Māru-Gurjara architecture, an opulent style of Indian architecture, originated in Western India between the 11th and 13th century BC. Madhusudhan Dhaky, a renounced architectural historian, coined the term Māru-Gurjara in the twentieth century, which was initially said to be ‘the Solanki Style.’ He thoroughly researched and represented the evolution of the Solanki style in the book chapter ‘The Genesis and Development of Māru-Gurjara Architecture.’ The period during the reign of the Chalukya/Solanki dynasty is said to be the golden period when West and Northern-West India witnessed their own renaissance. 

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Adinatha Temple, Ranakpur_©Alexander Schimmeck

History and Origin

Among the flourishing Indian architecture in the region above the central land, the Western style covered the largest area and was the most productive during the Gurjara-Pratihara (pre-medieval from 6th to 10th century BC) reign. The monuments constructed during this era numbered thousands as per the epigraphical sources and granths, along with remnants of today. Māru-Gurjara is a splendid amalgamation of three parent styles: (i)Māru Desa from Mewar, Rajasthan, (ii)Māha Gurjara from parts of Gujarat – Kutch, Saurashtra, Abu Proper, and North Gujarat, and (iii)Surastra from the Lower Saurashtra and Western Kutch. The Rajasthan style is an influence of the early Gupta period, Sindh Invasion, Abhira art, and some local art. The Surastra style peaked its influence in the 8th century, where it followed the four forms of superstructure whose reflection is visible in Māru-Gurjara, i.e., a wagon vault, iso-Dravidic form, stepped Pyramidical and curvilinear Nagara-Shikhara. (Dhaky, 1983)

In the year 950 CE, during the tenth century, the Solankis took control over the west, starting from Māru in the North, Sakambari, Abu-mandala, Surastra, Upper Medapata, and a few other parts of Rajasthan, and Gujarat. This Solankis/Chalukyas intensively tried to blur the boundaries between these two styles, creating one new identity for the region, which later came to be known as ‘The Solanki style.’  Hence, Māru-Gurjara architecture is a distinctive style with its own distinguished as well as highly camouflaged characteristics of  Māru-Desa and Mahā Gurjara styles, implying its genesis from the current states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. 

The monuments built were mainly the temples and the step-wells, sacred to the religion of the community and as a response to the climatic context.

Temple Architecture and the decorative features

The temple form reflects a few characteristics of an iso-Dravidian complex, where we find the arrangement of spaces in an axial organization, which at the entrance is elevated, goes through a series of worshiping halls, and then reaches the inner sanctum at the end, which opens upward to the Nagara or Latina Shikhara. The structure of the temple is divided into two parts: a shrine proper and a multi-turreted superstructure (Dhaky, 1983), which is connected to lavishly ornamented Ranga-Mandapa or Natya-Mandapa, a closed hall of pillars used to offer worship through religious ceremonies, music, and dance. 

The orthogonal plans of the Māru-Gurjara temples are constructed by dividing their form through geometry, which is now known as ‘fractals.’ The Kona(corner) and the Ratha(sides) are broken through Karna in orthogonal directions, forming a fractal pattern of organization. There are five types of organizations observed in Māru-Gurjara temple architecture – (a)One with the corner shrines known as Panchayatna, (b)One with only two shrines facing each other in the central hall, (c)Generic form with three offsets of the hall of pillars -Ranga Mandapa, (d)A four-faced geometry called the Chaturmukha in Jain temples, (e)A plan with an ambulatory space around the inner sanctum in large-scale temples. (Dhaky, 1983)

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Modhera Sun temple, Mehsana_©Gujarat Information
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Modhera Sun temple, Mehsana_©Ankit Patel
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Modhera Sun temple recessed ceiling, Mehsana_©Nisarg Chaudhary

In the Mulaprasada(elevation), the facade detail can be divided into socle(low block of the plinth), walls, and sphire. The socle constitutes of seven layers of mouldings representing different aspects of nature. These layers consist of moldings of the knife-edged plain band, horse, elephant, human, recessed bands, and lotus petals in the respective order from the bottom to the top. The plinth is then connected to Mandovara (a series of columns and walls), layered into three main parts, i.e., the podium, Jhanga section with standing human carvings, and eave corning terminating towards the ceiling. These pillars are often connected through arches forming a central octagonal recessed area in the ceiling. There are two standalone pillars called the torana found at the entrance. The West Indian Order, also known as Bhadraka, starts with an Octagonal or a square base, rises to a sixteen-sided middle section, and eventually forms a circular top, excessively ornated by traditional intricate motifs. 

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Pillar detail of Maru Gurjara temple_©The Genesis and Development of Maru Gurjara temple architecture

Regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan were the homeland of the Jains of Swetambar and Digambar communities. Despite the Solanki reign, Jainism witnessed its glorious period of strength and superiority between the 11th and 13th centuries. Numerous Jain temples were constructed that reflected the Māru-Gurjara style across the region, like Adinatha in Abu, Ranakpur temple, Hutheesinh temple, and a series of Derasars in Patan, Dhokla, Sidhhapur, Kumbharia. Māru-Gurjara style went global due to the trading links of the Jain community in countries of East Africa, North America, the UK, and Europe. The diaspora built temples with a contemporary approach that was not only an exemplary Jain expression but also a representative identity of India as a whole, worshipped by the Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs as well. 

Step-well of Gujarat: Rani-Ki-Vav

Rani-Ki-Vav, Patan’s former glory, was the first stepwell to be made with artistic stature and expression during the Solanki reign in the early 1300s, not only serving the purpose of storing water but also incorporating functional spaces such as Mandapa in the layouts. The organization of the stepwell is relatively linear and axial in nature. The stepwell entrance, likewise to the temple, has two standalone columns. The well descends down to the main kund, compartmentalized through four multi-story pavilions at intervals, supported by a series of carved stone colonnades, ornate buttresses, and lintels. The funnel-shaped shaft to the kund has a diameter of 10m at the ground floor level and 7m at the bottom. Through these series of orders in front, there are carved three images of Lord Vishnu vertically laying with Sheshnag overhead on the walls of the shaft, which, when measured, is at 87°-273°. The three images in the niches light up at least three times a day when the light passes through the series of columns. The other two sides are decorated with secondary deities like the Apsaras, Naga-kanyas, Yoginis, and bands of patterns similar to that found in temples, which makes the visitor take a pause in and around the pavilion and feel the sanctity of the space. (Prajapati & Kava, 2022) This Māru-Gurjara stepwell was the first of a kind, which was followed by a hundred such stepwells constructed between the 14th and 18th centuries. 

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Rani-Ki-Vav, Patan, Gujarat_©Mystery of India
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Shrines of Lord Vishnu carved on the walls of the shaft, Rani-Ki-Vav, Mehsana_©Liamtra

Islamic influence after the invasion

The architectural style evolved during the medieval times when Alauddin Khalji, Delhi Sultanate ruler, sent a large army to invade regions of West India, which he succeeded in, and the Sultanate reigned over from the 14th to the 16th century. This led to the rise of Islamic monuments, majorly on the lands of Gujarat. This explicit Indo-Islamic architectural style in the mosques and other minarets reflected a blend of the organizational properties of the Persian court mosques and decorative features of Māru-Gurjara architecture. The monuments such as Adalaj-Ni-Vav, shaking Minarets, Jami Masjid of Ahmedabad, and Friday mosque of Champaner that were built during this period visualized a harmonious display of two contrasting architectural styles.

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Sarkhej Roza, Ahmedabad_©Will Robinson
Islamic arches in Adalaj Ni Waw_©Dhaval Parmar

Māru-Gurjara style observed its evolution from a fragment of styles to a spectacular blend of harmony that rose and shone from Alwar of Rajasthan in the North to Parol of Bombay in the South. Monuments such as Modhera Sun Temple and Adalaj Stepwell, standing still, with their unique features, are today declared UNESCO World Heritage centers. Ahmedabad, one of the most important cities in infrastructure, has now been announced as India’s first World Heritage City by UNESCO. The remnants of the Māru-Gurjara architecture display the glorious past of Western India, with its base initiated in the 6th century towards its complete blend with the Islamic architecture in the 16th century.

References:

Arora, D. (no date) Maru-Gurjara Architecture: Where Majesty and grace converge, EBNW Story. Available at: https://ebnw.net/india/rajasthan/maru-gurjara-architecture-where-majesty-and-grace-converge/ (Accessed: 22 November 2023).

Dhaky, M.A. (1983) ‘The Genesis and Development of Maru-Gurjara temple architecture’, in Encyclopaedia of indian temple architecture. New Delhi: American Institute of Indian Studies, pp. 114–203. Available at: https://vmis.in/Resources/digital_publication_popup?id=110#page/1 (Accessed: 21 November 2023). 

Hegewald, J. (no date) The international jaina style? Māru-Gurjara temples under the SOLAṄKĪS, throughout India and in the Diaspora, Ars Orientalis. Available at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/a/ars/13441566.0045.005/–international-jaina-style-maru-gurjara-temples-under?rgn=main%3Bview (Accessed: 21 November 2023). 

History of Indo-Islamic architecture (no date) HiSoUR. Available at: https://www.hisour.com/history-of-indo-islamic-architecture-29189/ (Accessed: 23 November 2023). 

Prajapati, M.B. and Kava, T. (2022) Rani-Ki-Vav at Patan: An Architectural Heritage The magnificent step-well of forgotten India and a monument of unfathomable love [Preprint]. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/362838466_Rani-Ki-Vav_at_Patan_An_Architectural_Heritage_The_magnificent_step-well_of_forgotten_India_and_a_monument_of_unfathomable_love (Accessed: 22 November 2023). 

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