Landscapes of dams in (independent) India – Awni Patni

Landscapes of dams in (independent) India

Bhakra Dam_

India, a nation that was formed as it gained its independence around the time when the industrial revolution took place in the region. This independent new nation that aspired to identify itself as a progressive ‘modern’ nation relied on Architecture to draw these symbols for the new nation. A landscape of infrastructure was generated for a country that witnessed the Industrial revolution along with a Colonial rule and governance. It is particularly interesting how the country accepted, developed and identified itself with infrastructure.

During the 19thcentury British rule, there were various infrastructure typologies that came to India. The Colonial rule in India laid the railway tracks and brought in the trains with steam engines, the roads for cars to move on, and the telegraphs. The railways were intended principally to transport the extracted resources like coal, iron ore, cotton, etc, to the ports for the British to ship to England for its use in their factories. For the Colonial governance, the infrastructure was a tool that facilitated ruling effectively.

1988-Postage Stamp_60paise

In 1947, India gained independence. As the clocks turned over the midnight hour of 14thand 15thAugust, Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first Prime Minister of independent India delivered a speech:

 “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”


This speech was delivered in English to the Indian Constituent Assembly when most of the Indian masses were not fluent in English. The new nation that aspired to be ‘modern’ used Architecture to symbolise this aspired modernity by building new institutions and infrastructure. Jawaharlal Nehru invited architects like Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn to build the new Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex and the new educational institutes like the IIM Ahmedabad. He even initiated to build dams on rivers.

These dams were large in size and scale, one such example is the Bhakra dam. The scale of the dam is monumental, it is 200 Meters high, the length and width about 500 Meters by 9 Meters. And holds up to 9 billion cubic metres of water. It is a concrete gravity dam on the Sutlej River in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh in northern India.

Jawaharlal Nehru, during a ceremony commemorating the Bhakra dam project, in his speech called the dams ‘the temples of modern India’. It is an interesting analogy to compare the dams to a temple. Where, Jawaharlal Nehru describes the infrastructure as glorified and sanctified, while a few decades ago the Colonial government built and used infrastructure as tools that facilitated or enabled them to do something faster or more effectively. These large dams also signified scientific development in India to the rest world. In an aspiration for progress, it was believed that these scientific developments would build the new nation out of its misery. The aesthetic language of the Bhakra dam is a brutalist concrete dam symbolising a new ‘modern’ nation.

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