Art, Architecture, Design & Travel

India Architecture

Referring to the architectural heritage of undivided India, Lord Curzon once commented that it was 'the greatest galaxy of monuments in the world'. 

The story of this 'greatest galaxy of monuments' goes back to the pre-historic times when early humans did their rudimentary constructions; the form developed into a full-fledged architecture towards the beginning of Christian Era and the Indian architecture reached its zenith during the early medieval times with temple architecture. With the dawn of the medieval times came the Muslim influence and the two great styles were attempted to be merged. This experiment at fusion was fully realised during the reign of the mighty Mughals in the so-called 'Mughal Architecture'. While the Mughal style was still diffusing to other parts of the country the British had also arrived in India; whatever might be the economic and political repercussions of their entry into the subcontinent, as far as architecture is concerned, they made their own contribution to the already rich Indian architecture.

Indian architecture was essentially a product of the soil, and whatever touched it in its long course of development practically grew into it giving it new form and colour in each successive phase.

Pre-historic and Proto-historic Architecture:
The earliest remains of construction in India may be traced back to pre-historic times, evidence of which are found in Baluchistan and Sind (now in Pakistan), Bhimbetaka (Madhya Pradesh), Kashmir and other parts of Indian subcontinent. The construction activities at these places is of rudimentary nature as the humans before the dawn of civilization lived in natural caves and their artistic expressions were limited to paintings on the cave walls and decorations on tools and implements.

The construction activities got a major impetus with the urbanization of the plains of the Indus and its tributary rivers. This urbanization, widely known as Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Culture, experienced its mature phase between 2500 B.C and 2000 B.C. While the most remarkable feature of the culture was its town planning and advanced knowledge of building and construction techniques, the architects of the civilization seem to have made no large structures (barring The Great Bath at Mohenjodaro, a few store houses and some palatial buildings). The Harappans' buildings were essentially of utilitarian nature and of little aesthetic merit unlike their contemporary civilizations. In India the Harappan sites are mainly found in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The prominent sites of Gujarat include Dholavira, Gola Dhoro, Lothal, Surkotada, Bhagatrav, Rangpur, etc. In Haryana the important sites are Rakhigarhi and Banawali. One of the most important sites of Harappan Civilization is found in Rajasthan at Kalibangan. The Eastern fringe of Harappan civilization included sites of Alamgirpur, Bargaon and Hulas in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The northern-most site in India was at Rupar in Punjab.

With the Harappans also collapsed the urban culture and consequently a lull set in as far the building activities are concerned. This lull continues till the dawn of the so-called 'second urbanization' in Indian history around 600 B.C. and from now onwards it is possible to trace the history of Indian architecture in an almost unbroken sequence. Though building activities started again from 6th century Before Christ; still very few buildings were made of stone as the main building materials were wood and bricks in the Gangetic plains — the centre of the civilization at the time. The evidence of building activities during the period is largely dependent on literary records and only rarely are there archaeological remains to provide corroborative evidence. However, Ashoka, the great Mauryan king, was already leaving large stone columns with finely carved capitals for all times to come. The transition from wood and bricks to stone was round the corner....

From Early India to Medieval Times:
The Mauryan rulers extended the centre of civilization to outside the Gangetic plains as far as the Tamil country in the peninsular India. The expansion of empire, the relative prosperity and stability, the rise of Buddhism, Jainism and the sectarian cults of Hinduism — all contributed to the development of a number of architectural forms. This new fervour in architecture was particularly manifested in the religious structures, such as stupas and caves temples; later free standing temples came to be 'the norm' for artistic expression in architecture. As for secular structures, though they were built but the architects devoted much of their time and energy in creating religious structures.

Stupa: The stupa began as a hemispherical earthen burial mound built over the remains of a religious teacher or holy man. The cult of stupa was taken up by Buddhism, and, Ashoka Maurya raised a large number of stupas over the relics of the Buddha all over India. During the period between the Mauryas and the Guptas as Buddhism grew and won patronage of powerful kings, the older mud mounds were greatly enlarged and sheathed with stone.

The original wooden fencing was replaced with elaborate stone railings and ornate gateways (torans). Of these early stupas three are especially noteworthy — those at Bharhut and Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh and at Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh. Of the later stupas the two most famous are those of Sarnath and Nalanda.

Cave Temples (Chaityas & Viharas):
Of the centuries before the Gupta period the chief architectural remains, other than stupas and their surrounding gateways and railings, were artificial caves. These caves were excavated for preaching monks to rest during the monsoon period; though later these were occupied throughout the year and became institutions in themselves. The caves may be divided into two parts: chaityas or prayer halls, and, attached with each hall were a number of other caves meant for the monks' lodging and were called the viharas or monasteries.

The chaitya shrine in its typical form was a long rectangular hall, apsidal at the rear end and divided into three sections by two rows of pillars along the length of the hall meeting at the back end. The rock-hewn monasteries (viharas) typically have three ranges of cells on three sides of a central hall opening out into a pillared gallery in front. Earliest of these cave temples are found in Barabar Hill in Bihar, dedicated to Ajivikas by Ashoka Maurya. Gradually the cave temples form spread to many parts of India and flourished greatly in Western Deccan.

Though the oldest of Deccan cave is at Bhaja near Pune, the cave temple form matured with the great chaitya hall at Karle (excavated around the beginning of the Christian era). This is cut 124 feet deep into the rock, and is of the same general pattern as that at Bhaja, but much developed in size and splendour. The columns are no longer plain and austere but are heavy and ornate. The simple facades of the earlier caves were developed into elaborately carved verandahs.

However, the most famous of cave groups are those of Ajanta (2nd to 7th century A.D) and Ellora (5th to 8th century A.D). Besides, there are a number of caves found at Kondane, Pitalkhora, Bedsa, Nasik, Kanheri, etc. The latest of cave temples of importance are those of Elephanta near Bombay. After these no important caves were excavated...but then great period of medieval temple building had begun.

Free Standing Temples:
Perhaps the highest achievement of Indian architecture is manifested in the free standing temples. Beginning modestly, it was through a progressive movement spread over centuries that the distinctive styles and forms of free standing temples took definite shape.

From literary evidence we gather that deva-grahas (houses of gods) existed as early as 2nd century B.C. That these temples were built of perishable materials is reflected in the fact that archaeological remains of the period are in fragmentary state. It was from the Gupta period that the practice of building with lasting materials ushered in. Typically, the Gupta temples were small, most had flat roofs and the masonry was held together without mortar. The finest Gupta temple, that of Deogarh near Jhansi, probably of the 6th century, marks a great advance. Here iron dowels were used to hold the masonry together, and a small tower rose above the sanctum. The portal veranda was continued all round the building, making a covered walk. Though still in the formative stage and structures were rather simple and unpretentious, the Gupta temple styles had tremendous bearing upon later development of free standing temples.

With the breakdown of the Gupta Empire, the smaller kingdoms acquired the principles of temple constructions and made their own peculiar additions to form their local variations of the original style. And, thus developed the great Indian temples architecture throughout the country and new temples sprang up everywhere and kings and chiefs vied with one another in their foundation. Considering the size of the land, this Indian temple architecture is remarkably uniform, but scholars distinguish two chief styles — Northern or Nagara style and Southern or Dravidian style.

The Nagara style is best illustrated by three schools — those of Orissa, Bundelkhand and Rajasthan-Gujarat. Though each of these sub schools follows the basic principles of Nagara styles, they also made their own alternations to the main style.

The Orissan School flourished from the 8th to the 13th centuries, and its chief monuments lie in and around the towns of Bhubaneshwar and Puri. The finest Orissan temple is the Lingaraja at Bubaneshwar. Like most Orissan temples, it is built as a series of four halls — a hall of offerings, a dancing hall, an assembly hall and a sanctuary. The sanctuary is crowned by the great tower, but the other three elements of the temple, leading one by one to the shrine, are also roofed with characteristic towers of smaller size. The Lingaraja Temple also shows the North Indian shikhara in its final form — a tower which begins to curve inwards at about one third of its height, with rounded top crowned by a flat stone disc (amalaka) and a kalasa. Among the other important Orissan temples are the Temple of Jagannath at Puri and the Temple of Black Pagoda of Konark. The Orissan architects were lavish with their exterior decoration, and their sculptors produced works of great merit, but the interiors of their temples were unadorned.

Under the Chandela kings of Bundelkhand a great school of architecture flourished in the 10th and 11th centuries, the chief work of which is a beautiful group of temples at Khajuraho. The standard type of Khajuraho temple contains a shrine-room, an assembly hall and an entrance portico. Whereas in Orissan temple these elements were conceived rather as separate entities, the Khajuraho architects treated them as a whole. In contrast to Orissa, the temples at Khajuraho were adorned with sculpture both outside and inside.

The Western school of Gujarat and Rajasthan reached its zenith under the patronage of the Solanki rulers of Gujarat (11th to 13th centuries). The most famous buildings of this school are the lovely Jain shrines of Dilwara at Mount Abu. The temples were built on high platforms and usually consisted of a shrine and hall only, without an entrance portico. The shikhara, over the shrine, like those of Khajuraho, was adorned with a large number of miniature towers, and the ceilings were in the form of corbelled domes. Perhaps these ceilings were carved so as to give the impression of a true dome which was gradually being introduced by the Muslims in India. The shrines of Mount Abu are covered with the most delicate and ornate carving, especially in the interiors. Among the many temples in Gujarat and Rajasthan, another noteworthy representation is the impressive ruins of the Sun temple at Modhera.

In South India, temple building gained much from the patronage of the Pallava and Chalukya kings from the 6th to 8th centuries. Important early temples of the former dynasty are to be found at Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram, while the Chalukyas left temple remains at their capital Badami and at the nearby site of Aihole. The style of the Pallavas was developed further under the Chola dynasty (10-12th centuries); their finest products are the temples at Tanjore and Gangai-konda-chola-puram. The former was probably the largest temple built in India up to that time; the comparatively modest tower of the Pallava style was replaced by a great pyramid, rising from a tall upright base and crowned with a domed filial. This set the style of the Dravidian sikhara, which has continued with some variation down to the present day. Both these temples contain elaborate pillared halls and beautiful decoration.

In the next phase of Dravidian architecture the emphasis shifted from the tower above the chief shrine to the entrance gateway of the surrounding wall — perhaps it was done in imitation of the palaces of kings, with which the temples had much in common. From the 12th century onwards it became usual to fortify the temple with gates on the four sides. The gates were surmounted by watch-towers, and these developed into soaring towers (gopurams), generally much taller than the modest shikhara over the central shrine. The new style is often called Pandyan, after the name of the dynasty which supplanted the Cholas in the Tamil country. The culmination of this Pandyan style is to be seen in the mighty temples of Madurai, Srirangam and other places.

While these developments were taking place in the Tamil country, other styles developed in the Deccan, under the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and Hoyasalas. The earliest Chalukyan temples closely resemble the Guptan. The later Chalukyas and Hoyasalas (11-14th centuries) developed a more elaborate style. Their temples were no longer constructed on a rectangular plan, but were polygonal, raised on tall solid platforms of the same shape as the buildings. The largest and most famous temples of this styles are at Belur and Halebid.

The school which flourished under the Vijayanagara Empire and reached its apogee in the 16th century shows both Pandyan and Hoyasala features. The florid carving of the Hoyasalas was developed with even greater exuberance, and new elements appeared in the temple complex. As well as the main shrine, in every important temple in South India the amman, the god's chief wife, was provided with a shrine which was nearly as large as the main shrine itself, and a marriage-hall (kalyanamandapam), wherein the icons of god and goddess were ceremonially united on festival days. Another feature of the Vijayanagar style is the profusion carving which adorns the pillared halls. The finest production of Vijayanagara style is the Vitthala Temple of Hampi.

The Sultanate and Mughal Period:
A rich variety of buildings and monuments came to be constructed in India through the patronage of Turkish, Mughal and other Muslim rulers between 12th and 18th century. These cannot strictly be described as specimens of Muslim architecture as they are as much the work of India's hereditary craftsmen as of the alien artisans who came with the invaders. It will, therefore, be appropriate to regard this phase of building as a development of Indian architecture under Muslim influence.

The Turko-Afghan rulers and generals began their campaigns into India towards the end of the 12th century and had set up Sultanate by the beginning of the 13th. These kings who followed one another in quick succession, erected splendid victory-towers, impregnable forts, luxurious palaces, mosques and mausoleums — both at Delhi and at the provincial capitals.

While still in the process of consolidating their power, from 1200 to 1246 A.D., they simply converted the existing religious structures into improvised mosques. They only had to remove the existing structures in the middle and erect a new wall on the west, adorned with mihrabs pointing the way to Mecca. The Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque in Delhi and the Arhai-din-ka-Jhonpra at Ajmer were built mainly out of the old Jain and Hindu temples. The next monument in this hierarchy is the Qutab Minar — a giant minaret of 73.76 m. The tomb of Iltutmish is a fine example of Indian work under Islamic patronage. In the same vicinity, Alauddin Khalji had a structure built, which shows that, by this time, Indian craftsmen had mastered the alien styles of decoration. Also, the 'true arch' form is introduced here.

The rugged simplicity of the Turks re-asserted itself later in the Tughlaqabad Fort, constructed by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq in 1321 A.D. There was great building activity under Firuz Tughlaq; but in the Firuz Shah Kotla and the mausoleum at Hauz Khas, there is simplicity due to a not-too-rich treasury. The Lodi tombs are more bare than even the Tughlaq mausoleums. This was due to the fact the kingdom was quite unstable from A.D. 1414 to 1526 and money was scarce. Sher Shah's tomb is the last of the series of Turkish burial places. It is more elaborate than the Tughlaq or Lodi memorials, but is still quite rugged.

The ruggedness of the Turko-Afghan architecture was mellowed in the Muslim provincial kingdoms through the more intimate contact which the Sultans established with local traditions. The earliest mosque at Jaunpur is distinguished by a number of carved pillars, which were obviously taken from a temple. The Lal Darwaza mosque and the lovely Atala Masjid owe much more to the Indian styles. In Gujarat, Sultan Ahmad adorned Ahmedabad with most splendid buildings which, in style and detail, are counterparts of the temples of the neighbourings areas. In the city of Mandu a great mosque was built by Hoshang. The techniques of Hindu, Jain and Muslims styles are again mixed in the structure, but there is superimposed on the whole a reflection of the power of the Sultans. Similarly, in the architecture of Gaur, the old capital of the Muslims in Bengal, the main cue came from local styles.

In the Southern kingdoms of the Muslims too, a large number of monuments were built. The large mosque of Gulbarga, erected in the 14th century, is a unique piece of architecture. This is the only mosque in India which is wholly covered over, the light being admitted through the side-walls which are pierced with great arches. During the reign of the Adil Shahi Sultans of Bijapur, building activity received a major impetus.

Notable among the constructions in Bijapur is the Jami Masjid, created out of the remains of Hindu structures, but never completed. Ibrahim Adil Shah took care that his tomb was finished in his lifetime; the entire Quran was engraved on its walls and the skill of South Indian craftsmen was ably used in its construction and ornamentation.

There is very little difference between the styles which matured under the Turko-Afghan kings and the Sultans who ruled in various parts of India and the later styles perfected in Mughal times, except the Mughal architecture is more elaborate and the synthesis of Hindu and Muslim elements in it is complete. The tomb of Humayun, for instance, is almost a final development of the style which had begun with the Qutab group of buildings and passed through the rough Lodi monuments and Sher Shah mausoleum. The Persian artisans, whom Humayun brought to India, contributed frescoes of their own, bringing in finesse in construction. The material also became finer between A.D. 1540 and 1685.

If Humayun's tomb is still slightly eclectic, the genius of Akbar, the Great Mughal, combined the foreign and indigenous elements completely. This is evident in Fatehpur Sikri's buildings and Akbar's own mausoleum at Sikandara. Akbar's son Jahangir carried on his father's tradition, building two mosques at Lahore and his own mausoleum near Lahore. The most glorious building of his reign is the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah at Agra. Built entirely of white marble and covered throughout with mosaic, it marks the beginning of what has been called the Indo-Islamic 'baroque' style.

Shah Jahan, as governor of Gujarat, probably acquired his love of fine buildings from the gems of architecture created by Sultan Ahmad. Those early impressions mingled with his own delicate and sensuous imagination. He brought the same delicacy and love of marble to the Taj Mahal which was built in the memory of his consort, Mumtaz Mahal. The Moti Masjid at Agra is another elegant construction typical of Shah Jahan's concept. The Jami Masjid in Delhi outshines all other buildings of its kind. The Red Fort at Delhi — also a replica of the fort at Agra — also reveals Shah Jahan's sensibility.

After Shah Jahan, the buildings ordered by members of the Mughal dynasty, are mostly in a minor key. Though the Mughal nobility took the Mughal style to their provinces but they could not match the work of the great Mughals and the Indo-Muslim architectural tradition as developed during the mighty Mughals was clearly in decadence.

Modern Times (The Contribution Of The British):
Though by the beginning of the 19th century the British had occupied a great part of the country, the architectural contribution of the British began after the 'great mutiny' of 1857 when their political power was firmly established. It took the form mostly of country-houses, travellers' bungalows, churches, office buildings, etc which stand all over the country. Their style represents a mixture of the ideas evolved by the British military engineers and civil architects. The architectural styles of these structures include the Greco-Roman, Scottish, Gothic, etc. combined with Indian styles.

In December 1911, King George-V proclaimed the transfer of the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi. In 1912, Lord Hardinge deputed Sir E. Lutyens to select a site for the central buildings. The team recommended the Raisina Hill, a slight elevation south of Delhi, as the ideal site. In 1913, Sir Herbert Baker joined Lutyens as collaborator and was made responsible for the Legislative Council building and the Secretariat, while Lutyens concentrated on the Viceroy's house.

The founding of New Delhi was a measure of imperial policy towards the ideal of establishing a monumental architectural expression of British imperial might. There was much extravagance and some sacrifice of comfort to outward grandeur, some pretentious borrowings of Islamic pavilions and Buddhist railings, some imitation of Hindu ornaments and brackets. Yet it must be said that Lutyens added the refinement of ancient Indian architecture to the ostentation and magnificence expressive of the imperial majesty and power.

The Central Secretariat complex, extending from the Viceregal Lodge (now Rashtrapati Bhawan), is even today one of the best examples of large scale urban design for boldness of conception as well as actual realisation. The architectural integrity of the whole complex, besides its harmony in scale and composition, is a tribute to its great architect, Sir E. Lutyens. The Viceregal Lodge presents the peculiar English splendour, expressing, perhaps for the last time, the "spirit of aristocracy in the language of a dwelling".

The outstanding examples of late baroque-style Christian churches in Goa deserve special mention besides the Cathedral at Shimla, many old churches in Madras and the St. Paul's Cathedral at Calcutta built by Bishop Wilson at his own expense. Victoria Memorial, the noblest monument in Calcutta, is built of white Jodhpur marble.


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