Indian Architecture

Indian architecture encompasses a wide variety of geographically and historically spread structures, and was transformed by the history of the Indian subcontinent. The result is an evolving range of architectural production that, although it is difficult to identify a single representative style, nonetheless retains a certain amount of continuity across history. The diversity of Indian culture is represented in its architecture. Indian architecture comprises of a blend of ancient and varied native traditions, with building types, forms and technologies from West, Central Asia, and Europe.

Akshardham Temple, Delhi

Akshardham Temple, Delhi

Studies of Indian architecture normally begin with the Indus Valley Civilisation, moving through the late Vedic period, the Maurya-Gupta age of Buddhist monuments, monasteries and Indian rock-cut architecture, followed by the great temple-building of the medieval era. Turk and Afghan rulers in the north, during medieval times brought with them West Asian traditions of the arch, the dome and the vault. The rise of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century established a sophisticated synthesis of Indian regional elements with ideas from Persia and West Asia, a pan-Indian style that was adopted across the subcontinent even by post-Mughal rulers and recognised today as Mughal architecture. The subsequent European colonization of India paved the way for the entry of styles from that continent, including Mannerist, Baroque, Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic styles, which were followed in the late 19th century by the hybrid Indo-European style called the Indo-Saracenic.

Indian architecture has influenced the world, especially eastern Asia, due to the spread of ideas with Buddhism. A number of Indian architectural features such as the stupa (temple mound), sikhara (temple spire), pagoda (temple tower), torana (and temple gate), have become famous symbols of Hindu culture, used extensively in East Asia and South East Asia. The variant gopuram (southern temple gate) is noted for its intricacy and majesty. The arch, a cornerstone of world architecture, was first developed by the Indus Valley civilization, and would later be a staple of Indian architecture. Indian style Hindu and Buddhist temples were constructed abroad in ancient times, with especially noteworthy uses of Indian style in Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, and Java’s Prambanan. Even today the country us literally dotted with hundreds and thousands of monuments of various ages,some are in well preserved state and some are not so.There is a realisation the country about it is a treasure for a country with a long historical path.Some of the agencies involved in this work are ASI,INTACH,conservation faculties in universities such as the School of Planning and Architecture -Center for conservation studies etc. As far as the more modern structures from Islamic preriod to British – many of them are still in use and that is what gives the urban setting in indian cities a unique historical touch.

Indus Valley Civilization

The earliest known civilization in India was the Indus Valley Civilization, comprising many urban settlements, including the large cities of Harrappa and Mohenjo Daro, and characterised by a variety of house types, many of which had private baths connected to public drainage systems. The cities consisted of a citadel raised above residential and production districts with streets laid out in a grid plan and lined by drains. The citadel was intended to contain the most important buildings, including the grainaries and trading depots, and in the case of Mohenjo Daro, the Great Bath, widely believed to be a fertility shrine. The uniformity in urban layouts, house typologies and sizes as well as construction methods of the standard kiln-fired bricks, is evidence of significant social and political co-ordination. Recent excavations have proved that the gegraphical spread of the civilisation was much larger than thought earlier encompassing areas in modern Haryana, Gujrat and Punjab.

Vedic Literature – Textual References

Many of the late Vedic texts speak of purs (forts or citadels) made of stone and metal. The Vedas have a number of words houses including chhardis (a house with a thatched roof), harmyam (a house of brick and stone that had a courtyard in the middle), and gotra (a multi-dwelling complex with sheds for animals). The Rig-Veda speaks of a palace with 1000 doors, and also of one with 1000 columns.

Hindu Architecture

The reference to Hindu temples in literature goes back to 5th century BC in the texts by Panini (520 BC – 460 BC) and Patanjali. Later, with increasing architectural differentiation, the southern Dravida and the northern Nagara styles emerged as dominant modes of temple architecture, differing mainly in the shape of the roofing structure, the former being a stepped pyramid while the latter has a curved profile, epitomised in productions such as the magnificent Brihadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur, and the Sun Temple, Konark.

Buddhist elements and motifs continue to influence Hindu temple architecture to a considerable extent to this day. Along with the dominant Dravida and Nagara, arose a number of varied regional styles of temples in places like Bengal, Kashmir and Kerala.

Some Hindu temples during the early medieval era were rock-cut. The Kailasanatha temple at Ellora was excavated from top to bottom out of a massive rock face.

The structural system of temples was essentially post and beam and with massive blocks of stone being the basic raw material for the Indian craftsman, construction could be carried out with minimal or no mortar. Decoration was fundamental to Indian architecture and is seen in the often intricate detail of figured sculpture as well as in the architectural elements. The concept of fractals has been used to examine the form of the Hindu temple, both in terms of its planning and external appearance.

Sculptures of Hindu deities are an essential design feature of most of the temples in southern India. The garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum forms the central focus housing the deity of the temple and is provided with a circulation passage around. There are also, however, many subsidiary shrines within temple complexes, particularly in the South Indian (Dravidian) style temples. As the Hindu temple is not intended for congregational worship, the garbhagriha is small in scale when compared to the whole temple complex. It is articulated externally, however, by the vimanam (or sikhara), the towering roof-structure. Mandapas (multiple pillared halls) are found preceding the garbhagriha.

The spatial experience of a South Indian temple complex is considered particularly enriching and meaningful. In many, such as the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam, prakaras (concentric enclosures) along with the series of entrance gateways (gopurams), reduce in scale moving towards the garbha-griha, setting up a rhythm of solids and voids as well as providing a ritual and visual axis.

The principles of temple architecture were codified in treatises and canons such as Manasara, Mayamatam, and Vaastu Shastra. These offered an ordering framework yet allowed some latitude for contextual articulation.

List of notable Hindu temples outside India:

  • AngkorWat in Cambodia
  • Hindu temples in Java and Bali, including Prambanan
  • Neasden Temple in United Kingdom
  • Swaminarayan temple, Chicago, USA

Buddhist and Jain architecture

Buddhism gained prominence as mentioned above especially during the reign of the Emperor Ashoka. It is primarily represented by three important building types- the Chaitya Hall (meditation hall), the Vihara (dormitory) and the Stupa. The latter was a hemispherical mound modelled on ancient funerary mounds, surrounded by a stone fence known as the vedika, and topped by a smaller enclosure, the harmika, containing the casket for the relics of the Buddha; it was intended to be a meditational focus. Numerous fine examples of stupas can be found at Sanchi and Sarnath.

This is also the time of the rock-cut monastic foundations, many in today’s state of Maharashtra, and exemplified by the magnificent rock-cut cave complexes of Ajanta and Ellora; usually comprising one, or several, chaitya halls containing a stupa fronted by a hall divided into a broad nave separated from two side aisles by a row of columns. Galleries for musicians were also sometimes provided. Chaitya halls were flanked by many viharas. Many of the caves are intricately sculpted and brilliantly coloured, perhaps intended to aide in trance maditation.

The Post-Mauryan period saw the development of two distinct styles of sculpture; the Mathura school, which was popularised under the succeeding Sunga Empire, and the Gandhara school which stemmed from the Indo-Greek Kingdom established in north-western South Asia (Kabul Valley and Pakistani Punjab) and incorporating influences of Greek art and architecture. The division of Buddhism into Hinayana and Mahayana phases also influenced the nature of rock-cut art, the former being represented by artefacts used by the Buddha, and the latter by images of the Buddha. Bhattiprolu is well known for its Buddha stupa.

The Jaina temples of the medieval period by a richness of sculptural detail and material, especially in the Solanki temple style of Gujarat, that can be seen in the Dilwara Temples in Mt.Abu and Ananthanatha Swami Temple at Puliyarmala, outside Kalpetta.

Indian Baroque architecture

The Church of St Anne which is cast in the Indian Baroque Architectural style under the expert direction of the most eminent architects of the time including Rev. Fr. Frias, is noted for its originality and is greatly influenced by the Church of Our Lady of Grace, generally known as the Convent of St. Augustine in Old Goa of which there now remains only a lone, lofty and somber tower, poignantly rising above the rest of the structures and is the first to capture the gaze of the visitor. This Church of Our Lady of Grace IS the most elegant and imposing building in Old Goa during its heyday, of which, in the opinion of some foreign travellers, any European city of the time, could justly be proud of.

Rajput architecture

Udaipur Palace, Udaipur

Udaipur Palace, Udaipur

Rajput architecture was inspired partly by the existing Indic styles of architecture, and partly by interaction with the Persian and Islamic world, with a greater emphasis on arches, domes, and other Saracenic features.

Palaces and forts in Rajasthan are a good example of Rajput architecture. Various Rajput dominated historic cities such as Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Jaipur have intricate examples of Rajput architecture.

Vijayanagara Architecture

The Vijayanagara Architecture of the period (1336 – 1565CE) was a notable building idiom evolved by the imperial Vijayanagar Empire that ruled the whole of South India from their regal capital at Vijayanagara on the banks of the Tungabhadra River in Karnataka, India. The empire built a number of temples, monuments, palaces and other structures over South India, with the largest concentration located in its capital. The monuments in and around Hampi, in the Vijayanagara principality, are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Hoysala Architecture

Hoysala temple at SomanathapuraHoysala architecture is the distinctive building style developed under the rule of the Hoysala Empire in the region historically known as Karnata, today’s Karnataka, India, between the 11th and the 14th centuries. Hoysala influence was at its peak in the 13th century, when it dominated the Southern Deccan Plateau region. Large and small temples built during this era remain as examples of the Hoysala architectural style, including the Chennakesava Temple at Belur, the Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu, and the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura. Other examples of fine Hoysala craftmanship are the temples at Belavadi, Amrithapura, and Nuggehalli. Study of the Hoysala architectural style has revealed a negligible Indo-Aryan influence while the impact of Southern Indian style is more distinct.

A feature of Hoysala temple architecture is its attention to exquisite detail and skilled craftmanship.The temples of Belur and Halebidu are a proposed UNESCO world heritage sites.

Badami Chalukya Architecture

The Badami Chalukya Architecture was a temple building idiom that evolved in the time period of 5th – 8th centuries CE. in the area of Malaprabha basin, in present day Bagalkot district of Karnataka state. This styile is sometimes called the Vesara style and Chalukya style. Their earliest temples date back to around 450 in Aihole when the Badami Chalukyas were feudatories of the Kadambas of Banavasi. According to historian K.V. Sounder Rajan, the Badami Chalukya contribution to temple building matched their valor and their achievements in battle.

Shiva Temple, Thanjavur

Shiva Temple, Thanjavur

The rock-cut temples of Pattadakal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Badami and Aihole are their most celebrated monuments. Two of the famous paintings at Ajanta cave no. 1, “The Temptation of the Buddha” and “The Persian Embassy” are attributed to them. This is the beginning of Chalukya style of architecture and a consolidation of South Indian style.<br><br>
<h4>Pallava and Chola Architecture</h4>

The Pallavas ruled from AD (600-900) and their greatest constructed accomplishments are the single rock temples in Mahabalipuram and their capital Kanchipuram, now located in Tamilnadu.
The Chola kings ruled from AD (900-1150) and included Rajaraja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola who built temples such as the Brihadeshvara Temple and Siva temple of Thanjavur.

Rashtrakuta Architecture

The Rashtrakutas who ruled the deccan from Manyakheta, Gulbarga district in the period AD 753 – 973 built some of the finest dravidian monuments in Ellora (Kailasanatha temple) in the rock cut architecture idiom. Some other fine monuments are the Jaina Narayana temple at Pattadakal and the Navalinga temples at Kuknur in Karnataka.

Influence of Islam and Mughal architecture

With the advent of Islam, Indian architecture was adapted to accommodate the traditions of the new religion, but it remained strongly Indian at its heart and character. Arches and domes began to be used, and the mosque began to form part of the landscape, adding to a new experience in form and space. The sahn (open courtyard) for congregational worship with the enclosing liwans (cloisters) and the sanctuary at the Western end offered a different architectural vocabulary. The fundamental difference being the Islamic prohibition on idolatry, thus a concentrated point of focus such as the garba-griha was unnecessary. However, the mihrab on the Western wall of the sanctuary articulating the Qibla (direction towards Mecca) offered a notional focus. With idolatry prohibited, adornment was largely surface decoration through the use of geometry, arabesque and calligraphy. Later, mosques began to be built with original style. The Jami mosque in Delhi is a representative example of an Indian mosque. Islamic architecture was also represented by distinct regional styles that drew inspiration from the local context.

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal

Most of the Islamic buildings in India were built during the Mughal period, the architecture of which built on traditional Hindu architecture but incorporated Persian influences. Over time, Hindu and Islamic architecture produced a synthesis that is exemplified by the city of Fatehpur Sikri, and the Taj, renowned for its proportions, white marble, its intricate engravings, its minarets and its setting.

The most popular Islamic building type in India is the mausoleum (tomb) which evolved from the basic cube and hemisphere vocabulary of architectural early phases, into a more elaborate form during the Mughal period where multiple chambers were used, and tombs were set in gardens known as the char-bagh. The tomb chamber houses the cenotaph below which is the grave. Well known examples are the Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur and the Taj Mahal, Agra.

Secular architecture

Colonialist study of Indian architecture was largely focused on religious buildings, hence there is much scholarship in this area. In recent times, secular architecture of India is gaining more attention. Unique in their response to socio-cultural and geographic context are, for example, the cities of the desert region in the North such as Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, political centres such as Vijayanagara (at Hampi), Fatehpur Sikri and Shahjahanabad at Delhi, towns such as Srirangam in Tamil Nadu evolving around the temple as nucleus, the stepped wells of Gujarat, the wadas of Maharashtra, the pols of Ahmedabad, the havelis of northern towns, and the steep pitched roofs and timber structures of the warm, humid area of Kerala.

Architecture under colonial rule

Though the Dutch, Portuguese and the French made substantial colonial forays into India, it was the British who had a lasting impact. The architecture of the colonial period varied from early attempts at creating authority through classical prototypes to the later approach of producing a supposedly more responsive image through what is now termed Indo-Saracenic architecture-a mixture of Hindu, Islamic and Western elements. Institutional, civic and utilitarian buildings such as post offices, railway stations, etc., were built in large numbers over the whole British India. Perhaps the most famous example is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in Mumbai, originally named in honour of Queen Victoria. The creation of New Delhi in early 20th century with its broad tree lined roads and majestic buildings generated lots of debate on what should be an appropriate architecture for India.