West Bengal has been the seat of power for a number of empires and kingdoms. It dates back to a period of more than four thousand years when it was inhabited by the Dravidians. It was soon brought under the dominion of the Aryans after their invasion. It was also one of the main kingdoms of India in the time of the Lord Mahavira and the Lord Buddha. From ancient times to the middle Ages, Buddhism was the main religion in the undivided Bengal. Today Buddhist ruins can still be found in Bangladesh. In the 12th century Bengal was taken over by the Hindu Sena dynasty. In the 13th century it came under Muslim rule and led to the spread of Islam in this region. Even though the ruler was a Muslim the citizens were steeped in Hindu culture. European traders arrived late in the fifteenth century and with them the architectural style also underwent changes. After Indian independence, Bengal was divided into West and East Bengal. The state of West Bengal became a part of India and the East became East Pakistan and later Bangladesh.
Islamic culture once flourished in West Bengal, especially in Gaur. It was the capital during the Buddhist and Hindu reigns but no traces of these eras remain. One of the best preserved mosques in Gaur is the Laltan Masjid. It has a prayer room which is nine meter square and a domed ceiling. The rectangular front room has a ceiling that looks like the bottom part of a ship and is decorated with colourful lattice patterns. The front wall has colourful tiles but most of them have been destroyed. It has a half dome which is a common style in Bengal. The whole structure of the Dakhil Darwaza is made of bricks and the walls have decorative patterns made of brick. The Qaddam Rassul Masjid of Gaur has eaves on the exterior which are not horizontal like other mosques but are sloping. Hindu temples built later in India replicated the octagonal pillars on both sides of the main entrance. The Madana Mohana Temple in Bishnupur and this mosque are surprisingly similar in design. Terracotta sculptures in West Bengal is found in Bishnupur. It reflects the typical traditional Bengali architectural style with its curved, sloping roof. Bishnupur in West Bengal has thirty temples that are decorated with terracotta. For example the walls of the Madan Mohana temple are decorated with terracotta sculptures which are mostly legends of Lord Krishna. The parapet on the roof and the arches reflect an architectural influence of Islam. The Shyama Raya temple of Bishnupur is built of bricks and the exterior and interior are clad with high quality, densely sculpted, terracotta panels. The architectural style of the temple reflects heavy Islamic influence, but it also reflects the complex construction methodology followed in India for the different styled towers.
Kolkata in West Bengal has many European style buildings around it. No traces of the traditional Indian style are seen in the structures. The Victoria Memorial is a fusion of the European and Mughal style of architecture. It resembles the Taj Mahal to a great extent. The Writers building and the Kolkata high court are also built in the architectural pattern of the west. The Shitalanatha temple of Kolkata is a Jain temple and is a blend of European and Islamic styles, with a traditional Indian shikhara, set in an Italian style garden. The Dakshineshwar temple is built in a very traditional Bengali style even though it is a new structure. The architecture of the Ramakrishna Matha is a combination Hindu, Muslim and Christian architectural styles. The huge shrine is completely covered with ochre cladding stones, with Indian motifs as decorations. The design of this serene building resembles a Latin Church.
Architecture in West Bengal, thus, comprises a major segment in the architecture of East India.