Creat. Sp.

Modernity: A Way of Urbanism -- Banaras in Indigenous Trans-Formations

Animesh Dev


Indigenous Modernity, Social Anthropology, Transforming Traditions, Urban Transformations, Urban Design Recommendations.

PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at

Modernity, as a process and not as an output, is a derivative of transformation. Transformations are different for diverse aspirations of its producers. Aspirations are negotiations between the needs and desires, and what can actually be achieved. Traditional beliefs and practices coexist, transform and sometimes depart from the original, as a result of aspirations of modernization and inspirations from the idea of modernity, to become modern. Since, a traditional urban community is deeply grounded in native tradition while becoming globally modern, an enquiry about how we are changing internally will lead us to the process of how we interpret and change modernity, thereby exploring various indigenous ways of becoming modern. Indigenous Modernity varies with different contexts and is a harmonious adaptation to contextual contemporary life. The cause for such transformations can be global but the effects will always be a derivative of indigenous reactions to modernity. In the city of Varanasi, the agents of modernity are spread across different periods, transforming the economic, social, and built fabric of the city. One can stretch the strands of transformations from the sacred core of the city (transformative layer of modernity, Kashi), to the outer periphery of the core (additive layer of modernity, Varanasi) and, sometimes to the trans-urban areas that grapple with global aspirations and new economic opportunities. This paper is based on a research aimed at discovering the transformations that have occurred under the forces of modernization within the physical fabric of Varanasi as well as within its society. Further, the study also looks at how sacred cities, the identity and intrinsic value of which are grounded in unassailable tradition, derive their ‘indigenous modernity’ to create a unique urbanism. An understanding will, thus, be made on modernity as something both deeply traditional and being constantly reinvented through contemporary practices and of the significant link between modernity and transformation as a key to understand the phenomenon of ‘indigenous modernity’. The study spans from typological level, to the Mohalla level and, to the city level, and finally recommends ways of sustainable indigenous modernization.



Modernization is a form of development in which systems such as ‘value’, ‘society’ and, ‘personality’ are interwoven in such a way that universalisticsecularistic positive values make differentiations within the status-role system and evolve a social personality. Modernity, from the point of view of individual, is a state of personality trait-scientific worldview. Modernity, from the point of view of a given society as a whole, is a judgment on its level of development in material and ideational aspects.

1.1 Modernization and Tradition: The Timelessness of Modernity

Beginning from the undocumented period, the society that then existed is today regarded as ‘traditional’. As the time proceeds, the winds of change, which are the internal aspirations and external influences, help city and its society to evolve. This change is ‘modern’. At any particular frame of time, both ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ co-exist. This co-existence (which is always in a flux) is the ‘transformation’ and defines the degree of adaptability in a society as well as the corresponding spatial arrangements of the city. As time proceeds, this fusion of modern and the-then-traditional become traditional for the future and again the forces of change, the aspirations and influences again help the city to evolve further. Again, both co-exist and this process becomes the timelessness of modernity. The present society, as an overlap of several modernities, testifies that modern is a relative term. And, now, one can think that the term ‘undocumented period’ is not as unstable as it was at the beginning of this paragraph (Fig. 1).

Implicit in such writings is the belief that tradition and modernity are bi-polar opposites. However, social processes are not so simple as to be accommodated in this dichotomy. Society is never completely modern or completely traditional, but always a substantial and desirable fusion of both. Tradition and modernization represent a continuous process. None of them, at the same time, can be regarded as a static phenomenon. Tradition cannot be completely identified with the past and modernity with the present. An element of modernity today can be enriched as a tradition tomorrow only if substantiated modernity becomes tradition and traditions practiced today become a part of modernity. Thus tradition and modernity are different moments of a continuous process. A final question, which arises about modernization, is that of its relationship with tradition. How far will modernization succeed in an integrated development? How far will tradition maintain its identity in the wake of forces of modernization? Also, there are societies that traditionalize innovation and, thus, adapt the process of modernization (Fig. 2).

1.2 Indigenous Modernity: Conceiving Modernization

The differences are clear; some say modernity comes unambiguously from Europe; some say we have never been modern, that modernity is a fiction imposed on the world by powerful actors seeking to dominate others; and others say that everyone is potentially modern in their own alternative ways (Fig. 3). It is safe to say that modernity is now understood as neither fixed nor singular, and that it can only be understood in relation to specific social and economic contexts. While we all are modern, we all do not necessarily think that being modern is good. A modernist is someone who thinks that being modern is good. So likewise, modernism is the belief or ideology that proclaims modernity as good. The contribution of urban design in this field is often to reveal the diverse and specific cultural identities in unified globalization, leading to the notion of multiple indigenous modernities.

Page(s) 1–28
ISSN Print : 2321-3892, Online : 2321-7154
DOI 10.15415/cs.2016.41001

Modernity , as a process and not as an output, is a derivative of transformation. Transformations vary for different aspirations of its producers. Aspirations are negotiations between the needs and desires and what can actually be achieved. During this process, the sacredness also alters under the agents of Modernity that are essential to preserve and promote the essence of the sacred cities. The uniqueness is the reason, why indigenous Modernity is different for different contexts. It is a harmonious adaptation to contemporary life. The cause to such transformations can be global but the effects will always be a derivative of indigenous reactions with Modernity. As applied specifically to sacred cities, which are grounded in tradition and have a responsibility of carrying it forward, the reaction with global Modernity results in indigenous Sacred Modernities.

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