, these palaces were transformed into hotels. By 2006, Rajasthan alone had 16 heritage hotels, which included some of the older converted palaces and forts and the newly built imitative ones. Societal modernity crept into these frozen heritage hotels and various steps were taken to maintain an authentic image while providing modern amenities which generated contrasts.


With Jaipur as the site of study, the essay consists of two parts. The first focuses on the ideological journey of these architectural objects and the transformative impacts of the shifting societal and political frameworks which have led to the eventual commodification of these structures. The generation of an hybridity in various forms and scales, importantly, between the processes of commodification and the subsequent self-orientalisation become the pillars of the analysis.


 The second part of the essay focuses on the reflection of this journey today and its impact on the building as a means of historical discourse. The theatrical creation of heritage and culture within these buildings in the current times becomes the key point of analysis. This dissertation aims to understand the impacts of modernity on buildings that are regarded as heritage structures and their evolution through modernisation. Through the production of a past as a fantasy existing in the present, these buildings are often imitative of the past in not just their physicality but also programmatically. By examining the appropriation and commodification of cultural heritage within these structures, this dissertation aims to question whether we are compromising on the diversity of our national cultural and natural heritage to present a unified product for sale to the global world.





[1] Eisenstadt, and Eisenstadt, S. N. in Multiple Modernities, ed. by Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, (New Brunswick, N.J ; 1 London: Transaction Publishers, 2002.)

[2] Ibid.

[3]  Carol Appadurai, Breckenridge, Consuming Modernity : Public Culture in a South Asian World, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Vikramaditya Prakash, ‘Between Objectivity and Illusion: Architectural Photography in the Colonial Frame’, Journal for Architectural Education, Vol.55. No.1, (Abingdon-on-Thames: Taylor & Francis Ltd., 2013)

Copyright of image: © Dhruv Shah Aka Lodaya

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