Of all its artistic achievements, architecture in India perhaps occupies pride of place. Indian architecture style has a long and rich history dating back thousands of years. The earliest buildings in India were made of wood and then brick. Few early buildings, especially those made of wood, survive. By about the 6th century BC, stone architecture was being created on the subcontinent. Indian architects soon became highly skilled in the carving and construction of stone buildings. By the 7th century AD, the use of stone had become popular for important buildings of great size. Numerous stone temples from the medieval period still stand in India. Most surviving examples of Indian architecture before the thirteenth century are religious structures. They consist mainly of Buddhist shrines, or stupas, and of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain temples. The residences of monks give some idea of how non-religious architecture must have appeared. However, surprisingly few examples of palaces and ordinary houses of the time have been found.
India has seen a variety of architectural styles throughout its history. Given below are a few of the most popular styles that have characterised Indian architecture from the ancient age to the modern.
Must Read: Indian Art and Culture
Temple Architecture Style
Temple architecture in India developed in almost all the regions during the ancient period. Across the country distinct architectural styles in temple construction can be seen. This differentiation in styles arise out of the geographical, climatic, racial, ethnic, linguistic, and historical diversities. Ancient Indian temples are classified into three broad categories, i.e. Nagara or the Northern style, Vesara or Mixed style, and Dravida or the Southern style. Apart from the broad classification, Kerala, Bengal, and the Himalayan areas also display their regional styles in temple architecture which are equally unique.
Nagara Architecture Style
The Nagara style is associated with the land between the Himalayas and Vindhyas and developed regionally in the Northern parts of India. In this style, the structure comprises two buildings, the main taller shrine and an adjoining mandapa which is short. The foremost difference between these two buildings is the shape of the shikhara. In the main shrine, a bell-shaped structure is added. The temples are mainly formed of four chambers. They are Garbhagriha, Jagmohan, Natyamandir, Bhogamandir.
Two distinguishing features of the Nagara style are its planning and elevation. The plan is square with a number of gradual projections in the middle of each side which imparts it a cruciform shape.
There are four projection types. When there is
- One projection on each side- ‘Triratha’
- Two projections — ‘Pancharatha’
- Three projections — ‘Saptharatha’
- Four projections —’Navaratha’
It exhibits Shikhara-A tower, in elevation which is progressively inclining to in a convex curve.
The projections in the plan are also carried upwards to the top of the Shikhara.
Originally in Nagara style, there were no pillars.
Kandariya Mahadev Temple in Madhya Pradesh is a classic example of Nagara style of temple architecture. It was also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986. Other examples are Sun Temple at Modhera, Lakshman Temple of Khajuraho, Sun Temple at Konark, Jagannath Temple at Puri, etc.
Vesara Architecture Style
Vesara style of Architecture evolved in the state of Karnataka in the region between the Krishna River and Vindhy during the medieval centuries. This style combines both the Dravida and the Nagara architectural styles. In such form of construction, the height of the temple towers reduced even though the numbers of tiers are retained. This is attained by decreasing the height of individual tiers. The semi-circular erections of the Buddhist chaityas are also copied in this style. In this style structures are finely finished, figures are much decorated and well-polished.
Examples: Dodda Bassapa Temple at Dambal, Ladkhan Temple at Ainhole and temples at the Chalukya capital Badami.
Dravidian Architecture Style
Dravida style advanced in the South, throughout the Chola Empire, between 9th—12th Century AD. It is seen in the region between the Krishna and Kaveri rivers. The two most important characteristics of Dravida temple architecture are that temples have more than 4 sides in the sanctum and the Tower or Vimana are pyramidals. In Dravida style temple is situated within an ambulatory hall. There are multiple storeys called Vimana, built above the Garbhagriha. Pillars and pilasters are massively used in this architectural style. Circular passageway around the Garbhagriha (chief deity’s room) to permit devotees to do Pradakshina. Mandapa is a pillared hall with decoratively carved pillars. The entire structure was encircled within a courtyard surrounded by high walls. Gopuram is the high gates in this courtyard which allow passage of people. The Kailasanatha temple is a major example of the Dravida Architecture.
Mughal Architecture Style
The Mughal architectural style is a unique blend of Islamic, Persian and Indian styles. Starting from the 16th century until the early 18th century, Mughal architecture flourished largely in the Indian subcontinent.
Some features common to many buildings are: Large bulbous onion domes, sometimes surrounded by four smaller domes.
- Use of white marble and red sandstone.
- Use of delicate ornamentation work, including pachin kari decorative work and jali-latticed screens.
- Monumental buildings surrounded by gardens on all four sides.
- Mosques with large courtyards.
- Persian and Arabic calligraphic inscriptions, including verses from the Quran.
- Large gateways leading up to the main building.
- Iwans on two or four sides.
- Use of decorative chhatris.
- Use of jalis and jharokhas.
Mughal architecture has also influenced later Indian architectural styles, including the Indo-Saracenic style of the British Raj, the Rajput style and the Sikh style.
Some of the finest structures in the country like Humayun’s Tomb, Akbar’s Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort at Delhi, Jama Masjid Delhi and the Taj Mahal at Agra are a few examples of Mughal architecture.
Kalinga Architecture Style
The Kalinga architecture is a style which flourished in the ancient Kalinga region. This form of style can be seen in the eastern Indian state of Odisha and also in northern parts of Andhra Pradesh. Kalinga architectural style consists of three different types of temples, i.e. Rekha Deula, Khakhara Deula and Pidha Deula. The diverse aspects of a typical Kalinga Temple consist of Architectural stipulations, historical connotations, Iconography. It also honours the custom, traditions, and connected legends.
Sun Temple at Konark is one of the finest examples of Kalinga Architecture. Built with sandstone and laterite, Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar marks the quintessence of Kalinga Architecture.
Sikh Architecture Style
This is one of those styles that have gained immense popularity across the globe. Sikh architecture is characterized by exquisite intricacy, values of progressiveness, austere beauty, and coherent flowing lines. This is one particular architectural form which managed to evolve due to its Modernism or progressive style. Sikh architecture is all about beautiful curves and straight lines; that is exactly what sets it apart from other architectural styles.
Sikh Architecture is heavily influenced by Mughal and Islamic styles. The onion dome, frescoes, in-lay work, and multifoil arches are Mughal influences, more specially from Shah Jahan’s period, whereas chattris, oriel windows, bracket-supported eaves at the string-course, and ornamented friezes are derived from elements of Rajput architecture.
Apart from religious buildings, Sikh architecture includes secular forts, bungas (residential places), palaces, and colleges. Shri Keshgarh Sahib and the Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) are prime examples. The most important of the complex of shrines at Sri Anandpur Sahib is Gurudwara Keshgarh Sahib, which stands on the place where the “Khalsa” was born.
Indian Vernacular Architecture Style
The vernacular style of architecture refers to the informal building of structures done by local builders using traditional building methods. This is one of the most widespread forms of architectural style not only in India but across the globe. The builders who construct such structures are unschooled in formal architectural design; their work typically reflects the rich multiplicity of our country’s climate, locally available construction materials, and the complex variations in local social customs and craftsmanship.
Cave Architecture Style
The cave architecture in India is believed to have started in the third century BC. Such structures were used by the Jain monks and the Buddhist typically as a place of residence and worship. Some examples of this type of cave structure are Chaityas and Viharas of Buddhists. Caves in India are usually linked with three different religions, namely Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism; hence they reflect the architectural difference in accordance with respective religions.
The earliest caves carved by Buddhist monks belonged to the Hinayana Buddhist path. In this style of architecture, which prevailed from 200 BC to 200 AD, only symbols of the Buddha were used. No personal icon was used. After this era, Mahayana Buddhism flourished in India and the cave temples made in this period showed the Buddha in many poses. The idol of Buddha became a major feature of all temples of this period. The caves at Karla — which boast the single largest cave hall with well-formed pillars and an ornate entrance in the world — are one of the best examples of Hinayana cave architecture. While there are figures of human beings, celestial beings and animals on the entrance arch and the walls and designs with animals on the rounded columns, which allow the devotees to circumambulate the stupa, the Buddha is represented only by the stupa. Bhaja caves, which lie on the opposite side of Karla, are in the same category. As the number of monks increased, the caves also increased. Some were only living quarters, with no embellishments and most were dug by the monks themselves.
Rock-Cut Architecture Style
The Rock-cut structures in India display the most impressive piece of ancient Indian art specimen. Rock-cut architecture is the art of creating a structure by carving it out of a solid natural rock. Most of the rock-cut structures in our country were related to different religious communities. India has more than 1,500 known rock-cut structures and many of these structures contain artworks which are of global importance, and most are festooned with wonderful stone carvings.
Ajanta, Ellora and Elaphanta caves in Maharashtra are finest examples of rock-cut architecture in India.
Colonial Architecture Style
The colonial architecture spanning about 150 to 200 years under the British Empire attained its golden age in the second half of the 19th century.
Characteristics of Colonial Architecture Style
The British viewed themselves as the successors to Mughals and used architectural style as a symbol of power.
The buildings they constructed in India were the direct reflection of their achievements in architecture back home.
The aim of colonial architecture under British rule was to build structures to house their people and their organisations to control Indian empire.
Under colonial architecture, new residential areas like Civil Lines and Cantonments came up in towns.
Colonial architectural style in British India witnessed another feature of rare usage of stone especially marble.
Later stone was replaced by brick as the prime material of British architecture in India; slate, machine-made tiles and steel girders came in vogue; galvanised iron revolutionised the Anglo-Indian roof.
Neo-classical Architecture Style
This architectural style is reflected in the late 19th-century structures in British India.
It is an imitation of the classical Greeko-Roman style of architecture.
It involved recreation, revival, re-adaptation of building architecture in ancient Greece and Rome.
The Mediterranean origins of this architecture were thought to be suitable for Indian tropical climate.
It was characterised by the construction of geometrical structures fronted with lofty pillars.
An early example of this style is Town Hall in Bombay.
Neo-Gothic Architecture Style
The neo-Gothic style was a revival of the early Gothic style of architecture which had its roots in buildings, especially churches, built in northern Europe during the medieval period.
It was characterised by high-pitched roofs, pointed arches and detailed decoration.
This style was adapted for building infrastructure in Bombay.
An impressive group of buildings facing the seafront including the Secretariat, University of Bombay and High Court were all built in this style.
Many Indian merchants gave money for some of these buildings. They were happy to adopt the neo-Gothic style since they believed it was progressive and would help make Bombay, a modern city.
The British invested a lot in the design and construction of railway stations in this style, an example of which is Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai.
Indo-Saracenic Revival Architecture Style
It was a hybrid of Indian and European style which developed in an early twentieth century.
Indo was shorthand for Hindu and Saracen was a term Europeans used to designate Muslim.
The Indo-Saracenic revival architecture drew elements from native Indo-Islamic architecture and combined it with Neo-Classical styles favoured in Victorian Britain.
The inspiration for this style was medieval buildings in India with their domes, chhatris, jalis, arches, etc.
Chepauk Palace situated in Chennai (erstwhile Madras) was the first Indo-Saracenic revival building.
The Gateway of India is the most famous example of this style. The industrialist Jamsetji Tata built the Taj Mahal Hotel in the similar style.
Art-Deco Architecture Style
Art Deco in India (and especially in Mumbai) evolved into a unique style that came to be called Deco-Saracenic.
Essentially, it was a combination of the Islamic and the Hindu architectural styles.
Art Deco is one of Mumbai s least noticed architectural styles, though Mumbai and its suburbs possibly have the largest number of Art Deco buildings in the world.
Deco details touch every architectural aspect flooring, wood panelling, railings, weather shades, verandahs, balconies and facades that are very airy and built in stepped-back style, etc.
The interiors have Victorian influences while the exterior was Indian.
Art Deco architecture in Mumbai developed during the 1930s and produced facades.
The Art Deco style is also extremely popular amongst various Cinema halls that sprung up in the early to mid-20th Century including Metro Cinema, Eros Cinema, etc.
Some examples of this style are – The Mahalakshmi Temple, Regal Cinema, The High Court building in Mumbai
Architects of Modern India
Contributions of Sir Edwin Lutyen and Sir Herbert Baker
The British government, experiencing a sense of crisis due to rising anti-imperialist wave in India, declared Delhi to be its new capital in 1911.
Thus the British leading architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker were invited to design the city of New Delhi and its important edifices.
The architects designed a monumental urban street complex that was essentially alien to Indian cities.
Their architectural style involved a fusion of classical European and Indian elements.
Lavish colonnades, open verandas, tall, slender windows, chhajjas (wide roof overhangs) and cornices jaalis (circular stone apertures) and chhatris (free-standing pavilions) were used at the same time as decorative elements from typical historic Indian architecture.
Lutyen designed Rashtrapati Bhavan, formerly the Viceroy s residence. It is built sandstone and has design features like canopies and jaali from Rajasthan.
Lutyen designed many other monuments in Delhi including India gate. In recognition of his contributions, New Delhi is also known as Lutyens Delhi.
Similarly, Baker, who came to India to work with Lutyen, had also designed many buildings in New Delhi such as Central Secretariat building, Parliament House, Bungalows of MPs, etc.
Architecture after Independence
On India getting independence from the British Empire in 1947, Indian architecture immediately extricated itself from European classical styles and rushed into modernism. Modern Indian architecture still honours and upholds the traditions of India, but the architectural form works to better meet the needs of modern-day society Modern Indian architecture reflects its various socio-cultural sensibilities which vary from region to region.
Characteristics of Post-independence Architecture
Today we see a traditional character in Indian architecture, but with modern form and style.
- Buildings are less ornate and more utilitarian and expressive in form.
- Building materials used in construction are a basic and locally available but cutting edge. The use of steel and glass to erect innovative building forms is very popular and striking in the landscape.
- Urban centres in India are booming, bringing along with it a rise in population and property demand.
- High-rise buildings have also become very common in these dense urban areas where space must be maximized.
- Another modern characteristic in India is building of structures which are more responsive to its ecology and climate.
Also, many architects in India including Laurie Baker and Charles Correa have concerned themselves with building low-cost housing for poor households.
- He was a Switzerland-born French architect
- His largest and most ambitious project was the design of Chandigarh. It was one of the early planned cities in post-independent India. The master plan for Chandigarh was prepared by Le Cor- busier. Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex, designed by Corbusier was declared by UNESCO as World Heritage in 2016.
- Le Corbusier’s design called for the use of raw concrete, whose surface not smoothed or polished and which showed the marks of the forms in which it dried.
Not only his radical reimagination of urban life left its imprint all over the world, but also the architectural work of Le Corbusier is an outstanding contribution to the Modern Movement in Indian architecture.
Post-1947, Indian architecture was at a standstill in terms of progression; there was no unique identity being formed. However, when the Indian Punjab government took on world-famous architect Le Corbusier to design the city of Chandigarh, an architectural breakthrough began.
Architects working in India began to draw inspiration in the years following Le Corbusier’s work, and thus began a more rapid evolution of modern architecture.
B V Doshi
He is considered an important figure of South Asian architecture and noted for his unfathomable contributions to the evolution of architectural discourse in India.
He contributed significantly in the development of modern Indian architecture.
In his initial years, he worked for Le Corbusier in his projects.
His noted works include Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, Amdavad ni Gufa and Tagore Hall in Ahmadabad etc.
He was a Secunderabad-born Indian architect
Correa was a major figure in contemporary Indian architecture. With his extraordinary and inspiring designs, he played a pivotal role in the creation of post-independence Indian architecture.
He is known for his adaptation of Modernist tenets to local climates and building styles.
In the realm of urban planning, he is particularly noted for his sensitivity to the needs of the urban poor and for his use of traditional methods and materials.
Correa’s work in India shows a careful fusion of local vernacular tradition with a modernist approach
Correa’s urban planning projects and land use planning present a solution to third world problems and try to go beyond that.
His famous works in India include Mahatma Gandhi Memorial in Ahmedabad, the Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur, the planning of Navi Mumbai etc.
He was a British-born Indian architect. He became an Indian citizen in 1989.
He was Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi in his life and work.
Due to his social and humanitarian efforts to bring architecture and design to the common man, his belief in simplicity in design and in life, he has been called the “Gandhi of architecture.”
His work follows economical, ecological, and sustainable criteria in building and is devoted to people in lower-income groups.
He is known for his initiatives in cost-effective energy-efficient architecture and designs that maximized space, ventilation, and light.
He promoted the revival of regional building practices and use of local materials.
He was a pioneer of sustainable architecture as well as organic architecture.
Hafeez Contractor was born in Mumbai in a Parsi family. He earned his graduate diploma in architecture from the University of Mumbai in 1975 and completed his graduation and MS in Architecture from Columbia University, New York City on a Tata scholarship. He designed The Imperial I and II, the tallest buildings in India.