India’s Ethnic Architecture

July 11, 2013

India’s history dates back as one of the world’s first cradles of civilization. The land was fertile and by 2000 BC settlements were fairly well established and organized. In about 1500 BC Hinduism was formalized and the caste system was introduced.

Indian architecture is as old as the history of the civilization. The earliest remains of recognizable building activity in the India dates back to the Indus Valley cities. Among India’s ancient architectural remains, the most characteristic are the temples, Chaityas, Viharas, Stupas and other religious structures. In ancient India, temple architecture of high standard developed in almost all regions. The distinct architectural style of temple construction in different parts was a result of geographical, climatic, ethnic, racial, historical and linguistic diversities.

India has always been simply too big, too complicated, and too culturally subtle to let any one empire dominate it for long. Based on archeological findings, Indian history can be broadly divided into five phases:

1. Saraswati (Harappan) civilization: 6500 BC – 1000 BC or also called ‘Vedic period’ in history of India.
2. Golden period of Indian History: 500 BC – 800 AD
3. Muslim influence in India: 1000 AD- 1700 AD
4. British period in India: 1700 AD – 1947 AD
5. Modern India: 1947 – till date

The Indus – Saraswati civilisation was the world’s first to build planned towns with underground drainage, civil sanitation, hydraulic engineering, and air-cooled constructions. Whereas the other ancient civilisations of the world were small towns with one central complex, this civilisation had the distinction of being spread across many towns, covering a region about half the size of Europe.

Most of the sculptures found in the Gupta Empire were related to religion and spiritual realm, such as standing Buddha of Mathura and the sitting Buddha in Sarnath. Famous caves of rock-cut monasteries in Ajanta were also part of Gupta Empire. Then were the eminent paintings of Badami and Bagh. The style of Gandhara School of art that was originally developed in Mathura had gained much prominence during this period.

The Sultans and ministers were well-grounded in their own architecture and wanted to build mosques and palaces same as in their home countries. Since craftsmen who constructed those buildings actually were conquered Indians, it was to cause strong entanglements between traditional and foreign architecture.
Then, what was the difference between Indian traditional architecture and Islamic architecture coming from the outside? Before seeing that, I will expound three categories of world architecture.

In the prevailing eclecticism of the age, English design reformers, disgusted with the regurgitation of the classical and mediaeval styles of Europe’s past as the individual architect thought fit for his particular purpose, had turned back to the native vernacular traditions and produced the so-called ‘Free-Style’, hybrid but non-historicist and of little interest to Anglo-Indians.

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