Architecture in Indian CultureCulture comprises a plurality of discourses. Architectural forms are the most visible discourses of past civilizations. Indian civilization presents a very rich and diversified architectural tradition.
In common parlance, architecture is a study of forms: about plans, designs, motifs and how they have evolved over time. But built spaces are a medium to study societies as well. Architectural spaces, both sacred and secular have a functional aspect, in the sense that they fulfil the need for what they were created. A temple or a mosque is a house of worship and a king’s tomb or a palace has royal connotations, a commemorative edifice proclaims what it is meant to, and houses are built to protect people and communities. Through these physical types, we get to know the technical knowhow of the times, the processes of their creation, patterns of patronage, and a given society’s metaphysical system as the architectural forms draw upon contemporary cultural and philosophical discourses. Power and authority are as much reflected in these built spaces as are notions of aestheticism that are otherwise embodied in contemporary literature.
Architecture is also a medium to study society because built spaces delineate communities, give them a sense of belonging and a cultural identity. Architectural forms become spaces where various identities and groups are formed, in which some are included, while ‘others’ are not. Often these spaces become sites of contestations, conflicts, state formation, assimilation and exclusion - generating multiple meanings. They are lived spaces with firm social moorings. At the same time, monuments, even religious structures have multilayered histories and not belong to one monolithic community or compact power structures. They are always shared spaces where different individuals and communities come together to create it. They have multiple affiliations. Architectural forms therefore, are not just a study of forms, the pure exotica, but they are a part of a larger social cultural history.
Religion, in all time and space has always been a major propeller of architectural creations as of other artistic activity. In the Indian context, from the Buddhist stupa and chaitya to the Hindu temple, and then to the Muslim mosque or the Christian church, religion has stimulated all art. However, this is not to mean that the Buddhistchaitya gave way to the Hindu temple to be replaced by the Muslim mosque and so on. There is no takeover of one style from another, nor is there any ‘high’ point or ‘low’ ebb. Present scholarship rejects the notion of a Gupta ‘classical age’ and post-Gupta centuries to be one of decadence. As a matter of fact, some of the finest temples were constructed in the post-Gupta period, as testimonies to India’s fine architectural tradition. Both sacred and secular architecture instead, manifests a continuous process of adaptation and transformation across different regions and communities and is as much inclusive of local forms as of forms that came from beyond the borders. Overlap and interaction is the key to understand Indian architecture.
since there is no linear development in Indian architecture, the discipline being a multiple discourse, we need to move away from the primacy of one region, period, dynasty or patronage. This would then also mean that we need to move away from the factor of ‘influence’ and instead lay stress on the processes behind the architectural endeavours, which are multilayered, with multiple meanings and paradigm shifts. No architectural type is a self contained category with a monolithic identity. Monuments need to be analysed in relation to their own historical and ideological contexts. And finally, this would also mean, that architecture is not just a study of forms – of icons or decorative motifs, of spatial and scientific-technical production or of even the pure functional - but is a part of a larger history of culture, society and politics.
The history of Indian architecture, as a systematic study, was first taken up in British India. Several influential writers, from 1874 - 1927, set the future trends of scholarship. Most viewpoints that were current till recently, were influenced by the writings that appeared from mid 19th century onwards. From Henry Cole’s publication of the catalogue of the Indian collection at the then, South Kensington Museum (1874) to Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy’s classic, History of Indian and Indonesian art (1927), several issues regarding Indian art and architecture were debated and frameworks, largely derived from western methodologies, were put forward. Partha Mitter divides these writings and their approaches into two broad groups: archaeological and transcendental.
To the first group, classical European art was the exemplar of perfect taste against which all Indian art and architecture was to be judged. This is easily discerned in the writings of its major protagonists: Henry Cole, R. Orme, H. Colebrooke, James Fergusson, Vincent Smith and George Birdwood. This approach did much to further formulate the orientalist canon, seen in James Mill’s History of British India, written in 9 volumes (1817-20), where the principal orientalist vision received its first classic articulation. Rediscovery of India’s cultural past in these colonial writings was founded on the premise that to control the present better, you need to know the past of the ruled better. Primacy of religion and race were crucial in understanding Indian architecture for this approach. Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam were the markers of Indian cultural identity. In this paradigm, Vedic and Buddhist periods were periods of pristine purity, while medieval Hinduism coincided with decay as evidenced from overtly decorative temples. The debate concerning Aryan versus Dravidian centred on Buddhist art being alone worthy of appreciation as it was Aryan and influenced by Graeco-Bactrian antiquity. In some writings, Islamic art too was superior and rational because it came from outside and Islam did not have the constraints of the Hindu caste system. Central to this construct is the foreign origin of Gandhara, as it was influenced by Greek art.
The second group was concerned with characterizing Indian art as transcendental and can be called nationalist in its approach. The writings of these art historians, led by Ernest Binfield Havell and Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy centred on Indian art embodying an idea, an inner world of beauty that has an intrinsic meaning. Based on classical norms of Neoplatonist doctrines, this approach read all Indian art as spiritual. The spirituality of Indian art was underlined when Coomaraswamy informed that nature was transcendental and existed on a metaphysical plane in the artist’s mind, which was then externalized and represented in material art form in his work. The vehicle through which this happened was a special technique of vision, the practice of yoga, known to the traditional Indian artists. Even the architectural form of the dome, to Coomaraswamy, was a work of imagination and not one of technicality. However, Coomaraswamy too, like the other writers, took refuge in western thought and knowledge of Platonism to explain Indian art. Again, although, Coomaraswamy was right in assessing the role of religion in Indian art, but when it came to explaining the precise relation between art and religion or the nature of Indian art, he took recourse to collective metaphysical generalizations. The problem with this approach is that it does not show how the meaning is derived, or how to read meaning in a form by virtue of its intrinsic properties. Much of writing today explains the exact nature of this relationship in more concrete and individual ways, rather than in generalized collective notions. Indian art and architecture has to be studied in specific religious, cultural, political and social contexts. Different endeavours and forms have to be assessed from their own specific contemporary positions.
With this backdrop of what ‘architecture’ should mean and by drawing from recent writings, we shall try to unveil some architectural forms and their meanings from India’s cultural past.
Buddhism was the earliest Indian religion to require large communal spaces for worship. This led to three types of architectural forms: the stupa, the vihara and the chaitya. Many religious Buddhist shrines came up between the 1stcentury BCE - 1stcentury CE. Stupa, originally the focus of a popular cult of the dead, is a large burial mound containing a relic of the Buddha. It celebrates the Buddha’s parinirvana (end of cycle of suffering), symbolizes his eternal body, and is an object of worship. Not many stupas have survived from these early times but the Great Stupa at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh with its majestic four gateways (1stcentury BCE/CE) has survived intact. There is evidence of community patronage of landowners, merchants, officials, monks, nuns and artisans associated with these Buddhist projects.
Along with stupa architecture, a novel cave architecture or rock-cut architecture too developed in most parts. Most of Hinayana Buddhist rock-cut prayer halls/chapels (chaitya) and monasteries (viharas) came up in the Deccan region (120 BCE – 400 CE), along ancient trade routes that had excellent quality of rock. The best known are Karle (50 - 70 CE) and Ajanta (cave 9 and 10 in the c.2ndcentury BCE). Again after a gap of some 250 years, innumerable shrines and monasteries were cut into hills and rocks where Buddhist, Jain and Hindu monks could live and pray. Archaelogical data suggests that both the Buddhist chaitya and the Hindu rock-cut temple were contemporaneous in the 3rd - 1stcentury BCE. Some of the finest examples can be seen in western Deccan from the 5th century CE to almost for over 300 years. To this latter phase belongs the Kailashnath temple at Ellora caves (760 CE), built under the patronage of the Rashtrakutas (753 - 982 CE), to be followed by the rock-cut temples of Elephanta (c.500 – 760 CE). Rock-cut shrines were emerging elsewhere south of the Deccan as well.
Meanwhile free-standing shrines or structural temples started to develop as well. The earliest were small structures of brick and wood as the one that exists at Bairat, near Jaipur (c.250 BCE). Early structural temples of stone are found in the hilly tracts of Madhya Pradesh, on the southern fringes of the Gupta Empire (350 – 500 CE). They belong to the late Gupta period (c.400 CE). The area is rich in stone, unlike northern Madhya Pradesh, where most temples would have been of brick and hence have perished. But even among the stone shrines, less than a score remain, and none has an intact superstructure. These early Gupta temples are flat roofed small structures with ornate pillars. Like the elegant flat roofed Sanchi temple with a pillared porch and a walled sanctum, resembling a Greek shrine, is one of the earliest. But the Gupta Vishnu temple at Deogarh (c.500 CE) near Jhansi has a small tower on the sanctum. The Bhitargaon temple near Kanpur, the sole survivor among many brick temples too, has a definite curvilinear spire.
These simple structures, in the early medieval period, from the 6th - 13thcentury CE, began to expand, horizontally and vertically. This period in Indian history is marked by great temple building activity. The shrines, dedicated to various deities from the Hindu/Jain pantheon were a product of Bhakti or devotional Hinduism, the characteristic ideology of the early medieval centuries. Down the years, these temples became more institutionalized. Like around the 7th century CE, there was a significant change in the nature of the temple in peninsular India, as its organization became more complex. Rich donations of land, cash and other riches were made to these shrines that became the hub of social and economic activities. They were great craft and cultural centres and fostered many traditional performing arts. Many of them, as tirthas(pilgrimage centres) were located on trade routes, which in turn led to urbanization in early Medieval South India. Each region experimented and responded in its own local way and the temple forms with what we are familiar today emerged more definitive. Three distinctive styles, often overlapping, can be discerned, confirming that there was no all India uniform style.
The Hindu temple is the enshrined deity’s house (devalaya), and his or her palace (prasada), where the priests cater to his or her daily needs. The temple is a holy site (tirtha) where the devotees come to perform the circumambulation (pradakshina) to earn religious merit. The heart of the temple is the garbhagriha (literally, the ‘embryo chamber’), the sanctum sanctorum, where one is meant to feel the presence of the deity. The installation rituals of Hindu deities go back to the late Gupta text, the Brihatsamhita. The development of the Agamas, ritual texts, and especially the Pancharatra (tantric) system in the 5th century CE, led to elaborate temple rituals with metaphysical interpretations. These worship ritual texts, went hand in hand with the rise of Tantricism, a major movement that challenged Bhakti. Gradually, more functional buildings were added to the basic structure. These were the pillared halls (mandapa), the added portico (ardhmandapa), a connecting vestibule (antaral) to the sanctum sanctorum, and surmounting the garbhagriha, the spire (shikhara).
Regional variations led to Hindu temples being broadly classified into the northern type (Nagara), belonging to the area between the Himalayas and the Vindhyas and the southern type (Dravida), falling in the region between river Krishna to Kanyakumari. A third one, taking the features of both these types is the Vesara, located between the Vindhyas and the Krishna. However, these are at times only arbitrary classifications as Nagar temples are found in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh and Dravida can be seen at Ellora in the Deccan. The distinction rests on the shape of the tower, the ground plan and the elevation. The Nagara tower (shikhara) has a curvilinear slope with a fluted disc (amalaka) at the pinnacle. The Dravida tower (vimana) is pyramidal, follows a dome and cornice pattern with diminishing stories (tala), and is crowned by a square, polygonal or a round dome. The Nagara elevation consists of a series of projections (rathas) and recesses, whereas the walls of the Dravidian type are relieved by enshrined images in recesses at regular intervals. In south India, temples are enclosed within enclosure walls having gate towers (gopuras), marking the entrances. The Vesara or the Chalukyan (also called the Karnataka - Dravida tradition) is the mixed type, located in the Deccan region. The Chalukyan, actually speaking has the same source of inspiration as the Dravidian, the earliest examples being at Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal in the Bijapur district in Karnataka. Aihole alone has as many as 70 temples. Temples in the regions of Bengal, Kashmir and Kerala evolved their own local variation, while subscribing to either of the styles.
The most striking feature of the Hindu temple is the profuse use of ornamentation on its surface. This ranges from narrative stone reliefs to depiction of figural, floral, animal, geometrical and other foliated designs. In the northern variation, the repetitive motif of the gavaksa (arch shaped window), derived from the Buddhist chaitya, is transmuted into intricate honeycomb patterns, creating a rich lace like surface texture. The South used variation on the gavaksa known as kuta, nasi, panjara or the sala (barrel-vaulted chaitya). The north was ingenious in the use of shikhara and the amalaka. These repetitive motifs follow clear geometrical rules and are conceived three dimensionally.
The vast technical-canonical literature on architecture, the Vastushastras describe the temple as a standing primeval man, the purusha. Each component of the temple matches the human body, such as the head, neck, shoulders, trunk, arms, thighs and feet. The centre stands for the nucleus of energy from where the cardinal directions emerge. At the centre of every temple is a vastupurusha, who presides over the temple site and protects it. The square ground plan is a perfect shape for the Hindu temple, according to canonical literature. The Brihatsamhita, one of the earliest works, selects two ideal ground plans (vastupurusha mandala), based on the grid system of 64 and 81 squares. The work mentions rare cases of circular and octagonal temples.
The symbolism behind the Hindu temple has been explained by Coomaraswamy. He interprets the temple not only as a building providing shelter to the image and the worshipper, but also as the image of the cosmos. The temple in this metaphysics is the house of God and his body, representing in its parts, the drama of disintegration and reintegration, which is an essential theme of Indian thought. Stella Kramrisch, in her mammoth work, The Hindu Temple (1946), further fine-tuned this concept that every element of the temple, its structure, sculpture, design and motifs are all imbued with intrinsic meaning. She argues that the temple is the cosmos, embodying the universe in its entire form. The statue enshrined is the manifestation of the deity from which divine energy radiates in different directions from the garbhagriha. The fragmentation and proliferation of motifs on the surface may be seen as the external expression of this emanation. Kramrisch also sees movement in the temple structure, which is both upward and downward, experienced by the spectator in the unfolding of the architectural forms as he moves towards mystical union. To the spectator, both the temple and the statue are a means to attain moksha (release from suffering).
Moving away from the symbolism of the temple, what has been the point of much debate in recent times is the issue of regionalization of art and architecture, as seen in the various temple types at this time in Indian history. The issue is wound up with the larger debate of the interpretation of early medieval Indian centuries. Devangana Desai in her writings treats the regionalization of art and architecture at this time against the backdrop of the feudalism hypothesis. According to her, numerous local centres of art emerged as religious donations increased with the proliferation of local rulers and feudatories. In the closed economy and localism of the feudal structure, art was increasingly conditioned by regionalism and canonization. Folk elements and tantric iconography in temples is seen against the background of a deprived urban milieu and patronage coming mainly from a rural aristocracy. The chief function of art was to glorify the status of opulent patrons, thereby failing to convey higher qualities, though apparently it was in the service of religion.
An alternative approach to comprehend the regionalization of culture is suggested by B.D. Chattopadhyaya, who views this change in terms of the historical processes of local state formation against the backdrop of political, social and cultural dimensions of early medieval India. Chattopadhyaya emphasizes on the factor of legitimation of temporal authority as the most significant ideological dimension of the period. The need to link one’s royal origins to religious and divine forces led to extraordinary temple building in this period. His writings further explore the spatial contexts and social linkages of the sacred spaces. He discusses the fluctuating patterns of regional powers, their relationship to their spiritual mentors, and their need for legitimation of their newly acquired power in the form of temple building.
Pallava Rock-Cut Temples of Mamallapuram
The first shrines in the Tamil country in South India were cave shrines, derived from the Buddhist tradition. These came up during the rule of the Pallavas (600 - 900), under whom the foundations of the Dravidian style were laid. The Pallavas belonged to Andhradesh but their centre of activity was the lower reach of the Palar river and their chief architectural remains are mainly found in the country around Kanchipuram, their seat of power and in the seaport of Mamallapuram, built by them in the present day state of Tamil Nadu. The port had been a centre of trade from Roman times and Kanchipuram, 40 miles away, a major cultural centre. The Pallava rulers sent expeditions to Sri Lanka and traded with China and South East Asia. They were great patrons of art and architecture, which was driven by a systematic ideology. They used architecture to legitimize their rule by richly endowing the shrines and by naming the edifices after their kings. As a result, a complex relationship began to grow between the temple, community and the king.
Temple architecture under the Pallavas resolves into two phases: The first phase (610 - 90), the Mahendra and Mamalla Group, is wholly rock-cut while the second (690 - 900), the Rajasimha and Nandivarman Group is entirely structural. In the first phase, the rock-cut structures took two forms: the mandapas (610 - 40), and the rathas and mandapas (640 - 90). A mandapa is an excavation, an open pavilion excavated in the rock. It takes the shape of a simple pillared hall with one or more cellas in the back wall. A ratha is a monolith, in the shape of a chariot or a car that is used to take the deity out but here it means a series of monolithic shrines in granite resembling certain wooden prototypes. A mandapa in all probability had other structurally attached buildings, but these have perished because of their impermanent material.
The Mahendra group (roughly 14 in number, 610 - 40), named after the chief patron, scattered all over Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, three being at Mamallapuram, represents the early beginnings. However, recent scholarship attributes most of these mandapas and the later rathas to the later patronage of Rajasimha. Each pillar of the rock-cut mandapa is about 7 feet in height with a diameter of 2 feet. Shafts are square in section except for the middle third which is chamfered into an octagon. Heavy brackets provide the capitals with no cornices above the pillars. Later examples become more ornate, when the pillars start becoming 4 storied, rising to a height of 50 feet. These changes can be seen at Bhairavkonda (Nellore district), where a distinctive Pallava order makes its appearance. This is seen in the sophisticated fusion of two forms of the capital and the shaft of the pillar. Another element, a typical Pallava feature of a lion, combined with the lower portion of the shaft and another introduced into the capital as well makes its appearance. This is the beginning of a pillar design that transformed into an elegant Pallava type with the heraldic lion beast standing for dynastic connotations as a symbol of the dynasty’s lion ancestory (simhavishnu).
The Mamalla group of temples (640 - 90), contrary to the group above, are found in one place, Mamallapuram. They were mainly executed during the reign of Narasimhavarman I (640 - 68), who took the title of ‘Mahamalla’. The site lies towards the mouth of the river Palar, 32 miles south of Chennai. The place served as the harbour for the capital Kanchipuram. The coastline is well suited for these rock-cut structures to come up. There is a large rocky hill of granite rising out of sand near the seashore, aligned north to south, measuring half a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide with a height of over a hundred feet. Detached from this, towards the south is another smaller outcrop consisting originally of a whale-backed mound of granite, about 250 feet long and 50 feet high. It was out of these rock formations that Mamallapuram was excavated and sculpted. The site also exhibits foundations of structural secular buildings like citadels, palaces and residences.
The mandapas on the main hill are ten in number. None of these are large as they have shallow halls or porticos. In most instances, they are of the same general character and proportions as the earlier group, but there are differences. These cave shrines are more ‘elaborated’ in design and execution. Their columns, except for the corbels, are relatively more slender, but with so many facets that they appear fluted and even round. These pillars forecast the elements of true Dravidian pillars and pilasters with their balanced proportions and further decoration. The shaft carries the malasthana, a low relief band of pearl festoons, and then flares out gently to where a deep throat or indentation separates it from a cushion like element called the kumbha (pot or a jar) or the ‘melon’ capital. Above the kumbha, a lotus element, the padma or idaie, flares out to the broad thin abacus (palagai). Sometimes, as in the Varaha Mandapa, the notched flaring idaie, surmounted by the thinnest of palagais is indistinguishable from the later fine early Chola examples. The only element still missing, and which will come up later, is the Chola notch in the shaft before it flares, with a slight swelling above it, to become the most delicate of vases (kalash). The bases of these pillars have the sedant yalis or lions, a feature, which, as noted, has already made its appearance.
More elaborate decoration can also be seen in the treatment of the facades of these halls, where a roll cornice decorated with Buddhist chaitya arch motif (kudu) runs with a parapet above. The parapet is formed of alternating long and short miniature shrines in most of these examples. But ground plans differ for various pavilions. The Varah Mandapa has a basement with a provision for a receptacle for water. This feature corroborates with the particularly well designed water system of the site, evidenced by the canals and tanks that are strewn all over the port. However, this elaborate water system was not solely for public use. It was also needed for ritualistic purposes or for water worship, as many temples stand testimony to this, in which cisterns, in addition to conduits appear. As regard the othermandapas, the Trimurti has no hall and the three cells open directly to the exterior. The three part Mahisamardini Mandapa has a two pillar portico in front of the central hall.
But perhaps the most extraordinary of all rock architecture at Mamallapuram are the rathas, the monolithic shrines carved out of whale-backed mound of granite, standing near the beach. Sometimes called the Seven Pagodas, they are unique replicas of earlier wooden structures. It is not clear if these monoliths preceded the first stone structural buildings but both evolved from the earlier wooden prototypes. Their purpose remains still unknown as these ‘riddle of the sands’ are mostly unfinished from the inside. They are of no great size, the largest being only 42 feet long, the widest is only 35 feet and the tallest too is only 40 feet high. The typical Pallava pillar is used here in these rathas, with all its parts and elements, as described above. The rathas are eight in all, and with one exception, all are derived from the two Buddhist structures of the vihara (monastery) and the chaitya (prayer hall or chapel). The exception, Draupadi’s Ratha (dedicated to Durga) is also the only one, not characteristically in the pure Dravidian style. This ratha, the smallest and the simplest in the series, however, is the most complete. It is mainly a one roomed cell or a pansala with a large boulder cut lion besides it. It has female door-guardians and inside is a relief of Korravai (the Goddess of victory with a deer). The structure has four sided steep pitched curvilinear roof, found later in South India but resemblances are more to the Bengal region. Its base is supported by figures of lion and elephant alternating, suggesting a portable character to its wooden prototype.
Of the typical Dravidian rathas, 5 follow the old rule of vihara construction in which a central square is surrounded by cells initially to be covered by a pillar supported flat roof in later examples. More stories were added to this basic vihara model, as the number of monks increased and the structure came to be eventually finished off by a domical roof. In these compositions at Mamallapuram, however, some modifications in this original pattern can be seen. In the Dharamraja Ratha, one of the best examples, the cells from the old pattern have lost their original character and intention and instead have become modified into ornamental turrets. In this ratha of lion pillared portico, the elevation is in two parts: a square portion with pillared verandahs below, and the pyramidal shikhara formed of converted cells above.
The remaining three examples, Bhim, Sahdev and Ganesh rathas are based on the chaitya type. They are all oblong and rise to two or more stories, while each has a keel or barrel roof, with a chaitya gable end (triangular part of the roof). The later gateways (gopuras) in Dravidian architecture are based on this keel roof with pinnacles and gable ends. These shrines are of Shaivite attribution, evidenced from the images of a lion, elephant and a bull that are carved on rock in the close proximity, symbolising Durga, Indra and Shiva. It is interesting that while being derived from traditional Buddhist architecture, they are Hindu shrines - implying that monolithic religious categories should not be associated with architectural forms.
A remarkable feature of this assemblage is the fine quality of figure sculpture which adorns these mandapas and the rathas. Large mythological relief panels are carved in these shrine walls. One distinctive panel has the figure of Durga as Korravai. The reliefs of Pallava sculpture are shallower than in the Deccan because of the hardness of the stone that is found here. The human figures are slender and delicately built. In one of the caves, the Adivaraha, there are two portraits of a Pallava king and his son, each accompanied by their queens. These are the earliest portrait sculptures after the Kushana figures from Mathura. Other reliefs are the figures in plain shallow niches on each storey of the Dharmaraja and the Arjuna ratha, being the finest in Early Pallava style.
Last but not the least, the precincts of Mamallapuram has a large sculptured panel, variously described as the Descent of the Ganges, Arjuna’s penance andKiratarjuniya (Shiva disguised as Kirata, with Arjuna). The panel is cut on the vertical face of two huge boulders. A narrow cleft dividing these boulders from top to bottom provides the focal point for a vast congress of life sized figures and animals, all facing the cleft or hastening towards it. The figures are of Gods, demi-Gods, sages, kiratas or wild hunters and kinnars, half birds and half humans. The panel has other mythological vignettes as well.
After Narasimha Mamalla, the rock method seems to have lost its eminence, and a more permanent inflexible carving of the granite, the art of structural building, was taken up. This would have provided a greater freedom to the workman and the patron, who would be now freer to introduce any form, while not being constrained by the limitation of the rock sites. Henceforth in the reign of Rajasimha, patronage extended to structural temples when the first free-standing temple, the Shore temple was partly erected under him (first quarter 8thcentury CE).
Chola Structural Temples: The Brihadisvara at Thanjavur
Temple architecture in South India reached its pinnacles under the rule of imperial Cholas (850 - 1250). Early Chola temples however, are not as large as the ambitiously planned Pallava Kailashnatha or the Vaikunthaperumal temples at Kanchipuram. Development in early Chola architecture consists, instead, in perfecting the unique elements of the Dravidian style and combining them harmoniously with new forms in astonishingly diverse ways.
A typical new Chola feature, that is different from the Pallava, is the famed ornamentation of temple walls. This consists in the use of real deep niches with entablatures. These niches, the Devakushtas (niches to house deities), flanked by demi pilasters, appear on wall surfaces of Chola temples. The decoration, in most finished examples, alternates between the various niche devices of koshtapanjaras and Kumbhapanjaras. Space is narrow in these forms but the decoration is more rounded. The pilasters of these niches are crowned by a curved roof moulding adorned by two kudus with crowning lion heads. The bases of these decorative devices have makara (motif based on the mythical sea monster) and warrior heads.
Other Chola distinction is seen in the abandonment of the Pallava yali or the lion at the bases of pillars and pilasters. The pillars too, are more enriched and defined. As earlier noted, the final element in the Dravidian pillar of the notch in the shaft before it flares, with a slight swelling above it, gets transformed now under the Cholas to become the most delicate of vases (kalash). Another elegant feature of the pillar is the decorative device of the kudu, put as a roll-moulding on top of the pillars.
The gateways, which are dwarfed in the Pallava, are in late Chola prominent. The dwarpalas (gatekeepers) in Chola temples are fierce men with tridents, bearing tusks protruding from mouths, rolled eyes and hands always in threatening gestures. These contrast with the benign natural looking single paired arm dwarpalas of the past. All these features climax in two temples, the Brihadisvara (Rajarajesvara) at Thanjavur, the capital of the Cholas and the Gangaikondacholapuram, near Kumbakonam. These come at a time of greatest extent of Chola power.
Cholas had become the greatest power in South India by 10thcentury CE. They had reached the borders of the Rashtrakuta kingdom in the north. Rows of temples were built on both the banks of the river Kaveri to mark their growing power. Cholas greatly made use of art to proclaim their power, used temples to make unequivocal statements about their political hegemony. Rajaraja I, crowned in 985, carved out an overseas empire by establishing a second capital at Pollonaruva in Sri Lanka. The Brihadisvara (995 - 1010), built by him at his capital Thanjavur, though he did not live to see it completed is a product of this success. The temple inscriptions make clear the triumphal nature of the edifice. Donations to the shrine came from far and wide. The numbers of architects, accountants, guards, functionaries, temple dancers, revenue records of landgrants etc are engraved on the temple walls, thus establishing the importance of the temple as an institution of prime importance in Chola times.
The Brihadisvara is some 210 feet High, the largest and the tallest in India. It is laid out as a Dravida padmagarbhamandala of 16 into 16 squares. It was consecrated in 1009 - 10. The site is not associated with any Puranic story or any ancient legend, the Rajarajesvara appears to have been an entirely new foundation, a royal monument of power. Within the large enclosure wall are shrines of the parivardevatas (family deities) and the dikpalas (deities of cardinal directions). The eight dikpalas are housed separately against the wall. The two large gopuras in line are first introduced here in Dravidian architecture. The vimana is dvitala (double storied). The vertical base (a square of 82 feet with a height of 50 feet) forms the first storey and the 13 slightly receding tiers form the upper portion. The diminishing tiers taper till the last at the apex to become one third of the base. On top of this rests the crowning dome, which comprises a massive granite block of 25 and a half feet square and estimated to weigh eighty tons. The cupola with its inward curve of its neck is a pleasing break from the outward rigid lines of the composition that has a soaring character.
An internal circumambulatory passage, two stories high, consisting of a series of chambers with sills but no doors, runs inside the precinct. On its walls, in 1930, Nayaka period paintings were discovered to overlay the Chola murals that included Rajaraja I with three of his queens worshipping Nataraja (dancing Shiva), the patron deity of Cholas. The temple is entered by side doorways approached by large ornamental stairs leading to an antechamber (ardhmandapa), with a platform for bathing the deities. To it is attached a huge mandapa of 36 pillars (mahamandapa), entered by a front mandapa with a central entrance (mukhamandapa). In all there are 18 door guardians flanking the various entrances and sills.
In the decorative treatment, the lower vertical base is of two stories divided by a massive overhanging cornice, reminiscent of the Pallava rock-cut. Except for this powerful horizontal member in the structure, the emphasis is on verticality, the two ranges of vertical pilasters above and below adding to the verticality. Combined with these pilasters are deep niches with motifs of ‘tree of knowledge’ and other decorative devices. Occupying the middle of each compartment, are ingeniously carved figures. The kumbhapanjara decorative device is introduced here. The surfaces of the tapering part of the vimana are patterned by the horizontal lines of the diminishing tiers intersecting the vertical disposition of the ornamental shrines, thus producing a very rich architectural texture. Finally, there is the contrast of the cupola at the summit, its winged niches on all four sides relieving the severity of the outline, just where it is most required.
Every section and every decoration at the Brihadisvara is designed for maximum effect. It is the finest example of Dravidian architecture with all its elements reaching their zenith.
(iii) Chandella Structural Temples: The Khajuraho Group
From the eighth century CE, Nagara styles in the north began evolving in parallel to the Dravidian in the south. Orissa on the east coast and the region of Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west and central India represent two distinctive Nagara type of temple architecture. The crowning achievement of the western and central style is a group of temples at Khajuraho in Bundelkhand in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Of the 85 temples, built (950 - 1050) by the Chandella Rajput rulers, only about 20 remain in good state of preservation. The first major royal edifice, the Lakshmana temple (954) was built by Yasovarman Chandella to celebrate his independence from his Gurjara-Pratihara (710 - 1027) overlords of north-central India. These Gurjara-Pratiharas (known for their open pavilion temples) were key players along with the Rashtrakutas (753 - 982) of the Deccan and Palas of Bengal (750 - 1174) in the struggle for power and hegemony.
Khajuraho, the Chandella capital was a flourishing cultural centre where poets, musicians, grammarians and playwrights all resided with affluent Jain merchants and court officials. Extensive religious establishments, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, exercised considerable social power, encouraging lavish spending on temples and shrines. The Chandellas are also known for patronizing public works like reservoirs and their temples represent different belief systems. The Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples of Khajuraho have negligible architectural differences of sectarian origins. Indeed they collectively represent the apogee of the central variant of the Nagara style.
The Kandariya Mahadeo, the Lakshmana and the Visvanatha are the most fully developed at Khajuraho, and along with other temples have some common features. They are oriented towards the east, and instead of the customary enclosure walls, they stand on high and solid masonry terraces. A compact architectural synthesis is achieved in the structures by the high flight of steps, leading to the terraces. The ground plan of most of the Khajuraho group is like a Latin cross, with the long axis from east to west, and the entrance being on the east. This shape is divided into the usual three main compartments: the cella or the garbhagriha, an assembly hall or the mandapa and the entrance portico or the ardhmandapa. In addition to these are the antarala or the vestibule to the cella, and in the more developed examples, the transcepts or mahamandapa together with the processional passage around the cella are as well integrated.
The mass or volume of this temple type at Khajuraho, like the Brihadisvara, too moves clearly towards an upward direction, its trend is towards height. The elevation of these temples resolves into three main parts: the lofty terrace or the high basement, the second part comprising the walls and openings of the interior compartments and the final section of a grouping of roofs, culminating in the graceful shikhara. The soaring impulse is further accentuated by a number of vertical projections, leading the eye upwards.
The architectural treatment of these three sections, are ingeniously treated as well. A series of mouldings lighten the plinth, the spreading base of which seems to grip the pavement of the terrace, like the roots of a tree. The central section of the walls and openings of the interiors are treated by the use of solids of walls as well as voids of horizontal range of window openings, thus bringing in light and air. This feature at the same time throws a band of light and shadow on the surface, enhancing the structure’s beauty. This is best exemplified in the balconied windows of Kandariya Mahadeo. This central zone of the exterior has another outstanding feature, a decorative motif of two or three parallel friezes, filling in the wall spaces between the openings. They follow the alternate projections and recesses of the walls and are carried around the building. Human figures, both ideal and mundane are depicted in these friezes, the entire surface being covered, often in erotic postures. Kandariya Mahadeo alone has some 650 figures, moulded in high relief on its outer walls, the iconography conforming to the Shaiva Sddhanta Tantric sect.
In the final section, there are, in these temples, separate roofs for each compartment. Each roof of the structures follows a pattern. The smallest and the lowest is on top of the portico, next in height is on the central hall, the two sweeping up in line with the mass to the tall shape of the shikhara, surmounting the whole. The Khajuraho roofs are domical, unlike the Orissan pyramidal, but their surface texture in horizontal strata is much the same. All this grouping of roofs gives the appearance of a centripetal movement towards the spire, the high pinnacle. The spires of Khajuraho are most refined and elegant. They have a decisive incline as they mount up. The grace is further enhanced by the balanced distribution of the miniature turrets or urusringas that are superimposed on the sides to break the mass, thus lending a more melodic outline to the volume.
The interiors of Khajuraho, unlike the Orissan temples are profusely ornamented with sculpture. The ceiling treatment of the mandapas is especially to be noted. The average size of mandapas at Khajuraho is only 25 square feet but to support the mass of masonry above, four pillars, one in each corner, with four beams in the shape of a square framework were put as a support under the ceiling. The system is simple but structurally sound. These surfaces in turn are overlaid with ornament and sculpture. The capital of pillars, the architraves above the capitals and the ceiling in particular is teeming with figures of grotesques, dwarfs and humans. The ceiling designs are geometrical circles and semicircles, deeply carved in a swirling pattern.
A notable characteristic of Khajuraho temples, like in Orissa, is the use of erotic sculpture. The strategically placed erotic sculptures have been interpreted differently. One view relates them to Tantric practices, as Khajuraho was a centre of various Tantric sects and the erotic motif stands for a fertility symbol, an auspiciousalamkara (ornamentation). They have also been interpreted as ‘symbolical-magical diagrams, or yantras’ designed to appease malevolent spirits. However, some scholars disagree with this viewpoint as a good number of motifs cannot be identified solely as tantric.
The 12 Vaishnava and Shaiva temples to the northwest of the site form the most important of the group at Khajuraho. Among these, the Kandariya Mahadeo is the largest and the most representative of the lot. Its shikhara reaches a height of 102 feet above the platform and has seven projections (panchratha). The much smaller in size are the Lakshmana temple and the Shiva temple of Visvanatha and the Vishnu temple of Chaturbuj. The temple of Devi Jagadamba, dedicated to Goddess Kali, was originally a Vishnu shrine. Temples dedicated to the Sun god, to the boar incarnation of Vishnu (varaha), the Matangeswara and Parvati temples are other notable examples.
Similar to these Brahmanical temples are the 6 Jain temples to the southeast of Khajuraho. There is a complete absence of window openings here, though parallel friezes of statues occur. The Parsvanatha is the largest in this group. The sanctum contains an ornamental throne and a sculptured bull, the emblem of Adinatha, the first of the Jain Tirthankaras. The Ghantai with its cluster of 12 pillars is another unique example. At this site are some Brahmanical temples as well. The Duladeo, the Chaturbhuj and the Kunwar Math are some fine examples that fall into this group.
THE COMING OF ISLAM AND NEW ARCHITECTURAL FORMS
The Arab conquest of Sind in the year 712 CE changed the power equations in the Indian sub-continent. Thereafter from the 10thcentury onwards many raids and sieges were undertaken by newly emerging powerful Turkish rulers of areas in present day Afghanistan and Central Asia. The campaigns of Sultan Mahmud Ghazna from late 10th-11thcentury, culminated in the Turkish conquest of north India in late 12thcentury under Sultan Muiz ud-Din Mohammad Ghur and his commanders.
Political conquest, however, did not introduce new architectural forms, associated with the new religion of Islam. Mosques had already been built in Sind in the 8thcentury and Muslim traders had managed to build their places of worship and funerary structures of tombs in the port of Bhadreswar in Gujarat (c.1160). These structures, instead of being arcuate, and hence ‘Muslim’, are low ‘Hindu’ trabeate constructions, using Indic column orders with iconographical details of half-lotus and bead-and-reel bands, derived from local traditions. The label ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islamic’, therefore, needs to be questioned as a distinctive category, right from the start. For, when the forms of arch and dome are used in Hindu/Buddhist/Jain temples or when the beam, lintel or pillars are used in mosques, tombs and palaces of Muslim rulers, these architectural forms are never single monolithic cultural categories and do not belong to one religious community. We have seen this earlier as well. This is because architectural forms are socially rooted at all times and go through a process of adaptation and transformation.
The Delhi Sultans, after the establishment of the Sultanate in 1206, were prolific builders who first introduced the architectural forms of masjids (mosques) and maqbaras (tombs), madrasas (centres of learning), tanks, waterworks and caravanserais (inns) on a large scale under royal patronage. Secular architecture of palaces, citadels underwent modification, while new treatment of spaces was introduced. All this was possible because the Turks introduced the use of lime mortar. Built landscape started changing and turrets of mosques could be seen with temple spires. New forms of ornamentation of calligraphy, geometrical and arabesque patterns came to adorn their buildings of the times. Provincial Sultanates from 14thcentury in different regions as well came up with ingenious mosques and tombs, drawing immensely from local regional traditions. The Mughals, coming to power in 1526 in the subcontinent, further added to the rich architectural heritage and introduced their own innovations in design and ornamentation, in techniques and building types. The introduction of the Persian garden architecture is associated with them.
The initial process of adaption of the new forms with the local tradition is best exemplified in the mosques at Delhi (Quwwat ul-Islam, 12th - 13thcentury) and Ajmer (Adhai Din ka Jhompara, 12th-13thcentury). The arches here are corbelled and not ‘true’, domes are low and conical and the decoration is derived from the temple architecture of the vicinity. The mosques visually represent the ‘symbolic appropriation of land’ by the invaders. However, the structures, at the same time, appropriate and use the past tradition and its visual forms. This is against the backdrop of the historical processes of conquest and interaction of politically antagonistic cultures. Material used in these mosques is both old and new. Hindu artisans under their Muslim patrons seem to have even created new forms and patterns, as evidenced from the visual forms. These mosques actually, represent the beginning of a movement towards unity and fusion of two different architectural traditions of the conqueror and the conquered. What in the end crystallized in
to a distinctive Indo-Islamic architectural style, the harmonious balance of Islamic traditions of purity of line and form and the indigenous sculptural quality of architecture, is seen in its formative stages in these structures.
Secular Architecture: Forts
Military fortification is a key element in all civilizations. Among secular buildings, fortresses, as parts of defence strategy, are of prime importance. With constant threat from rivals and invasions, defence was a high priority for pre-modern societies. India too has had an impressive record of this built heritage right from the Harappa times. Most of these forts have been built on top of ridges, are often surrounded by moats and almost always combine with other structures like residences, palaces, ceremonial and religious architecture. However, most early palaces and forts have undergone many stages of construction, where many original structures have been lost or perished. Deciphering the original form and design of military architecture, therefore, is not easy.
(i) The Fort of Chittor
The Rajputs, a warrior clan, came into prominence in early medieval period. Commitment to warfare is central to Rajput kshatriya culture. Their art and architecture is a product of a society that is dominated by ‘feudal’ clans, linked by ties of blood. It is a society dominated by military aristocracy. The Rajput strongholds, the great forts and palaces, located in the deserts of Rajasthan and in the state of Madhya Pradesh bear witness to the turbulent history of the area. Chittor, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bundi, Kota, Gwalior and later Amber are some of the surviving examples and among them, Chittor is the oldest.
Most Rajput forts are fort-palaces (garh-palaces). Almost invariably the defence features are contiguous with those of the palace, so that the fort and palace combine to form a single structure. Sometimes the fortified palace is contained within a further fortress. The Rajput garh-palaces also had a symbolic function which rivalled their function as dwellings and military retreats. They served as expressions of power and consolidation in the processes of state formation and became symbols of political rivalry.
The fort of Chittor is located in the state of Rajasthan. Chittor or Chittaurgarh was the capital of Mewar under the Guhilas, later called the Sisodia Rajputs (7th- 16thcentury). The rock of Chittor rises about 500 feet above the surrounding plains and is over 3 miles long and half a mile wide. It was taken by the Guhilas in the early 8thcentury and turned into a stronghold. Chittor annals record three sacks that the fortress suffered: the first in 1303 by the armies of Sultan Ala ud-Din Khalji of Delhi (1296 - 1316), the second by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in 1535, and the third which finally broke the kingdom in 1567 by the Mughal emperor, Akbar. It came back into Rajput hands but henceforth Chittor seized to be the capital, being replaced by Udaipur.
Rana Kumbha’s Palace
Rana Kumbha’s (1433 - 68) Palace is the earliest surviving palace in the complex. The palaces attributed to Bhim and Padmini, victims of Ala ud-Din’s siege are 19thcentury re-creations. However, Rani Padmini’s island retreat shows that there already existed at this early date (c.1300) the idea of a pleasure palace in the middle of a lake. This concept foreshadows the lake-palace of Udaipur, developed to great heights in the architectural tradition of Rajasthan. Rana Kumbha’s palace is situated on the west side of the fort. A mile long from the northern end, it is entered by two gateways to the east. The first gate is the huge Badi Pol and the second is called the Tripolia, a three bayed deep structure. From the gates you enter into a large open space to the south of the palace and to theDarikhana or Sabha, which is a low hypostyle hall (a hall with pillars). This most accessible part of the palace was the public part, serving in all probability as a parade ground and a council chamber. The Sabha hides the main entrance behind in the south facade that leads to the more private areas of the palace.
The northern end structures in the palace are better preserved than the southern. This end is marked by profusion and arrangement of balconies. Each richly carved projecting balcony is a rectangle surmounted by a canopy, which is supported on short columns. The balconies are arranged one above the other, in vertical groups, forming continuous projections from the facade. The top of the wall of this north front represents another Chittor characteristic. This is the rise and fall in short steps of the top, which is not a straight line and appears stepped and uneven. The effect of this stepping is to give the front a varied skyline. This in turn has the effect of looking unsubstantial, as the uneven line cannot have been met by a single roof which would provide it with volume and mass. But this is where the beauty of Chittor architecture lies.
All the structures are made of dressed stone, covered with stucco. The other exterior surface decoration includes broad sculpted bands serving as string courses, and large flower head projections (knobs).
The interior of the palace is generally irregular except for the northwest corner which is regular and self contained. Here a rectangular block is flanked by two towers of three stories each. The stories, comprising single square chambers have since collapsed. The central block consists of two rectangular chambers, one above the other, and a roof terrace on top. In front of the whole apartment is a small chowk (courtyard), from where a short flight of steps enters the apartment. Kanwar Pade ka Mahal or the palace of the heir apparent to the southwest echoes this arrangement as well.
In each of these two palaces, the jali screens (pierced stone latticed screens) on their outer surfaces indicate women’s quarters, which are also marked by a nearby structure that looks like a sentry box. The women were guarded within the palace and the jali screens protected them from the outside, although their quarters were closely integrated with the rest of the palace. Another feature of Rana Kumbha’s palace is a long street, uncovered, running along east-west axis, making it look more like an assemblage of structures rather than a single compact place. The Surya Gokhra at the east end, built of green stone is another edifice, but that was probably built later.
For a greater protection to the palace, and to provide it with larger storage, the whole structure is raised on a vaulted substructure. However, despite the knowledge of arcuate system, the entire edifice is predominantly trabeate in construction with small temple columns. The Hindu/Jain architectural forms that are seen in the use of balconies, the jalis, flower head knobs and temple columns, include other local features like the richly carved brackets and corbels (supports of the balconies) and the eaves (chajjas) as well. In the temples in the adjoining areas, these forms are extensively used. Eclecticism can be seen in the vaulted substructure, in the use of domes, and in the use of small ogee arches in the central kiosk. These seem to have been borrowed from contemporary Provincial Sultanate architectural style at Malwa.
Rana Rattan Singh’s Palace
Next in importance is Rana Rattan Singh’s (1528 - 31) Palace near the north end of the fort, on the west side of the small Ratneshwar Lake. It is same as Kumbha’s but more regular in overall plan. Originally it was a perfect rectangle, enclosed by a single continuous high wall, punctuated by massive towers, one at each corner and in the centre of the longer sides. This regular form is less evident now, because the palace is much ruined and altered. The slightly tapering towers are octagonal in base with string courses and are topped by squat round domes. The interior of the palace was never planned symmetrically, much like Rana Kumbha’s, which is a maze of small apartments. The southern side is the zenana (women’s quarters). The ogee pointed arch introduced in Rana Kumbha’s palace is seen in the gateway at the south of this palace. The palace like Kumbha’s is of rough hewn stone and was at one time covered with stucco.
The last structures to be built at Chittor before the Mughal capitulation are the palaces of Jaimal and Patta, the two heroes of Akbar’s siege (1567). They stand together on the western side of the fort, half a mile to the south of Kumbha’s palace. Inspite of this close proximity they represent different treatment and planning. Patta’s palace is much like Kumbha’s in the plan of the zenana. Like Kanwar Pade Ka Mahal, it has a small fight of steps before the entrance, and follows the same arrangement of rooms. Decoration too is similar, although far richer. Also the north wall is stepped at the top, with an uneven skyline but with a new feature of a staircase that leads from the roof terrace to a high balcony, lending it with a certain charm.
Jaimal’s palace is much more different in conception. It is a rectangular solid block on the exterior. The blank walls have no openings except for a centrally placed door, and are relieved by simple string courses suggesting three stories. The central portion of the main east front is somewhat recessed and the walls have a slight batter, but otherwise there is no deviation from a cuboid form. Lower storey is a large central chamber flanked by four small ones, two on each side. The upper storey is reached by an enclosed staircase on the front of the building. The roof terrace is flanked by two chambers that have vaulted ceilings. Entirely without decoration, though with a coat of plaster like in others, perfect symmetry of plan does not seem to be the norm here either. However, though Jaimal’s palace is the most different of all, it still uses familiar forms. Other structures in the fort include the house of Bhama Shah (c.1560), a quarter of a mile to the north of Kumbha’s.
From the above account, it seems there is a tremendous uniformity of style in the Chittor palaces despite the fact that some of them are separated by almost a century, like the time span between Rana Kumbha’s and Patta’s palace. No significant development seems to have taken place in the intervening years. A deliberate resistance to change can be the only explanation because elsewhere in the contiguous regions there are lively innovations. Later this conservatism is seen at Udaipur as well.
The Chittor style is echoed in nearby palaces at Gwalior and Chanderi with certain modifications. The sources for this early Rajput style at Chittor are not easily decipherable. One obvious precedent is the Indo-Islamic architecture that was practised in the adjoining areas of Rajput ascendancy. The Sultanate of Malwa, with its capital at Mandu (15th and early 16thcenturies) definitely influenced Chittor. This can be discerned in the domes and the ogee shaped arches, which are used in the Jami Masjid (1440) and the Jahaz Mahal (c.1460) at Mandu. The vaulted substructure too could have come from the Indo-Islamic tradition. But the projecting balconies of both the Chittor palaces and the Mandu Hindola Mahal (c.1425) take their forms from the Hindu temple architecture.
But Chittor ultimately is different to Mandu or Delhi. Indo-Islamic architecture is far more plain, emphasis being on the purity of forms while the decorative urge at Chittor is more paramount. Since not many pre-Chittor structures exist, prior to the medieval period, it is difficult to decipher the antecedents of Chittor. At best we can look at contemporary religious architecture or find correspondences with the descriptions of buildings in contemporary literature or as shown in pictorial records.
(ii) The Fort of Daulatabad
The region of the Deccan (14th - 18thcentury, the period of Muslim Sultanates), like Rajasthan, is marked by an unending cycle of raids, sieges and invasions. Defensive architecture was important here as well. Fortified cities and strongholds were occupied successively by different armies, thereby like the forts elsewhere, Deccan forts too experienced many phases of construction and changes, once again rendering a reconstruction on original lines extremely difficult.
The fort of Daulatabad is one of the most impregnable forts in India. It stands on a great conical hill of some 200 metres height. The hill is detached from the neighbouring spurs of the Sahyadri ranges, making it isolated. The isolation is further enhanced by the artificial scarping of the hill, which results in the entire rock presenting a vertical face, a formidable 50 metres - 65 metres high. On their arrival in the Deccan, the Delhi Sultanate armies encountered a long standing tradition of military architecture. This chiselling of the sides of this basalt hill, for example had already been completed under the Yadavas of Devagiri (as Daulatabad was then named). So too, the ramparts at Daulatabad, as elsewhere in the pre-Sultanate fortifications of Warangal and Raichur, had walls with quadrangular bastions, constructed of long stone slabs and laid without any mortar. Before the armies of Ala ud-Din Khalji reached Devagiri, the fort’s gateways were already bent entrances and passageways were roofed with horizontal beams for maximum defence.
Sultan Ala ud-Din Khalji’s invasion of the Deccan, beginning at the end of 13th century, succeeded in subjugating and extracting tribute from the Yadava ruler of Devagiri, as also from rulers of other principalities. The stylistic and technical features of the Indo-Muslim architecture were introduced in the Deccan at this time. This however, is not very apparent under the Khaljis, as only few of their monuments exist, the two hastily constructed mosques at Bijapur and Daulatabad, but under the Tughluqs when Sultan Mohammad Bin Tughluq (1325 - 51) made Devagiri his second capital, the situation changed. The occupation of the former Yadava stronghold, now renamed Daulatabad (City of prosperity), was accompanied by extensive building works. The Tughluqs introduced the architectural elements of their fortified cities in the north. The citadel at Tughluqabad with its features of sloping walls, rounded bastions, massive blocks of ashlar masonry, flattish domes, pointed vaults, stone arches bridging gates and portals were some of the forms that they had already devised at Delhi. These in turn can be seen at Daulatabad.
The Tughluq commanders exploited to advantage the rock citadel of the Yadavas, which they termed Balakot. To this they added an intermediate circular fort known as Kataka on its northern and eastern flanks. They then built Ambarkot, the fort which fans out in an irregular eclipse, almost 2 kilometres from north to south. Both Kataka and Ambarkot have an outer double circuit of massive ramparts, set at a marked angle and lined with slit holes and battlements. Kataka has its own two lines of wall defences that employ polygonal and round bastions, the inner line being higher. Additional protection is provided by broad moats.
The Delhi gate in the northern walls of Ambarkot has an arched opening decorated with sculpted lions in the spandrels. While the entrance on the east side of Kataka presents a sequence of arched gates and intermediate courts, shielded by massive outworks, projecting almost 80 metres away from the main line of fortification. The walls of Balakot have a similar gate, which opens out into a street that runs westwards. This gate has an arched entrance that is sandwiched between two tapering circular buttresses.
The Jami mosque (congregational mosque) of Kataka was erected in 1318 under the Khaljis, as evidenced by the inscription. It is 80 metres by 60 metres, fairly large and entered on three sides through domed chambers with unadorned sloping walls. A columned facade with four arched portals forms the facade of the prayer hall, reminiscent of the screens of the Qutb mosque at Delhi. The 106 pillars of the prayer hall behind form 25 aisles, each 5 bays deep and support a flat roof, with four external pillars, helping to support a corbelled dome over the principal mihrab, the prayer niche in the qibla (direction of prayer) wall. Many of these columns though have stylized indigenous floral and figural designs, but they were not all removed from temples, some were carved expressively for this structure.
Building activity continued at Daulatabad under the Bahmanis (1347 - 1538), who took over the area in the reign of Mohammad Bin Tughluq. Their ruined residence within Balakot is contained by high walls and entered on the north side through an arched gate. An internal court inside has three chambers with arched doorways. The details here include carved wooden beams and brackets set into the walls, incised plaster work with geometric and arabesque motifs in bands and medallions, and perforated windows with geometric designs in plaster covered brickwork. All these later evolved into the mature Bahmani style.
A short distance, north of the mosque is the brick built Chand Minar (early 14thcentury and later). Its 30 metres high cylindrical shaft is divided into four stages by three diminishing circular balconies. These are supported on sculpted brackets with pendent lotuses. The base of the Minar is attributed to the Tughluqs but the central section was added by Bahmanis in 1347 to commemorate the occupation of Daulatabad. Its fluted profile, once again recalls the Qutb Minar at Delhi. The summit however, here is marked by a bulbous dome and its base is concealed by a structure with a small mosque that was added in 1445.
The Ahmadnagar Sultans, the Nizam Shahis (1496 - 1636), after taking over the northern territories of the splintered Bahmani kingdom improved some structures at the citadel of Daulatabad, but they concentrated more on the other new forts like the one in Ahmadnagar, their capital. After the temporary Mughal takeover of Ahmadnagar in 1601, when Daulatabad once again became the seat of power, that the Nizam Shahi’s added some structures here. The Chini Mahal, so called because of traces of blue and white tiles set in its facade, was constructed within the precincts of Balakot. The pavilion is in ruins but one can discern the superimposed arched openings between tapering buttresses. The eaves and gallery running atop have mostly fallen. The interior is a double height hall, spanned by transverse stacked arches, a Timurid central Asian feature.
Daulatabad again fell into Mughal hands in 1633, thereafter serving as their main headquarter, until the move to Aurangabad. Shahjahan’s palace, situated beneath the northern flank of Balakot is in a dilapidated condition. The structure has two courts, the inner one is conceived as a four square garden with raised walkways surrounded by pavilions with cusped arches, a typical Shahjahani architectural form. The second court on the west has three interconnecting octagonal chambers, roofed with flat vaults, while its back arcaded verandah overlooks the rocky trench that surrounds the rock on which is situated the fort. Two brick built hammams(bath houses) with perforated domes are as well a part of this Mughal complex. There is another Mughal pavilion with part-octagonal balcony just beneath the summit of Balakot. And yet another hammam is outside the fortified eastern entrance to Kataka that has square and octagonal chambers roofed with flattish domes. Smaller cells in the corners are provided with baths.
Outlying structures in Daulatabad include a tomb with jali screens to the east of the outer fortification of the fort and an unnamed funerary garden on a hill slope, in the east of Daulatabad.
The Palace-Dargah of Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri (1570 - 85), the new capital city of Mughal emperor Akbar (1556 - 1605), was founded around the hospice of Shaikh Salim Chishti, the Sufi saint of Sikri, a small hamlet, some 38 kilometres, west of Agra. According to the contemporary Persian sources, the emperor shifted his capital from Agra to honour the Shaikh, through whose intercession he had been blessed with an heir, the future Jahangir. Just as earlier, his father Humayun’s tomb was placed near Shaikh Nizam ud-Din Auliya’s Chishti dargah (a Sufi shaikh’s tomb or shrine) at Delhi, so did Akbar make another Chishti shrine, the site of his new capital. The palace, the public areas, and the religious structures of the Jami mosque and the khanqah (the Sufi hospice) were combined together in this enigmatic city. The khanqah must have become a dargah at the demise of the saint (1572). The city was however, abandoned within 15 years, because of the political exigencies that prompted the Mughal capital to move to Lahore or as some hold, the move came because of lack of water supply.
Built on a rocky ridge, 3 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide, the city is surrounded by 11 kilometres of wall, except on the south where there was a lake. Structures are made of the locally quarried red sandstone, called the Sikri sandstone. Roughly the plan of the city follows the naqsha-i manzil, the layout of the imperial destination/camp, as described by the court historian Abul Fazl, when the emperor was on the move and how his dwelling was laid out in chintz, cloth and props. But the identification and original purpose of most buildings of this camp in stone, remains in question till today. The names the structures bear today were invented for the benefit of 19thcentury European visitors by the local guides. Also, it is possible, the buildings did have many functions as in traditional pre-modern societies there is little to separate the private spaces from the public, as the buildings were adapted to serve many functions. The palace complex with the religious structures makes up the main city but besides these, the city had dwellings of nobles, baths, serais, a bazaar, gardens, schools and workshops. It was more than a simple royal residence, was an economic, administrative and an imperial base.
The khanqah, situated on the west, is the highest point on the ridge, the focal point of Akbar’s city of victory (Fatehpur). Inside this sacred place, in the courtyard stands the lofty Jami Masjid, entered from three sides. Its southern portal is the enormous gateway, the Buland Darwaza. The courtyard of the mosque contains the tomb of the revered saint. Beneath this courtyard are water reservoirs, connected to the lake on the southern side.
The Buland Darwaza, towering to a height of 54 metres, was built in 1573, to commemorate the victory of Gujarat, when Sikri came to be called Fatehpur Sikri. The Quranic inscriptions on the gate allude to a promise of a paradise to true believers. The purpose of the gate, in this sense befits an entrance to a khanqah much more than a victory gate. The Jami Masjid is situated on the west side, the qibla (direction of prayer) being the west, to face Mecca, as required. An inscription on the mosque’s east facade states that it was built in 1571 - 72 by the Shaikh himself. Interior inscriptions give the date 1574, probably that of completion. Measuring 89 by 20 metres, the mosque must have been at that time the largest Mughal mosque. The exterior is a high central pishtaq (a high arch or a portal), flanked by delicately arched side wings. A row of small chattris (free standing canopy turret) lines the eastern edge of the roof. Multiple arched openings, resting on slender pillars are reminiscent of pre-Mughal Mandu and Chanderi mosques. The superstructure too, seems modelled after these mosques, only difference being that here there are small chattris, instead of small domes. The facade overall is pre-Mughal but the pishtaq, a Timurid feature is a Mughal innovation. In the interior, the main prayer chamber is just behind the high pishtaq. It is ornamented with white marble inlaid into red sandstone to form intricate geometric patterns. Painted arabesques and floral motifs with a use of polychrome and gilt suggest the intricacy of Timurid prototype once again. Such embellishment is known from Lodi and Sur times but never with such sophistication. Side wings that flank the central bay are composed of multi-aisled trabeated bays and a double-aisled pillared verandah. The slender pillars here are like the ones at Jahangiri Mahal in Agra fort.
Akbar himself swept the floors of this mosque, read the khutba (Friday sermon) himself in 1579, and inspite of the orthodox ulema (the religious custodians of Islam), a few months later issued a declaration (mahzarnama), assigning himself powers to decide even religious matters. The portals of Fatehpur Sikri became the ground for the emperor to play his imperial vision of consolidating his unfettered authority and establishing a rule based on the still nascent concept of Sulh-i Kul(peace with all), the basis of his power, on which rests his lasting legacy.
Shaikh Salim Chishti’s tomb was completed almost a decade later in 1580 - 81, after his demise in 1572. The white marble dargah, jewel like, is a single domed building of 15 metres square. A passageway runs around in the interior to facilitate circumambulation. The outer walls of this Gujarat derived structure are composed of intricately carved white marble screens (jalis). This feature is earlier seen at Shaikh Ahmad Khattu’s tomb at Sarkhej, Gujarat. Beautifully carved serpentine brackets support the deep eaves (chajjas) that encircle the shrine and its projecting south entrance porch. This pre-Mughal tradition was derived from Indo-Islamic architecture of Gujarat, Mandu and Chanderi. The screens and the multi-coloured stone flooring, similar to the one at Sarkhej, were donated by one of Akbar’s nobles, who had served Gujarat. There is a possibility that artisans may have come from Gujarat to build this tomb.
Among the secular structures at Sikri, the palace complex lies to the southeast of the mosque. This part was clearly planned, for the palace is axially and geometrically related to the khanqah. Geometry here serves as a metaphor for Akbar’s control and power. The Hathiya Pol, or Elephant Gate, at the southern end was the main imperial entry point. Here was a drum house (naqqar khana) and a large serai. As one enters inside, there is access to both the mosque side and the palace quarters, including the Daulat Khana-i Khass o Amm (Public Audience Hall), an important administrative building. At the foot of the Hathiya Pol is a minaret, the Hiran Minar, considered to be a hunting tower. Derived from Iranian prototypes, the structure with its protruding stones was probably a mile post (kos minar). The Daulat Khana-i Khass o Amm to its west was entered by a long road, lined with shops. This secular complex faces the other religious end of the Jami Masjid and the dargah, the two focal points of Akbar’s empire. The structure is a simple pillared flat-roofed verandah. In the central west side is a projection for the emperor’s seat. Behind on the west side, between the Jami and the Public Hall are the rest of the private palace structures, most of whose functions are unidentified.
One of these structures is the Anup Talao, a square pool in whose centre is a pavilion, where the emperor may have sat to have religious discussions or the tank was filled with coins, which were distributed by the emperor. Surrounding the tank is Turkish Sultana’s House, almost surely wrongly named so. It is distinguished by a rich tapestry of carvings of intricate geometric patterns, trees, flowers, vines, birds and animals, again reminiscent of Timurid prototypes. The floor level ornamentation indicates that people here sat and not stood like in the Public Audience Hall.
On the south edge of Anup Talao, is a multi-storied building, called the Khwabgah, the imperial sleeping chamber. Traces of figural painting and calligraphy can be seen on its walls. One of the painted verses proclaims: ‘the adorner of the realm of Hindustan’, thus confirming the building’s imperial association. The top storey of the pavilion is a central rectangular block, earlier seen at his fort in Allahabad. Immediately to the south of the Khwabgah is the Daftar Khana, or the Records office. It has an open window that overlooks the terrain below. This was Akbar’s Jharokha (a small projecting window/balcony supported on brackets), in which he showed himself daily to the public at daybreak.
A small square building, with a pillar shaft in its midst, named the Diwan-i Khass (Private Audience Hall) has evoked much speculation among art historians. Its location, just behind the Public Audience Hall, and aligned with the Jharokha, indicates it might have been the Private Audience Hall. The exterior is like the rest of pavilions but the interior with an elaborated carved pillar in the centre is unique. Its capital is composed of similar serpentine brackets, as in the Saint’s dargah. These brackets, fuller at the top than at the bottom, support a circular platform on top, which is connected to each corner of the building by stone slab walkways. A narrow path, running around connects these walkways. Akbar probably sat on this platform. Some believe that here he projected himself as the Hindu/Buddhistchakravartin, the universal ruler, presiding over all and sundry. However, the eclectic mind of the emperor developed later, after much of Fatehpur Sikri was constructed. As a matter of fact, this is the phase when he looked more towards Islam, both orthodox and popular to draw his legitimacy. Most likely the emperor sat on this platform to project himself as the dominant figure of the empire, its axis and pillar.
To the west of this area are small multi-storied trabeated structures. Often they are assumed to be Akbar’s residences for his queens and nobles. Most probably, they housed only princes and women of the household, for all of them are linked to the Khwabgah by covered screened passageways. The tallest of these is the Panch Mahal of five tiers with a large chattri. Pierced stone screen can be seen on its facade, hence would have been meant for imperial women use. The structure looks to be a pleasure pavilion, with its open spaces for cool breezes.
The largest among these trabeated structures is today called Jodha Bai’s Palace. This might have been the first palace to be constructed because it directly leads through a once covered passage to the Hathya Pol, the main imperial entrance. The building encloses a courtyard, entered by an arched gate. The rooms of the interior are trabeated, and covered with Gujarat type ornamentation. The brackets atop recessed niches in the walls are like the temple and mosque niches of Gujarat. Similarly the hanging bell and chain motif carved on many pillars has precedents in the Hindu and Muslim architecture of pre-Mughal Gujarat and Bengal.
The so called House of Birbal, one of Akbar’s courtiers, inscribed with the date 1572, is also in the vicinity. A phrase that follows the date says: ‘royal mansion of initiation’’, suggesting that its purpose was not residential, but ceremonial or even administrative. The carved ornamentation here as well goes back to pre-Islamic as well as Sultanate architecture.
The employment of both ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ forms by the emperor in the architecture at Fatehpur Sikri has earned for the complex, the epithet of ‘Sulh-i Kul(peace with all) in stone’ - a ‘Hindu’-‘Muslim’ synthesis in stone, running parallel with his eclectic policy of universal toleration. Art historian, Ram Nath, while searching for the sources of Sikri structures has elaborated on the influence of indigenous motifs, ornamentation, local roofs and pillar types, derived from domestic architecture, on the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri. The ‘Hindu’ forms from Gujarat and Jamuna-Chambal region (Delhi, Agra, Dholpur, Gwalior and Malwa) were harmoniously fused with ‘Islamic’ ones to create the perfectly blended Fatehpur Sikri structures. These influences, argues the author, should be seen against the backdrop of the patron’s own eclectic personality.
However, we have already mentioned that it is difficult to assign monolithic identities to cultural forms. There is no ‘Hindu’ trabeate nor is there a ‘Muslim’ arcuate. Both the types of buildings used both the systems of construction and ornamentation. Also, Akbar’s choice of a style that would appeal to all regardless of sectarian differences may not have been consciously done at this time because his future policy of universal toleration was still in its formative years. Nonetheless, it certainly speaks volumes for the man that he chose the best from all parts of India and put it all together in a consolidated form. The assimilation of regional forms should also be judged against the backdrop of his earlier policies when he abolished many discriminatory laws against the non-believers.
Most historians today look at the shift to Fatehpur Sikri and its architectural forms in a wider context. To Monica Juneja, Fatehpur Sikri was conceived of as a microcosm of the Mughal Empire through reuniting within its spaces a distillation of visual and structural forms that had once belonged to regions brought under the imperial umbrella. She further interprets the complex as flexible, as one open space opens into another, with no central visual control. There is no consummation, no arriving at a point. The functions of the structures are flexible too. It was a manifesto of an empire in the making that had architectural features from all over.
For Michael Brand and Glenn D. Lowry, Akbar and his planners focussed on two structures, the mosque, containing the jewel like tomb of Shaikh Salim and Akbar’s imperial palace. The two were ‘ideologically linked’ and ‘formally related’ through the layout of the city and the design of its principal buildings. Beyond these were laid the rest houses, gardens and villas. Fatehpur Sikri and its environs was a 300 mile long corridor running from Agra to Ajmer in the west. In Ajmer, was located Shaikh Muin ud-Din Chishti’s dargah, to which the emperor made annual pilgrimages. The new capital represented a formal point of connection between the older political and spiritual poles of Agra and Ajmer, and Akbar, in situating and designing the city, clearly stated that the spiritual basis for his rule was Islamic. The authors further argue that the new city was an expression of political stability and military victory. The Hall of Private Audience, sometimes identified as the Ibadatkhana, the House of Worship, symbolized the new order of social harmony that Akbar was trying to promote.
John F. Richards interprets Fatehpur Sikri against his larger discussion of imperial authority under Akbar and Jahangir. In the first two decades Akbar established his infallible spiritual authority, to make his person the metaphor for the empire. Part of this campaign was to reject Delhi as the seat of power. At this time he built the forts of Agra, Allahabad, Lahore, Rohtas and Attock. Fatehpur Sikri too is a part of that, as it represents the final break with Delhi in 1571, while its forms represent the orthodox religious ideology that he relied on for legitimacy. He combined the mosque and the dargah, legal and mystical Islam into his political authority, against the backdrop of the mahzarnama,that gave him unfettered authority. Eventually these forms of Islam were further subordinated to his authority when the sons of the Shaikh were recruited in the imperial service and were not made heirs to the shrine. The Sikri years saw assimilation into his political authority the orthodox and popular Islam, symbolized by the combination of palace and the mosque and the dargah. The abandoning of Sikri led to a change in ideology as well, from religious to more imperial for his legitimacy, as orthodoxy was given up after 1580. Finally, Richards sees Sikri as a secure common post to mobilize forces west towards Rajasthan and Gujarat, and if need be to the east to tackle the Afghans. For Richards, the move to Sikri was to lend an Islamic (in all forms) religious basis to his sovereignty and a political need of a military corridor.
Attilio Petruccioli sees a grid system behind the planning of Fatehpur Sikri, though he observes an incongruity within that grid. To him, the romantic association of Fatehpur Sikri and it foundation with the need to honour the saint needs to be shelved. For Petruccioli, Sikri was a political operation to achieve two aims: an attempt to centralize the court and to uproot the nobility from its stronghold of Agra. Fatehpur Sikri is a residential city, a gilded prison for the court, with a lack of military defences here. This was to keep the nobility firmly under control. Petruccioli further sees the city as representing ‘cultured architecture’ in a vernacular style, where tradition piece by piece was put at a higher level. To him the Sikri ‘new style’ was just this, an expanded scale architecture of an imperial ideal and not quite like the European Renaissance style which was based on intrinsic factors and configurations that coalesced in a movement.
Glenn D. Lowry is concerned with the rigid alignment of the city’s structures that are east to west or north to south, while the ridge itself is aligned southeast to northwest. This means the terrain is better suited for a diagonal layout but the structures are rigidly aligned following the cardinal directions. The seat of the emperor in the Diwan-i Khass o Amm is oriented to the west. From contemporary sources, it seems the Hall was also a site for prayers till 1582, after which public prayer in the court was abolished. This would mean the people, when they faced the qibla to pray, they actually faced the emperor. The emperor here then symbolically became the qibla of the empire and the city became the setting for articulation of the imperial vision of himself as the master of the physical and spiritual worlds. Lowry further argues that the palaces located between the Diwan-i Khass o Amm and the Jami Masjid are caught between the dual forces of these structures, the two poles of the empire, spiritual and temporal. They are in the middle ground between the formal and spiritual needs of the empire. They are a theatrical setting on a microcosmic level, to enact this vision. The microcosmic is completed by the macrocosmic parallel in Fatehpur Sikri’s position as a royal corridor between the two poles, the temporal Agra and the spiritual Ajmer.
Profound changes took place in the art and architecture of India during the colonial era. European colonists, the Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, French and the British brought with them the concepts and forms of European architecture - Neoclassical, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance. The initial structures were utilitarian warehouses and walled trading posts, giving way to fortified towns along the coastline. The Portuguese adapted to India the climatically appropriate Iberian galleried patio house and the Baroque churches of Goa. The St. Francis Church at Cochin, built by the Portuguese in 1510, is believed to be the first church built by the Europeans in India.
The Danish influence is evident in Nagapatnam, which was laid out in squares and canals and also in Tranquebar and Serampore. The French gave a distinct urban design to their settlement in Pondicherry by applying the Cartesian grid plans and classical architectural patterns.
However, it was the British who left a lasting impact on India architecture. They saw themselves as the successors to the Mughals, as they settled down to about 200 years of rule, and used architecture as a symbol of power. The British followed various architectural styles – Gothic, Imperial, Christian, English Renaissance and Victorian being the essentials.
The first British buildings under the East India Company were factories but later courts, schools, municipal halls and dak bungalows came up. These simple structures were built by their garrison engineers. A far deeper concern with architecture was exhibited in churches and other public buildings, though most of these were adaptations of the buildings designed by leading British architects back home in England.
Under the Company, the old Indian port cities turned into fortified zones. The new English fortifications turned city walls into artillery platforms and angled them mathematically to cover all lines of fire. And since, the guiding principle behind all architectural activity in these ports was security, the fortified port cities of the Company, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai, were not centrally planned cities. The Company was suspicious of any central planning that involved unnecessary expense. The streets though, were fairly regularly laid out. Modest churches and hospitals catered to the European population. But the paramount consideration was defence. The governor’s residence served as the symbol of authority. The port cities had Black and White towns to segregate the European and native populations.
Changes came after the victory at Plassey (1757), the English now ventured out of the fortified port cities to the countryside for the first time. Interaction between Indian and western cultures produced an architecture of great variety with elegance, especially domestic architecture. Many imposing public buildings were constructed by the East India Company engineers with the help of Indian builders. However, the inspiration was often the European architectural texts and a time lag of around 20 years before the style was introduced into India from Britain. Unlike Europe, these buildings were built mostly of brick and stuccoed with lime orchunam, sometimes ‘facades’ incised to look like stones. Some later buildings were built with stones as well. The Neoclassical style was modified to the exigencies of Indian tropical climate and landscape.
This Neoclassical architecture flourished in different parts of India under the British, inspired by the Houses of Parliament in London. Colonel Thomas Cowper built the town hall in Bombay during 1820 to 1835. Governor Sir Bartle Frere tried to give a truly imperial ambience to the city of Bombay. During his reign the old town walls were broken down and the Gateway of India was built in the Gothic style of architecture. The Secretariat, University Library, Rajabai Tower, Telegraph Office and the Victoria Terminus all followed the Victorian Gothic style, similar to buildings in London. Undoubtedly, the Victoria Terminus, designed by the architect Frederick Willaim Stevens modelled on the St.Pancras Station, is the finest example of Gothic architecture with a subtle hint of the Indo-Saracenic motifs, an extravaganza of polychromatic stone, decorated tile marble and stained glass. Stevens also designed other buildings like the Churchgate Terminus and the Municipal Building opposite the Victoria Terminus in Bombay.
But perhaps the most original contribution of colonial culture was the domestic bunglow, derived from the rustic Bengali hut, a cool low-slung, single storied, high ceilinged residence perfectly adapted to the tropical climate.
The uprising of 1857 led to further changes, but this time, the event led to a renewed sense of insecurity and to another conception of defence. Exclusive settlements inhabited by European civil and military officials, the cantonments, came into being outside the Indian towns. The army barracks were placed behind the parade grounds in these cantonments, to ensure maximum security.
The passing of power from the East India Company to the British Crown, after the uprising, and the rise of Indian nationalism and the introduction of railways were the watersheds in the British Colonial Indian architectural history. New materials like concrete, glass, wrought and cast iron opened up new architectural possibilities. The architecture of the colonial cities was now motivated by the need to project an awe-inspiring image of the Raj, as their confidence had been shaken by the uprising. The British also started assimilating and adopting the native Indian styles in architecture. All these factors led to the development of the Indo- Saracenic architecture towards the end of the 19th century.
In the early 19th century, classical architecture was used to celebrate an empire held to be as enduring as the Roman Empire. But after the uprising, aggressive anglicizing was given up and the Indian Raj turned to the notion of ‘timeless India’. Instead of reform and change, tradition and order became the dominant motto. This was to underline the fact that only the Raj could keep the peace in a land that was divided on religious and cultural lines and lacked cohesion. The British adopted the Indo-Saracenic style. Victorian in essence, the style borrowed heavily from the Indo-Islamic style of Mughals, Afghan and Sultanate rulers. In fact it was a pot pouri of architectural styles; a hybrid style that combined in a wonderful manner the diverse architectural elements of pre-Indo-Islamic and Mughal with Gothic arches, domes, spires, traceries and minarets.
The Indo-Saracenic style was Indian on the outside and British inside since the facade was built with an Indian touch while the interior was solely Victorian. The Chepauk Palace in Chennai, the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata, the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai and the Lakshami Vilas palace in Baroda are some of the outstanding examples. But it was the architecture of New Delhi where the imperial ideology was expressed officially in most graphic ways.
The architecture of New Delhi was the crowning glory of the British Raj, but ironically it was also its swansong. Robert Byron described New Delhi as ‘The Rome of Hindostan’. The British built New Delhi as a systematically planned city after it was made the capital in 1911. But the new capital, for all the grandeur of its conception, was to mark the beginning of the end.
The British Viceroy made Sir Edward Lutyens responsible for the overall plan of Delhi. He was specifically directed to design the Viceroy's House, now called the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Herbert Baker, who had worked on the British buildings in South Africa, was commissioned to design the adjoining buildings of the South and the North Blocks, which flank the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the Secretariats. Another Englishman called Robert Tor Tussell was assigned to do the shopping complex, Connaught Place and the Eastern and Western Courts.
Much debate ensued in deciding the design of the new capital. The question was how the empire was to be most appropriately represented in stone? As there was no consensus, on one side were the partisans of the Indo-Saracenic design, who saw in the relocation of the capital to the Mughal heartland an opportunity for Britain to reclaim India’s great imperial predecessors, above all Akbar, the builder of Fatehpur Sikri, and Shahjahan, whose, Shahjahanabad was the heart of Delhi of 19thcentury. Yet at the same time there were the partisans who thought only the Edwardian classicism alone could do justice to represent the empire in stone.
In the end, the Indo-Saracenic was decisively repudiated. Yet classicism, as the viceroy, Lord Hardinge, and with him Herbert Baker, sought to ‘orientalize’ its forms, secured but an uncertain victory. The chief designer, Lutyens, committed to neoclassical style, on his part contemptuously rejected Indic forms, but at the same time assimilated them into an architecture that is stamped with his personal genius. But Lutyens work was no lasting legacy, for the building of New Delhi marked the end of the British rule.
Baker on the other hand was fired by the romance of empire as a partnership between the ruler and the ruled. He was more concerned with the political implications of the new capital, which he sought to make it more imperial. He considerably diluted Lutyens’ classicism in the Secretariat buildings that were designed by him. It was because of Baker that besides the Mughal portal entryway, three ‘characteristically Indian’ forms were adopted. These were: the chajja (deep eves, wide projecting cornice), the jali (pierced stone latticed screen) and the chattri (free standing canopy turret). The compelling attraction for Baker to these forms, it seems was not so much because they were Indian forms but that they were best suited for Indian climate. The projecting cornice, protected the walls and windows from the sun and the rain, and thus made room for the open window. The jali admitted air but not the light of the scorching sun. The chattri was adopted for aesthetic purpose of breaking the long horizontal skyline of the flat roofed Secretariats. It was again, largely because of Baker that nationalist artists were commissioned to do the murals in these buildings. Both Baker and Hardinge saw in the blended style of an ‘orientalised’ classicism a ‘happy marriage’ of East and West.
The chosen site for the new city was to the west of the old city. It was a flat plain, but in the centre was a small mount called the Raisina hill, which was to be the seat of the government. In the final product, as the complex stands today, radiating avenues lead to a wide, canal bordered avenue. Two miles away on the slight rise of the Raisina stand the Secretariats and the Viceroy’s House, symbolically joined together on the throne of government. While the dome of the Viceroy’s House slowly disappears behind the slope in the road as we drive down the Rajpath (King’s way), Baker’s Secretariat buildings, built on great retaining walls, right on the edge of the hill, rise up, acting , as Baker suggested, a kind of bastion to the house beyond. It is only after we come to the top of the hill that the Viceroy’s House is visible, or is rather revealed slowly in full splendour. To Lutyens, this conception was absurd at that time. He wanted his building to stand alone on the hill and the Secretariat buildings to be clustered around below. But finally, Baker’s idea prevailed.
Lutyens achievement, nonetheless, was no less great, the Viceroy’s House is magnificent in its form and details. The dome, symbolizing power, is half a simple sphere, supported by a plain drum. Below the drum there runs a series of mouldings which develop into a thin strip of stone, underneath of which is a deep slot of dark shadow, rendering it with a floating feel. Below, the stone changes to a dark red to form a base. Under the dome, the flat horizontal roof line runs. A chajja juts out to throw a deep shadow and a vast recessed portico of the columns below. On either side of the portico are the walls of the main house. These are further broken into loggias, open verandahs and other functional spaces. The private quarters are elegantly simple. A well laid out Mughal garden, with an ingenious use of water, completes the exterior.
The other official buildings of New Delhi use the same combination of features, the open verandahs with columns, and the three characteristic Indic forms. The rest of the new city was characterized by wide avenues with trees in double rows on either side, creating vistas and connecting various points of interest. Almost every major road has a specific focal point closing the vista, so that no avenue is lost in the horizon. Besides the diagonal road pattern, the most prominent feature of the plan is the Central Vista Park, starting from the National Stadium in the east, continuing through to India Gate and the Secretariat buildings, and finally culminating in the west at the Viceroy’s House. This is the main east-west axis; it divides New Delhi into two parts, with the shopping centre, Connaught Place in the north and extensive government residences, the bunglows, in the south.
New Delhi was expected to be a concrete symbol of Indian aspirations under the British rule, an Imperial vision with Indic forms, achieved through ‘orientalized’ classicism. But in the end, it was ironic, that from the inception of New Delhi in 1911 to its actual completion in 1932, the political situation in India had reached such a crisis point that the new capital remained a hollow seat of an empire that was soon to collapse, the end coming in 1947.
Architecture is an important medium to study culture, society and polity. The architectural tradition of Indian subcontinent dates back to our ancient past. Buddhism and Hinduism were two important faiths which influenced the development of different architectural forms such as the stupa, the vihara, the chaitya and the temple built during the ancient period. The advent of Islam added to the rich architectural heritage in the form of tombs, mosques,dargah and madrasas. The Mughals contributed to these developments by introducing new features with innovative designs and ornamentations. The forts built by the Rajputs, the muslim Sultans, the Mughals and others present a secular image of the architectural tradition. The colonial era witnessed significant changes in the field of art and architecture. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British introduced the concepts and forms of European architecture. This was applied in building urban settlements, public buildings, forts, churches, memorials etc. The contributions of Edward Lutyens, Herbert Baker and Robert Tor Tussel in planning, designing and building post -1911 Delhi (New Delhi) added a new chapter in the history of Indian architecture.