Inspired by India’s rich culture, heritage, and religion, the north Indian architectural styles have evolved and developed. Indo-Islamic architecture and Hindu temple architecture are the two major divisions of north Indian architecture. The buildings created were mostly religious or administrative but, Mughal architecture allowed the creation of other buildings. The evolution of north Indian architecture shows India’s artistic, cultural, and religious implications on architecture.

Indus valley civilization: 2500 BCE – 1700 BCE

Playing a significant part in the evolution of urban architecture, the Harappan civilization was acclaimed for its intensive architectural planning and features. The spaces were characterized by a well-planned grid system consisting of broad main roads and small lanes connected at right angles. The most prominent attribute of the civilization has to be its drainage system that was sophisticated and first of its kind, and even the smallest of houses were linked to a proper sewer system. Another vital feature could be the community pool called the great bath. The buildings were built using sun-dried or baked bricks, and the houses had paved floors, open terraces.

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Indus valley civilization ©

Gupta Architecture: 4th – 6th century

Gupta was the period of north Indian architecture during which free-standing Hindu temples came into Practice in contrast to rock-cut shrines and caves. The inspirations derived were diverse, and the creations were mostly devoted to gods/goddesses. The architectural features include sculpted panels, t-shaped doorways, high relief figures, and the construction materials include sandstone, granite, and brick.

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Ajanta caves ©Trans India Travels

Nagara: 6th – 10th century

Among the three predominant styles of temple architecture of India, Nagara was the one that prevailed among the northern, western, and central parts of the country. Although it has some shared features from the Dravidian architecture, like the inner sanctum and mandap, it is distinguished by the usage of multiple shikaras (a spire), higher pedestal levels, and deities placed inside rather than outside like the Dravidian. 

Also, the nagara style of temples was principally a religious structure whereas, the Dravidian temples were also utilized for administrative and educational purposes. Gopuram was not a primary feature of this style. Latina, Phamsana, Sekhar, Valabhi are some of the well-known sub-styles of this architecture. Khajuraho Temple of Madhya Pradesh is a perfect example of this architectural style.

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Khajuraho temples of Madhya Pradesh ©Jugaadin News

Kalinga architecture: 6th century – 12th century

The present state of Odisha was the birthplace of the Kalinga architecture that celebrated the architectural grandeur of rocks and stones. Originated under the Kalinga dynasty, the Kalinga style is divided into three different types, Rekha deula, Pidha deula, and the Khakhara deula. This style of architecture has a more refined approach and properly segregated pre-production stages. They include forming a group with designated members followed by material selection, site selection, Vastu planning, site study, building a scale model for approval before beginning the construction. This process helped them construct some of the well planned massive temples with intricate rock and stonework. 

The basic structural layout seems to take cues from the human body, divided into the lower limb (bada), body (Gandi), and head (Cula/Masataka). It has two primary parts, the deul, the tower; and Jagmohan, the hall; and displays an extensive use of clay bricks and ferruginous sandstone. The sun temple is a seamless example of this architectural style.

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Konark Sun Temple ©TripSavvy

Maru – Gurjara: 11th – 13th century

Maru – Gurjara or Solanki style is a form of north Indian temple architecture, which originated in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan from their ethnic and cultural similarities under the reign of Chalukyas. Even though the style began on a small scale, its popularity in the Jain temples aided it to spread to other parts of the country and the world. This style portrays a deeper understanding of architecture and the excellent craftsmanship of Rajasthan, which echoes in the well carved and intricate details of the exteriors of these temples. 

The elevations of temples of this style display three key structural divisions, the pitha, the main hall, and the shikhara. The spaces mainly included garbha (griham), gudha (mandap), and a porch, and in the later periods, the mandaps were bounded by tall free-standing toranas. Carved ceilings, cornices, motifs, and lentils were the key traits of this style. Meha – maru and Maru gujara are two of the categories under this style. Ranakpur Jain temple of Rajasthan is a perfect example of this north Indian architectural style.

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Ranakpur Jain temple ©Viator

Indo-Islamic architecture: 1193 

Along with the arrival of Islam in India came its imperial Islamic architectural style. Islamic architectural traits combined with Hindu architecture gave birth to the Indo-Islamic architectural style. The timeline of Indo Islamic architecture could be divided into four stages known as Delhi sultanate, Pre-Mughal, Mughal, and Post-Mughal. Although united by richness and grandeur, the two styles had distinctive features, materials, and construction styles. The variances majorly included the dome structures, arches, pillars, big open yards that were extensive in Islamic architecture but not in Hindu architecture. Islamic architecture derives its inspiration from Central Asian and Persian styles. During their initial stages in India, they tried to adapt to the work style of the builders of India. 

Stonemasonry replaced the bricks, and limestones became well-known with mosaic tiles and domes. Artistic elements like paintings, calligraphies, arabesques, motifs, and geometric patterns were placed in the buildings of this style. The most coveted Taj mahal, red fort, and many of the architectural marvels of north India were built using this style. This architectural style also led to many regional spinoffs in various states of north India. The spinoffs include the Rajput, Bengal, Sikh, and Maratha styles.

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Taj Mahal ©Lonely Planet
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Hawa Mahal, Jaipur (Rajput style) ©Holidify

Indo-Saracenic architecture: 1858 – 1947

The British rule invented an amalgamation of architectural elements from Mughal architecture from India, gothic revival, and neoclassical styles from Victorian Britain. This style was widely used in three cities, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata. The Chepauk Palace is said to be the first-ever building constructed using this style, which is in present-day Chennai. This architectural style was generally employed for government buildings. The dominant traits of this style included onion domes, horseshoe arches, towers, pinnacles among others.

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Chepauk Palace, Chennai ©The hindu



Kamalavinayagam is a passionate designer and a self-taught writer whose interests also include films, food and music. She is an avid learner who is here to research, analyze and understand different fields of design and provide her take on how they influence the world.