Ancient Indian Architecture – Part 01

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Ancient Indian Architecture

Indian architecture is as old as the history of the civilization. The earliest remains of recognizable building activity in the India dates back to the Indus Valley cities.
Among India’s ancient architectural remains, the most prominent are the temples, Chaityas, Viharas, Stupas and other religious structures. In ancient India, temple architecture of high standard developed in almost all regions. The distinct architectural style of temple construction in different parts was a result of geographical, climatic, ethnic, racial, historical and linguistic diversities.

The Rock-cut structures present the most spectacular piece of ancient Indian art specimen. Most of the rock-cut structures were related to various religious communities. In the beginning, remarkable Buddhist and Jain monuments were produced in areas such as Bihar in the east and Maharashtra in the west.
Chaityas and Viharas are those rock-cut structures that were cut out for Buddhist and Jain monks. Chaityas were places of worship whereas Viharas were residence of monks. The Rathas at Mahabalipuram are yet another great specimen of rock-cut architecture in ancient India.

Ancient architecture of India:

Here are few examples of the most beautiful and ingenious examples of Indian craftsmanship in architecture. Which are also declared as World Heritage Site by UNESCO

Ajanta caves

Ajanta Caves are one of the world’s greatest historical monument recognized by UNESCO.
Ajanta was discovered in 1819 A.D and were built as early as 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE.
The village of Ajanta is in the Sahayadri hills, about 99 kms from Aurangabad a few miles away in a mammoth horseshoe-formed rock, there are 30 caves overlooking a gorge,each forming a room in the hill and some with inner rooms.
All these have been carved out of solid rock with little more than a hammer and chisel and the faith and inscription of Buddhism. Here, for the Buddhist monks, the artisans excavated Chaityas (chapels) for prayer and Viharas (monasteries) where they lived and taught.
Many of the caves have the most exquisite detailed carvings on the walls, pillars and entrances as well as magnificent wall paintings.

Vijayanagara Empire

Vijayanagara Empire also known as Karnata Empire or Kingdom of Bisnegar was established in 1336 by Harihara- 1 and his brother Bukka Raya 1 of Sangama Dynasty.
Its ruins are located at present day Hampi in Karnataka. Four dynasties – Sangama, Saluva, Tuluva and Aravidu – ruled Vijayanagara from 1336 C.E. to 1646 C.E. It reached its climax in the end of 14th century.
The Vitthala Temple amongst these is the finest example of ornate architecture with gopurams (temple entrance), halls, sanctum sanctorum and sabha mandapas. The temple also has a market street right in the middle and a richly carved step well (Pushkarni).

Mahabodhi Temple

India has had a very rich and varied tradition of knowledge and learning and the most prominent one is of Lord Buddha.
A prince who left all the worldly pleasures behind to impart peace and end the innate suffering of humanity and its endless repetition due to rebirth, he first studied under vedic teachers, he found that the teachings were insufficient to attain his goal. he turned to the practice of asceticism but this too fell short of attaining his goal, so he turned to meditation.
Siddhartha meditated under a Peepul tree, a tree that would later be named as Bodhi tree and the region Bodhgaya.
In the sanctified town of Gaya, a holy structure that marks the path that the great ascetic took to gain divine enlightenment and became A Buddha. The temple was first constructed by the great emperor Ashoka, in 232 BCE and subsequent work was carried out by the rulers of Gupta dynasty, it is one of the earliest, pioneering examples of strong brick architecture that was to dominate the Indian building styles for years to come.
It is the devotion of the people that has contributed to making this stunning piece of architecture a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Konark Temple

Sun Temple at Konark, the namesake of the city itself is an tribute to the Sun God, In Sanskrit Kona (Corner) and Arka (Sun).
On the sparkling coasts of Bay of Bengal rests this edifice that honors the work of the masters of ancient times. The temple has an elaborate and intricate mammoth structure that depicts the chariot of the Sun God replete with 24 carved wheels, each of them 3 m in diameter, pulled by seven horses and guarded by two lions at the entrance that bravely crush elephants.
There are also three statues of the sun god that catch the rays of the sun precisely at dawn, noon and sunset !

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal Built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, it is one of the most grandiose gestures of love to ever be materialized on the face of earth.
The Taj Mahal was built in 1632 AD by over twenty thousand artisans who worked over 22 years! The white marble was bought in from Makrana in Rajasthan and was transported by elephants. In its days of glory the Taj Mahal was adorned with no less than 28 types of precious stones, brought in from as far as Tibet and Persia.
The Taj Mahal is in several lists of world wonders, the Taj Mahal is not only one of the largest tourist attractions in India, it is also the most well-known example of Mughal architecture. It is described as “the most famous tomb in the world,” it reflects the pride and intergrity of Indian Muslims as an example of the achievements of the age of Mughal rule, According to UNESCO, the tomb is recognized as “the jewel of Muslim art in India.”

Bhimbetka Shelters

The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka are located at the foothills of the Vindhyan mountains, in the central state of Madhya Pradesh in India. Discovered at late as 1957, the cave paintings represent a close interaction between man and nature. So advanced are the specifics of the paintings that the life of the men around the plains, that belonged to the copper age can still be clearly seen!
The site spread over 10 km in length and about 3 km in width has more than 700 rock shelters, of which over 400 have paintings. The earliest human activities are known from the numerous stone tools including handaxes, cleavers and also the pebble tools.
The landscape and the fauna surrounding the rock shelters is called Ratapani wildlife sanctuary in which the evidence of the trees and animals depicted in the paintings inside the shelter can still be found.

Ellora Caves

The Ellora caves is a sculpture’s beautiful blended expression of three Indian religions namely Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.
There are over 100 caves at the site, all excavated from the basalt cliff in Charanandri Hills, but only 34 are open to public
34 monasteries and temples are splendors where art and religion combines. each group represents deities and mythologies that were prevalent in the 1st millennium CE.
The twelve caves of the Buddhist group speaks about the teachings of Buddhism.
The ‘Cavern of the Ten Avatars’ is a majestic art piece constructed under the reign of Krishna I.
The ethnicity of Jain group is well reflected by the sanctuaries carved by the Digambara sect of this religion.
These gems of art are the immortal legends of the vast rock-cut architecture in India.
The elegance of Dravidian Shikhara, which is a flat roofed mandapa positioned over sixteen pillar, the gigantic Ravana figure reflecting the strength as the sculpture here shows him lifting Mt Kailasha is an epitome of the ancient Indian art.

Chola temples

The beautiful Chola temples are living tales of the vast empire established by Cholas in Thanjavur.
These magnificent temples built during the reign of Rajaraja were the epitome of the vast religious inclination of these rulers as the inscriptions and the chronicles on the wall sing about their opulent rule.
The entire temple carved in granite is believed to be inspired by the Pallava architecture.
The beautifully adorned 108 poses of the Bharata- Natyam on the walls reflects the rich culture during the chola dynasty. The beautiful series of carvings depicting the legend ruler Rajaraja conversing with his guru, is stunningly sculpted in rich colors which rewinds you to the time of king and queens.


Mahabalipuram is known for its world heritage site comprising of Group of monuments of the Pallava Period. Most of the monuments at Mahabalipuram are rock cut and monolithic. They denote the early Dravidian architecture and have infused the Buddhist elements of architecture.
The temple is most famous for its depictions of the chariots of the warriors of the Mahbharata, called Rathas all of which are in a specifically designated form, some rising to as high as two or three storeys. There is another remarkable sculpture that adorns the temple walls which is called the Descent of the Ganges. The intricacy and ingenuity of the carvings are an example of the skill of the craftsman who constructed these temples way back in the 7th Century!

Rani Ki Vav

Situated in Patan, Gujarat, Rani Ki Vav is an ancient step-well, that was built by Rani Udaymati in 11th Century AD, to worship hallowed waters of Saraswati River.
An exquisite example of subterranean architecture, Rani ki Vav is 64 meters long, 20 meters wide and 27 meters deep.
It runs downwards upto a length of seven storeys. All of these storeys are carved with more 500 sculptures which represent humans, nymphs, gods and the kings in varying forms of skill and intricacy, with the central theme being the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
When the Saraswati River changed course due to tectonic disturbances, it flooded the step-well that both beautified and preserved it further. At the centre of the well lies a carving of Sheshnayi Vishnu, that displays the mysterious and puzzling illusion of the well having been built of brick.

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