Indian Architecture

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Art and architecture is regarded as a material record of the intellectual evolution of mankind through the ages. Every single society leaves its own mode of expression and cultural impact through its art and architecture. Thus, art and architecture throw an important light on the political, religious and socio-economic aspects of a period. Architecture is one of the most enduring achievements of Indian civilization and the architectural heritage of India is nearly 5000 years old. The extensive town planning of the Indus Valley Civilization is evident from the archaeological findings at the sites of Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Lothal.

However, the beginning of Indian architecture in true sense can be traced to the Mauryan Empire, particularly during the reign of Ashoka (c. 270-232 B.C.), when extensive construction of Buddhist stupas and monasteries was undertaken. The Buddhist architectural heritage of this period remained predominant for several centuries and left its indelible mark even to this date in the form of the ‘Great Stupa’ at Sanchi and the rock-cut caves at Ajanta. The dynasties that followed like the Guptas, Chandellas, Solankis and the Gangas were also great patrons of art and architecture. The ancient Indian architecture reached its zenith during the Gupta period. By the turn of the eighth century, the southern Hindu school of architecture began to flourish under the Pallava, Chola, Hoysala and the Vijayanagara rulers. The rock-cut temples of Mahabalipuram, the temples of Kanchipuram, the Hoysala temples at Belur and Halebid and the ‘Meenakshi Temple’ in Madurai are excellent examples of South Indian architecture. The advent of Muslim rule brought in new elements of architectural finesse such as floral motifs, domes and artistic calligraphy.

The Mughals were great builders and gave state patronage to art and architecture. The Islamic architecture reached its acme under the Mughals, who constructed many beautiful forts, palaces, mosques and gardens. The Red Fort and Jama Masjid at Delhi, the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and ‘Fatehpur Sikri’ in Agra, the ‘Badshahi Gardens’ at Lahore and the ‘Shalimar Gardens’ at Kashmir are fine specimens of the Mughal architecture.

During the Colonial Period new elements of Gothic, Imperial, Christian and Victorian architectural styles were introduced into the Indian Architecture. The British constructed several important buildings in different parts of the country including St. Martin’s Garrison Church, the Presidency College, Chennai; the Gateway of India at Mumbai and the Rashtrapati Bhawan at New Delhi.

The exit of the British after India’s Independence left a vacuum in building activities in the country. Indian architects took some time to break the shackles of colonialism and adopt new indigenous styles. Soon leading foreign architects like Le Corbusier and indigenous ones like Charles Correa and Balakrishna Doshi emerged on the scene and provided much needed dynamism to the dormant architectural scene in India.

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