The identity of every country reflects through the Language, Dress, Food and Architecture of its people. Despite being the oldest and richest civilization, Hindus in India have nothing left at their land to show younger generations that their ancestors had bridged the sea in Ramayana period, and built a house of wax in Mahabharata period, or had constructed grand Trunk Road from Patliputra in the East to Takshashila on North West frontier. Today India’s identity is only through Taj Mahal – a controversial tomb in marble housing the remains of Shahjahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. All our monuments have been destroyed while the few remains have disputed ownership with invaders.
Architecture is called Vaastu-Kala. Ancient text on this subject is Vaastu Shastra, a treatise attributed to Maya Danava, the father in law of demon King Ravana, who constructed the golden citadel of Lanka. On technical, aesthetic and scientific aspects Indian architecture has been greatly influenced by Vaastu Shastra’s instructions on planning layout of cities, buildings and locations. Even today, Hindus spend a considerable amount to rectify non conformities of their buildings according to the suggestions made in Vaastu Shastra.
Several prosperous cities have been mentioned in Puranas centuries before the dawn of civilization on other part of the world. Just to mention the few those exist till date with names changed by invaders are Kashi (Varanasi), Prayag (Allahabad), Ayodhya (Faizabad), Mathura, Kashyapa-pur (Multan), Patliputra (Patna), Vaishali, Panchala (Ferozabad) and Indraprastha (Delhi). All of them were well planned and had centrally administered public utilities. Manusamruti contains an exclusive chapter on administration of public utilities.
Indus Valley Civilization
When people lived nomadic life, India was the first nation to have executed the science of Town Planning. Indian architecture has been traced to the Indus Valley civilization. Excavations carried at the sites have revealed remnants of unsurpassed in civil engineering. The towns had roads intersecting at right angles to one another. The major buildings in the citadel included a large granary and water tank or public bath. There was elaborate drainage system of covered drains running the length of the main streets, connected by chutes most residences.
The great bath at Mohenjo-Daro, with a layer of bitumen as waterproofing, and adjoining well to supply water and an outlet to a large drain having finely built brick structure were available. Surrounding the bath were porticoes and set of rooms, while a stairway led to an upper level. An estimated 700 wells supplied Mohenjo-Daro residents with water and even the smallest house was connected to a drainage system. The impressive infrastructure of the Indus cities suggested an effective central authority.
The ruins of Mauryan period are great landmark in the history of Indian art. The Mauryan architecture was embalmed in timber. The art of polishing of wood had reached such perfection that master craftsmen used to make wood glisten like a mirror. Emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya had got constructed a wooden fort 14.48 km long and 2.41km wide, along the River Ganga in Bihar that housed many buildings and palaces. However, only a couple of teak beams have survived from this fort.
The earliest reservoir dam for irrigation was built-in Saurashtra. Later a beautiful lake called ‘Sudarshana’ was constructed on the hills of Raivataka during Chandragupta Maurya’s time.
Ashoka (3rd century BC) was the first Mauryan Emperor who began to think in stone. The stone-work of his period was of highly diversified order and composed of lofty free-standing pillars, railings of the stupas, lion thrones and other colossal figures. Even small fragments of stone art were given a high lustrous polish resembling fine enamel.
Ashoka pillar at Sarnath is one of the finest pieces of sculpture. Ashoka’s palace near Patna was a masterpiece. Enclosed by a high brick wall, the highlight of the palace was an immense high pillared-hall having three stories. The Chinese traveler Fa-hien was so impressed that he stated that to have been ‘made by spirits’ and that its carvings were so elegantly executed which no human hands could accomplish. The Ashoka period marked the beginning of the Buddhist School of architecture in India.
Gupta period was the golden age of India, during which the caves of Ellora and Ajanta were dug out and frescoes painted. The Mighty caves of Ellora were carved out of solid rock with the stupendous Kailasa temple in the center. The caves of Elephanta, with the powerful and subtle Trimurti, also belong to this period. At the Rock temple on Elephanta-Island is a pillared hall, housing a towering three-headed bust of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The entrance to the temple was through a very lofty gateway. The amount of earth and rock that had been gouged by hand and later carved with great delicacy with rudimentary tools stands to testify the devotion of the followers of the ancient faith.
The ruins of Temples
Although Islamic invaders destroyed most of the grand temples yet few temples in ruins stand out to narrate and evidence of their destruction
Meenakshi Temple Madurai – Dedicated to Lord Shiva Meenakshi temple complex is one of the largest and ancient. According to legend Madurai was the actual site where the wedding of Shiva and Meenakshi took place. The temple is a geometrical marvel. Everything here is larger than life. The soaring and exquisitely carved towers enclose the temple. There are four other entrances to the temple, under huge Gopuras in the four cardinal directions. The south gateway contains the twin temples of Shiva and Meenakshi about nine story high. The Mandapa is an impressive structure, with a hemispherical ceiling. The temple walls were studied with gold and precious stones. The 985 pillars produce musical sounds when struck. In 1310 AD Malik Kafur, a Hindu convert slave of Allauddin Khilji plundered and damaged the temple.
The Chain of Sun Temple
Sun has been regarded as the visible deity that provides life-sustaining energy and light for our solar system. There were several temples dedicated to Sun God such as Sun Temple at Multan (now in Pakistan), Martanda Temple (Kashmir), Katramal (Almora), Oshia (Rajasthan), Modhera (Gujarat) and Konark (Oddisha). All of them had impressive images of Sun God cast in pure gold but were ransacked by Islamic invaders. The impressive ruins of the following exist to narrate the destruction and plunder.
Konark – Konark Temple was one of the grandest temples of India for its architectural grandeur, the intricacy and profusion of sculptural work. The entire temple has been conceived as a chariot of the Sun god with 24 wheels, each about 10 feet in diameter, with a set of spokes and elaborate carvings. Seven horses drag the temple. Two lions guard the entrance, crushing elephants. A flight of steps lead to the main entrance. Around the base of the temple, and up the walls and roof, are carvings in the erotic style.
Modhera – This temple is situated along the banks of River Pashupati in Gujarat. It has been referred in Skanda Purana and Brahma Purana. There are three images of the Sun God, positioned to catch the rays of the sun at dawn, noon and sunset. The temple was so designed that the first rays of the sun fell on the image of Surya. The Suryakund is finest example of geometry. The organization of stone into composition gives shape to a dazzling pattern of art. The entire temple is based on an inverted lotus-base plinth. It was designed such that the rays of the rising and setting sun on the day of equinox (when day and night is equal on 20 March and 21 September), fell on the bejeweled pure gold idol of Sun riding on his chariot driven by Saarthi Arun. The idol made of gold was plundered by Mahmud Gaznavi and finally destroyed by Allauddin Khilji.
Multan – Younger generations would hardly believe that a Sun Temple existed in Pakistan. Ancient name of Multan was Kashyapa Nagar and that was founded by Hiranyakashyupa where his sister Holika had attempted to put Prahlahd in a pier. During Mahabharata period, Kashyapa Nagar was the capital of Trigrataraja, who was defeated by Arjuna. Subsequently, the city was named Moola-sthana and Multan. In 324 BC the Macedonians under Alexander invaded Multan and, it was here that he was seriously wounded, which caused his death later.
Sun Mandir was situated on the old Fort Mound. It had an idol made of pure gold with two eyes made of bright red rubies. Mohammad Bin Qasim, ordered the idol to be removed. An underground chamber was also discovered, in which were found two hundred and thirty maunds (over quintal) of gold and forty huge jars filled with gold dust.
The palaces of Datia are one of the most architecturally interesting buildings in India. It is also one of the most impressive. Conceived as a single unit, unlike the Moghul palaces, it towers above the little town of Datia like the work of an extinct race of giants. Each side is about 100 yards long rising from the bare rock so subtly that it is hard to tell where nature’s work ends and man’s begins. The impression is of immense strength, and only the skyline of flattened domes and cupolas gives any hint of the treasures within.
The temples of Dilwara and Khajuroho attract tourists all over the world to provide glimpses to remind us the rich spiritual heritage and aesthetic past India.
Though many of the finest temples and places were defaced and destroyed by Islamic invaders, Hindu Art in the Old Indian Colonies fortunately escaped to testify the magnificent achievement of Hindu architecture. There are some impressive monuments in South East Asia to testify the grandeur of India’s architectural past. Angkor Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu in Thailand is one such monument. The Angkor Temple ranks as chief wonder of the world today.
Recently an enthusiastic in Delhi had privately chartered a helicopter to photograph Kutab Minar from the top. The monument looked exactly a fully blossomed lotus, a sacred Hindu motif. The photographs were sent to several websites by the individual.
Hindus had thought and implemented the idea of bridging the sea when rest of the world did not know all the four oceans on the globe. Rama Setu is known as Adam’s Bridge. While grand monuments of other civilizations were made to house the remains of dead Kings such as Pyramids of Egypt, the monuments of grandeur in India were for the use of public.
Chand K Sharma
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