Architecture of India

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The Taj Mahal, the most famous building of Mughal architecture in India.
Srirangam in Tamil Nadu is largest temple complex in India.
Bhimakali temple, built in Kath-Kuni style of architecture.

The architecture of India is rooted in its history, culture and religion. Indian architecture progressed with time and assimilated the many influences that came as a result of India's global discourse with other regions of the world throughout its two millennia-old past. The architectural methods practiced in India are a result of examination and implementation of its established building traditions and outside cultural interactions.[1] Among a number of architectural styles and traditions, the contrasting Hindu temple architecture and Indo-Islamic architecture are the best known. Both of these, but especially the former, have a number of regional styles within them.

Hindu temple architecture is mainly divided into Dravidian and Nagara styles. Dravidian architecture flourished during the rule of the Chola, Chera, and Pandyan empires, as well as the Vijayanagara Empire.

The first major Islamic kingdom in India was the Delhi Sultanate, which led to the development of Indo-Islamic architecture, combining Indian and Islamic features. The rule of the Mughal Empire, when Mughal architecture evolved, is regarded as the zenith of Indo-Islamic architecture, with the Taj Mahal being the high point of their contribution.

During the British colonial period, European styles including neoclassical, gothic revival, and baroque became prevalent across India. The amalgamation of Indo-Islamic and European styles led to a new style, known as the Indo-Saracenic style. After independence, modernist ideas spread among Indian architects as a way of progressing from the colonial culture. Le Corbusier, who designed the city of Chandigarh influenced a generation of architects towards modernism in the 20th century. The economic reforms of 1991 further bolstered the urban architecture of India as the country became more integrated with the world's economy. Traditional Vastu Shastra remains influential in India's architecture during the contemporary era.[1]

Bronze age period (3300 BCE–1300 BCE)[edit]

Planning of Indus valley civilization cities
Layout of Dholavira
fortification of Kalibangan with square bastions and fort walls sorrounding the city

The Indus Valley Civilization (3300 BCE–1300 BCE) covered a large area around the Indus River basin and beyond. In its mature phase, from c. 2600–1900 BCE, it produced several cities marked by great uniformity within and between sites, including Harappa, Lothal, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Mohenjo-daro. The civic and town planning and engineering aspects of these are remarkable, but the design of the buildings is "of a startling utilitarian character". There are granaries, drains, water-courses and tanks, but neither palaces nor temples have been identified, though cities have a central raised and fortified "citadel".[2] Mohenjo-daro has wells which may be the predecessors of the stepwell.[3] As many as 700 wells have been discovered in just one section of the city, leading scholars to believe that 'cylindrical brick lined wells' were invented by the Indus Valley Civilization.[3]

The architectural decoration is extremely minimal, though there are "narrow pointed niches" inside some buildings. Most of the art found is in miniature forms like seals, and mainly in terracotta, but there are a very few larger sculptures of figures. In most sites fired mud-brick (not sun-baked as in Mesopotamia) is used exclusively as the building material, but a few such as Dholavira are in stone. Most houses have two stories, and very uniform sizes and plans. The large cities declined relatively quickly, for unknown reasons, leaving a less sophisticated village culture behind.[4]

Kalibangan fired brick drain laid on a mud brick construction, early Harappan period

Early Harappan phase[edit]

Although urban phase of Harappa has been dated to 2600 BC, excavation at Kalibangan from the early or proto Harappan period already shows an urban development with fortification, grid layout of the city and drain system. The settlement consisted of a fortified city mostly made of mud brick architecture but characterized by an appearance of fired bricks around 3000 BC which was used to line the drains of the city.

English Bond and building material[edit]

While in contemporary Bronze age cultures mud bricks was the dominant building material, Indus Valley civilization preferred to use terracotta brick instead. Prominent feature of Harappan architecture was also the first use of English bond any where in the world. This type of bonding utilized the alternate headers and stretchers which is stronger method of construction. Clay was usually used as cementing material but where better strength was needed, such as the drains, the lime and gypsum mortar was preferred instead. In architecture such as the Great Bath, Bitumen has been used for water proofing. Use of Bitumen has been attested as early as Mehrgarh period, one of the earliest uses in the world as well. The remarkable vertical alignment of the building indicates the use of Plumb line. The bricks were produced in a standardized ratio of 4:2:1 and has been noted throughout Indus Valley Civilization.[5]

Late Harappan period[edit]

After collapse of mature harappan urban period, some cities still remained urban and inhabited. sites like Bet Dwarka in Gujarat, Kudwala(38.1 ha) in Cholistan and Daimabad (20 Ha) in Maharashtra are considered urban. Daimabad (2000-1000 BC) developed a fortification wall with bastions in its jorwe culture period (1400-1000 BC) and had public buildings such as an elliptical temple, an apsidal temple and shows evidence of planning in the layout of rectangular houses and streets or lanes and planned streets. The area had rose to 50 hectares in with a population of 10,000 people. A 580 meter long protection wall dated 1500 BC was found at Bet Dwarka which was believed to be damaged and submerged following sea storm.[6][7]

Ancient period (1025 BCE–320 BCE)[edit]

Kausambi fort walls from Period I with burnt brick revetment, 1025-700 BC, PGW culture. Weeping holes at the base can be clearly observed.


Ahichchhatra fortification with square bastions


Archaeological excavations have revealed Kausambi fortifications from the end of second millennium BC.[8][9]


Stone palace predating the Mauryan periods have been discovered from the ruins of Kausambi. The dressed stones of the palace were set in fine lime and coated with a thick layer of plaster, the entire architecture resembled a fortress with its own walls and towers. The palace had few rooms, each room was provided with three shelves and a central hall with steps leading to the tower. The architecture was constructed in three phases and is dated from 8th century BC to 2nd century BC. Discovery of this stone palace discredits the theory of foreign influence behind the rise of Indian stone architecture during Ashokan or mauryan period.

A technique of architecture applied here was using dressed stones as facing for a wall made of rubble core, this represents the apogee of indian architecture in ancient period.[10][11][12]

Ghoshitaram monastery in Kosambi dating back to 6th century BC

Ghositarama monastery

Buddhist scripture attributes this very old monastic site to the time of the Buddha which has been backed by archaeology, founded by a banker named Ghosita. The site has been located near Kosambi and identified by inscriptions. Archaeology suggests continuous occupation down to the sixth century when it was likely destroyed in the Hun invasion. Xuanzang found it an unoccupied ruin.[13]


Conjectural reconstruction of the main gate of Kushinagar c. 500 BCE adapted from a relief at Sanchi.
City of Kushinagar in the 5th century BCE according to a 1st century BCE frieze in Sanchi Stupa 1 Southern Gate.
Rajgir, old city walls 6th century BCE

From the time of the Mahajanapadas (600 BCE–320 BCE), walled and moated cities with large gates and multi-storied buildings which consistently used arched windows and doors and made an intense use of wooden architecture, are important features of the architecture during this period.[14] The reliefs of Sanchi, dated to the 1st centuries BCE–CE, show cities such as Kushinagar or Rajagriha as splendid walled cities during the time of the Buddha (6th century BCE), as in the Royal cortege leaving Rajagriha or War over the Buddha's relics. These views of ancient Indian cities have been relied on for the understanding of ancient Indian urban architecture. Archaeologically, this period corresponds in part to the Northern Black Polished Ware culture.[15] Geopolitically, the Achaemenid Empire started to occupy the northwestern part of the subcontinent from c, 518 BCE.[16][17]

Jetavana of Sravasti, Sanchi Stupa 1, Northern Gateway.

Various types of individual housing of the time of the Buddha (c. 563/480 or c. 483/400 BCE), resembling huts with chaitya-decorated doors, are also described in the reliefs of Sanchi. Particularly, the Jetavana at Sravasti, shows the three favourite residences of the Buddha: the Gandhakuti, the Kosambakuti and the Karorikuti, with the throne of the Buddha in the front of each. The Jetavana garden was presented to the Buddha by the rich banker Anathapindika, who purchased it for as many gold pieces as would cover the surface of the ground. Hence, the foreground of the relief is shown covered with ancient Indian coins (karshapanas), just as it is in the similar relief at Bharhut.[18] Although the reliefs of Sanchi are dated to the 1st centuries BCE–CE, portraying scene taking place during the time of the Buddha, four centuries before, they are considered an important indication of building traditions in these early times.[19]

Nanda period voussoir with mauryan polish
mason's marks of archaic Brahmi

Pataliputra Voussoir Arch

A granite stone fragment of an arch discovered by K. P. Jayaswal from Kumhrar, Pataliputra has been analysed as a pre Mauryan Nanda period keystone fragment of a trefoil arch of gateway with mason's marks of three archaic Brahmi letters inscribed on it which probably decorated a Torana.[20][21][22] The wedge shaped stone with indentation has mauryan polish on two sides and was suspended vertically.

Religious architecture[edit]

Buddhist caves

During the time of the Buddha (c. 563/480 or c. 483/400 BCE), Buddhist monks were also in the habit of using natural caves, such as the Saptaparni Cave, southwest from Rajgir, Bihar.[23][24] Many believe it to be the site in which Buddha spent some time before his death,[25] and where the first Buddhist council was held after the Buddha died (paranirvana).[23][26][27] The Buddha himself had also used the Indrasala Cave for meditation, starting a tradition of using caves, natural or man-made, as religious retreats, that would last for over a millennium.[28]

Jivakarama vihara monastery. Oblong communal hall (remains), 6th century BCE.

The first monasteries, such as the Jivakarama vihara and Ghositarama monastery in Rajgir and Kausambi respectively, were built from the time of the Buddha, in the 6th or 5th centuries BCE.[29][30][31] The initial Jivakarama monastery was formed of two long parallel and oblong halls, large dormitories where the monks could eat and sleep, in conformity with the original regulations of the samgha, without any private cells.[29] Other halls were then constructed, mostly long, oblong building as well, which remind of the construction of several of the Barabar caves.[29][32] The Buddha is said to have been treated once in the monastery, after having been injured by Devadatta.[29][33]

Stupas at Piprahwa are some of the earliest surviving stupas.

Religious buildings in the form of the Buddhist stupa, a dome shaped monument, started to be used in India as commemorative monuments associated with storing sacred relics of the Buddha.[34] The relics of the Buddha were spread between eight stupas, in Rajagriha, Vaishali, Kapilavastu, Allakappa, Ramagrama, Pava, Kushinagar, and Vethapida.[35] The Piprahwa stupa also seems to have been one of the first to be built.[35] Guard rails—consisting of posts, crossbars, and a coping—became a feature of safety surrounding a stupa.[14] The Buddha had left instructions about how to pay hommage to the stupas: "And whoever lays wreaths or puts sweet perfumes and colours there with a devout heart, will reap benefits for a long time".[36] This practice would lead to the decoration of the stupas with stone sculptures of flower garlands in the Classical period.[36]


Elliptical Hindu temples with mandapa from Nagari, Chittorgarh and Vidisha near Heliodorus pillar have been dated to 4th century BC or 350-300 BC.[37][38]

Classical period (320 BCE–550 CE)[edit]

Monumental stone architecture[edit]

The Pataliputra capital, discovered at the Bulandi Bagh site of Pataliputra, c. 4th–3rd BCE.

The next wave of building, appears with the start of the Classical period (320 BCE–550 CE) and the rise of the Mauryan Empire. The capital city of Pataliputra was an urban marvel described by the Greek ambassador Megasthenes. Remains of monumental stone architecture can be seen through numerous artifacts recovered from Pataliputra, such as the Pataliputra capital. This cross-fertilization between different art streams converging on the subcontinent produced new forms that, while retaining the essence of the past, succeeded in the integrating selected elements of the new influences.

Ashoka pillar at Vaishali, 250 BCE.

The Indian emperor Ashoka (rule: 273–232 BCE) established the Pillars of Ashoka throughout his realm, generally next to Buddhist stupas. According to Buddhist tradition, Ashoka recovered the relics of the Buddha from the earlier stupas (except from the Ramagrama stupa), and erected 84.000 stupas to distribute the relics across India. In effect, many stupas are thought to date originally from the time of Ashoka, such as Sanchi or Kesariya, where he also erected pillars with his inscriptions, and possibly Bharhut, Amaravati or Dharmarajika in Gandhara.[35]

Ashoka also built the initial Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya around the Bodhi tree, including masterpieces such as the Diamond throne ("Vajrasana"). He is also said to have established a chain of hospitals throughout the Mauryan empire by 230 BCE.[39] One of the edicts of Ashoka reads: "Everywhere King Piyadasi (Ashoka) erected two kinds of hospitals, hospitals for people and hospitals for animals. Where there were no healing herbs for people and animals, he ordered that they be bought and planted."[40] Indian art and culture has absorbed extraneous impacts by varying degrees and is much richer for this exposure.

Fortified cities with stūpas, viharas, and temples were constructed during the Maurya empire (c. 321–185 BCE).[14] Architectural creations of the Mauryan period, such as the city of Pataliputra, the Pillars of Ashoka, are outstanding in their achievements, and often compare favourably with the rest of the world at that time. Commenting on Mauryan sculpture, John Marshall once wrote about the "extraordinary precision and accuracy which characterizes all Mauryan works, and which has never, we venture to say, been surpassed even by the finest workmanship on Athenian buildings".[41][42]

The famous carved door of Lomas Rishi, one of the Barabar Caves, dated to approximately 250 BCE, displaying the first known Maurya reliefs.
The quasi-perfect walls of the Barabar Caves were dug into the hard rock and polished to a mirror effect c. 250 BCE, date of the inscriptions of Ashoka.[43]
Gothic vault plan of Sitamarhi Cave 3rd century BC
Barrel apsidal vault plan of Lomas Rishi Cave 3rd century BC

Rock-cut caves[edit]

Around the same time rock-cut architecture began to develop, starting with the already highly sophisticated and state-sponsored Barabar caves in Bihar, personally dedicated by Ashoka c. 250 BCE.[14] These artificial caves exhibit an amazing level of technical proficiency, the extremely hard granite rock being cut in geometrical fashion and polished to a mirror-like finish.[28]

Probably owing to the 2nd century BCE fall of the Mauryan Empire and the subsequent persecutions of Buddhism under Pushyamitra Sunga, it is thought that many Buddhists relocated to the Deccan under the protection of the Andhra dynasty, thus shifting the cave-building effort to western India: an enormous effort at creating religious caves (usually Buddhist or Jain) continued there until the 2nd century CE, culminating with the Karla Caves or the Pandavleni Caves.[28] These caves generally followed an apsidal plan with a stupa in the back for the chaityas, and a rectangular plan with surrounding cells for the viharas.[28] Numerous donors provided the

Funds for the building of these caves and left donation inscriptions, including laity, members of the clergy, government officials, and even foreigners.[44]

The construction of caves would wane after the 2nd century CE, possibly due to the rise of Mahayana Buddhism and the associated intense architectural and artistic production in Gandhara and Amaravati.[28] The building of rock-cut caves would revive briefly in the 5th century CE, with the magnificent achievements of Ajanta[45] and Ellora, before finally subsiding as Hinduism replaced Buddhism in the sub-continent, and stand-alone temples became more prevalent.[14][28]

Rock-cut architecture also developed with the apparition of stepwells in India, dating from 200–400 CE.[46] Subsequently, the construction of wells at Dhank (550–625 CE) and stepped ponds at Bhinmal (850–950 CE) took place.[46]

Decorated stupas[edit]

Stupas were soon to be richly decorated with sculptural reliefs, following the first attempts at Sanchi Stupa No.2 (125 BCE). Full-fledged sculptural decorations and scenes of the life of the Buddha would soon follow at Bharhut (115 BCE), Bodh Gaya (60 BCE), Mathura (125–60 BCE), again at Sanchi[47] for the elevation of the toranas (1st century BCE/CE) and then Amaravati (1st–2nd century CE).[48] The decorative embellishment of stupas also had a considerable development in the northwest in the area of Gandhara, with decorated stupas such as the Butkara Stupa ("monumentalized" with Hellenistic decorative elements from the 2nd century BCE)[49] or the Loriyan Tangai stupas (2nd century CE). Stupa architecture was adopted in Southeast and East Asia, where it became prominent as a Buddhist monument used for enshrining sacred relics.[34] The Indian gateway arches, the torana, reached East Asia with the spread of Buddhism.[50] Some scholars hold that torii derives from the torana gates at the Buddhist historic site of Sanchi (3rd century BCE – 11th century CE).[51]

Stand-alone temples[edit]

Temples—built on elliptical, circular, quadrilateral, or apsidal plans—were initially constructed using brick and timber.[14] Some temples of timber with wattle-and-daub may have preceded them, but none remain to this day.[54]

Domed Buddhist temple 1st-2nd century AD
Domed temple from Sannati 1st-2nd century AD
Gumbatona Vihara, Gandhara, 1st-2nd century AD
Tulja Lena Chaitya cave plan and elevation 50 BC
Circular dome temples

Some of the earliest free-standing temples may have been of a circular type, as the Bairat Temple in Bairat, Rajasthan, formed of a central stupa surrounded by a circular colonnade and an enclosing wall.[54] It was built during the time of Ashoka, and near it were found two of Ashoka's Minor Rock Edicts.[54] Ashoka also built the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya c. 250 BCE, also a circular structure, in order to protect the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha had found enlightenment. Representations of this early temple structure are found on a 100 BCE relief sculpted on the railing of the stupa at Bhārhut, as well as in Sanchi.[55] From that period the Diamond throne remains, an almost intact slab of sandstone decorated with reliefs, which Ashoka had established at the foot of the Bodhi tree.[56][57] These circular-type temples were also found in later rock-hewn caves such as Tulja Caves or Guntupalli.[54]

Apsidal temples

Another early free-standing temple in India, this time apsidal in shape, appears to be Temple 40 at Sanchi, which is also dated to the 3rd century BCE.[60] It was an apsidal temple built of timber on top of a high rectangular stone platform, 26.52x14x3.35 metres, with two flights of stairs to the east and the west. The temple was burnt down sometime in the 2nd century BCE.[61][62] This type of apsidal structure was also adopted for most of the cave temple (Chaitya-grihas), as in the 3rd century BCE Barabar Caves and most caves thereafter, with side, and then frontal, entrances.[54] A freestanding apsidal temple remains to this day, although in a modified form, in the Trivikrama Temple in Ter, Maharashtra.[63]

Truncated pyramidal temples
The Mahabodhi Temple in 150–200 CE.
The Mahabodhi Temple: a stepped pyramid with round stupa on top.[64]

It is thought that the temple in the shape of a truncated pyramid was derived from the design of the stepped stupas which had developed in Gandhara.[64] The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya is one such example, adapting the Gandharan design of a succession of steps with niches containing Buddha images, alternating with Greco-Roman pillars, as seen in the stupas of Jaulian.[64] The structure is crowned by the shape of an hemispherical stupa topped by finials, forming a logical elongation of the stepped Gandharan stupas.[64]

Although the current structure of the Mahabdhodi Temple dates to the Gupta period (5th century CE), the "Plaque of Mahabhodi Temple", discovered in Kumrahar and dated to 150–200 CE based on its dated Kharoshthi inscriptions and combined finds of Huvishka coins, suggests that the pyramidal structure already existed in the 2nd century CE.[64] This is confirmed by archaeological excavations in Bodh Gaya.[64]

This truncated pyramid design also marked the evolution from the aniconic stupa dedicated to the cult of relics, to the iconic temple with multiple images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.[64] This design was very influential in the development of later Hindu temples.[65]

Square prostyle temples
A Gupta period tetrastyle prostyle Buddhist temple of Classical appearance at Sanchi (Temple 17) (5th century CE).[66]

The Gupta Empire later also built Buddhist stand-alone temples (following the great cave temples of Indian rock-cut architecture), such as Temple 17 at Sanchi, dating to the early Gupta period (5th century CE). It consists of a flat roofed square sanctum with a portico and four pillars. From an architectural perspective, this is a tetrastyle prostyle temple of Classical appearance .[66] The interior and three sides of the exterior are plain and undecorated but the front and the pillars are elegantly carved,[66] not unlike the 2nd century rock-cut cave temples of the Nasik Caves. Nalanda and Valabhi universities, housing thousands of teachers and students, flourished between the 4th–8th centuries.[67]

Palatial architecture[edit]

an Indian palace depiction in Mahabodhi railing, showing vaulted underground chambers called ''suranga,'' as described by Kautiliya in Arthashastra; Shunga period, 2nd-1st BCE

Archaeological excavation conducted by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at Kausambi revealed a palace with its foundations going back to 8th century BCE until 2nd century CE; and built in six phases. The last phase dated to 1st - 2nd century CE, featured an extensive structure which was divided into three blocks and enclosed two galleries. There was a central hall in the central block and presumably used as an audience hall surrounded by rooms which served as a residential place for the ruler. The entire structure was constructed using bricks and stones and two layers of lime were plastered on it. The palace had a vast network of underground chambers also called Suranga by Kautilya in his Arthashastra,[68] and the superstructure and the galleries were made on the principle of true arch. The four-centered pointed arch was used to span narrow passageways and segmental arch for wider areas. The superstructure of the central and eastern block was examined to have formed part of a dome that adorned the building. The entire galleries and superstructure were found collapsed under 5 cm thick layer of ash which indicates destruction of the palace through conflagration.[69]

A palace architecture has also been uncovered at Nagarjunakonda.[70]


early evidence of Shikhara type domical crowing structure has been noted in the palatial architecture of Kausambi dated to 1st-2nd century AD. The central hall was thought to be topped by a dome but analysis of the bricks indicate Shikara type structure was used instead. Evidence also indicates Shikhara was also used in crowing architecture such as Bhitargaon temple.[71]

Theater and stadium[edit]

Satavahanas constructed a stadium and a theater at Nagarjunakonda in the 2nd century AD. The theater has a small quadrangular open area enclosed on all four sides by stepped stands which are made of bricks and cladded with limestone.[72][73]

An oblong shaped stadium dating form the same era consisted of an arena which was enclosed on all four sides by flight of steps with each step measuring two feet wide and a pavilion which was situated on the west end. At the top of the arena there was a en eleven feet wide platform. The area of arena was 309 X 259 feet and 15 feet deep. Entire construction was done using burnt brick.

Entrance to the Badami Fort
Badami Northern Fort Entrance


5th century Nalrajar fortification wall

Nalrajar Garh fortification wall ruins dating back to 5th century AD are probably the only standing fortification ruins from Gupta period which are located in a dense jungle in North Bengal near Indo-Bhutan border. A prominent feature of its fortification walls are two parabolic arches.[74] Many fortified cities like Nalrajar Garh, Bhitagarh had risen in Northeastern India owing to trade activities with south eastern China.

Badami or Pulakeshi fort from Chalukya era date back to the 6th century AD[75]

End of the Classical period[edit]

This period ends with the destructive invasions of the Alchon Huns in the 6th century CE. During the rule of the Hunnic king Mihirakula, over a thousand Buddhist monasteries throughout Gandhara are said to have been destroyed.[76] The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang, writing in 630 CE, explained that Mihirakula ordered the destruction of Buddhism and the expulsion of monks.[77] He reported that Buddhism had drastically declined, and that most of the monasteries were deserted and left in ruins.[78]

Although only spanning a few decades, the invasions had long-term effects on India, and in a sense brought an end to Classical India.[79] Soon after the invasions, the Gupta Empire, already weakened by these invasions and the rise of local rulers, ended as well.[80] Following the invasions, northern India was left in disarray, with numerous smaller Indian powers emerging after the crumbling of the Guptas.[81]

Early Middle Ages (550 CE–1200 CE)[edit]

South Indian temple architecture—visible as a distinct tradition during the 7th century CE.[83]

Māru-Gurjara temple architecture originated somewhere in the 6th century in and around areas of Rajasthan. Māru-Gurjara Architecture shows the deep understanding of structures and refined skills of Rajasthani craftsmen of the bygone era. Māru-Gurjara Architecture has two prominent styles Maha-Maru and Maru-Gurjara. According to M. A. Dhaky, Maha-Maru style developed primarily in Marudesa, Sapadalaksha, Surasena and parts of Uparamala whereas Maru-Gurjara originated in Medapata, Gurjaradesa-Arbuda, Gurjaradesa-Anarta and some areas of Gujarat.[84] Scholars such as George Michell, M.A. Dhaky, Michael W. Meister and U.S. Moorti believe that Māru-Gurjara Temple Architecture is entirely Western Indian architecture and is quite different from the North Indian Temple architecture.[85] There is a connecting link between Māru-Gurjara Architecture and Hoysala Temple Architecture. In both of these styles architecture is treated sculpturally.[86] Regional styles include Architecture of Karnataka, Kalinga architecture, Dravidian architecture, Western Chalukya architecture, and Badami Chalukya Architecture.

Navghan Kuvo, Gujarat, 11th century

The South Indian temple consists essentially of a square-chambered sanctuary topped by a superstructure, tower, or spire and an attached pillared porch or hall (maṇḍapa or maṇṭapam), enclosed by a peristyle of cells within a rectangular court. The external walls of the temple are segmented by pilasters and carry niches housing sculpture. The superstructure or tower above the sanctuary is of the kūṭina type and consists of an arrangement of gradually receding stories in a pyramidal shape. Each story is delineated by a parapet of miniature shrines, square at the corners and rectangular with barrel-vault roofs at the centre.

North Indian temples showed increased elevation of the wall and elaborate spire by the 10th century.[87] Richly decorated temples—including the complex at Khajuraho—were constructed in Central India.[87] Indian traders brought Indian architecture to South east Asia through various trade routes.[88] Grandeur of construction, beautiful sculptures, delicate carvings, high domes, gopuras and extensive courtyards were the features of temple architecture in India. Examples include the Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneshwar in Odisha, Sun Temple at Konark in Odisha, Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.

Ancient Indian arches[edit]

Indian architecture has utilized mix of false and true arches in its architecture

Corbel arches[edit]

Corbel arches in India date from Indus Valley Civilisation which used corbel arch to construct drains and have been evidenced at Mohenjo daro, Harappa, and Dholavira.[93]

The oldest arches surviving in Indian architecture are the gavaksha or "chaitya arches" found in ancient rock-cut architecture, and agreed to be copied from versions in wood which have all perished. These often terminate a whole ceiling with a semi-circular top; wooden roofs made in this way can be seen in carved depictions of cities and palaces. A number of small early constructed temples have such roofs, using corbelled construction, as well as an apsidal plan; the Trivikrama Temple at Ter, Maharashtra is an example. The arch shape survived into constructed Indian architecture, not as an opening in a wall but as a blind niche projection from a wall, that bears only its own weight. In this form it became a very common and important decorative motif on Hindu temples.[94]

The "fundamental architectural principle of the constructed Hindu temple is always formulated in the trabeate order", that is to say using post and lintel systems with vertical and horizontal members.[95] According to George Michell: "Never was the principle of the arch with radiating components, such as voussoirs and keystones, employed in Hindu structures, either in India or in other parts of Asia. It was not so much that Hindu architects were ignorant of these techniques, but rather that conformance to tradition and adherence to precedents were firm cultural attitudes".[96] Harle describes the true arch as "not unknown, but almost never employed by Hindu builders",[97] and its use as "rare, but widely dispersed".[98]


The 19th century archaeologist Alexander Cunningham, head of the Archaeological Survey of India, at first believed that due to the total absence of arches in Hindu temples, they were alien to Indian architecture, but several pre-Islamic examples bear testimony to their existence, as explained by him in the following manner:[99]

Formerly it was the settled belief of all European enquirers that the ancient Hindus were ignorant of the Arch. This belief no doubt arose from the total absence of arches in any of the Hindu Temples. Thirty years ago I shared this belief with Mr. Fergusson, when I argued that the presence of arches in the great Buddhist Temple at Buddha Gaya proved that the building could not have been erected before the Muhammadan conquest. But during my late employment in the Archeological Survey of India several buildings of undoubted antiquity were discovered in which both vaults and arches formed part of the original construction.

— Alexander Cunningham, Mahâbodhi, or the great Buddhist temple under the Bodhi tree at Buddha-Gaya, 1892

Archaeological evidences indicate that wedge shaped bricks and construction of wells in the Indus valley civilization and although no true arches have been discovered as of yet, these bricks would have been suitable in the construction of true arches.[100] True arch in India dates from pre Mauryan Nanda period from 5th century BC. Arch fragment discovered by archaeologist K. P. Jayaswal from an arch with Brahmi inscribed on it,[101][102] or 1st - 2nd century CE when it first appeared in Kausambi palace architecture from Kushana period.[103] Arches present at Vishnu temples at Deo Baranark, Amb and Kafir Kot temples from Hindu Shahi period and Hindu temple of Bhitargaon bear testimony to the use arches in the Hindu temple architecture.[104][105][106] Although Alexander Cunningham has persisted in the notion that the Buddhist Mahabodhi Temple's pointed arch was added later during a Burmese restoration, given its predominant use in Islamic architecture, scholars such as Huu Phuoc Le have contested this assumption based on analysis that relieving arches could not have been added without destroying the entire temple structure, which is dated to 6th-7th century CE. Hence the pointed and relieving arches much have formed part of the original building dating from the pre-Islamic periods in proper.[107][108] Moreover, pointed arches vaulted entrances have been noted in Bhitargaon temple and Kausambi Palace architecture as well.[69][109]


Evidence indicates that the construction of fortification walls at Dehli applied nearly the same principle at Red Fort and Agra Fort as was the tradition during pre Islamic Rajput periods. Excavation of Lal Kot beneath the Purana Qila revealed ruins which was constructed using similar method as in the post Islamic and Mughal Periods.

Late Middle Ages (1100 CE–1526 CE)[edit]

Hoysala architecture[edit]

Hoysala architecture is the distinctive building style developed under the rule of the Hoysala Empire in the region historically known as Karnata, today's Karnataka, India, between the 11th and the 14th centuries.[111] Large and small temples built during this era remain as examples of the Hoysala architectural style, including the Chennakesava Temple at Belur, the Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu, and the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura. Other examples of fine Hoysala craftmanship are the temples at Belavadi, Amrithapura, and Nuggehalli. Study of the Hoysala architectural style has revealed a negligible Indo-Aryan influence while the impact of Southern Indian style is more distinct.[112] A feature of Hoysala temple architecture is its attention to detail and skilled craftsmanship. The temples of Belur and Halebidu are proposed UNESCO world heritage sites.[113] Approximately 100 Hoysala temples survive today.[114]

Vijaynagara architecture[edit]

aerial image of a temple campus.
An aerial view of the Meenakshi Temple from the top of the southern gopuram, looking north. The temple was rebuilt by the Vijayanagar Empire and an example of Dravidian architecture.

Vijayanagara Architecture of the period (1336–1565 CE) was a notable building style evolved by the Vijayanagar empire that ruled most of South India from their capital at Vijayanagara on the banks of the Tungabhadra River in present-day Karnataka.[115] The architecture of the temples built during the reign of the Vijayanagara empire had elements of political authority.[116] This resulted in the creation of a distinctive imperial style of architecture which featured prominently not only in temples but also in administrative structures across the deccan.[117] The Vijayanagara style is a combination of the Chalukya, Hoysala, Pandya and Chola styles which evolved earlier in the centuries when these empires ruled and is characterised by a return to the simplistic and serene art of the past.[118]

Early Indo-Islamic architecture[edit]

The earliest examples of Indo-Islamic Architecture were constructed during this period by the Delhi Sultanates, most famously the Qutb Minar complex, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. The complex consists of Qutb Minar, a brick minaret commissioned by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak, as well as other monuments built by successive Delhi Sultans.[119] Alai Minar, a minaret twice the size of Qutb Minar was commissioned by Alauddin Khilji but never completed. Other examples include the Tughlaqabad Fort and Hauz Khas Complex.

Early Modern period (1500 CE–1858 CE)[edit]

Rajput architecture[edit]

the Mughal architecture and painting influenced indigenous Rajput styles of art and architecture.[120] Rajput Architecture represents different types of buildings, which may broadly be classed either as secular or religious. The secular buildings are of various scales. These include temples, forts, stepwells, gardens, and palaces. The forts were specially built for defense and military purposes due to the Islamic invasions.

Rajput Architecture continued well into the 20th and 21st centuries, as the rulers of the princely states of British India commissioned vast palaces and other buildings, such as the Albert Hall Museum, Lalgarh Palace, and Umaid Bhawan Palace. These usually incorporated European styles as well, a practice which eventually led to the Indo-Saracenic style.

Buddhist architecture[edit]

Buddhist architecture developed in the Indian subcontinent. Three types of structures are associated with the religious architecture of early Buddhism: monasteries (viharas), places to venerate relics (stupas), and shrines or prayer halls (chaityas, also called chaitya grihas), which later came to be called temples in some places. The initial function of a stupa was the veneration and safe-guarding of the relics of Gautama Buddha. The earliest surviving example of a stupa is in Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh). In accordance with changes in religious practice, stupas were gradually incorporated into chaitya-grihas (prayer halls). These are exemplified by the complexes of the Ajanta Caves and the Ellora Caves (Maharashtra). The Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya in Bihar is another well-known example. The Pagoda is an evolution of the Indian stupa.

Mughal Empire[edit]

Humayun's Tomb, Delhi, the first fully developed Mughal imperial tomb, 1569–70 CE.[123]

The most famous Indo-Islamic style is Mughal architecture. Its most prominent examples are the series of imperial mausolea, which started with the pivotal Tomb of Humayun, but is best known for the Taj Mahal. It is known for features including monumental buildings surrounded by gardens on all four sides, and delicate ornamentation work, including pachin kari decorative work and jali-latticed screens.

Red Fort was the main residence of the Mughal emperors for nearly 200 years, until 1856.[124]

The Red Fort at Agra (1565–74) and the walled city of Fatehpur Sikri (1569–74)[125] are among the architectural achievements of this time—as is the Taj Mahal, built as a tomb for Queen Mumtaz Mahal by Shah Jahan (1628–58).[126] Employing the double dome, the recessed archway, the depiction of any animal or human—an essential part of the Indian tradition—was forbidden in places of worship under Islam. The Taj Mahal does contain tilework of plant ornaments.[1] The architecture during the Mughal Period, with its rulers being of Turco-Mongol origin, has shown a notable blend of Indian style combined with the Islamic. Taj Mahal in Agra, India is one of the wonders of the world.[127]

Regional styles[edit]

The Bahmani and Deccan sultanates in the Southern regions of the Indian subcontinent developed the Indo-Islamic architectural styles of the Deccan. The notable examples are Charminar, Mecca Masjid, Qutb Shahi Tombs, Madrasa Mahmud Gawan and Gol Gumbaz.[128]

Within the Indian subcontinent, the Bengal region developed a distinct regional style under the independent Bengal Sultanate. It incorporated influences from Persia, Byzantium and North India,[129] which were with blended indigenous Bengali elements, such as curved roofs, corner towers and complex terracotta ornamentation. One feature in the sultanate was the relative absence of minarets.[130] Many small and medium-sized medieval mosques, with multiple domes and artistic niche mihrabs, were constructed throughout the region.[130] The grand mosque of Bengal was the 14th century Adina Mosque, the largest mosque in the Indian subcontinent. Built of stone demolished from temples, it featured a monumental ribbed barrel vault over the central nave, the first such giant vault used anywhere in the subcontinent. The Sultanate style flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries. A provincial style influenced by North India evolved in Mughal Bengal during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Mughals also copied the Bengali do-chala roof tradition for mausoleums in North India.[131]

Maratha architecture[edit]

Shaniwarwada palace fort in Pune, it was the seat of the Peshwa rulers of the Maratha Empire until 1818.
Thanjavur Maratha palace is the official residence of the Bhonsle family.

The Marathas ruled over much of the Indian subcontinent from the mid-17th to the early 19th centuries.[132] Their religious activity took full shape and soon the skylines of Maharashtrian towns were dominated by rising temple spires. Old forms returned with this 'renewal' of Hindu architecture, infused by the Sultanate and later the Mughal traditions. The architecture of Maratha period was planned with courtyards suited to tropical climates. The Maratha Architecture is known for its simplicity, visible logic and austere aesthetic, made rich by beautiful detailing, rhythm, and repetition. The aisles and arcades, punctured by delicate niches, doors, and windows create space in which the articulation of open, semi-open and covered areas is effortless and enchanting. The materials used during those times for construction were thin bricks, lime mortar, lime plaster, wooden columns, stone bases, basalt stone flooring and brick pavements

Maharashtra is famous for its caves and rock-cut architectures. It is said that the varieties found in Maharashtra are wider than the caves and rock-cut architectures found in the rock-cut areas of Egypt, Assyria, Persia, and Greece. The Buddhist monks first started these caves in the 2nd century BC, in search of serene and peaceful environment for meditation, and they found these caves on the hillsides.

Sikh architecture[edit]

Harmandir Sahib is culturally the most significant place of worship for the Sikhs.
Akal Takht is one of five takhts (seats of power) of the Sikhs.

Sikh Architecture is a style of architecture that is characterized by values of progressiveness, exquisite intricacy, austere beauty and logical flowing lines. Due to its progressive style, it is constantly evolving into many newly developing branches with new contemporary styles. Although Sikh architecture was initially developed within Sikhism its style has been used in many non-religious buildings due to its beauty. 300 years ago, Sikh architecture was distinguished for its many curves and straight lines; Shri Keshgarh Sahib and the Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) are prime examples.

Sikh architecture is heavily influenced by Mughal and Rajput styles of architecture. The use of onion domes, frescoes, multi-foil arches, paired pilasters, in-lay work, are of Mughal origin while chattris, oriel windows and ornamented friezes, are a Rajput influence.[133]

European colonial architecture[edit]

As with the Mughals, under European colonial rule, architecture became an emblem of power, designed to endorse the occupying power. Numerous European countries invaded India and created architectural styles reflective of their ancestral and adopted homes. The European colonizers created architecture that symbolized their mission of conquest, dedicated to the state or religion.[134]

The British, French, Dutch and the Portuguese were the main European powers that colonized parts of India.[135][136]

British Colonial Era: 1615–1947[edit]

The Rashtrapati Bhavan was built for the British Viceroy. It now serves as the official residence of the President of India.
India Gate is a memorial to 70,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who died in the First World War
The Secretariat Building is located in the North Block.
Lutyens' Delhi,designed by Edwin Lutyens, houses all key government buildings of India.

The British arrived in 1615 and over the centuries, gradually overthrew the Maratha and Sikh empires and other small independent kingdoms. Britain was present in India for over three hundred years and their legacy still remains through some building and infrastructure that exist in their former colonies.[137] The major cities colonized during this period were Madras, Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Agra, Bankipore, Karachi, Nagpur, Bhopal and Hyderabad,[138][136] which saw the rise of Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture.

Rashtrapati Niwas at Shimla designed by Henry Irwin in the Jacobethan style and built in the late 19th century.

Black Town described in 1855 as "the minor streets, occupied by the natives are numerous, irregular and of various dimensions. Many of them are extremely narrow and ill-ventilated ... a hallow square, the rooms opening into a courtyard in the centre."[139] Garden houses were originally used as weekend houses for recreational use by the upper class British. Nonetheless, the garden house became ideal a full-time dwelling, deserting the fort in the 19th Century.[140]

Mumbai, (then known as Bombay) has some of the most prominent examples of British colonial architecture. This included the gothic revival (Victoria terminus, University of Mumbai, Rajabai Clock Tower, High Court, BMC Building), Indo-Saracenic (Prince of Wales Museum, Gateway of India, Taj Mahal Palace Hotel) and art deco (Eros Cinema, New India Assurance Building).[141]

Calcutta – Madras and Calcutta were similarly bordered by water and division of Indian in the north and British in the south. An Englishwoman noted in 1750 "the banks of the river are as one may say absolutely studded with elegant mansions called here as at Madras, garden houses." Esplanade-row is fronts the fort with lined palaces.[142][143] Indian villages in these areas consisted of clay and straw houses which later transformed into the metropolis of brick and stone.[144]

Madras High Court buildings are a prime example of Indo-Saracenic architecture, designed by JW Brassington under the guidance of British architect Henry Irwin.


Indo-Saracenic architecture evolved by combining Indian architectural features with European styles. Vincent Esch and George Wittet were pioneers in this style.

The Victoria Memorial in Calcutta is the most effective symbolism of British Empire, built as a monument in tribute to Queen Victoria's reign. The plan of the building consists of one large central part covered with a larger dome. Colonnades separate the two chambers. Each corner holds a smaller dome and is floored with marble plinth. The memorial stands on 26 hectares of garden surrounded by reflective pools.[145]


Examples of Neoclassical architecture in India include British Residency (1798) and Falaknuma Palace (1893) in Hyderabad, St Andrews Church in Madras (1821),[146] Raj Bhawan (1803) and Metcalfe Hall (1844) in Kolkata, and Bangalore Town Hall (1935) in Bangalore.

Art Deco[edit]

The Art Deco movement of the early 20th century quickly spread to large parts of the world. The Indian Institute of Architects, founded in Bombay in 1929, played a prominent role in propagating the movement. The New India Assurance Building, Eros Cinema and buildings along the Marine Drive in Mumbai are prime examples.[141]

Other Colonial powers[edit]

The Portuguese had colonized parts of India, including Goa and Mumbai. The Madh Fort, St. John the Baptist Church, and Castella de Aguada in Mumbai are remnants of Portuguese Colonial rule. The Churches and Convents of Goa, an ensemble of seven churches built by the Portuguese in Goa are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[148]

Republic of India (1947 CE–present)[edit]

In recent times there has been a movement of population from rural areas to urban centres of industry, leading to price rise in property in various cities of India.[153] Urban housing in India balances space constrictions and is aimed to serve the working class.[154] Growing awareness of ecology has influenced architecture in India during modern times.[155]

The Hall of Nations at Delhi, designed by Raj Rewal, and completed in 1972, was considered one of the finest examples of brutalist architecture in India.[156] However, despite several protests, it was demolished in 2017. It's demolition was considered a tragedy among the architectural community.

Climate responsive architecture has long been a feature of India's architecture but has been losing its significance as of late.[157] Indian architecture reflects its various socio-cultural sensibilities which vary from region to region.[157] Certain areas are traditionally held to be belonging to women.[157] Villages in India have features such as courtyards, loggias, terraces and balconies.[154] Calico, chintz, and palampore—of Indian origin—highlight the assimilation of Indian textiles in global interior design.[158] Roshandans, which are skylights-cum-ventilators, are a common feature in Indian homes, especially in North India.[159][160]

20th century[edit]

At the time of independence in 1947, India had only about 300 trained architects in a population of what was then 330 million, and only one training institution, the Indian Institute of Architects. Thus the first generation of Indian architects were educated abroad.

Panorama of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad designed by Louis Kahn, and completed in 1961.

Some early architects were traditionalists, such as Ganesh Deolalikar, whose design for the Supreme Court imitated the Lutyens-Baker buildings down to the last detail, and B.R. Manickam, who designed the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore reminiscent of Indo-Saracenic architecture.

In 1950, French architect Le Corbusier, a pioneer of modernist architecture, was commissioned by Jawaharlal Nehru to design the city of Chandigarh. His plan called for residential, commercial and industrial areas, along with parks and a transportation infrastructure. In the middle was the capitol, a complex of three government buildings – the Palace of Assembly, the High Court, and the Secretariat.[149] He also designed the Sanskar Kendra at Ahmedabad. Corbusier inspired the next generation of architects in India to work with modern, rather than revivalist styles.[152]

Other prominent examples of modernist architecture in India include IIM Ahmedabad by Louis Kahn (1961), IIT Delhi by Jugal Kishore Chodhury (1961), IIT Kanpur by Achyut Kanvinde (1963), IIM Bangalore by B. V. Doshi (1973), Lotus Temple by Fariborz Sahba (1986), and Jawahar Kala Kendra (1992) and Vidhan Bhawan Bhopal (1996) by Charles Correa.[152]

21st century[edit]

Skyscrapers built in the international style are becoming increasingly common in cities. This includes The 42 (2019) and The Imperial (2010) by Hafeez Contractor. Other projects of the 21st century include IIT Hyderabad by Christopher Benninger (2015).

Notable ongoing projects in India include the city of Amaravati, Kolkata Museum of Modern Art, Sardar Patel Stadium, World One, and Navi Mumbai Airport.


See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ After the Byzantine Hagia Sophia.