Architectural Heritage is a fragment of history left by each generation from the past eloquent of the stories of each particular place. The Indian sub-continent has been celebrated for its religious diversity and cultural heritage. It has had a comprehensive history of visitors and invaders, leaving behind remnants from their culture impacting the local lifestyle and architecture. Starting from settlements tracing back to the Indus valley civilization and developing with the trade, religion, and other emerging segments of the society. Indian soil has always been associated with the prominent temple architecture, which varied in each region to later other religious buildings with the introduction of newer cultures. 

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Prayer Hall at Adina Masjid_©Maulindu Chatterjee

All this heritage has been discovered, preserved, and protected by ASI and UNESCO today, but years ago, while India was undergoing changing domains, the religious heritage was a symbol of the ruler’s dominance over the particular territory. The rulers from different religions ruled different regions that were invaded from outside, which can all be derived from the remains of these heritage structures. The ‘glory of structures’ heritage and the remains now to present the repercussions that religion has had on it is a study that leads us through the journey of our architectural heritage and the end result that we see today.

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Characteristic of Temple Architecture at Adina Mosque_©Amitabha Gupta/ wikipedia.com

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill.

UNESCO describes heritage as a legacy from our past that we live with and will pass on to our posterity. They have mentioned it as an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration. These heritage sites represent a narrative of the culture and the history. We have always found ourselves surrounded by a fragment of history anywhere we go. This could be an artefact, an element such as a stained window, a sculpture standing in a square, or a building as a whole. In the Indian subcontinent, religious structures make up a major portion of the heritage. Religion changes from structure to structure, state to state, or reign to reign. Each religion had its specific elements, colours, even materials. Even these elements changed under the reigns of rulers and their predecessors.

During ancient times, the use of materials was mostly climate and geographically sensitive as wood, and black stone made a dominant portion of the structures in Northernmost India where the temperatures were low due to higher altitudes. The temples here are decorated with wooden carvings and ornaments. A little towards the centre, the state of Rajasthan, where cenotaph is a signature element in all residential, funeral, and religious heritage, sandstone is available in abundance and was extensively used. Further down, in Central India, red sandstone, black stone, and mud were primary materials, and likely, further down to southern India, which were and are still very profoundly known for its temples, timber, bamboo, stone, clay took part as building materials.

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Bell and Chain Motifs on a Column at Qutub Complex_©Domus

The religious heritage of India has surely had a hard test against time, given to the changing reigns then, religious clashes continuing to date and negligence towards conservation. Emperors and rulers built structures in their kingdom as a part of their legacy. When a kingdom was captured by another emperor, some structures were demolished, and some elements were refurbished, suiting their religious beliefs. 

Over time the architectural features and details became a combination of two or more styles. For example, the Mughal architecture has elements such as jaali (perforated screen), onion domes, minarets, vaulted gateways, delicate ornamentation mostly depicting flowers and vines, the Hindu temple architecture, which varied in all regions of India, had a kalasha element on the highest point of the temple right above the Garbhagriha (Sanctum) where the shrine is entrenched, animal figurines carved in the stone, carved lamps, the Buddhist architecture has a monastery style to the north and north-east but under the rule of King Ashoka, Stupas emerged with characteristic like domes, stambh (pillars with carvings), etc. These elements were analogous to a particular religion in architecture. However, when a reign was assailed with another ruler of different religion, these places of worship were the primary targets. Some were completely devastated, while others were converted to the new religion. Since the architectural style then involved carving stones and the use of heavy materials, renovating was not very clean, which led to leftovers from elements of the previous religion. 

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Ganesha Idol among the Ruins of Adina Masjid_©Agniswar Kansabanik/ wikipedia.com
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Doorway Detailing with Hindu Idols at Adina Masjid_©VedicVishal/ twitter.com

Among the many disremembered heritage sites in India lie the Adina Masjid (Mosque) Malda of West Bengal, which was once the religious site of a Hindu temple scilicet, the Adinath Temple. This site is one such example of a religious brawl averting the originality of a heritage structure. The victims of these changing religions in regions were mostly the places of worship. One such precedent is the Adina Mosque, formerly known as the Adinath Temple, situated at the Pandua village in West Bengal. Pandua, present-day Adina, was once a royal capital for the Bengal Sultanate, which explains it as a desired target for invaders. Pandua has always been under the Mughal rulers except for Raja Ganesha, who ruled Pandua from 1415 to 1435. Pandua was abandoned until rediscovered in 1808 as a heritage site by the Archaeological Survey of India. At first, the heritage included mosques, namely, Adina Mosque, which is among the largest in India, the Eklakhi Mausoleum, and the Qutub Shahi Mosque. After a close inspection, traces of Hindu temple architecture were found in the Adina Mosque. It was concluded that the mosque was built by refurbishing a Shiva Temple. Among the relics were worn-out carvings of Hindu gods, carvings of bells hanging to chains on pillars that are symbolic of temples, arches familiar to temple architecture, lotus carvings, etc. 

Ruins of Martand Sun Temple, Jammu & Kashmir_©John Burke 1868

Many such incidents of demolishing or renovating religious architecture have been studied and listed, for instance, the following. In 1024, Afghan ruler Mahmud of Ghazni raided Gujrat and crumbled the Somnath Temple. In the 15th century, the state of Jammu & Kashmir lost the famous Martand Sun Temple to Muslim Sultan Sikandar Butshikan, with demolition lasting for a year. In 1323, the Kakatiya Dynasty was sieged, and the Warangal Fort was crippled for refusing to pay tribute to the Delhi Sultanate. A lot of instances occurred during this period; the sub-continent was forfeited of many cultural heritage structures. The religious conflicts in India continue to impact the precious heritage in the sub-continent to the present day. The most recent case was the demolition of the historic Babri Masjid in Ayodhya to build a Lord Ram temple. 

All these shreds of evidence show the repercussions of religion on heritage in India. The heritage that we have or are building is not just a building but a story that one may relive and will be retold to all generations to come. Having been said, this also implies the importance of preserving heritage for future generations to pass on ancestral legacies. 

Author

Pranjali is a fresher architect & a keen explorer. She finds tranquility in nature, traveling, reading, writing & architecture, altogether & discretely. She is fascinated by contemporary vernacular & sustainable style of architecture & hopes to promote it through her writing someday.

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