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Indian Architecture - Architectural Character

( Originally Published 1921 )

Indian architecture is divided into the following periods, which, how-ever, frequently overlap :

(1) The Buddhist style (B.C. 250-A.D. 750). India (north of the Deccan) and Ceylon.

(2) The Jaina style (A.D. 1000-1300) with later revivals. The whole of India from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin.

(3) The Hindu (or Brahman) style, subdivided into (a) The Northern Hindu style in North India (A.D. 600 to the present time). (b) The Chalukyan style in Central India (A.D. 1000-1300). (c) The Dravidian style in South India (A.D. 1350–1750).

(1) Buddhist Architecture. — The appearance of structural temples, of which none are left, can only be conjectured from that of the rock-cut temples, which, however, have only one facade, cut in the face of the rock. This architecture, which is, therefore, mainly internal, is interesting as showing an imitation of timber forms, which were repeated long after their raison d'etre had ceased (cf. Greek Architecture, p. 52). With the exception of the facade, ornament was lavished on internal columns and roofs, the former of which were short and overladen with ornament, while the latter were generally semicircular, treated with ribs showing a timber derivation (p. 795).

(2) Jaina Architecture. — The style is generally regarded as being founded on Buddhist architecture ; the monuments are mainly religious and mostly belong to the great age of Jaina architecture (A.D. 1000-1300), and are found in all parts of India, especially in the north. Temples have an entrance porch or hall, generally cruciform on plan, and columns with bracket capitals and angular struts which support domes often of various heights and invariably built in horizontal courses of stone, which, exerting no lateral thrust, are supported on columns without the aid of buttresses (p. 792 B). The interior thus presents a light and graceful character, further enhanced by the method of planning of an " in and out " or cruciform shape (p. 796 B). Then comes a small square " vimana " or idol-cell, containing the cross-legged seated figure of the saint. It is lit only from the door, and crowned with a "sikra " or imposing pyramidal storeyed tower, with curvilinear sides in receding stages recalling the Chaldan ziggurats. Sculptured ornament of grotesque and symbolic design, bewildering in its richness, covers the whole structure, leaving little plain wall surface and differing essentially from European art. The temples were picturesquely perched on mountain tops or nestled in secluded valleys, as the Jains set a high value on the effect of environment on architecture. The larger temples are enclosed by a wall, along the inner side of which are the numerous image-cells which open on to the internal court. A revival of the style took place in the fifteenth century, corresponding to the Renaissance in Europe. Modern Jaina temples are mostly tinged with Mahometan influence and have bulbous domes and foliated pointed arches, while the " sikra " or pyramidal tower is often absent.

(3) Hindu (or Brahman) Architecture.—This varies in its three local styles, but all have the small "vimana " or shrine-cell and entrance porch, with the same excessive carving and sculpture, which are impressive as offering a tribute of labour to the gods. The principal Brahman temples, like those of Egypt, show successive additions of sanctuaries and enclosures grouped around or attached to the original shrine. The grandeur of their imposing mass produces an impression of majestic beauty, but the effect depends almost wholly on elaboration of surface ornament, rather than on abstract beauty of form, in strong contrast to Greek architecture. In other respects the styles differ according to locality as follows : (a) The Northern Hindu differs from the Dravidian in that the pyramidal roof over the " vimana " is curved instead of stepped in outline and the entrance porch has no columns. (b) The Chalukyan is affected by its northern and southern rivals, and takes features from both without losing its special character. The star-shaped plans contrast with the cruciform plans of the Northern Hindu style ; while the curved pyramidal towers contrast with the storeyed Dravidian towers. (c) The Dravidian has the " vimana " crowned by stepped pyramids, each storey of which is ornamented with cells. The " gopuras " or gateways to temple enclosures recall the pylons of Egyptian facades (p. 22), and the " choultries " or columned halls are akin to Egyptian hypostyle halls (p. 22).

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