India independence: A celebration of India's ancient architecture

India is a country with a rich heritage. As such, it has some impressive buildings which reflect its ever evolving culture. Over the years, India has become a country where religion has been a defining factor and has contributed to some incredible architecture.

Some of the world’s most prominent religions originated in India, including Buddhism and Hinduism. If you take a look at some of India’s ancient architecture you will be met with beautiful Buddhist monasteries and stupas, forts built as means of protecting Hinduism, and buildings influenced by the Middle East, Afghanistan and Persia after the Muslim invasion in the 11th century.

Later when the Portuguese, French, Dutch and British invaded India, they too left footprints on the country.

As a result, India’s architecture is a melting pot of different cultural influences. To celebrate India’s Independence Day, we rounded up some of the country’s most impressive ancient architectural wonders.

Taj Mahal, Uttar Pradesh

You can’t talk about Indian architecture without mentioning the Taj Mahal. Built over the course of 22 years, this stunning mausoleum is a seventh wonder of the world.

Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, built the huge marble masterpiece in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal in the 17th century. The Taj Mahal combines Hindu and Indo-Islamic architecture and is a vision in white. A huge marble terrace surrounds the building which is topped by the famous dome that houses Mumtaz’s Jewel-inlaid Cenotaph. In the grounds of this beautiful mausoleum are the Paradise Gardens which are a form of Persian landscaping.

Sun Temple, Konark, Odisha

The Surya – Mandir, which translates to mean ‘Sun Temple,’ is not only awe inspiring architecturally, but stands on its own as an impressive sculpture. It is believed to have been built by King Narasimhadeva I of Eastern Ganga Dynasty in 1255 CE. The concept for the temple was based on the chariot of a sun god. The ‘chariot’ has 24 elaborately carved stone wheels and is pulled by sevens stone horses. Based on the traditional style of Kalinga architecture, the temple is made of Khondalite rocks. It was built to face towards the east so that when the sun rises the entrance is flooded with light. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ajanta & Ellora Caves, Aurangabad, Maharashtra

There are 30 Ajanta caves still standing in Maharashtra, which is impressive considering they were built in the 2nd century BC. The ancient Buddhist caves are home to some of India’s most ancient art including paintings and rock cut sculptures which influenced Indian art work in the years following.

The caves constitute ancient monasteries and worship halls of different Buddhist traditions carved into a 250 feet wall of rock. These hauntingly beautiful caves were covered in jungle until they were accidentally discovered by in 1819 by a colonial British officer on a tiger hunting party.

Ellora is one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world and represents three different faiths, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. The caves present art work and sculptures from each of the different faiths from the 600-1000 CE period.

Both of the caves are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Galden Namgey Lhatse, Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh

Galden Namgey Lhatse, a.k.a Tawang Monastery is the largest monastery in India and the second largest in the world After the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. It was founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1680-1681 at the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso.

The colossal monastery is three stories high and is enclosed by a 925 feet long compound wall. Its library houses some of India’s oldest scriptures and the Monastery hosts some of the country’s most vibrant festivals, Torgya being the most elaborate and colourful.

Currently, it belongs to the Gelug school of Mahayana Buddhism.

Nalanda Ruins, Nalanda, Bihar

Before it went to ruin, Nalanda was a renowned Buddhist Monastery.  Located in the ancient Kingdom of Magadha (modern-day Bihar) in India, Nalanda used to be a centre of learning from the seventh century BCE to c. 1200 CE which taught Vedic, a highly formalised method of learning which consisted of the study of ancient Indian texts including Sanskrit Literature and Hindu scriptures. Later this highly formalised method of learning would be used to start the first Indian Universities of which Nalanda was one.

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