Mysteries of Indian Architecture

Ajanta caves

Ancient Ajanta caves

Carved over a period of several centuries, the mystery of Ajanta Caves might never have been uncovered had it not been for a chance pursuit of a tiger by the British Officer John Smith in the year 1819! As old as 200 BCE, the caves are located in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. Over the multitude of years they fell into disuse and a forest grew over and around them. Carved over many many years by different artisans, they are believed to have been made a refuge for the Buddhist monks during the rains. Some go as far as to say that they were pathways to heaven.

With numerous carvings that describe the life and times of the eras, they are like a window that one can peek through into the glorious past of India. The caves run for a mind numbing length of 29 rock cut caves, all of which have both female and male representation, which is a rare sight! Examples of immense scientific calculations are evident too, as the sun lights up cave 19 on the winter solstice and cave 26 on the Summer solstice in a precision that has persisted over the years!

The monument to love that inspired the Taj Mahal-The Humayun Tomb

The Humayun’s Tomb

Pick up any form of literature and you will notice that ‘Taj Mahal’ has forever been cited as the all enduring monument of the love of a king for a queen. But, there was one tomb before that, that a grieving widow built for the love and devotion that she felt towards her husband; The Humayun Tomb. The pioneering example of Mughal architecture, its glorious combination of Persian and Indian architecture forms was to set a prelude to an era that was to be embellished by the grandeur of Mughal architecture. Bega Begum, spent her entire life overseeing the construction and design of this tomb that was commissioned to the great Persian architect Mirak Mirza Ghiyas.

One of its kind architecture, this garden tomb houses the graves of over 150 members of the Mughal family. The UNESCO cites it’s reasons for considering it as one of the greatest examples of architecture by saying, “This building tradition culminated in the Taj Mahal, constructed a century later. Despite being the first standardized example of this style, Humayun’s Tomb is an architectural achievement of the highest order.”

Konark Sun Temple

An ode to Sun God, where even stones speak up in prayer- Konark Temple

No text of architecture in India is complete without the mention of Sun Temple at Konark, the namesake of the city itself is an elegy to the Sun God, Kona (Corner) and Arka (Sun). On the sparkling coasts of Bay of Bengal rests this edifice that commemorates the work of the masters of ancient times. The temple has an elaborate and intricate mammoth structure that depicts the chariot of the Sun God replete with 24 carved wheels, each of them 3 m in diameter, pulled by seven horses and guarded by two lions at the entrance that bravely crush elephants.

An example of beautiful melee of science, architecture and devotions the sun dials on the temple can calculate time to the exact minute even to this day! There are also three statues of the sun god that catch the rays of the sun precisely at dawn, noon and sunset! Rabindranath Tagore has famously said about the temple “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man.” The temple beckons to question the monotonous styles of architecture that India has regressed itself to!

A eulogy to undying love set in white marble- The Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Ask anyone, any man or woman about the icon they associate with India, and their answers would most likely allude to the Taj Mahal. Built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, it is one of the most grandiose gestures of love to ever be materialized on the face of earth. As famously said by the greatest poet, Rabindranath Tagore, “The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.” Inspite of the multitude of tourists that visit it, the declarations of love that it has witnessed and countless examples that it has set, there is a sense of melancholy as one approaches the monument, a sense of pain of a lover separated from his wife by death.

The Taj Mahal was built in 1653 AD by over twenty thousand artisans who toiled over 22 years! The white marble was bought in from Makrana in Rajasthan and was transported by elephants. In its days of glory the Taj Mahal was adorned with no less than 28 types of precious stones, brought in from as far as Tibet and Persia.  Like the moods of his lady love, the exterior of the Taj also changes colors from a pinkish hue in the dawn to a dull gold at noon and finally, all enduring sparkling white under the moonlight. Legends say that as the emperor lay imprisoned by his own son in the Agra Fort, he derived solace from gazing at the tomb of his beloved wife, at whose side he was finally laid to rest.

The integral land of three beliefs, The Ellora Caves

Ellora caves

The Ellora caves is a sculpture’s beautiful blended expression of three major Indian regions: Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism. There is something beautiful about this place that takes you to a journey in the past where all these religions born and grew together. The 34 monasteries and temples are carved and dug all together on the wall of a huge basalt cliff in Maharashtra. These splendors of art is a beautiful combination of, when art meets religion

The twelve caves of the Buddhist group speaks about the benevolence of this calm religion, Buddhism. The ‘Cavern of the Ten Avatars’ is a majestic art piece constructed under the reign of Krishna I. The ethnicity of Jain group is well reflected by the sanctuaries carved by the Digambra sect of this pure religion. These gems of art are the immortal legends of the vast rock-cut architecture in India. The elegance of Dravidian Sikhara, which is a flat roofed madapa positioned over sixteen pillar, the gigantic Ravana figure reflecting the strength of this villainous legend as the sculpture here shows him lifting Mt Kailasha is an epitome of the ancient Indian art.

Where the walls sing and sculptures dance, the Chola temples

Brihadisvara Temple

The beautiful Chola temples are living tales of the vast empire that Cholas established in Thanjavur. These magnificent temples built during the reign of Rajaraja were the epitome of the vast religious inclination of these rulers as the inscriptions and the chronicles on the wall sing about their opulent rule. This temple in the ancient time was note a mere religious center but a full functional business establishment which was served and maintained by a permanent staff of several hundred priests, 400 devadasi and 57 musicians.

Airavatesvara Temple At Darasuram

The temple was also used for lending money to ship-owners, craft guilds and villagers on a fixed interest rates. The entire temple carved in granite is believed to be inspired by the Pallava architecture. The beautifully adorned 108 poses of the Bharata- Natyam on the walls reflects the hours of torturous patience the sculptures went through. The beautiful series of carvings depicting the legend ruler Rajaraja conversing with his guru, Karuvir Devar is stunningly sculpted in rich colors which rewinds you to the beautiful ancient time of king and queens.

A rock cut sonnet to the great war of Mahabharata, Mahabalipuram

Shore temple Mahabalipuram

It is a widely accepted belief that the great war fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, at Kurukshetra, is instrumental in shaping the history and geography of the Indian subcontinent as we know today. The temples of Mahabalipuram demonstrate exactly that, in the rock cut carvings of the great temple architectures, one can clearly see the scenes from the great epic.

The architecture demonstrates a clear allusion to the sectarianism that had started during the period as different areas were assigned to different Gods. The travels of Marco Polo also describe the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram that belonged to the original structure built in the time when the city was a thriving merchant port. Out of these seven only one has survived in the form of a beautiful shore temple!

Sunset reflection of shore temple

The architect represents neither a Dionysian nor an Apollinian condition: here it is the mighty act of will, the will which moves mountains, the intoxication of the strong will, which demands artistic expression. The most powerful men have always inspired the architects; the architect has always been influenced by power.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

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