India, officially the Republic of India, has come a long way in architecture; and politics have played a significant role in doing so. The architecture of India holds deep roots in its history, culture, and religion. From being ruled by Kings from different cultures to Britishers and finally Independence and Democracy, these transformations in political power have brought a wide range of styles and eras of architecture and urbanization in India. One can see a sharp distinction between the Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Colonial, Indo-Saracenic, and Modern architecture.
The architecture of the Neolithic and Megalithic periods was identified by ash mounds from 2500 BC, whose evidence was found in the Southern regions. From about 2600 to 1900 BC, the Indus Valley Civilization covered a large area around the Indus River Basin, and beyond in late Bronze Age India. Many great cities like Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, and Lothal were designed with care to detail; the streets were planned in a grid layout with elaborate drainage and water supply systems, citadels, brick houses, and non-residential structures.
The use of wood and brick had been recycled from 322 to 185 BC. From this period, the best remains of rock-cut architecture are seen for several centuries further. Most parts of the Gupta period represented Indian rock-cut architecture, leaving behind the first free-standing structures in India. The most famous surviving monuments of this period are the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, and Elephanta, that were constructed under other dynasties in Central India.
Hindu temple architecture had a boom with the rule of kings and the building of various kingdoms. This style of architecture has three categories- Nagara architecture, Dravidian architecture, and Vesara architecture. Nagara style of architecture is mostly found in north India. Some examples of early north Indian temples that have survived are Udayagiri Caves in Madhya Pradesh, Deogardh, Parvati Temple, Nachna, Lalitpur District, Lakshman Brick Temple in Sirpur, etc. Between the 7th and 13th century many regional styles developed which often followed political divisions as large temples were typically built with royal patronage. However, the north witnessed a decline in its construction of temples because of the Muslim invasions from the 11th century onwards.
Dravidian architecture, also known as the south Indian temple style, emerged in southern India and Sri Lanka, reaching its final design elemental form by the 16th century. The most distinctive difference from the northern style temple architecture is the use of a shorter and more pyramidal tower over the sanctuary called a vimana, where the north has taller towers, usually bending inwards as they rise, called shikhara.
Vesara architecture style adopted in the region today served as its geographical position as a buffer between north and south. Vesara architecture has a mix of both Nagara and Dravidian temple styles of architecture.
Indo-Islamic style of architecture began under the influence of Islam religion around the 7th century AD. In the medieval period, patrons of art and architecture extensively built many buildings and monuments that reflected regional Indic, Arabic, Persian, Iranian, Central Asian, and Ottoman Turkish styles. Also, many of these styles were influenced by regional Indian architectural styles. The architecture of Delhi developed alongside notable centers of the Mughal empire that came up in regional kingdoms such as Agra, Allahabad, Bengal, Gujarat, Deccan, Kashmir sultanates, etc. Some of the main features of Mughal architecture include large halls, very large vaulted gateways, delicate ornamentation, domes, and arches. This Islamic style of Mughals also began to influence Hindu architecture, especially the palace architecture where arches and domes were seen.
On the other hand, Indian regional architectural styles were also booming. Major examples are Rajput architecture, Sikh architecture, Maratha architecture, Dzong architecture, and Bengal architecture. These include temples, palaces, forts, step-wells, and gardens. Tall fort walls were specially built for defense and military due to the Islamic invasion.
By the 16th century, architecture became an emblem of power. Numerous European powers like the French, British, Dutch, and Portuguese established colonies in India. During the British colonial era (from 1757-1947), various new styles of architecture like Indo-Saracenic, Neo-classical, Romanesque-Italianate, and Art Deco emerged.
In 1947, India, after Independence, had distinctly around 300 architects in the whole nation and only one training institution, the Indian Institute of Architects. Therefore, the initial generation of Indian architects was educated abroad. Some early architects like Ganesh Deolalikar and B.R. Manickam were traditionalists who designed a few political buildings. In 1950, Jawaharlal Nehru invited French Architect Le Corbusier, a pioneer of modernist architecture, to design the city of Chandigarh. It was a full-fledged plan that included residential, commercial, industrial, and educational, along with recreational and transportation infrastructure. Le Corbusier also designed the Sanskar Kendra in Ahmedabad. This inspired the upcoming architects of India to work towards modern architecture. Rising economy, liberalization, and urbanization enabled more revolutionary styles to be worked upon alongside western architectural styles.
Today, India comprises a mixture of architectural styles that have emerged throughout the history of political power and culture. With an increasing number of graduate architects each year, the future of Indian architecture seems bright. Many architects are working on making India a sustainably developed place.
- Indian Architecture: Social and Political Challenges. (2009). [online] . Available at: https://repozytorium.amu.edu.pl/bitstream/10593/4498/1/06-Khalfaoui.pdf [Accessed 23 Jul. 2021].
- RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2020). 10 Politically important structures in India | RTF – Rethinking The Future. [online] Available at: https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/architects-lounge/a1529-10-politically-important-structures-in-india/ [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].
- Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Architecture of India. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Architecture_of_India.