The three basic shapes - square, triangle, and circle, all carry a system of function and extensive meaning. The square represents balance, the triangle stands for enlightenment, and the circle represents wholeness and infinity. Moreover, the totality of the circle blended with the quality of movement results in the timeless creation of the wheel. Wheel remains a timeless veteran of innovation, its relevant rotation spurs purpose even today.
"Sometimes the wheel turns slowly, but it turns."
Wheels are linked with the conception of vehicular movements of early eras, it started parallel with the domestication of cattle, evidence of wheel ruts in Europe date back to the 4th millennium BC. These wheeled vehicles facilitated connecting check-points and auction markets; it shaped trade and disseminated knowledge. Thus a cornerstone of civilization, the wheel took a more functional role in building infrastructure and networking between places.
One of the first vehicles was the single-wheeled wheelbarrow. The Shu Han dynasty used it for faster food transport for the army and the wounded. Transporting provisions, the wheels were the hope for the dreaded and a basic form of rehabilitation in the circumstances of uncertain calamities.
The novelty of a wheel’s movement is used across varying scales throughout history. The Persian Wheel from one of the oldest water systems is paradigmatic of this. It is a simple water-lifting device with several small pots attached to a long chain.
These pots collect water as the wheel turns that
eventually empty into an intricate network of troughs that distributes water adequately through the cropped area. This ingenious system made it possible for settlements to exist at a distance from the water source, contributing to better planning.
The relationship between wheel and man-kind creates a dynamic network and connectivity throughout the ages. This bedrock of transportation has continued to expand and connect human civilization and cradle globalization.
On a unitary scale, the significance of wheels in architecture is at a symbolic and philosophical level. The timelessness of the wheel gets coupled with the physical permanence of structures, creating an eternal arrangement.
“This ‘turning of the wheel’ signifies a great and revolutionary change with universal consequences, brought about by an exceptional human being”
~ (Dhamma Chakra Day, 2020)
The Buddhist prayer wheels, or the mani chos khor as the Tibetans call it, is a hollow cylinder mounted on a shaft that rotates on a circular bearing. These contain long rolls of thin paper with mantras printed on them that are wound around an axle. “Om Mani Padme Hum” is the most common of the auspicious mantras. Larger decorative versions of the mantras adorn the exterior of these Wheels. The idea is said to have originated as a play on the phrase "turn the wheel of the dharma," a classical metaphor for Buddha's teaching activity.
When devotees circumambulate in the temples, they spin the wheel clockwise around its pivot with their hands. This system adds more meaning to the choreography of the devotee in the temple, as it enables them to say these holy mantras a million times over with just a spin, without having to know or read the language. Some of these prayer wheels also rotate by water, steam, flame, or air. Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying these prayers aloud or silently invokes the benign regards and blessings of the Chenrezig, the past incarnation of the Dalai Lama. It also enables the illiterate and people outside of Buddhism to become part of their culture.
“As a symbol of the sun, the wheel spokes are parallel to the rays of the sun.”
~ (Protas et al., n.d.)
The dynamism of a wheel is symbolically chiseled in black stone, resting on one of the most unique and iconic religious monuments - the Konark Sun Temple. It leaves a mark for its exquisite architecture and engineering. The structural scheme pays homage to the Sun God by its design in the shape of a giant chariot of the Sun God with 24 wheels. The Konark wheel is the primary attraction of the temple because of its intricate decoration with its miniature sculptures on each wheel, documenting some art form. Despite the size and framework of all the wheels being identical, they are all uniquely carved with the design of natural foliage. The wheels impart a perception of mobility in an orbicular track tracing the journey of the sun.
The most common presumption of its form is that it represents the time, where eight spokes of the wheel signify prahars (three-hour period) of a day as they can be employed to use as a sundial. These stone wheels glorify the temple with its awestruck combination of science, astrophysics, art, and architecture.
The role of the wheel varies with the scale it is being used at, ranging from religious temples to entire settlement planning. They are the cycle of creation and form the roots of totality and wholeness, branching out into different facets. Although the imagery of the wheel has not found its place in modern architecture, its core concept can be experienced in certain parametric forms in architecture. These forms visually convey an effect of fluidity and motion thus conveying a movement frozen in time.
Written by: Laxaree Sawant, Khushi Pednekar, Isha Keni
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Konark wheel http://www.thekonark.in/konarkwheel.html
Water powered Prayer Wheel, Bhutan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Trxjd_2XwLs
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