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Architecture of India

WARNING: Terrorist threats continue in India, please read this travel warning before going!

Most early Indian architecture was made of wood or brick and little remains today from before the 600s AD. Despite this, India has an incredibly long history of stone buildings and, due to the country's size, still boasts one of the world's most impressive lists of architectural feats.

Of the few remaining structures from before the 600s AD, most are stupas (funerary monuments) or other Buddhist monuments, including those in Gandhara and Sind. Other structures from this time are the brick Bhitargoan and the Deogarh temples, from which numerous Hindu temples copied. Also in these early years caves were common dwellings and religious gathering places; those in Ajanta are the best, although there is cave architecture throughout western India.

In the 600s stone structures were better constructed and from this time on there are more buildings that are still standing today. Among these early stone buildings, the best are from the 800-1000s. Most of these temples in the north share a common design, while those in the south generally follow a different pattern.

Indian Architecture - Jama Masjid in Srinagar
Mosque in Kashmir

Some of the best examples of the northern style can be found in the city of Bhuvanesvara and Khajuraho. At this same time in Rajasthan built a huge number of temples, again similar in style, but the region gained a slight distinction architecturally as tourists love to flock here to view some of these structures. Similar to the temples in Rajasthan are the temples in Gujarat.

Oddly, the northern style during this time also snuck into the south as examples exist in Pattadkal in the Karnataka province. Also during this time, various regions, most commonly in the mountains developed either different styles or simply build nothing that lasted to the modern day.

During this same time (800s-1000s) a different style (the Dravidian Style) developed in the south, with again numerous regions adopting varying styles or bypassing great architectural monuments altogether at this time. The center of this movement was in Tamil Nadu and peaked under the Pallava rulers (about 650-900). Among the better examples from larger time period are the structures in Mahabalipuram and the Brhadisvara or Rajarajesvara Temple in Thanjavur.

Indian Architecture - Delhi's Red Fort
Red Fort in Delhi

Islamic influence arrived to India early, but didn't make any true impact on the country's architecture until the late 1100s. The Muslims build numerous monuments, but these are primarily located in the country's north, where the Islamic population primarily lived.

The greatest early Islamic buildings were built in Delhi, including Qutb Minar, however over time the monuments expanded and developed to form a new architectural style altogether. During this period a number of mosques were also built throughout the north, including many in West Bengal, including the Atala Masjid (1377-1408), many in Ahmadabad, including the Jami Masjid, and many continued to be built in Delhi, including Jama Masjid.

During this same time, numerous Hindu structures continued to be built, again primarily temples. Perhaps the most impressive of these being the city of Hampi (1300-1500s) in the south, which served as one of the last Hindu kingdoms before the Muslims took over the entire region.

Indian Architecture - Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal

The Muslims though did eventually take the region under the Mughal rulers, who later proved to be some of the best designers and architects the world has ever seen based upon their jewel, the Taj Mahal.

Before the Taj Mahal though, the Mughals built Humayun's Tomb (late 1500s) in Delhi, Agra Fort (1565-1574), Delhi Fort (1639-1648), and the I'timah-ud-Dawla (or the "mini Taj"; 1628-1658) in Agra. Finally, the Taj Mahal (1632-1649), which was built as a mausoleum for Shan Jahan's wife, Queen Mumtaz Mahal. Most of these great monuments were built under the leadership of either Akbar or Shan Jahan. From the Taj Mahal, which is arguably the finest building ever constructed, the architecture had only one direction to go and that was down; from this point there was a slow decline in monumental architecture in India under the Muslim rulers.

At this same time, in the 1500s and later the Europeans had a strong influence on India's architecture. The Portuguese colonized Goa and the city received numerous European-styled buildings, most particularly in the Baroque style, including the Church of Bom Jesus (1594-1605).

Indian Architecture - British-influenced Bangalore
Bangalore's Government Building

During the 1700s and 1800s neo-Classicism was introduced by the British and numerous buildings combined European classical architecture with local styles and tastes. These buildings are best represented with government buildings in large cities, including Calcutta, Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore.

Into the modern age, outside influence has continued to alter Indian architecture. Among the oddest of these is the city of Chandigarh, which was primarily designed by a Swiss architect. More standard, every large city now has multiple skyscrapers modeled after or by European and American architects. Some of these modern designs have also been altered to fit the local tastes, such as the Lotus Temple in Delhi.

This page was last updated: March, 2013