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Harappa, c 2000 BC, © liceoberchet.it

Pre-Buddhist Architecture

Monumental architecture in stone appears quite late in India compared to other eastern civilizations. The Vedic society of the Aryans seems to have preferred open-air rituals and altars explaining the lack of any stone monuments from this period. The first serious impetus to stone architecture came from Buddhism (and to a lesser extent Jainism) whose adherents started constructing shrines and monasteries in stone from about the 2nd century BC. Indian architects soon gained great proficiency in this medium and by the 6th century AD, they were building structures impressive in both monumentality and sculptural detail.

The surviving examples of early Indian architecture point to a long tradition of palaces and shrines built of wood, of which unfortunately, almost nothing remains. The only reminders of this heritage of wood architecture are elements like rafters and perforated screens that were retained in stone buildings and rock-cut temples (sometimes merely as ornamentation).

Brick appears as a medium almost as early as wood. The Indus valley cities of Harrappa and Mohenjodaro, discovered in the 1920s, have an abundance and variety of brick buildings showing that Indians had mastered this medium as early as 3000 BC. The use of brick is once again evident from about the 6th century BC, and its popularity continued in subsequent centuries, especially in the lower Gangetic basin (e.g Chandraketugarh in Bengal) where stone quarries were rare and alluvial soil plentiful.

Bangalore, 2006


Photos and Text © Amit Guha