Ancient Indian architecture
Ancient Indian architecture is the architecture of the Indian subcontinent from the Indian Bronze Age to around 800 CE. By this endpoint Buddhism in India had greatly declined, and Hinduism was predominant, and religious and secular building styles had taken on forms, with great regional variation, which they largely retained until and beyond the great changes brought about by the arrival of first Islam, and then Europeans.
Much early Indian architecture was in wood, which has almost always decayed or burnt, or brick, which has often been taken away for re-use. The large amount of Indian rock-cut architecture, essentially beginning around 250 BCE, is therefore especially important, as much of it clearly adapts forms from contemporary constructed buildings of which no examples remain. There are also a number of important sites where the floor-plan has survived to be excavated, but the upper parts of structures have vanished.
In the Bronze Age the first cities emerged in the Indus Valley Civilization. Archaeology has unearthed urbanization phase from early Harappan in Kalibangan to the late Harappan phase when urbanization declined but was preserved in few pockets. The urbanization in the Gangetic plains began as early as 1200 BC with the emergence of fortified cities and appearance of Northern Black polished ware."[a] The Mahajanapada period was characterized by Indian coins and use of stone in the Indian architecture. The Mauryan period is considered as the beginning of the classical period of Indian architecture. Nagara and Dravidian architectural styles developed in the early medieval period with the rise of Hindu revivalism and predominant role of Hindu temple architecture in the Indian Subcontinent.
Bronze age period (3300 BCE–1300 BCE)Edit
Period (3300 BCE - 1900 BCE)Edit
Early Harappan phaseEdit
Although the urban phase of Harappa has been dated back 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 materialEdit
While in contemporary Bronze Age cultures outside India sun-dried mud bricks were the dominant building material, the Indus Valley civilization preferred to use fired "terracotta" brick instead. A prominent feature of Harappan architecture was also the first use anywhere in the world of English bond in building with bricks. This type of bonding utilized alternate headers and stretchers which is a stronger method of construction. Clay was usually used as cementing material but where better strength was needed, such as for the drains, lime and gypsum mortar was preferred instead. In architecture such as the Great Bath, bitumen was used for waterproofing. The Use of bitumen has been attested as early as the Mehrgarh period, one of the earliest uses in the world as well. The remarkable vertical alignment of the building indicates the use of a Plumb line. The bricks were produced in a standardized ratio of 4:2:1, found throughout the Indus Valley Civilization.
Harappan seals show architecture besides horned deities which has been translated as either temples, shrines or houses with an upward curving roof with fish tail endings on four corners. The seals indicate formal places of worship. The excavation at Banawali in present day Haryana has also yielded an Apsidal plan which has been interpreted as a temple.
Late Harappan periodEdit
After the collapse of the mature Harappan urban period, some cities still remained urban and inhabited. Sites like Bet Dwarka in Gujarat, Kudwala (38.1 hectares) 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 is believed to have been damaged and submerged following a sea storm.
Second Urbanization period (1025 BCE–320 BCE)Edit
A stone palace predating the Mauryan period has 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.
Ghoshitaram monastery in Kosambi dating back to 6th-century BCE. 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.
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 intense use of wooden architecture, are important features of the architecture during this period. 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. Geopolitically, the Achaemenid Empire started to occupy the northwestern part of the subcontinent from c, 518 BCE.
Rajgir, old city walls 6th century BCE.
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. 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.
Pataliputra Voussoir ArchEdit
A granite stone fragment of an arch, known as Pataliputra Voussoir 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. The wedge shaped stone with indentation has mauryan polish on two sides and was suspended vertically.
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. Many believe it to be the site in which Buddha spent some time before his death, and where the first Buddhist council was held after the Buddha died (paranirvana). 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.
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. 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. Other halls were then constructed, mostly long, oblong building as well, which remind of the construction of several of the Barabar caves. The Buddha is said to have been treated once in the monastery, after having been injured by Devadatta.
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. The relics of the Buddha were spread between eight stupas, in Rajagriha, Vaishali, Kapilavastu, Allakappa, Ramagrama, Pava, Kushinagar, and Vethapida. The Piprahwa stupa also seems to have been one of the first to be built. Guard rails—consisting of posts, crossbars, and a coping—became a feature of safety surrounding a stupa. 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". This practice would lead to the decoration of the stupas with stone sculptures of flower garlands in the Classical period.
Saurashtra Janapada coins from the stratigraphic phase I dated 600-300 BC provide evidence of elaborate Apsidal Chaitya temples along with domed temples (or stupa), square, cruciform and octagonal temple plans, these coins also provide one of the first representations of Hindu pantheon for instance Gaja Lakshmi etc. Elliptical Hindu temples with mandapa from Nagari, Chittorgarh and Vidisha near Heliodorus pillar have been dated to 4th century BC or 350-300 BC.
Classical period (320 BCE–550 CE)Edit
Monumental stone architectureEdit
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 integrating selected elements of the new influences.
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.
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. 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." 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). 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".
Mauryan polished stone pillar from Pataliputra.
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. 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.
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. 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. As well as royal patronage, 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.
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. The building of rock-cut caves would revive briefly in the 5th century CE, with the magnificent achievements of Ajanta and Ellora, before finally subsiding as Hinduism replaced Buddhism in the sub-continent, and stand-alone temples became more prevalent.
Rock-cut architecture also developed with the apparition of stepwells in India, dating from 200–400 CE. Subsequently, the construction of wells at Dhank (550–625 CE) and stepped ponds at Bhinmal (850–950 CE) took place.
Chitharal Jain Monuments, 1st century BCE.
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 for the elevation of the toranas (1st century BCE/CE) and then Amaravati (1st–2nd century CE). 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) 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. The Indian gateway arches, the torana, reached East Asia with the spread of Buddhism. Some scholars hold that torii derives from the torana gates at the Buddhist historic site of Sanchi (3rd century BCE – 11th century CE).
Temples—built on elliptical, circular, quadrilateral, or apsidal plans—were initially constructed using brick and timber. Some temples of timber with wattle-and-daub may have preceded them, but none remain to this day.
Circular dome templesEdit
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. It was built during the time of Ashoka, and near it were found two of Ashoka's Minor Rock Edicts. 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. 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. These circular-type temples were also found in later rock-hewn caves such as Tulja Caves or Guntupalli.
Remains of the circular Bairat Temple, c. 250 BCE. A stupa was located in the center.
Relief of a circular temple, Bharhut, c. 100 BCE.
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. 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. 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. A freestanding apsidal temple remains to this day, although in a modified form, in the Trivikrama Temple in Ter, Maharashtra.
Chejarla apsidal temple, also later converted to Hinduism.
Truncated pyramidal templesEdit
The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya is one of the earliest examples of Truncated Pyramidal temples with niches containing Buddha images. The structure is crowned by the shape of an hemispherical stupa topped by finials, forming a logical elongation of the temple.
Although the current structure of the Mahabdhodi Temple dates to the Gupta period (5th century CE), the "Plaque of Mahabodhi 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. This is confirmed by archaeological excavations in Bodh Gaya.
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. This design was very influential in the development of later Hindu temples.
Square prostyle templesEdit
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 . The interior and three sides of the exterior are plain and undecorated but the front and the pillars are elegantly carved, 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.
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, 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.
The early evidence of Shikhara type domical crowing structure has been noted in the palatial architecture of Kausambi dated to 1st-2nd century CE. 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.
Theater and stadiumEdit
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.
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 an eleven feet wide platform. The area of arena was 309 X 259 feet and 15 feet deep. The entire construction was done using burnt brick.
Nalrajar Garh fortification wall ruins dating back to 5th-century CE. 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. Many fortified cities like Nalrajar Garh, Bhitagarh had risen in Northeastern India owing to trade activities with southeastern China.
End of the Classical periodEdit
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. The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang, writing in 630 CE, explained that Mihirakula ordered the destruction of Buddhism and the expulsion of monks. He reported that Buddhism had drastically declined, and that most of the monasteries were deserted and left in ruins.
Although only spanning a few decades, the invasions had long-term effects on India, and in a sense brought an end to Classical India. Soon after the invasions, the Gupta Empire, already weakened by these invasions and the rise of local rulers, ended as well. Following the invasions, northern India was left in disarray, with numerous smaller Indian powers emerging after the crumbling of the Guptas.
Early Middle Ages (550 CE–1200 CE)Edit
Hindu temple architecture in the Indian subcontinent continued to develop in North India and South India. Nagara style developed in North India where a Hindu temple incorporated Shikhara as its predominant architectural element whereas in southern India Vimana was used instead. The Hindu temple architecture was characterized by the use of stone as the dominant building material compared to the earlier period in which the burnt bricks were used instead.
Jaisalmer Chhatri, 12th century CE.
Ancient Indian archesEdit
Indian architecture has utilized mix of false and true arches in its architecture.
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.
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. 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". Harle describes the true arch as "not unknown, but almost never employed by Hindu builders", and its use as "rare, but widely dispersed".
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:
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. The earliest arch appeared in South Asia as a barrel vault in the Late Harappan Cemetary H culture dated 1900 BC-1300 BC which formed the roof of the metal working furnance, the discovery was made by Vats in 1940 during excavation at Harappa. 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, or 1st - 2nd century CE when it first appeared in Kausambi palace architecture from Kushana period. 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. 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. Moreover, pointed arches vaulted entrances have been noted in Bhitargaon temple and Kausambi Palace architecture as well.
Semicircular arch, Bhitargaon temple, 4th-5th century CE (heavily reconstructed).
Teli ka Mandir gate with particular Rajput style arch, 8th century CE.
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.
Agra fort used the same technique for fortification walls.
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