Subscribe to Updates & Daily Quiz

Indian Architecture

Harappa is located near the Ravi River, a tributary of the upper Indus region. The patterns of settlements were based on the behavior of rivers which is based around the flood plain ecology, regional trade over rivers, favorable climate for daily life, access to trade routes and natural resources etc. Easy access to water table near rivers and arable land due to alluvial soil encourages human habitation. Cities like Harappa, which lie on the periphery of the known Indus Valley Civilization, served as gateway cities into the main region where that civilization held sway and were hence more robust or powerful than smaller cities. It is spread over 450,000 sqm of space.

The ruins at Harappa now stand in a fragile state but nonetheless still have a host of information to provide us. Most obviously what we see is the same general layout as at Mohenjo Daro in Larkana, Sind. The circuit of both cities spreads to about 3 miles, and both have the same differentiations of areas in terms of town planning as well. These areas can simply be divided into the lower (public) and upper (acropolis) areas. Both had the same shape where the acropolis is concerned namely a parallelogram that was 400-500 yards north-south and 200-300 yards east-west. The height is 40 feet from the flood-plain and both the cities are similarly oriented, with the major axis north-south. The grid plan is indicative of an evolved civil engineering principle that had developed at the time, which is not seen in the older towns of Mesopotamia such as Ur which have a meandering street layout that is more natural.

The cities of the Indus Valley all have a number of common factors that distinguish them from the civilizations of the Bronze Age. The defining feature of overall town planning of the cities is the cardinal orientation, with the longer grid aligned north-south to take advantage of prevailing winds. The layout and compartmentalization of the cities look to have a visual and conceptual connection to the geometric designs on seals from the Early Chalcolithic and even the houses of Mehergarh and perhaps if not directly connected, there is probably indication of a cultural template for the organization of space that continued to form a basis for cultural styles and patterns in the Harappan era. This organization of space into grids is seen not just in town planning in this area but also in house plans, designs on pottery, diagrams on seals and even the designs of the individual script characters.

In terms of the orientation, the cities were probably oriented based on the rising sun and moon, certain stars in the sky whose movements were known (not the North Star as it was not in the same position as it currently is) or other methods involving tracing the sun path on the ground with a stick and string. The slightly lopsided angled plan of the town may indicate that many hundreds of centuries worth of planning and re-planning based on older sighting techniques resulted in a skewed direction of the plan due to the changing position of stars in the sky that led to slightly different cardinal points being determined by the ancients. The star Aldebaran and the constellation of Pleiades were used as measuring benchmarks for determining the cardinal points. The town planning was achieved through the development of compass, plum bob and scale, tools which are still found to be in use today.

The Vedic Period or Vedic Age (1500 – 500 BCE) was the period during which the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism were composed. During the early part of the Vedic period, the Indo-Aryans settled into northern India, bringing with them their specific religious traditions. The associated culture was initially a tribal, pastoral society centered in the north-western parts of the Indian subcontinent; it spread after 1200 BCE to the Ganges Plain, as it was shaped by increasing settled agriculture, a hierarchy of four social classes, and the emergence of monarchical, state-level polities.
Scholars consider Vedic civilization to have been a composite of the Indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures.

A fresh wave of Naga-Asuras, the builders of Megaliths had reached between 1000-800 B.C. from the West, who were dead opponents of Aryan race, and equipped with iron technology and strong iron war weapons.

Mauryan Art

The art and architecture of the Mauryan Empire constitutes the culminating point of the progress of Indian art. The period was marked by mature use of stone and production of masterpieces.

The Mauryan period art and architecture, except that of the relics of the palace of Chandragupta Maurya at Pataliputra, is mainly Asokan. It can be classified into Stupas, Pillars, Caves, Palaces and Pottery.

Mauryan Stupas

The Stupas were solid domes constructed of brick or stone, varying in sizes. Samrat Ashoka built numerous stupas scattered over the country. But most of the stupas have not survived the ravages of time. The Ashokan stupas were constructed to celebrate the achievements of Gautama Buddha.

The Sanchi Stupa as a hemispherical dome, truncated near the top, surrounded at the base by lofty terrace to serve as gate for procession. The special point of stupa architecture was the dome. Inside the stupa, in the central hall was preserved some relics of Buddha in a casket. The inner wall of the stupas was built either by terracotta bricks or by sun-burnt bricks. The top of the dome was decorated by a wooden or stone umbrella denoting universal supremacy of Dharma. There was a parikrama encircling the stupa.

Mauryan Pillars

The most striking monuments of Mauryan art are the celebrated Pillars of Dharma. These pillars were free standing columns and were not used as supports to any structure. They had two main parts, the shaft and the capital. The shaft is monolith column made of one piece of stone with exquisite polish. The art of polishing was so marvelous that many people felt that it was made of metal. Some of the Pillars mark the stages of Asoka’s pilgrimage to various centers of Buddhism.

The Sarnath

The Sarnath column has the most magnificent capitol. It is a product of a developed type of art of which the world knew in the Third Century B.C. It has been fittingly adopted as the emblem of the Modem Indian Republic. It is seven feet in height. The lowest part of the capitol is curved as an inverted lotus and bell shaped. Above it are four animals, an elephant, a horse, a bull, a lion representing the east, south, west and north in Vedic symbol. The four animals engraved on the abacus have been variously interpreted.

Mauryan Caves Architecture

The rock cut caves of Ashoka and that of his grandson Dasaratha Maurya constructed for the residence of monks are, wonderful specimens of art. The caves at Barabar hill in the north of Gaya and the Nagarjuni hill caves, the Sudama caves, etc. are the extant remains of cave architecture of the Mauryan era.

The Barabar hill cave was donated by Asoka to Ajivika monks and the three separate caves at Nagarjuni hills were by Dasharatha to them. The Gopi cave was excavated in the reign of Dasaratha in a tunnel like fashion. The caves are chaste in style and their interior is polished like mirror. The pillars inside these caves appear to be superfluous. They perhaps are legacies of wooden architecture that preceded the stone or lithic architecture.

Buddhist Architecture

The Buddhist architecture has its root deeply implanted in the Indian soil- the birthplace of the Buddha’s teachings. Buddhist architecture began with the development of various symbols, representing aspects of the Buddha’s life (563 BCE – 483 BCE).

For the first time, it was the Indian emperor Ashoka, who not only established Buddhism as the state religion of his large Magadh empire, but also opted for the architectural monuments to spread Buddhism in different places. Distinctive Buddhist architectural structures and sculptures such as Stupas, Pagodas, monasteries and Caves, which have been mere spectators of different eras quietly speaks about the phases of the Buddhist stages.


Caves are the oldest form of the Buddhist architecture. They are also known as the rock-cut monasteries, which were hewn from the cliffs and rock walls of the valleys. The Buddhist caves traces back their beginning around 100 BCE.

In India, the most significant cave are the Ajanta caves, near modern Aurangabad, Maharashtra. The Indian Buddhist monks carried this art of cave hewing to China, where the earliest cave temples were built in the 4th century in Dunhuang or Tun-Huang, which were further decorated with relief carvings, paintings and stone images of the Buddha or the Bodhisattvas.


The Stupas holds the most important place among all the earliest Buddhist sculptures. A Stupa is a dome-shaped monument, used to house Buddhists’ relics or to commemorate significant facts of Buddhism. Though the Stupas are the most prominent sculptures throughout the world, but Myanmar or Burma is credited to have more Stupas than anywhere else.

In India, the most important and well preserved site is at Sanchi, where one can find the full range of Buddhist art and architecture from the 3rd century BCE to the 12th century CE.


Pagodas are the principle form of Buddhist architecture, which are used as religious multistory Buddhist towers, erected as a memorial or shrine. They are symbols of five elements of the universe – earth, water, fire, air and ether, and along with them, the most important factor – Consciousness, which is the ultimate reality.

The early Buddhists had started using the royal symbol of ‘Pagoda’, by applying an umbrella-like structure to symbolise the Buddha, which soon took over the functions of the Stupas. In the 3rd century BCE, an Indian emperor Ashoka, who had converted to Buddhism, promoted the Pagodas by building 84,000 of them throughout India, and since then, Pagodas have been an inseparable parts of all those countries, which practice Buddhism : China, Japan, Korea, India and Southeast Asia. Myanmar houses the Mahamuni Pagoda, one of the most important pagodas in Mandalay, which has an ancient statue of the Buddha, brought there by king Bodawpaya in 1784 CE.

Indian Pagodas, full of carvings and sculptures, are mainly pyramidical in shape and taper to apex, whereas those of China and other Asian regions are stereotypical pagodas with tiled and upward curving roofs.

Temples And Monasteries

The Buddhist temples and monasteries, found another istinctive example of the Buddhist architecture. The Buddhist temples in India are superb examples of the temple architecture with the most prominent one at Bodh Gaya (Mahabodhi temple), the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Other major Buddhist temples in India, which are fine examples of the golden Indian architecture, are at Sanchi(450 CE), Taxila and Sarnath. Similarly, other temples such as those at Cambodia (the famous Angkor Wat temple), Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and Japan presents an excellent example of the Buddhist architecture. Japan boasts of being the greatest surviving concentration of the Buddhist art and architecture in its 80,000 temples, most of which retain original features from as early as the Nara period(710 CE – 794 CE).

Secondly, monasteries, a dwelling place for community of monks, present fine example of the Buddhist architecture and charismatic Buddhist spirituality. In India, the ruins of the Nalanda monastic university and the ancient monasteries at Sarnath, whose ruins are still present along with some of the latest ones, still depicts the golden past of Buddhism and developed architectural style in India. The Tibetan, Japanese and Chinese monasteries along with others presents a very distinctive style of architecture with splendid use of colour and ornamentation. The use of images, paintings, thangkas and mandalas in these monasteries produces rich iconography not only architecturally, but artistically as well.

Gaya Stupa

Buddhist believe this is the navel of the universe, the vajra seat, where past and future buddhas achieve the ultimate state.

The Buddhist emperor Asoka went there after being in power for 10 years, and again 10 years later. This time, he set up a stone pillar with an elephant capital here, as well as similar pillars at Lumbini, Sarnath and Kusinara. (Birth first teaching and death spots). He also sent a branch of the still living tree to Ceylon, where it was successfully planted. This all happened around 250 BC.

Where Buddha had walked up and down for 7 days after achieving the sublime state, a “jewel walk” was constructed, a stone lotus petal for each of his footprints. A sandstone throne was formed over the spot where he had sat, and a sandstone railing was built right around the whole construction as well. This gives us the 5 essential parts of the site, which can still be found (in an evolved form) today: tree, throne, jewel walk, temple and stone railing.

Sanchi Stupa

The Great Stupa at Sanchi is one of the most important Buddhist monuments reflecting gem of Buddhist art and architecture. Located at Sanchi Town, Madhya Pradesh, India, this Stupa is the oldest stone structure in India that was built during the Mauryan period. Originally commissioned in the third century BCE by Emperor Ashok this huge hemispherical dome with a height of 12.2816.46 m (54.0 ft) consists of a central chamber where the relics of Lord Buddha are placed.

Four ornamental gateways facing four directions and a balustrade surrounding the Stupa were later added in the first century BCE. A typical example of a Stupa and an excellent illustration of the development of Buddhist art and sculpture starting from the third century BC through the twelfth century AD, the Sanchi Stupa attracts hundreds of visitors from across the world. Enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1989, it is counted among the best conserved ancient Stupas of central India.

The foundation of the Buddhist Stupa was laid by one of the greatest Indian Emperors, Ashoka. A chatra that is an umbrella like structure made of stone crowned the hemispherical brick structure that was surrounded by a wooden railing. Queen Devi, wife of Ashoka and daughter of a merchant of Vidisha, who was born in Sanchi, supervised the construction of this monument.

Bharhut Stupa

The stupa of Bharhut was probably built around 150 B.C. The site was discovered by sir Alexander Cunningham in 1873. there are hardly any remains at the site now. Some of the remains of this stupa are kept in the Indian Museum in Calcutta.

The railings of the stupa are carved. These posts, railing, capping stones and gateways, all fashioned in deep red sandstone, once surrounded a stupa. The remarkable precision of the carvings and liveliness of the figures, narrative scenes and decorative themes testify to the vitality of India’s early artistic traditions. Many of the Bharhut posts are carved with yakshis which protrude in past relief; they stand in attitudes of devotion upon ganas or clutch branches of the tree. Here too are royal devotees, riders on horses and elephants, and even one example of a figure in foreign dress.

Other carved panels depict Buddhist narratives, among them the dream of Maya; celestials celebrating Buddha’s enlightenment, the wprship of Buddha’s throne and the Bodhi tree; elephants paying homage to the Buddha throne; Naga king worshipping the throne and adoration of the wheel; and stupa in worship. Railing medallions display a variety of lotus design, sometimes incorporating in yaksha busts; other themes include Lakshmi bathed by elephants, scenes of everyday village life, deer, elephants and peacocks.

Amaravati Stupa

The Amravati Stupa is a famous specimen of the Buddhist art and architecture of ancient India. The Amravati Stupa in Andhra Pradesh is located on the banks of the River Krishna and is a wonderful relic of the grand architecture of the Buddhist school of architecture. Amravati, which was the capital of the ancient Satavahana dynasty, came under influence of the Buddhist faith through the Kushanas of Mathura. There is also a 2000-year-old Buddhist settlement and a Lord Amaresvara Temple adjacent the Stupa.

It is as tall as the Sanchi Stupa. It is also known as the Mahastupa or Deepaladinne and was made by a representative of Emperor Ashoka. It is made of brick and consists of a circular vedika which depicts Lord Buddha in a human form over an elephant. The Stupa has high platforms rising up to 95 feet which protrude in four directions. The Stupa is important specimen Of Mauryan architecture in South India. There are various representations of Lord Buddha in the form of sculptures in the Amravati Stupa. There are beautiful carvings and sculptures which interpret the life of Buddha and his incarnations from the Jataka tales. Most of the archaeological specimens of the Stupa are related to the Vajrayana teachings of Kalachakra.

Nagarjunakonda Stupa

There is great variety in the architecture and arrangement of the Buddhist complexes here. Some of them consisted of a stupa, monastery and chaitya, and others of a monastery and chaitya. There are several isolated stupas and also small votive stupas. It has been estimated, from the size and number of dwelling spaces, that the monastic community of Nagarjunakonda may have numbered about 450.

The body of the stupas at Nagarjunakonda often consisted of a spoked-wheel plan made of bricks, the spaces in between filled with mud. This spoked-wheel plan translated a key Buddhist symbol—the chakra—into an architectural feature, also endowing the structure with greater strength.

Sarnath Stupa

Chaukhandi Stupa in Sarnath is the place where Lord Buddha met his 5 disciples first in Sarnath. It is considered that he came to Sarnath after getting enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in 528 BCE to meet his disciples Mahanama, Koudanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa and Asvajita in order to share his real knowledge got during enlightenment. Chaukhandi Stupa is situated at 13 km from Varanasi. It was built of brick like octagonal tower during 4th to 6th century in the Gupta period. It was little bit restructured by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the year 1588 to memorize in future the shelter of Humayun at Sarnath.

Dhamekh Stupa is the place where Lord Buddha had given his first conversation of Dharma. It is made up of brick in a solid and cylindrical shape of height 43.6 m and diameter of 28 m. It was founded by the king Ashoka in the 249 BCE. It was rebuilt during 5th century when modifications were added. It is also called as the Dharma Chakra Stupa. This stupa contains 8 niches having images of Lord Buddha. Dharmarajika Stupa is the very significant place located near to the Dhamekh Stupa. It is considered that this place has the remains of bones of the Lord Buddha. It was built by the King Ashoka which was destroyed in 1794 by the Jagat Singh (to get bricks for another construction purpose) during which a box with bones was found. The box is still kept safely at the Indian Museum, Kolkata. It is considered as the bones were disposed off in Ganga by the Jagat Singh.

Nalanda Stupa

Present amongst the ruins of the Nalanda University, this Stupa was built in the 3rd century by Ashoka in the honour of Sariputra. After the seven accretions to it, this structure is shaped like a pyramid and is flanked by flights of steps and splendid sculptures as well.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *