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Indian Architecture

Indian Architecture has history that goes as back as the 3rd millennium BCE  to modern times. To Western eyes, Indian art can appear strikingly ornate, exaggeratedly sensuous, and voluptuous. A strong sense of design is also characteristic of Indian art and can be observed in its modern as well as in its traditional forms.

The earliest surviving Indian architecture consists of brick buildings. While early wooden structures have generally not survived, later stone buildings, built in a similar style, are known.

A. Early Indian and Buddhist Styles 

The oldest traces of architecture in India are the vestiges of buildings of burnt brick found at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (now in Pakistan), dating from about 2500-1750 bc. The subsequent Vedic period, which precedes the beginning of historical styles, is represented by burial mounds at Lauriya Nandangarh, in Bihar State, and rock-cut tombs in Malabar, Kerala State.

The establishment of historical styles began about 250 bc in the time of the Indian king Ashoka, who gave imperial patronage to Buddhism. Accordingly, the monuments of this time were built for Buddhist purposes. A characteristic Buddhist construction was the tope, or stupa, a hemispherical or bell-shaped masonry monument, typically surrounded by a railing, and with four entrances marked by gateways, and designed as a shrine or reliquary. The best example of these structures is the Great Stupa in Sanchi in the state of Madhya Pradesh, which commemorates the death of Buddha and his entrance into Nirvana.

Other Buddhist structures are the dagoba, a relic shrine, said to be the ancestral form of the pagoda; the lat, a stone edict pillar, generally monumental; the chaitya, a hall of worship in basilican form; and the vihara, a monastery or temple. Chaityas and viharas were often hewn out of the living rock. Architectural details such as capitals and mouldings show influence from Middle Eastern and Greek sources. Notable examples of early rock-cut monuments in Maharashtra State are the Great Chaitya Hall at Karle (c. early 2nd century ad) with its elaborate sculptured façade and tunnel-vaulted nave, and various temples and monasteries at Ajanta and Ellora.

B. Jain and Hindu Styles 

Buddhism waned after the 5th century as Hinduism and Jainism became dominant. The Jain and Hindu styles overlapped and produced the elaborate allover patterns carved in bands that became the distinguishing feature of Indian architecture. The Jains often built on a gigantic scale, a marked feature of their architecture being pointed domes constructed of level courses of corbelled stones. Extensive remains have been discovered on hilltops in locations far removed from one another in three states, at Parasnath Hill in Jharkhand, Mount Abut at Abu in Rajasthan, and Satrunjaya in Gujarat. Small temples were built close together in great numbers on hilltops; one of the earlier groups is on Mount Abu. Typical of Jain commemorative towers is the richly ornamented, nine-storey Jaya Sthamba.

The Hindu style is closely related to the Jain style. It is divided into three general categories: northern, from ad 600 to the present; central, from 1000 to 1300; and southern, or Dravidian, from 1350 to 1750. In all three periods the style is marked by great ornateness and the use of pyramidal roofs. Spire-like domes terminate in delicate finials. Other features include the elaborate, grand-scale gopuras, or gates, and the choultries, or ceremonial halls. Among the most famous examples of the style are the temples in the south at Belur, and at Halebid, Tiruvalur, Thanjavur, and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu State; temples in the north at Barolli in Rajasthan, at Vārānasi in Uttar Pradesh, and the Sun Temple at Konarak in Orissa State.

C. Indo-Islamic Style 

Islamic architecture in India dates from the 13th century to the present. Brought to India by the first Muslim conquerors, Islamic architecture soon lost its original purity and borrowed such elements from Indian architecture as courtyards surrounded by colonnades, balconies supported by brackets, and above all, decoration. Islam, on the other hand, introduced to India the dome, the true arch, geometric motifs, mosaics, and minarets. Despite fundamental conceptual differences, Indian and Islamic architecture achieved a harmonious fusion, especially in certain regional styles.

Indo-Islamic style is usually divided into three phases: the Pashtun, the Provincial, and the Mughal. Examples of the earlier Pashtun style in stone are at Ahmadabad in Gujarat State, and in brick at Gaur-Pandua in West Bengal State. These structures are closely allied to Hindu models, but are simpler and lack sculptures of human figures. The dome, the arch, and the minaret are constant features of the style; a famous monument in this style is the mausoleum Gol Gumbaz (17th century) in Bijapur, Mysore State, which has a dome 43 m (142 ft) in diameter, almost as big as that of St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Another notable structure is the five-storey stone and marble tower called the Qutb Minar (12th century), near Delhi.

The Provincial style reflected the continued rebellion of the provinces against the imperial style of Delhi. The best example of this phase is in Gujarat, where for almost two centuries until 1572, when Emperor Akbar finally conquered the region, the dynasties that succeeded one another erected many monuments in varying styles. The most notable structures in this phase are found in the capital, Ahmadabad. The Jami Masjid (1423) is unique in the whole of India; although Muslim in inspiration, the arrangement of 3 bays and almost 300 pillars, as well as the decoration, in this mosque is pure Hindu.

The Mughal phase of the Indo-Islamic style, from the 16th to the 18th century, developed to a high degree the use of such luxurious materials as marble. The culminating example of the style is the Taj Mahal in Agra. This domed mausoleum of white marble inlaid with gemstones was built (1632-1648) by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife. It stands on a platform set off by four slender minarets and is reflected in a shallow pool. Other famous examples of the Mughal style are the Pearl Mosque at Agra, Uttar Pradesh State, the palace fortresses at Agra and Delhi, and the great mosques at Delhi and Lahore (now in Pakistan).

D. Modern Styles 

Building in India since the 18th century has either carried on the indigenous historical forms or has been modelled after European models introduced by the British. Numerous examples of Western styles of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries may be seen in public buildings, factories, hotels, and houses. The most outstanding example of modern architecture in India is the city of Chandīgarh, the joint capital of Haryana and Punjab; the city was designed by the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier in collaboration with Indian architects. The broad layout of the city was completed in the early 1960s. Notable architectural features include the vaulted structure, topped by a huge, concrete dome, and the use of concrete grille and bright pastel colours in the Palace of Justice; the arrangement of concrete cubes topped by a concrete dome that is the Governor's Palace; and the use of projections, recesses, stair towers, and other contrasting elements to break the monotony of the long facades of the secretariat building, which are 244 m (800 ft) long. Modern Indian architecture has incorporated Western styles, adapting them to local traditions and needs—as in the design of the railway station at Alwar, Rajasthan State.

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