(Last Updated on : 29/08/2012)
Indian architecture flourished in the subcontinent owing to its various cultures, religion and foreign influences. Since times immemorial Indian architecture has fascinated the minds of the beholders. Whether it is the Great Bath at Mohenjo Daro or the Taj Mahal in Agra, architecture in India has been successfully enamouring the connoisseurs of art and architecture for ages. The easiest way to trace down the evolution of Indian architecture is its history. Other wise it may seem difficult to classify the colossal works.
In fact, the history of Indian architecture dates back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. Architecture at this time was of a utilitarian character. The buildings of this period comprise houses, markets, storerooms, and offices. The city of Mohenjo-Daro reflects a completely matter-of-fact, business-like point of view, from the city plan as a whole to the almost total lack of architectural ornamentation. This period was followed by the invasion of the Aryans
in the northern India and as a result the native Dravidians were pushed down in the south where they flourished in their own way. The Maurya period succeeds the Vedic period
. The architecture of the Mauryan Empire has a considerable influence of Hellenic and Iranian civilisation due to the short term invasion and conquest of Alexander the great. Down in south during 2nd century B.C. the architecture under the Chola Dynasty
was of Dravidian style. The rulers were mostly worshippers of Lord Shiva
and the temples that were constructed were mainly dedicated to Shiva. Most of the architecture of Gupta period is the continuation and development of many types already found in earlier periods for example the rock cut chaitya hall. Both Hindu and Buddhist architecture flourished in this period.
The history of the medieval Indian architecture commences with the invasion of the Delhi sultanates
. They brought in the Indo- Islamic style of architecture. These foreign invaders introduced the arches and tombs in the panorama of Indian architecture. The sultans of Delhi were succeeded by the Mughals who introduced the Indo- Islamic – Persian architecture. The advent of the Muslim architecture is an important phase in the history of Indian architecture. The decline of the Muslims witnessed the ushering of imperialism in India. Dutch, French and the British ruled over the subcontinent. The architectural pattern of these countries also had a huge impact on the Indian architecture.
Besides these, invasions and cultural influences also contributed in evolving the architecture of India. For instance, the Vedic period witnessed the invasion of the Aryans in the northern India. They brought their own cultures and ideas but it was amalgamated with the existing Dravidian tradition. The Aryans were agricultural nomads and their nomadic background has cast an influence on their architecture. The architecture of the Vedic Period was neither monumental nor permanent nor concentrated in urban development. With the disappearance of the Indus culture and its cities, the new Indo-Aryan population was largely distributed in small settlements located in the plains and forests. Changes were once again seen in medieval India with the coming of the Mughals. Frequent invasions led to the foundation of several Schools of Indian architecture. Besides the Mughal Architecture, Colonial Architecture left its indelible mark with its gothic, imperial, Christian and Indo-Saracenic elements.
Religion, too, has played a significant part in shaping the patterns of Indian architecture. Indian temple architecture stands as a living proof to the fact that religion is part and parcel of Indian life. Some of the important religious architecture of India dates back to the ancient days. Buddhism
was a dominant religion then, especially under the rule of the Maurya dynasty. The architecture of the Mauryas has massive influence of Buddhism. An examination of the ruins of the fabulous city of Pataliputra
, near modern Patna
, is extremely important for an understanding of the whole character of Maurya civilisation. Buddhist stupas and chaitya halls are the main architectural types of the Maurya period. Ashoka
s tolerance and generosity to religious sects were not limited to his patronage of Buddhism. This may be illustrated by his donation of cells for the habitation of holy men of the heretical Ajivika
sect in the Barabar Hills
. The architectural carving of the facade of Lomas Rishi cave
is completely Indian. Buddhism as a religion continued to influence the architecture of the Sunga, the Andhra and the Gupta period. The architecture of the Sunga Period consists in large part of the decoration of the stone railings and gateways that now surround the Buddhist Stupa. Examples of these monuments from the early periods have been discovered at Sanchi in Bhopal
, Bharhut in Nagod State, and Amaravati on the Krishna River
. Though Buddhist architecture dominated the Gupta period but this era marks the revival of Hindu architecture because of the influence of Hinduism
. Hinduism revived centering around a new cult of Vishnu
, with emphasis on Krishna as the exponent and divine teacher of Vaishnava doctrine. The Ajanta and Ellora cave
architecture is the most important phase of the architecture of the Gupta period.
Indian architecture, thus, could be possibly classified into two broad categories. One is the architecture based on the abstract philosophical concept of the Aryans. This is reflected in the Nagara Style Architecture
and the other is the representational and the naturalistic trends of the Dravida style architecture
Indian architecture can be, thus, referred to as an umbrella term that includes a mosaic of styles. Whilst some of these were native in origin, others were brought along by the invaders. Nevertheless, all of them contributed immensely in enriching the Indian architecture.