top of page

Indian Art and Architecture: Looking at the History & Present

Updated: May 9

Indian art and architecture
Untitled (Gateway of India) by J. D. Gondhalekar | Source: Sotheby's

The three-letter word art encompasses a diverse range of expression and evolution of human beings. With this fact, it is not terrible to say that our great ancestors were outlandish artists, considering which I am curating this read to cover the crucial aspects of artistry and get in-depth knowledge of Indian art and architecture.

On Forthcoming to history, art has different periods and eras. But before moving on further, it is crucial to know about their inspiration? As we all know that inspiration is anything that enables us to complete or at least start something. Behind art, there were objects and things made by humans. Their meaning fetches spiritual, narrative, philosophical, symbolic, and conceptual aspects. Some of the sub-divisions and general categories might have been familiar to you. They cluster according to Prehistory, Antiquity, Middle Eastern, Americas, Asian, and European types. Although the chapters of art provide an interesting read, they have a tremendous syllabus, which means analyzing and appreciating them can take a lot of time. Inclusive to human creativity, art can be paintings, sculptures, architecture, handicrafts, theatres, and photography. The question turns into a sub-division that why art? Prevalently, we form art because we are interested to dive into new things. It is also an indication of our social and emotional happenings. You might have seen the posters and banners for even educating society. Sounds fascinating right? To know that we are surrounded by it everywhere. Nature has also crafted art by cutting the rocks forming waterfalls when rivers flow from heights. So it is clearly understood that art is not just confined to places and things but holds a significant position in our world. Additionally, it is surprising to learn that it can even cure psychological issues such as depression, Alzheimer and anxiety.

Indian art of present times showing elephant on the shores of a lake
Lakeside Elephant Painting

Stories in India are miraculous and divine and so is the ancient Indian architecture. Besides being charming, it also takes pride in its heritage. For example, from the ancient Indus valley civilization to the emergence and decay of different empires, invasion of foreign rulers, and colonial era, it reflected the confluence and styles of its pulchritudinous art forms.

On the subject of its different periods, it is primarily divided into Early Indian Art, Middle Kingdoms, Late Medieval Period, Early Modern, and Colonial Era. Furthermore, they are bifurcated into other civilizations and dynasties. It is undeniable that India has a rich history of culture and art, which includes the vibrant Indian architecture, sculpture, paintings, puppetry, theatre, and literature. We all know that the ancient Indian subcontinent geographically included parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The influence of its presence has also spread to areas like Iran and Central Asia, which further expands its importance. It is possible to gain a deeper understanding of the world by reading through the eyes of foreigners, like Fa-Hein, Al-Biruni, Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta, and so on. If it is so crucial, then give a moment to think what would have happened if Indians did not contribute to art? The consequences are diminishing and to come to conclusion, I will share the next paragraphs for your knowledge to get deepen and precisely pass a judgement. So without a further ado, let us carry the pot of historical remains and learn about Indian art and Indian architecture.

Ancient Indian Architecture: Travelling Through History.

Architecture derives from the Latin word tekton, which means builder. Its modest meaning behind the early man was to find shelters. It appears that modern architecture is currently resting on the shoulders of its predecessors.

Indian Architecture has three periods- Ancient India, Medieval India, and Modern India. Historically, we know the origins of Ancient Indian architecture, also referred to as Old Indian Architecture, which ranges from the Harrapan period to South Indian art. The early civilization used burnt mud bricks joined together by Gypsum Mortar to form buildings. One splendid example of this kind is the Great Bathe from the excavated remains of Mohenjodaro. Numerous scholars believe that the early people used this for religious purposes and religious public bathing. In addition, there were granaries for storing food, and what makes them even more fascinating is the strategic air ducts inside, protecting them from pests, which is an example of a monument with utility.

Ancient Indian architecture Great Bath Mohenjo Daro
Great Bath Mohenjo Daro | Source:

Ancient Indian architecture of Granary Harappa
Granary Harappa | Source:

The Stupas and Pillars.

Moving forward in the Ancient Period of Indian Monuments, the Stupas and Pillars from Mauryan art showed a clear demarcation of art for different communities. Here at Kumrahar, Ashoka's Palace is a fine early example of such a massive structure decorated with carvings. Excavations have enabled us to learn about the Assembly Hall with 80 pillars, Arogya Vihar, Anand Bihar, and Durakhi Devi Temple. One more example of this kind is the famous Ashokan Pillar which has inscriptions to commemorate battle victories. Further, the prominent Sanchi Stupa has been embellished with Medhi and Toran decorations.

Indian architecture Ruins of Arogya Vihar, Kumhrar
Ruins of Arogya Vihar, Kumhrar Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Indian architecture of Ashoka pillar at Vaishali, Bihar, India
Ashoka pillar at Vaishali, Bihar, India | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Indian architecture of East Gateway - Stupa  - Sanchi Hill
East Gateway - Stupa - Sanchi Hill | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Cave Architecture of India.

As the Indian architecture progressed from the Buddhists, the highly polished finish of the interior walls and decorative gateways of caves signalled a crucial development. Among the most impressive cave structures were those in Ajanta and Ellora. Furthermore, paintings in Ajanta Caves of Aurangabad, which used fresco painting techniques, displayed natural elements. As we have seen, different periods of Indian architecture symbolized different meanings. There has been a tremendous evolution of religious places in India thanks to one dominant form of Indian architecture. The contribution of Indian art and architecture was always for ordinary as well as religious purposes.

Indian architecture of Cave 19, Ajanta, Deccan
Cave 19, Ajanta, Deccan | Source: Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay

Indian sculptures of Ajanta and Ellora
Ajanta and Ellora monuments | Source:

The sculpture of the reclining Buddha in cave number 29
The sculpture of the reclining Buddha in cave number 29 | Source:

Indian art Ajanta Cave 02
Ajanta Cave 02 painting | Source:

Temple Architecture in India.

Contributing to Temple architecture is not uncommon for most people. Among the earliest

Temple architecture designs are Nagara Style, Dravidian Style, and Nayaka Style. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Pallava has marvelous architecture in terms of this. There were also several temple architecture schools regulated during this period. For example, the Nayaka School that flourished under Nayaka rulers was architecturally similar to the Dravidian Style but more swayed by Islamic architecture. Meenakshi Temple of Madurai was noted to be developed under this. The Vesara School that was conceptualized under Chalukya rulers combined with features of Nagara School and Dravidian School emphasized vimana and mandapa. Ladhkan temple at Aihole is one such example of this kind. Similarly, there were other schools of Temple architecture like Vijayanagara school, Hoysala Art, etc.

Temple architecture of Meenakshi Amman Temple, India
Meenakshi Amman Temple India | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Temple architecture of Meenakshi Temple Madurai
Meenakshi Temple Madurai | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Indian art Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
Meenakshi Temple Painting Madurai | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Indian architecture of Lad Khan Temple Aihole
Lad Khan temple Aihole | Source: Journey Across Karnataka

Indian architecture of Lad Khan Temple Karnataka
Lad Khan Temple Karnataka | Source:

Mughal Architecture.

Mughal architecture is top of the list when we talk about Medieval Indian Architecture. It introduced the Charbagh style of gardening, calligraphy for decoration, geometric vegetal ornamentation, a broader sense of symmetry in the structures, and many more. In the Delhi Sultanate Period, there were two kinds of style - Imperial and Provincial, which were promoted by Delhi rulers and local rulers, respectively. The use of red sandstone and mortar as cementing agents was prominent here. Some of the constructions under them are- Moti Masjid, Sheesh Mahal, Rohtas Fort, Taj Mahal, etc.

Mughal architecture of Fuerte Rojo Delhi
Fuerte Rojo Delhi | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Mughal architecture of Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Taj Mahal, Agra, India | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Indian architecture of Rohtas Fort Pakistan
Rohtas Fort Pakistan | Source: Pakiholic

Modern Architecture of India.

The Modern Indian Architecture that is the final phase included the arrival of the European colonists and the decline of Mughal influence in India. Like the Portuguese bought Iberian style with them, similarly French bought the urban planning with them, and the Britishers bought Gothic style of architecture with them. The best examples of their kind are the Se Cathedral of Goa, the Church of Sacred Heart of Jesus of Puducherry, and the St Paul's Cathedral of Kolkata.

The result of even the minute changes has been to make the whole of Indian art and Architecture a wholesome and inspiring era.

Modern India architecture of St Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata, India
St Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata, India | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Modern India architecture Se’ Cathedral, Goa, India
Se’ Cathedral, Goa, India | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Learning the History and Different Types of Indian Art.

From the perspective of time, the journey of Indian art was similar to the journey of architecture. Unlike Indian architecture, the first paintings were created on cave walls as representations. However, it was only from the Gupta era that art truly began.

The Gupta Period Indian art