Architectural Theory, Design Theory, History

7 Famous Indian Architectural Styles

Take note of the rich architectural heritage spread across various time periods and regions in India. Influenced by religion, tradition, geography and other factors – India is known for its vast array of architectural styles.

Types of Indian Architectural Styles

  1. Rock Cut Architecture  
  2. Vesara Architecture 
  3. Sikh Architecture 
  4. Kalinga Architecture 
  5. Dravidian Architecture 
  6. Indo-Saracenic Revival Architecture 
  7. Mughal Architecture 

1. Rock Cut Architecture

The practice of carving out natural rock to create structures is most abundant in India’s historical buildings. The required structural elements are retained whereas the interior area is excavated – the excavated rock is put to use in other buildings. 

Examples of Rock Cut Architecture:

  • Kanheri Caves
  • Ajanta and Ellora Caves
  • Pancha Rathas

The Kailasa Temple, one of the best-known examples of rock-cut architecture, was excavated from the top and towards the bottom from a single natural rock. It is a marvel today, with detailed carvings and ornamentation on its walls – with a trace of Pallava and Chalukya styles.

Panaromic exterior view of the Kailasa Temple
The Kailasa Temple

2. Vesara Architecture

This style of architecture originated in Karnataka, a blend of Nagara and Dravidian Styles of Architecture. The Hoysala temples found in Belur and Halebid are some of the best-known examples of this style. 

Features of Vesara Architecture include:

  • Plans derived from a square shape for the sanctum and a circle for the vimana.
  • The shikaras were developed with each ascending storey smaller than the one below it.
  • Intricate ornamentation depicting epics, usually following a zig-zag pattern. 
Exterior view of Chennakesava Temple
Chennakesava Temple – Image by Pavan Prasad Mysuru

3. Sikh Architecture

Primarily found but not bound to religious structures, sikh buildings also consist of other buildings such as bungas, havelis and samadhas. It is a blend of Mughal and Rajput architecture – noticeable in the contrast of curves and straight lines on its facades. 

Features of Sikh Architecture:

  • Exterior facades are colored in gold and white – with gold plated copper sheets and marble or porcelain.
  • Ornamentation includes stucco, mirror and inlay work on walls to amplify the extravagance.
  • Flat Roofed buildings with domes (either fluted or ribbed) in the center and on four corners.
The Golden Temple, Amritsar

4. Kalinga Architecture

Broadly classified under the Nagara style of Architecture, Kalinga Architecture is found in Odisha and northern Andhra Pradesh. Usually composed of two parts – a tower (deula) and a hall (jagmohan).

Kalinga Temples are of three types:

  • Rekha Deula – a base building with a shikhara
  • Pidha Deula – a base building with a square plan and a pyramid shaped vimana
  • Khakhara Deula – a base building resembling the shape of a gopuram, with a barrel vault shaped roof.
Kalinga Temple, Odisha

Features of Kalinga Temples:

  • Kalinga Temples were built of seven specific types of stone pertaining to different parts of the temple.
  • The site selection for temples were based on vastu, along with soil type and ground water level.

5. Dravidian Architecture

This style of architecture emerged from southern India – mostly temple buildings, incorporating stepped designs containing statues and intricate carvings depicting stories. These kovils are composed of three parts – porches, gate pyramids and pillared halls. 

  • Porches – Mandapams are the shelter areas that lead to the doors of the temple
  • Gate Pyramids – Gopurams are the most notable features in Dravidian temples, they form the roofs of the temple entrances.
  • Pillared Halls – Chaultris or Chawadis are usually built around or lead to the main sanctuary of the temple. 
Brihadeeshwara Temple, Thanjavur
Brihadeeshwara Temple, Thanjavur

6. Indo-Saracenic Architecture

A fusion of Indo-Islamic Architecture with British Colonial Architecture gives rise to this unique style of architecture during the British rule in India. Inspired by the Mughal style, the British began to adopt prominent features from Islamic Architecture in their public buildings. 

Some of these features included:

  • Onion domes
  • Minarets
  • Chattris
  • Arches
  • This style was usually adopted in public buildings such as courthouses, clock towers and other government and municipal buildings. 

Examples of Indo-Saracenic Architecture:

  • Victoria Public Hall, Chennai
  • Howrah Railway Station, Kolkata
  • Chepauk Palace, Chennai
Cheapuk Palace, Chennai

7. Mughal Architecture

This style of architecture was brought by the Mughal emperors who came in to rule India during the 16th century. This style of architecture had a standard set of prominent features which made the buildings easy to recognize. 

Features of these buildings included:

  • Materials usage – white marble and red sandstone
  • Jali works – as ornamentation on windows, usually of floral or geometric patterns
  • Ornamentation – intricate carving, calligraphy, etc.
  • Gateways leading to the main building, similar to the gopurams in Dravidian temples. 
  • Minarets, Onion bulb domes, Chattris, Arches, etc.
Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh
Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh

It is astonishing to see such diverse styles of architecture throughout different parts of a single country. For a fact, the architectural styles are not limited to the ones mentioned in this article – there are a huge collection of styles to be noted in a country with such branched roots.