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The Hermit's Hut

Asceticism and Architecture in India

Kazi Ashraf

Publication Year: 2013

The Hermit’s Hut offers an original insight into the profound relationship between architecture and asceticism. Although architecture continually responds to ascetic compulsions, as in its frequent encounter with the question of excess and less, it is typically considered separate from asceticism. In contrast, this innovative book explores the rich and mutual ways in which asceticism and architecture are played out in each other’s practices. The question of asceticism is also considered—as neither a religious discourse nor a specific cultural tradition but as a perennial issue in the practice of culture.

The work convincingly traces the influences from early Indian asceticism to Zen Buddhism to the Japanese teahouse—the latter opening the door to modern minimalism. As the book’s title suggests, the protagonist of the narrative is the nondescript hermit’s hut. Relying primarily on Buddhist materials, the author provides a complex narrative that stems from this simple structure, showing how the significance of the hut resonates widely and how the question of dwelling is central to ascetic imagination. In exploring the conjunctions of architecture and asceticism, he breaks new ground by presenting ascetic practice as fundamentally an architectural project, namely the fabrication of a “last” hut. Through the conception of the last hut, he looks at the ascetic challenge of arriving at the edge of civilization and its echoes in the architectural quest for minimalism. The most vivid example comes from a well-known Buddhist text where the Buddha describes the ultimate ascetic moment, or nirvana, in cataclysmic terms using architectural metaphors: “The roof-rafters will be shattered,” the Buddha declares, and the architect will “no longer build the house again.” As the book compellingly shows, the physiological and spiritual transformation of the body is deeply intertwined with the art of building.

The Hermit’s Hut weaves together the fields of architecture, anthropology, religion, and philosophy to offer multidisciplinary and historical insights. Written in an engaging and accessible manner, it will appeal to readers with diverse interests and in a variety of disciplines—whether one is interested in the history of ascetic architecture in India, the concept of “home” in ancient India, or the theme of the body as building.

Kazi Khaleed Ashraf teaches architecture at the University of Hawai‘i. His publications include An Architecture of Independence: The Making of Modern South Asia (with James Belluardo); Sherebanglanagar: Louis Kahn and the Making of a Capital Complex (with Saif ul Haque); and Made in India, which received the Pierre Vago Journalism Award from the International Committee of Architectural Critics (CICA).

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xiv

It is hard to say when working from an architectural mainstream?modern architecture and design practice?I found myself in the an-cient landscapes of India, and more particularly in the groves of the hermits and ascetics. It may appear paradoxical, but my general interest in the structure of ?place? led me to that amazing group of humans who contemplated and practiced the most rigorous form of ?placelessness? ...

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Introduction: The Architecture of Asceticism

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pp. 1-23

He looks at his house with (the words): Give us a house, O Fathers!With the declaration ?Architect, you shall not build your house again,? Siddh?rtha Gautama3 announces his arrival at the critical destination called nirv??a and acquires the qualities of a mah?samana, a superascetic.4 Sid dh?rtha, likening his ascetically charged body to a build-ing, describes the inconceivable and ineffable moment of becoming the ...

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Chapter 1. Asceticism and Architecture

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pp. 24-48

Although the concept of asceticism has wide-ranging significations and orientations, its fundamental ethos involves a common prac-tice of disciplined labor. This ethos underpins Buddhist as much as it does Christian practice, if one is to cite two major ascetic traditions; what differentiates one form from the other is the methods and goals of this structured exertion. Such dedicated labor may involve varying con-...

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Chapter 2. Home in the Ascetic Imagination

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pp. 49-76

Home is both the foundation and, literally, the point of departure for the ascetic project. ?Going forth,? as expressed in the popular Pali term pabbaja (Skt. parivr?jaka), names the central tenet of Buddhist ascetic practice, defining and prescribing movement from the ideology of home to the doctrine of homelessness. Technically referring to the renunciation of home and as such prompting the cenobitic sa?gha into ...

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Chapter 3. The Buddha's House

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pp. 77-104

Home, the point of departure of the ascetic project, has both a cen-tral and ambivalent role in ascetic ideology. While the avowed declaration of the ascetic is to renounce home and all social and ritual trappings associated with it, home finds its way surreptitiously into the heart of ascetic discourse. Home thoughts, or its surrogates, articulate the regulations of early monasticism, structure the practices of renuncia-...

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Chapter 4. The Two Houses: Body and Building in the Ascetic Imagination

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pp. 105-128

The Buddha, who was Siddh?rtha until only a while ago, sits under the fig tree in the forest of Uruvel? in deep meditation after going through various rounds of ascetic exercises and renunciatory wander-ings. Then comes the brilliant moment, something that would signify the ultimate episode in a grand journey. At a point in the meditation, a deep realization dawns on Siddh?rtha, and he exclaims, ?The rafters are ...

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Chapter 5. Asceticism and the Primitive Hut

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pp. 129-151

The Barabar Hills, about 24 kilometers north of present-day Gaya, is the site of a group of caves that were ?excavated? around 250 BCE at the time of Emperor A?oka for the ?j?vika sect of ascetics.1 The excava-tion led to ?constructions? or carvings, of which the most significant cave in the group is the Lomas Rishi. A striking feature of the interior of the cave is a three-dimensional ?hut? carved from stone; it?s not quite ...

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Chapter 6. A Hut with Many Meanings

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pp. 152-167

Simple and plain as it may appear, the ascetic hut is not so simple after all, and neither was it put together with a plain motive. The ascetic hut, the sine qua non of asceticism, condenses the rich imagi-nary and complex practices of the ascetic tradition. The frequent apos-trophization of the term ?hut? resorted to in these essays is a recogni-tion of its polysemic character, of how an ideogram of the hut harbors ...

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Chapter 7. The End of Architecture

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pp. 168-176

Who is in the small hut? A bhikkhu is in the small hut, with desire gone, with well concentrated mind. Thus know, Friend, your small Announcing the end of architecture, as well as the body as we know it, the idea of the ?last hut? serves as an arrival at the edge of civi-lization. This is the culmination of an evolutionary project in which home, from a socialized, ritualized space, has been reconceptualized as ...


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pp. 177-204


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pp. 205-206


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pp. 207-216


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pp. 217-222

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About the Author, Production Notes, Back Cover

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pp. 223-227

Kazi Khaleed Ashraf teaches architecture at the University of Hawai?i at M?noa. His publications include An Architecture of Independence: The Making of Modern South Asia (with James Belluardo); Sherebanglanagar: Louis Kahn and the Making of a Capital Complex (with Saif ul Haque); and the Architectural Design volume Made in India, which received the Pierre Vago Journalism Award from the Interna-...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824839130
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835835

Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Spatial Habitus: Making and Meaning in Asia’s Architecture