Ancient Indian Architecture

Ancient Indian architecture: Ancient Indian architecture is not only world famous but also present since various civilisation that took place in India. At different level different architecture came into existence and did fine tuning of the previous architecture. Every architecture includes various feelings, emotions of people and also about the nature. Sometimes various monuments were built in the memory of the loved one like the Taj Mahal or sometimes built in war memory like India gate.

The three major architectures that were present in ancient period was the temple architecture; rock cut architecture and cave architecture. The ancient architecture reflects the history, culture and religion of India. Some other best known architecture during ancient period was Hindu temple architecture and Indo Islamic architecture. 


The Indus Valley civilisation had one of the best architecture during that period of time. Three words that can describe the ancient Indian architecture are the beauty, mathematical equations and mind blowing work. Indus valley civilisation period can be called as a very matured and intelligent period. The extensive town planning, the water drainage system gives evidence of the architectural mind of the people. It can be said that it is the most remarkable feature of this period. Some of the most imposing buildings during this period are the great bath at Mohenjo-Daro and the granary complex. This was intelligently constructed with air ducts and platforms divided into units. Some of the important places of Harappan civilisation can be found in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Around 700 wells have been discovered making us to believe that cylindrical brick lines were invented during Indus Valley Civilisation.

During Mauryan Period the stone architecture further got better into wood architecture. King Ashok of Mauryan dynasty who was a strong follower of Buddhism established Pillars of Ashoka next to the Buddhists stupas. He also built Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya. Many temples were built during the Mauryan period and the sculptures at Pataliputra and Pillars of Ashoka shows the great architectural work during Mauryan period.

Barabar Caves

Finest piece of architecture can be found during the Mauryan period. Chandragupta built many temples and palaces with wood which are perished now. Ashoka who became a staunch follower of Buddhism built many stupas scattered over the country. The famous Ashoka’s rock edict at Dauli depicts his conversion to Buddhism after the kalinga war. It has a sculpted elephant at the top. Some other important architecture which are a very important tourist destination even to this date are the cave architecture at Nagarjuna hill caves, the Sudama caves, Barabara hill caves in northern part of Gaya. The most splendid and outstanding architecture during Asoka’s period is the Ashokan pillar.

Architecture of Ancient India

Buddhists Architecture

During the Buddhists period architecture was slightly different and more matured. There were three kinds of Buddhists architecture the stupas, monasteries and places of worship like temples, churches etc. Stupas were originally sculptures than the buildings. One of the oldest stupa that is present even to this day is the Sanchi stupa which is world famous and is present in the state of Madhya Pradesh India.

The original structure was later made into more decorative and attractive. The first monastery was built around 5th or 6th century during Buddha period is at Bihar known as Jivakarama Vihara. These monasteries were usually built with a purpose for monks to eat and sleep in groups and without any private cells. It was usually built with two parallel and oblong Halls.

Stupa at Kapilavastu

Stupas were the dome shaped religious monument. The eight stupas that are present are Rajagriha, Vaishali, Kapilavastu, Allakappa, Ramagrama, Pava, Kushinagar and Vethapida. Buddha has left instructions as to how show respect to the stupas.

With the development of different religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism the architecture became a predominant part in construction of temples. Many of these stupas, temples have become a tourist destination places in India. Rock cut architecture and cave architecture became more predominant during the rise of different religions like Buddhism and Jainism. They are the most beautiful and spectacular piece of architecture during ancient period. Some important rock cut structures are chaityas, Viharas and temples.

Rock cut architecture

Rock cut architecture is one of the finest and spectacular architecture of ancient India. Beautiful buildings, temples or structures are created by excavating the natural solid rocks. They are closely related to various religions and to their activities. Rock cut structures differ from the traditionally built structure and are very similar to sculpture and then architecture. Some of the prominent rock cut structures is Chaityas, Viharas and temples. Basically the rock cut architecture has three basic uses for temples, tombs and cave dwellings. 

Bhaja caves

Earlier during ancient period the caves used to be the natural inhabitants for the people. These people used the caves as shelter and when time permitted they were even doing paintings on these rocks. The earlier examples of rock cut architecture were of Buddhists and Jain Basadi, temples and monasteries. Even though many cave temples, monasteries and stupas are destroyed still rock cut architecture are very well preserved and maintained in many places in India. Some important rock cut architecture include Barabar Caves in Bihar, Saptarni Cave Bihar, Indrasala Cave, Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves.

Cave Architecture

Ellora Caves

It is believed that cave architecture started around 3rd century BC in India. Initially these caves were used by the Buddhists and Jains as a place of worship. Some of the best known caves in India are Buddhists caves, Ellora caves, Ajanta caves, Karla caves, Badami caves and Elephanta caves. One of the beautiful caves at Karle is an example where Chaityas and Viharas were excavated from huge rocks. 

These cave architecture not only enlighten us with the ancient architecture but makes us understand the culture, history, traditions that were followed during the ancient period. After a brief dull period the cave architecture further improved around 6th century with magnificent Ajanta and Ellora. The Ajanta caves has been tagged by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. The cave was built in two phases. The first phase was started around 2nd century while the second phase was built around 400-650 CE.

Ajanta caves

Ajanta cave is another important and magnificent piece of work during the Buddhist period. It dates back to 2nd century BC.  Ajanta caves consists of prayer halls and different ancient monasteries of Buddhists traditions. The temple is carved on a 250 ft wall of a rock. The paintings on the wall of the rock depict the birth and life history of Lord Buddha. Some other famous cave architecture is found in elephant cave, Ellora caves and in some places in Karnataka. Gradually the architecture improved during the Mauryan period.

Temple Architecture

Temple architecture started to grow in almost all parts of India. The Hindu temple architecture or it could be Indo Islamic architecture both had its own ways of designing the temples. The Hindu temple architecture had many varieties like the Garbha Griha, Gopuram, Kalasa, Shikara and a Mandapa. The principles of Hindu temple architecture were known as Shilpa Shastra and Vastu shastra. 

Brihadeeswarar temple

The important part of the temple architecture was the way it was built and the decorations and the carvings done on the temple. The Garbha Griha was the main place of the whole temple where the main deity was kept and prayed. The main deity is kept in Garbha Griha and all the subsidiary deities are kept within the temple complex. These kinds of temples are commonly found in the South Indian temples. But however there are hardly any Hindu temples found before the Gupta dynasty. The basic difference that was found between the North Indian and South Indian temple were the Shikaras. 

The South Indian temples had huge gopurams at the entrance of the temple while that was predominantly not present in north Indian temples. However there were many common features also between the North and the South Indian temples. Some of the best examples for North Indian temple and South Indian temples include Kandariya Mahadeva temple at Khajuraho, Sun temple at Konark, Brihadeeswarar temple at Tanjavur Tamil Nadu,Maru Gurjara.

Indian architecture saw different phases in the temple architecture during the Badami Chalukya' s rule. Around 150 historical temples were built in and around Badami, Pattadkal and Aihole complex. The huge temple architecture further continued even during the Hoysala and Vijayanagara Empire period.

As the ruling changed from one dynasty to another even the architecture was improved and became more interesting. The architecture in South India was divided into Dravidian style of Tamil Nadu and Vesara style in Karnataka. The temple architecture was different and it had huge gopuras on which beautiful carving of God was made. With Gupta period and during the Mughal period architecture reached at its peak. The Mughal architecture is world famous and the most famous is the Taj Mahal in India. Every dynasty had its own unique style of architecture which can be cleared understood now from the monuments built during the ancient period.

The Indo Islamic was prominent during Mughal rule. One can witness the beautiful arch architecture in various Forts and monuments like Red Fort, Tomb of Humayun, Fathepur Sikhri, Gol Gumbaz and many more.

The architecture further got improved even during the British rule and even to this day. 

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Related Pages

Indian Architecture

Ancient Indian Architecture

Mughal Architecture

Buddhists Architecture

Indo Islamic Architecture

European Colonial Architecture

Rock cut Architecture

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