The history of architecture in India can be traced back to the dawn of Indian civilization. Ancient Indian architecture is rooted in its history, culture, and religion. The buildings of each period are marked by distinctive architectural elements that were developed following the functional requirements, the political situations, and cultural influences that existed at that time. Each architectural feature of Ancient Indian structural marvels is representative of the society of that period and its values. 

This article does not cover all the architectural styles of Ancient India and is only intended to give the reader a basic understanding of the process of evolution of architecture in ancient Indian structures. Read on for some quick architecture lessons from ancient India.

The Indus civilization:

During this period, Indian architecture was functional rather than ornamental, and cities were laid out along grids. Buildings were built of uniformly sized bricks, stone, and wood. 

Great Bath of Mohenjodaro, which housed one of the world’s most advanced water systems, was an iconic construction of the Indus civilization.

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Great Bath of Mohenjodaro ©Saqib Qayyum

Mauryan Wooden Architecture:

During the Mauryan empire, wood was a prominent building material. It is said that the craftsman of the Mauryan times mastered the art of polishing wood to an extent that they could make the wood shine like a mirror. 

The remains of the wooden palisades of the Mauryan period have recently been discovered at the site of the Mauryan Palace.

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Site of the Mauryan Palace ©

Mauryan Rock-Cut Architecture:

For the first time during the Maurya period, buildings began to be built out of stone. Mauryan constructions drew largely from Greek, Persian, and Egyptian building methods. In the 3rd century BCE, with the reign of Ashoka and his interest in stone construction, several magnificent rock-cut palaces, caves, pillars, and stupas were built. 

The oldest rock-cut sculpture in India is the rock-edict which is located at Dhauli. This majestic structure holds a carved elephant on its top. It is said that this is symbolic of Ashoka’s association with Buddhism. 

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The front of the rock-edict is shaped like an elephant. Dhauli, Puri District, India ©Kumar shakti

Ashoka’s Buddhist Architecture:

Stupas of ancient India were simple in form with a hemispherical shape and a low base. The most famous of the stupas commissioned by Ashoka is the Sanchi Stupa which is amongst the oldest. The Sanchi Stupa is popular for its Great Stupa, located on a hilltop in the Sanchi Town of Madhya Pradesh. Other famous stupas built by Ashoka include the Amaravati Stupa and Gandhara Stupa.

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Sanchi Stupa ©Biswarup Ganguly

Gandhara architecture was the architectural style of the region during this period and was characterized by Buddhist sculptures. Buildings constructed using this architectural form were enclosed within a walled courtyard. The monastery was positioned towards the north and the stupa to the south. 

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Gandhara architecture ©

Indian temple architecture: 

The Northern or Indo-Aryan style is marked by a tower structure with a rounded top and curvilinear frame. The Southern or Dravidian style has tower structures typically in the shape of a rectangular truncated pyramid.

Islamic influence: 

Examples of ancient Indian structural marvels built with a blend of Islamic architecture are Fatehpur Sikri, Taj Mahal, GolGumbaz, and Qutub Minar.

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Taj Mahal ©Yann Forget

British Indo-Saracenic style and European Gothic: 

The Victoria Memorial and the Victoria Terminus are well-known structures of the colonial era.

The influence of Ancient Indian structures in global architecture:

The traditional science of Vaastu Shastra is the Indian equivalent for Feng Shui. The teachings of Vaastu Shastra influence the planning and architecture of buildings. Though the ancient science of Vaastu is conceptually similar to Feng Shui in that both try to harmonize the flow of energy (life-force or Prana in Sanskrit and Chi / Ki in Chinese/Japanese) through the building, it differs in specific theories such as the directions in which various openings, rooms, and objects are to be placed. Indian Architecture has greatly influenced Asian architecture. The spread of Buddhism has largely contributed to the same. Many Indian construction features, including the temple tower or the temple gate, have become important symbols of Asian architecture, practiced extensively in East Asia and South-East Asia. The central spire is also sometimes called a southern temple gate and is noted for its architectural details and majestic structure. 

Aesthetic, symmetric, and majestic are some words that best describe an Ancient Indian building.  Indian architecture encompasses a multitude of traditions over time, constantly absorbing new architectural styles. The result is an evolving range of beautifully designed structural marvels that nonetheless retain continuity and individuality, across history.


Sowmya is an architectural journalist and writer. In this column, Sowmya takes you through stories on eco-architecture, biophilic design, and green buildings from across the globe.