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The history of Indian architecture

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From ancient temples and Buddhist stupas to astonishing rock-cut artificial caves fashioned beautifully from extremely hard granite, the rich history of Indian architecture is as diverse and inspiring as the people who made it. Here we take a look at the various techniques and styles used over the more than two millennia of Indian architecture, as well as its future in the modern context.

 

7000 BCE – Mehrgahr villages

Astonishingly, there were already the beginnings of architecture in India approximately 9,000 years ago, at the village of Mehrgahr (now in modern Pakistan). The people who lived here were likely arrivals from West Asia, who settled in the Indus Valley to farm wheat, barley, dates, and keep sheep and goats. Their dwellings, although simple and very basic mudbrick houses of four rooms each, set the stage for great advancement to come.

 

3300 BCE–1700 BCE – Indus Valley Civilization

Most notable for its evident civic planning, complete with waterways, public and private baths, drains, and granaries, this amazing collection of uniform ancient cities tells the story of a highly practical people – with no temples or palaces as yet identified, and very minimal decoration.

 

With more than 700 wells in one section of the city alone, it is likely that these people invented the cylindrical brick lined well. While a very small number of buildings made use of stone, the building material of choice was fired mud-brick, a much more durable and advanced material than the sunbaked bricks which were being used by other ancient civilizations at the same time. And while some sites, such as the now UNESCO World Heritage Site Mohenjo-daro remain, we are left with a great mystery – as the civilization who built these remarkably advanced and well-planned cities disappeared rapidly.

Ruins of Mohenjo-daro

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sajjadphotoarts/30880310415/

600 BCE–320 BCE – Mahajanapadas

It is during this period that we see the beginnings of the religious architecture which India has become so famous for, with the arrival of Buddhist monasteries, caves and Stupas (dome-shaped commemorative monuments used for storing relics).

In urban centers, moated, walled cities with large gates are common. Arched windows and doors, multi-storied buildings and use of wooden architecture are characteristic of the period.

One of the earliest surviving stupas at Piprahwa

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stupas-Original-00020.jpg

 

320 BCE–550 CE – Classical period

Monumental stone architecture formed the basis for this period, fueled by the rise of the Mauryan Empire and some Greek influence. The Indian emperor Ashoka ordered the construction of 84,000 Buddhist Stupas, as well as the famous Pillars of Ashoka throughout the land. It is also believed that he created a large chain of hospitals and veterinary hospitals, as well as ordering the purchase and planting of medicinal plants.

 

Fortified cities with viharas and temples, rock-cut artificial caves carved with great precision from hard granite and polished to a shine, richly decorated stupas, gateway arches, elliptical, circular, pyramidal, quadrilateral and apsidal temples all came out of the era.

Example of mirror-like polish achieved on the walls of the Barabar Caves

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sudama_cave_mirror-polished_walls.jpg

 

This period came to a violent end with the invasions of the Alchon Huns in the 6th century CE, when over a thousand Buddhist monasteries were destroyed and left in ruins.

 

550 CE–1200 CE – Early Middle Ages and 1100 CE–1526 CE – Late Middle Ages

With the decimation of its religious buildings, Buddhism went into decline, and a new wave of Hindu architecture began to rise. Building on and refining the skills of the Rajasthani craftsmen from the previous period, sculptural temples with elevated walls, delicate carvings, courts, pilasters, parapets, high domes and elaborate spires are characteristic.

 

The distinctive imperial style of Vijayanagara Architecture appears between 1336 and 1565 CE, as do the first examples of Indo-Islamic Architecture such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the QutbMinar complex.

 

1500 CE–1947 CE – Early Modern period

Due to Islamic invasions, many forts and military buildings in the Rajput architectural style appear at this time. One, the fort of Kumbhalgarh, has walls which extend over 38 kilometers, possibly making it the longest continuous wall after the Great Wall of China.

 

It is also during this time that India’s most famous building of all – the great Taj Mahal – emerges as part of the Late Indo-Islamic Mughal architectural movement!

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nikhilprabhakar/33635681425

 

Looking to the future – sustainable architecture and engineering in India:

With such a rich history to draw from, it’s exciting that India is also becoming a player in the green building movement – with the country now third in the global listing for the Top Ten Countries for LEED according to the 2016 Dodge Data and Analytics ‘World Green Building Trends’ report.

 

Projects such as the ITC Green Center in Gurugram, the Patni i-GATE Knowledge Center in Noida, and the Infosys headquarters in Hyderabad all boast platinum level LEED Certified Green Building ratings. With its challenging climate and soft soils, India has great potential to showcase innovative and forward-thinking green engineering solutions.

 

An excellent example was the use of geocells in the construction of an access road for milk tankers in Phaltan, east of Mumbai. The use of this cellular confinement system technology in India, where ‘black cotton’ clay soils are common, is particularly suitable. These inorganic clays lose much of their strength when wet, leading to settlement, and cracked and uneven road surfaces. Conventionally, this means great volumes of soil must be manually processed, and high-quality granular infill purchased and freighted in – increasing both the carbon footprint and cost of every project. The use of geocells makes the project more durable and sustainable, as more local materials can be used, as well as drastically reducing the cost of the project – a win both for the environment and the developer.

 

By coming up with innovative solutions to dealing with the unique challenges and opportunities of the Indian climate and geology, we’re certain that India will continue to inspire the world with its architectural wonders!

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