One of the oldest marks of Indian pride that has existed for centuries is our architecture. We have not only had the most diverse styles of architecture but also the most beautifully designed one. Temple architecture has also proved to be a source of civilisation as it provided employment and roles to a lot of people which made people settle around such areas.
Politically, sometimes the better appreciated architecture in one’s kingdom proved to be a mark of a king’s power, prowess, creativity and intellect. It was also a way of depicting their stories on rock in order to educate the following generations about their achievements and lifestyles.
We signify our culture and heritage in mainly our temple architectures. Ancient Indian culture is not only depicted in temples but also in various sculptures, caves, rocks, and houses through the art of architecture. The Indian architecture since the ancient period has also proved to be a scientific marvel sometimes. Examining this aspect of ancient Indian culture further, the SWOT analysis would be:
Numerous carvings that were precisely made on temples and in caves prove to be a window into the life of the people of that era. These carvings accurately depict their beliefs, practices, the clothes and ornaments they wore, their methods of celebrations, etc.
Architecture being a relatively eternal form of art unless otherwise destroyed, proves to be knowledgeable for multiple generations and is always one of the primary sources of information for our historians to determine the smallest of aspects of that period. A whole field of science is devoted to merely explore this aspect of history, called archaeology.
Some marvels are the Ajanta caves in Maharashtra which have existed since 200 BC and have sometimes also been called the stairways to heaven. These run for about 29 rock cut caves and have both female and male representation, which definitely is a rare sight since India has forever known to be patriarchal society.
Indian architecture has been very astonishing as it is still a mystery as to how much manpower went not building these beautiful monuments that have stood the test of time and most of them are still as strong as ever, yet to be explored.
Another strength of Indian architecture is the fact that we have not been rigid in our form but on the contrary, have been very adaptive. We evolved and developed our architecture by taking influence from various other forms, like Mughal architecture for example- Taj Mahal being the biggest testament to that. Architecture proved to be a mode for unity for various cultures, and gave rise to new styles like Indo Islamic, Indo Persian architecture etc where architecture united cultures when even people couldn’t from these cultures couldn’t unite.
Each structure and feature of architecture in ancient India has a specific function that has an underlying meaning or learning from it, for example, in the Indus valley civilisation, the great bath was considered to be one of the inventive architectural wonders and historians have majorly given it ritual significance. They claim it was used for ritual bathing and the learning we get out of this is that the people then gave a lot of importance to hygiene and sanitation. Tourists from all over the world come for months together just to explore, study and understand our architectural expertise.
To begin with, a lot of historians and archaeologists use the method of “present to past” in order to determine the function or meaning of a certain thing, for example higher walls around forts at present would mean a sign of security, so that’s the connotation historians would assume but the problem with this is that it could mean many more things- power and prowess of the king, expanse of the kingdom, to depict strength of the army, etc.
So not being able to determine what the features of the architectural structures signify/mean and coming up with multiple theories about it can be a serious problem in the aspect of transmitting knowledge. Often, even our present-day history textbooks from various authors have disputing theories about historical monuments that could confuse the entire understanding of that era.
Long breaks in our culture are also astonishing and we don’t know the exact cause of this. For example, after the Harappan civilisation declined around 2000 BC, years went by before such architectural pieces of work were built again. If such uncalled breaks in our culture didn’t exist, we would’ve had continuity and eventually would’ve developed more diverse and precise styles of depicting our cultures through architecture as we could’ve continuously built upon our past learnings. But because thousands of years went by as breaks, people had minimal recollection of the past and couldn’t effectively build upon it.
As much as architecture helps build unity, it also ironically can help destroy it. Like when Abbasid invaders came to India around 1100 BC they destroyed Hindu temples and used those destroyed pieces to build mosques, as a symbol of winning over Hinduism. Again, as architecture depicts merged cultures, it can unfortunately also prove to be a symbol of war as everything has a contrary aspect to it.
Another weakness is that cave paintings, rock sculptures and scriptures carved on temples often have paragraphs written in that period and place’s particular script. However, it is often noticed that historians are unable to decode the scripts and we don’t have any idea as to what the purpose of those scriptures were. For example, we still haven’t been able to decrypt the Harappan script and can’t understand the level and expanse of literacy in that period.
If we think the amount we know about our past is a lot, we’re completely wrong because what we know about it right now is only a mere fraction of the actual history that is yet to be uncovered. Several opportunities existed in the Indian society during the ancient period that were not utilized and if utilized, would’ve ensured more development.
While India was a very adaptive country and accepted varying styles of architecture and made it it’s own, it could’ve also learnt more efficient methods of building from European or American cultures as they had their own styles and methods of building architectural pieces of work. We could’ve exchanged information and come up with efficient methods of building strong foundations and ensuring the stability of the structures.
Maintaining continuity and transferring knowledge from one generation to another is very important and if the people would’ve actually done so, we wouldn’t have mysteries surrounding the Harappan scriptures on temples, rock paintings, etc. This opportunity if educating their descendants about their lifestyles went unutilized sometimes due to which the general principle of evolution from rural to urban, broke down and the civilization that came after the Harappan civilization was not as urban.
Architecture could’ve also been used as a means to disembark the traditional gender roles and permit women to help in it’s designing and construction. However, since it is an established fact that India was highly patriarchal, this didn’t take place and women continued to be depicted in sculptures as beautiful women with curvy bodies, wearing ornaments, cooking food, taking care of children, and often dancing.
Since established schools or colleges didn’t exist in that period, but most cultures still had a script and dialect of their own in order to communicate, they could’ve used architecture as a means to spread literacy by carving their scriptures on it along with a symbol next to it that would explain to a layman what that word meant. This would also help following generations to understand the scripts.
Constant experimentation with the vast availability of resources like wood, stone, metal, iron, etc would’ve helped the society to develop faster and come up with more efficient ways to build temples, buildings, structures, sculptures, and even houses for that matter. Even the exchange of resources between various parts of India would’ve helped people explore different possibilities with architecture, but however this took place very slowly and mostly, quite late.
Invaders were the biggest threats to Indian architecture because just like us, they perceived our temple structures to be the symbol of our unity. Invaders would come and destroy temples and other important structures very often in order to depict their power over us. Destroying architecture was also a way of taking away that community’s heritage and story. Till date, some temples like the ones at Hampi, have random parts that are broken and depict incomplete stories. Rebuilding those broken parts is not an option as it would take away the authenticity of the place, and the destruction of these temples, or parts of these temples, could not be avoided because there was lack of security in these places.
While religious places were obviously very important even in ancient India, there existed lack of security because the king’s forces would usually be protecting the kingdoms and not just the architectural structures. This, again made it easier for the invaders or even people from rival kingdoms to attack the heritage and culture of the kingdom.
Ignorance towards the maintenance of the architectural sites could also be one of the threats as sometimes the importance of the structure could deteriorate over time, for example, if the community migrates to a different location then it would just leave the architectural site as it is and the lack of maintenance would degrade it further.
Lack of availability of resources would be one of the major threats to Indian architecture as due to lack of an organized system of trade, a lot of metals, marble, stones, etc weren’t available and architectural forms and styles didn’t develop.
Another threat is ironically, the beauty and the design of these architectural sites as it would make people all over the world curious and people would come and explore these. They would try to learn the methods involved in building it and while exchange of information between various cultures can prove to be fruitful, it can also be the exact opposite as the foreigners could steal your style and take credit for its existence.
Architecture in ancient India has been a source of immense amount of information about that period and at the same time, has also been one of the biggest mysteries. The expanse of information we can get out of the architecture is astonishing because you don’t just understand the culture of people, but also the organization of manpower it took to build this, the availability of resources at the time, methods used in it’s construction, etc.
Indian architecture has been influenced by various styles all over the world like Persian, Islamic, Mughal, Greek, Roman etc. and has been evolving ever since it’s beginning. The accurate depictions on the scriptures, sculptures, temples, rocks and caves are a testament to our country’s talents and abilities even in the ancient period.
In addition to this, as everything, architecture in ancient India also came with it’s flaws which could’ve been overcome if the opportunities they had were utilized effectively. However, overcoming all these flaws led to the eventual development of architecture in our country and the Archaeological Survey of India is a body in India that has documented this entire evolution of architecture in our country and continues to unfold the never- ending mysteries underlying each site.
Architecture in India is as old as the first civilisation here and the fact that archaeology as a science is devoted to this shows how significant it’s understanding is to our society.