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North India Architecture and Sculpture

Indian Architecture is as ancient as the history of civilization. The remains of the buildings in India belongs to the third millennium in the Indus Valley cities. These cities are among the man’s earliest attempts to built the urban environment. "The Great Baths of Mohenjodaro" are some of the significant examples of architecture. Later, the Vedic period was marked by the unspecified pastoral settlements of mud, thatch, bamboo and timber in the valleys of Ganga and Saraswati. Even though the examples of perishable timber structures of that period are not available, but the facts are based on evidences left by successive Buddhist sculptures of the 2nd and 3rd century BC. These sculptures depict the episodes from the life of Buddha, in the architectural setting of the Vedic period. The story of Indian art begins with Harappan culture. The Harappans were great builders, skilled in town planning. The houses with the various

North India Temple Architecture

facilities, the granaries, the Great Bath, show how skilful and efficient the people were in construction. The terracotta and stone images, the bronze figure of the dancing girl and the artistic seals reveal the exquisite workmanship of the artists.

The Hindu Temples
The Hindu Temples are the most unique temples among the India’s prehistoric monuments. The Indian temples were built mostly at the places which could be approached by a large number of people, like at centers of pilgrimage, near a river, lake or a man-made tank as the water was needed by the worshippers for ablutions. The symbolic meaning can be viewed in the architecture of the temple with its three elements, namely, the base, the walls and the spire, which correspond to Earth, Space and Heaven. In other words, it represents the Feet, the Body and the Head of the Cosmic Man. The temple is regarded as the Universe in microcosm where devotees make offerings to the god enshrined within the temple. These temples, either large or small, can be easily recognized by the typical pyramidal spire, which can be easily seen in the temples of South India. Kanchipuram, Madurai, Srirangam, Rameshwaram are the famous pilgrimage centres in the South India. In the North, these temples can be compared only with the Hindu temples situated in Varanasi, one of the famous ancient and holiest city of the Hindus. The Hindu temples were destroyed by the Muslim invaders, and presently Varanasi has hardly any monuments left that were built in the ancient past. The occurrence of floods also added to the devastation. Some of the famous temples which have survived in North India are located in isolated places like the Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, and Bhubhaneshwar and Konark in Orissa.


The Stupas
The religion Buddhism became the principal religion of India around the 2nd to 3rd century BC. In this era, stone was also introduced for the first time in Indian art and architecture. The Buddhist Stupas are supposed to be much older than the Hindu temples. The Stupas are mound-shaped and preserve the relics either of the Buddha or of a great figure of the Buddhist church. Since the Stupas are identified with the subtle body of the Buddha, so they are comparable to a temple. In the

North India Stupas

initial stage, the stupa evolved into an elaborate structure with beautiful sculpture enhancing the encircling balustrades and the gateways. The Stupa at Sanchi is one of the finest and impressive example of the sculptures, that belongs to the 3rd century BC. Incidents from the life of Buddha are illustrated together with the various deities of the folk religion. Another artistic achievement of this period is the famous stupa at Sanchi. In every stupa there was a small camber in which a casket with relics of the Buddha or the Buddhist monks were placed. The surface of the stupa was generally built of bricks with a thick layer of plaster. The stupa was crowned by an umbrella of stone. The monument was surrounded by a fence with a path provided for Pradakshina (circumambulation). The original stupas were enlarged and beautified from time to time. The Sanchi stupa which still stands intact is a well-preserved and splendid monument. A number of lesser stupas and other buildings such as monasteries and rest-houses are found in and around the main stupa. The stupa at Sanchi as it stands today has stone railings and gateways around it. These were added later after the Mauryas. The gateways are a very striking feature. There are four gateways at the four cardinal points and they contain very lively and beautifully carved panels. In these panels are depicted events from the life of the Buddha and details from the Jataka stories. They also depict a landscape of trees and floral designs, groups of animals and birds, beautiful figures of yakshas and yakshinis, and men and women. Thus the Sanchi reliefs present the story of the Buddha and provide glimpses into Indian life through clear, simple and dramatic scenes. The Buddha is depicted in these panels not through his image but through the use of various symbols; for example, the horse represents his ‘renunciation’, the ‘boddhi’ tree his enlightenment.

Mauryan Sculpture
The ancient remains of the Indus valley culture discovered in India, are those of the Mauryan period which existed between 322-185 BC. The best specimen of the Mauryan stone sculpture, which can be seen in many museums of India, had a rare feeling for monumental form and royal power. The sculpture has an exquisite finish and a brilliant polish that has not lost its shine even after many years of existence. Among Mauryan sculptures is the Lion Capital in the Sarnath Museum which has been adopted as the State seal of India. Numerous Several Buddhist as well as Jain stupas were also built at Mathura during the rule of the Kushan from 1st-2nd century. The Mauryan period was a period of economic prosperity, important development in religious thinking and practice and also one of remarkable artistic achievements. Megasthenes, who came to India as the ambassador of the Greek ruler Seleucus, described the palace of Chandragupta Maurya in glowing terms. It was large and luxurious and built of carver wood. The earliest stone buildings were based on wooden models. The monolithic pillars of Ashoka on which are inscribed his famous edicts are the great monuments of the Mauryan age. Some scholars trace these pillars to the influence of Persia. The most striking feature of these pillars is the finely carved capital with magnificent animal figures. We are all familiar with Sarnath lion capital which forms part of India’s National Emblem. The Rampurva Bull capital is one of the best specimens of animal sculpture. The polish and smoothness of these pillars are amazing.

Gandhara and Mathura Schools of Art

The next important stage in the growth of art is associated with the name of Gandhara in the north-west. By this time the worship of the image of Buddha had become common. After the Greek invasions and during the period of the Kushanas, many artists from West Asia had settled down in the north – west of India. They were deeply influenced by the Graeco-Roaman art. Mahayana Buddhism encouraged image worship. The Kushana kings, particularly Kanishaka, encouraged the Gandhara artists to sculpture themes from Buddha’s life and the Jatakas. The distinctive school of art which grew here is called the Gandhara school of art. A large number of the images of the Buddha and the Bodhisattavas were produced.

Another school of art to develop in the early centuries of the Christian era is that of Mathura. From the beginning of the Christian era, Mathura became an important center of artistic activities and the figures of the Buddha and the Bodhisattavas were produced there. The fine qualities of indigenous art traditions were preserved and improved upon by the Mathura sculptors. The images produced here became the models for the succeeding generations of artists. This was also the period of the growth of art in developed under the Satavahana kings. Like the stupa at Sanchi, there was a great stupa in Amaravati in the lower Godavari valley. The stupa has disappeared but many of its fine pieces are still intact in various museums. Many bas-relief medallions and paneled friezes decorated the stupa. These, like the stupa at Sanchi, depict events from the life of the Buddha and the Jataka stories. One of these depicts the story of the taming of the elephant by the Buddha. A rogue-elephant was let loose to kill the Buddha while he was walking along the streets of Rajagriha. The panel shows the elephant rushing through the streets, the panic it caused, the reactions of men and women and finally the elephant kneeling before the Buddha. The climax, is portrayed subtly and Pallavas of the Deccan and southern India added magnificent monuments, both caves and structural temples.


North Indian Temples
As in southern India, several styles of temple architecture developed in northern India. Some of the most magnificent temples were built in Orissa. The Lingaraja temple of Bhubaneswar is located in an extensive area, with a number of subsidiary shrines. The spire of the Lingaraja temple is about 40 meters high and is very impressive. The immense spire is curved and has a rounded top. Though there are many similarities between these and the temples in the south, the differences in style are striking. The sun temple in Konarak, popularly known as the ‘black pagoda’, perhaps because of the black stone used, is unique in design. Since it is dedicated to the sun god, the whole temple is designed as a chariot with twelve massive wheels drawn by seven horses. Each wheel with its rich carvings is a masterpiece. The human and animal figures carved out in black stone are most

North India Temples

lifelike. The poses of dancing apsaras depicted in sculptures are studied by dancers even today and are brought alive by them in their performances. The theme of several of these sculptures is amorous. The Chandella rulers of central India built the great temples of Khajuraho. The built the great temples of Khajuraho. The shikhara of these temples is graceful and refined and is adorned with sculptures. The style of the shikhara varies from that of the others. The sculptures in Konarak and Khajuraho are some of the finest in India. They are full of life and vitality. The Jain temples at Mount Abu are the finest monuments of the Solanki kings of Gujarat who were great patrons of art. The prosperous trade brought in wealth that was used for building Hindu and Jain temples. The Abu temples are very attractive because of the delicate and intricate carvings in white marble.

Architecture under the Sultanat
The Turkish rulers utilized the services of the local designers and craftsmen who were among the most skilful in the world. The new fusion that started to take place avoided the extreme simplicity of the Islamic architecture and the lavish decoration of the earlier Indian architecture. Among the first buildings to be erected were the mosques at Delhi and Ajmer by Qutb-ud-din Aibak. The mosque built in Delhi was called the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. It measured about 70 x 30 meters. The central arch of this mosque which is decorated with beautiful sculptured calligraphy still stands and is about 17 meters high and about 7 meters wide. The successor of Qutb-ud-din, Iltutmish, was a great builder. He further extended the mosque. He also completed the the building of the Qutb Minar which had been started by Qutb-ud-din and now stood in the extended courtyard of the mosque. This is a tower rising to a height of about 70 metres and is one of the most renowned monuments of India. The next important buildings belong to the reign of Al-ud-din Khalji. He enlarged the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque still further and built a gateway to the enclosure of the mosque, the Alai Darwaza. Decorative element was introduced to beautify the building. He also started building a minar which was designed to be double the height of Qutub Minar, but the project remained unfulfilled. The Tughlaqs who came after the Khaljis concentrated on the building of new cities in Delhi like Tughlaqabad, Jahanpanah and Feozabad. A number of buildings were erected which differed in their style from the earlier buildings. Massive and strong structures like the tomb of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq and the walls of Tughlaqabad were built. The buildings of the Tughlaq period were significant from the point of view of the development of architecture. They were not beautiful but massive and very impressive.

Architecture in the Regional Kingdoms
The regional kingdoms, building on the achievements of the previous period, developed their own distinctive styles of architecture. The process of synthesis continued in these kingdoms also and resulted in the construction of some of the finest buildings in India. In Bengal were built the Adina mosque and the tomb of Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Shah at Pandua and the Dakhil Darwaza and Tantipara mosque at Gaur. The oblong shape of many structures and the peculiar style of roof constructions were some of the distinctive features of the regional architecture of Bengal. In Jaunpur, the Sharqi kings built an impressive monument, the Atala mosque. A huge massive screen covers the dome. The walls and the ceilings are decorated with many ancient Indian designs like the lotus. The rulers of Gujarat built many structures notable for their grandeur and excellence of their carving and other decorative forms. Ahmad Shah, the founder of Ahmedabad is the Sadi Saiyyid mosque popularly known as the Jaliwali Masjid. The delicacy of the work is evident from the screens. Mahmud Begarha built the imposing Jama Masjid at Champaner. The buildings at Mandu developed a distinctive style of their own under the Sultans of Malwa. Here were built the Jama Masjid, the Hindola Mahal, the Jahaz Mahal and a number of tombs. The buildings of Malwa have wide and imposing arches and the windows are gracefully decorated. The tomb of Hoshang Shah is made entirely of marble, the first o its kind in India, and is delicately decorated with yellow and black marble inlay work. The rulers of Kashmir also built many beautiful buildings. Timber, stone and brick were used in the Jama Masjid completed by Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin. The turret is a striking feature of the mosques of Kashmir and recalls to mind of brick and glazed tiles, has been designed in the Persian style. The Bahmani Sultans in the Deccan erected a number of buildings in a distinctive style at Bidar and Gubarga. They borroed from the styles of Persia, Syria, Turkey and those of the temples of southern India. The Jama Masjid in Gulbarga is quite well known. The courtyard of this mosque is covered with a large number of domes. It is the only mosque in India which has a covered courtyard. Instead of minarets, there are domes at the four corners and a fifth and bigger one above the prayer chamber. The absence of decorative work does not mar its grandeur. There are two groups of tombs. The first group has the tombs of the first two Sultans and shows the impress of Tughlaq architecture. The second group called the halft gumbad or ‘seven tombs’ shows the influence of Persian and ancient Indian styles. Bidar also has a number of tombs. The tomb of Sultan Ahmad Shah Ali is richly decorated with beautiful paintings. The finest monument at Bidar is the madrasa of Mahmud Gavan, the great minister of the Bahmani Kingdom for many years. It is a three-storeyed building and has two towering minars at the front corners. After the Bahmani kingdom was split up, many other buildings, such as the Mehtar Mahal and the Ibrahim Rauza, were erected in the new principalities. The Gol Gumbaz, which is one of the largest domes in the world, at Bijapur, and the for of Golconda, which is one of the strongest in India, and many tombs in Golconda also belong to this period. These regional kingdoms, in the north and the south, played a significant role in the development of a common culture.


The Mughal Architecture
The process of synthesis was completed under the Mughals and the new architecture which had started taking shape with the establishment of the Sultanat reached the pinnacle of glory. The achievements of the Mughal period are the finest in architecture as well as in other fields of culture and can be very well compared with any preceding age in Indian history.

Babur and Humayun, the first two Mughal

North India Architecture

kings, erected a number of buildings with the help of Persian architects and these, now in ruins, are not very impressive. Humayun had to flee the country in the face of the rising power of the Afghan ruler, Sher Shah Suri. There was a short interregnum of Afghan rule before Hummayun recovered the Indian territories for the Mughals. The most important building erected during the Afghan interregnum is the mausoleum of Sher Shah at Sasaram. The mausoleum is a well-proportioned building and stands in the middle of a tank. The Mughal architecture, properly speaking, began in the reign of Akbar. The first important building of Akbar’s reign is Humayun’s tomb at Delhi. In this magnificent tomb, the Persian influence is very strong, particularly in the construction of the dome. However, unlike the Persians’ use of bricks and glazed tiles, the Indian builders of the tomb used stone and marble. The two significant features of the Mughal architecture are also evident here – the large gateways and the placement of the building in the midst of a large park. The tomb provided many architectural ideas for the building of the Taj Mahal later.

The next important buildings erected under Akbar were the forts at Agra and Lahore. He built his palace within the Agra fort. Many new buildings were constructed in the fort and perhaps the old ones altered by Akbar’s successors. However, the parts attributed to Akbar’s reign were built under the strong influence of the ancient Indian style and have courtyards and pillars. For the first time in the architecture of this style, living beings-elephants, lions, peacocks and other birds – were sculptured in the brackets. The crowning achievement of the reign of Akbar was the building of his new capital at Fatehpur Sikri, about 40 km from Agra. The buildings at Fatehpur Sikri have been built in a variety of styles making it one of the most magnificent capitals in the world. It had a circumference of over 10 kilometers. Even now there exist a number of magnificent structures in Fatehpur Sikri. The arch of the Buland Darwaza is about 41 metres high and is perhaps the most imposing gateway in the world. The tomb of Salim Chishti built in white marble is exquisite in its beauty. The building popularly known as the palace of Jodha Bai was built in the style of ancient Indian architecture. The Jami Masjid shows the influence of the Persian style. The cloisters surrounding it have a large number of domes and rooms. The Diwan-I-aam and the Diwan-I-khas are remarkable buildings and their planning and decoration have a unique Indian style. Birbal’s house is profusely sculptured with beautiful patterns. Another notable building is the Ibadat – Khana or the ‘House of Worship’ where learned people belonging to various religions gathered together and discussed questions of philosophy and theology in the presence of the emperor. Then there is the Panch Mahal, a five-storeyed building modeled perhaps on the Buddhist Viharas (Viharas are like monasteries where normally wandering Buddhist monks would reside).

During the reign of Jahangir, the mausoleum of Akbar was constructed at Sikandara. This is a magnificent monument in many ways. After a long time, the Minar became architecturally significant here. It has beautiful arches and domes. But the whole structure, as Ferguson suggested, is inspired by the Buddhist viharas. Jahangir also extended the palace buildings in the Agra fort and built the beautiful tomb of Itmad-ud-daula, the father of Nur Jahan. The tomb was built in marble and is notable for its beautiful colored inlay work. Jahangir’s wife Nur Jahan built a beautiful mausoleum for her husband at Shahdara near Lahore.

The greatest of the Mughal builders was Shah Jahan, the successor of Jahangir. His reign marks the highest development of Mughal architecture. Some of the finest monuments of our country were built during his reign. Under him we find an exceedingly liberal use of marble, delicate decorative designs, a variety of arches and beautiful minarets. The list of Shah Jahan’s buildings is very large – the completion of a large number of buildings in the Agra fort, the city of Shahjahanabad and the Red fort of Delhi with its many buildings, the Jama Masjid at Delhi, the Taj Mahal and many others. Only a brief description of these buildings is possible here. The Diwan-I- Aam and the Moti Masjid in the Agra fort are built mainly in white marble with beautiful colored inlay work. The Diwan-I-khas and the Diwan-I-Aam in the Red fort are richly decorated and are works of great beauty. The Diwan- I -khas rightly bears the inscription: Agar firdaus barrooe zaminast-haminasto haminasto haminasto (if there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here). The Red Fort has become associated with the history of our country during the past 350 years and it is here that the national flag was unfurled on the day after India became free. The Jama Masjid at Delhi with its imposing domes and minarets is the most famous mosque in the country and one of the finest in the world. The most magnificent of Shah Jahan’s buildings is the Taj Mahal built in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It represents India’s culture at its best and has been aptly described as ‘ the dream in marble’. It is remarkably well conceived and all its parts – the gateways, the central dome, the elegant minars, the delicate decoration, the inlay work in colored marbles and precious stones, the lovely gardens surrounding it and the fountains in front- have been perfectly executed. The only notable buildings of the reign of Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughals, are the Badshahi mosque at Lahore and the Moti Masjid at Delhi. The period after him is one of general decline. A significant contribution of the Mughals, especially Jahangir, was the laying of gardens. Some of the finest gardens were laid by him in Lahore and Srinagar. The new style of architecture had significant influence on the construction of Hindu temples and the secular buildings of the Rajputs during this period.


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