Architecture has played an important role in the Indian culture. These artworks render creativity and artwork and also portray the culture, hard work, and religion. Ancient Indian architecture can be divided among the different religions and civilizations. These architectural achievements are now one of the main attractions which attract tourists to India from all over the world.
Harappan Architecture (1500BC- 230BC)
Harappans, Indus Valley Civilization, believed in a “utilitarian” form of architecture rather than “aesthetic”. They believed in simple architecture which could be utilized in everyday life and which also served a purpose while it remained simple whereas the latter built works of beauty which were usually built to impress.
A common Harappan house consisted of two floors made of baked bricks and the center, which was courtyard, was enclosed on the four sides by rooms. These houses were constructed in a way that the windows and doors were opposite to the street. The reason why they did this is unknown, but their cities were well planned; they had streets and a covered system of sewage. Between the time of the Harappan Civilization and the Mauryan Empire, texts and writings found by archeologists talk about great architectural structures and palaces. The reason why is yet unknown, but there are two possible possibilities: either archeologists haven’t come across the correct site, or the great structures were made of perishable goods such as wood or clay. During this time period, stone wasn’t widely available whereas wood was, so this had led archeologists to believe that over the course of time, the wood/clay structures have discinigrated due to undesirable conditions.
The earliest evidence/ traces of the Mauryan Empire come from a pillared hall which was discovered from Ashoka’s palace in Patna. The pillars were made of stone, and archeologists beganto see the advancement in the Indian architecture. Archeologists believed that the Mauryan architecture had been influenced by foreign influences. They believed that he either brought Persian craftsmen, or went abroad and learned the techniques used.
These pillars were skillfully carved and designed, while the lower part of the pillar is said to be depicting a Persian bell (which was common throughout Persia). Indian fanatic archeologists believe that Indian architecture was deigned and skillfully crafted by Indian Architects alone because they believe that Indians are capable of creating wonderful architecture without the help or influence of foreign techniques. Indian fanatic archeologists believe that the lower half of this pillar depicts an inverted lotus rather than a Persian bell.
Each pillar is marked with a 24 spoke wheel (the Indian chakra) which represents the wheel of life by Ashoka; and now, the 24 spoke wheel is used as an emblem on the Indian flag. Due to the chakra which is carved into each pillar, archeologists are led to believe that the pillars were made by Indian architects while it could have also been made by Persian architects with the chakra carved onto each pillar as a trademark of king Ashoka.
The finishing shine can still be seen on the pillars, as well as the inscriptions written in Pali and Prakrit explaining why it was erected, the date, and other important information.
As Buddhism spread throughout India and other parts of Asia, the architecture involved included a unique style of architecture which portrayed teachings of Buddha. The Buddhist form of architecture was patronized and carried out by King Ashoka, and he was responsible for the construction of many stupas which are sacred mounds made of brick which were built commemorative of Buddha. He also constructed many stone pillars symbolizing his creed; the most famous of these pillars is at Saranath.
When the Mauryan Empire discinigrated after Buddha’s death, the Sungas and Andhras (both bhramanical dynasty’s) treated Buddhists with toleration which lead to a architectural movement. This movement involved the enlarging of the stupas
At about the same time that the Buddhist communities were elaborating Asoka’s stupas, an entirely different form of architecture was developing in western India. These structures were not, however, built of stone or wood, but carved out of living rock. It is therefore unfortunate that these structures are now referred to as “caves”, as though they were natural grottoes in the mountainside, since they are actually large and well planned temples. Some of the finest specimens of this rock cut architecture are to be seen at Ajanta.
Under the reign of the 8th century ruler Lalitaditya, the central Kashmir valley became an important artistic site. A magnificent Surya temple was constructed at Martand. Though now ruined, this remains the masterpiece of Kashmiri architecture. Mahayana Buddhism flourished in the arid valleys of Ladakh, beyond the first high range of the Himalayas. The monasteries at Alchi, dating from the 11th century, have beautiful paintings depicting the Mahayana pantheon. Cave temples were constructed in the 13th to 15th centuries at Saspol and Karsha. The monasteries at Leh and Phiyang continue to be renovated even today, and the recent resurgence of Indian Buddhism, associated not only with the conversion of lower-caste Hindus to Buddhism under the influence of Ambedkar but with the establishment of Tibetan Buddhist communities, particularly in north India, has introduced a fresh chapter in the history of Buddhist architecture in India.
Bricks were hardly used in Jain architecture, and Jain architecture consisted of rock cut and carved architecture which was believed to have been adopted by the Buddhist temples. Jains discovered the concept of ‘mountains of immorality’. They advanced to deviate from the Buddhists and Hindus to build their own temples. While Hindus and Buddhists built temples, Jains built ‘temple cities’ on hills.
Compared to Hindu temples, Jains built only a few which were spaced out whereas there were many Hindu temples closely together. While the other religions and civilizations tore down decaying temples and built new ones in its place, Jain temples had a militant atmosphere around them possibly due to the plunderers who might have carried away with riches. Jain temples were surrounded by embattled walls, and the temples were divided into wards similar to that of fortified cities which were able to oppose armed assault. Each ward of the Jain temples were guarded by massive bastions at the ends with a fortified gateway at the main entrance, which has enabled Jain temples to be the richest temples in the world.
The temples were the results of sporadic, irregular, construction rather than being built on a specific plan. As the level of architecture increased, the magnificence increased. The exits lead to a series of columned chambers which lead into the central halls of the temple. The columns, however, served no apparent purpose. There were temples within a temple; they were divided into a range of shrines and chapels with columns which acted as a maze and also protected the plunders within. The Ranakpur Temple in Rajasthan is one of the greatest temples of the Jains; built with white marble and surrounded/supported by 1,444 finely carved columns which lead to the main chamber.