Architecture as Power



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Architecture as Power

Saturday, March 16, 2024 | March 16, 2024 Last Updated 2024-03-16T17:48:32Z


The architecture of our country is socked in history, culture and tradition. The art and architectural traditions of our country have developed alongside historical trends. Most the grand monuments have been built by the rulers who governed us. They saw architecture as a way of symbolizing their power and authority. They patronized artisans and craftspeople in order leave behind a lasting legacy. We study these monuments to gain an insight into the builders and the period in which these structures were built.

The architecture of Medieval India shows fascinating diversity. The elements of continuity and change are reflected in the architectural heritage of our nation. The monuments built in the Medieval Period display a fusion of existing styles and new ideas brought by the invaders who become ruling powers in the subcontinent.

Historical monuments are very old building which have existed for many centuries. They can be divided into two broad categories-religious building (temples, mosques,  churches, stupas, synagogues and other places of worship) and secular buildings (forts, palaces, tombs, halls, baolis, havelis and cities.

stupa by



These two categories are a reflection of the functions that the building served. While religious buildings  provided a place of worship, secular buildings had a more practical and everyday use. However, both kinds of buildings had historical and architectural value and left an impression of the ruler in public memory.


The size and shape of medieval monument as well as the materials used tell us about the technologies used in their construction. Huge structures began appearing in the medieval period. Earlier building were common in mosques, places, mausoleums, etc. Let us study about some of these architectural components in details:

1. Trabeate or corbelled (7th to 10th century)

This style was freely used in temples, mosques, tombs and in buildings attached to large stepped well (baolis). In this style, roofs, doors and windows were constructed by placing a horizontal beam across two vertical columns. This technique was used in the construction of the screen of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque.

Screen in the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, Delhi

1. True arch (in 14th century)

It is a pointing arch which is not supported by a beam but by a stone placed obliquely to form the point. The entire weight of the huge structure above the door and windows was borne by (keystone) arches. This form of architecture was called "arcuate", i.e., having the shape of a bow; curved.

The Alai darwaza of Quwwat-al-Islam mosque is an important example of true arch

3. Dome

The dome is a large area enclosed by hollow, semicircular roof.

Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur

Quick Facts

Bijapur Gol Gumbaz is the largest dome structure of India. Built in the 16th century, its almost took 20 years to complete its construction. The most peculiar thing is that central dome stands without any pillar support.

4. Tall Structures

In the medieval period construction was mainly manpower oriented. Rajarajeshwar temple at Thajavur has the tallest shikhara amongst the contemporary temples. Perhaps some special technique was applied in its construction. This was needed to lift a stone of 90 tonnes to the top of the sikhara. To overcome this hurdle, the architects built an inclined path to the top of the temple, place the boulder on rollers and rolled it all the way to the top. The path started more than 4 km away in order to ensure a gentle incline. This ramp was destroyed after the temple was constructed, but the residents to the area remembered for a long time how the temple was constructed. Even today, a village near the temple was called Charupalam-the "Village of the Incline."

Kandariya Mahadev Temple

Khajuraho Temple

Rajarajeshwar Temple at Thanjavur

Kandariya Mahadeva Temple was constructed in 999 by king Dhangadeva of the Chandela dynasty. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the image of the chief deity is kept in the main shrine (garbhagriha). The ritual worship was performed in the main shrine, garbhagriha, were only the king, his immediate family and priest were given prerogative. The Khajuraho complex contenued royal temples which were decorated with elaborately carved sculptures.


The medieval rulers built many architectural beauties. Muslims and Hindus built beautiful mosques and temples for worship. The development architecture should not be seen in isolation. Worship places were erected not simply because of religious beliefs; they were often meant to showcase the power, prestige, and wealth of the patrons. It was common practice of rulers to earn the respect of their subjects, by showing religious fervour.

That is why most of the famous temples and mosques were built by king or wealthy people such as landlords or merchants. Similarly, rural also encouraged learned men and saints, and tried to transform their capitals and cities into cultural hubs. For example, Mahmud of Ghazni transformed his capital into a magnificent city of architectural wonders and cultural sophistication.

Plan of the Jama Masjid built by Shah Jahan in his new capital at Shahjahanabad 1650-1656

There is a basic difference in the construction of a temple and a mosque. A temple was seen as a replica of a royal palace, each the residence of  supreme power-one spiritual, the other temporal. In the kingdom, the king-the head of state was assisted by many functionaries such as ministers, priests, feudal lords, sub-feudal lords, clerks, treasurer, servants, etc. Similarly, in the temple there is a chief deity or deites around whom revolve many supportive and allied duties.

Common Features of Temple Architecture

This similarity was deliberate. It signifies that while the deity was the sources of spiritual soccour, the king was its earthly counterpart. As the temporal head, the needed the same kind of devotion and unquestioning obedience that the Gods received on the spiritual plane. In other words, temple architecture underscored the massage that a kingdom is a miniature mode of heaven on Earth. It supported the concept of 'divine kingship'. 

On the other hand, Muslim rulers did not claim themselves to be as incarnation of God on earth. Nevertheless, obsequious court historians referred to the Sultan as the "Shadow of God". An inscription of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque says that God chose Sultan Ala-ud-din as king because he had the qualities or Moses (Musa) and Solomon (Suleiman), the great Muslim law-givers of the past.

The rulers implemented many welfare measures, like building tanks, sesais, caravan serais, etc. Making water available by building tanks and reservoirs was probably the most important of welfare work. Firoz Shah Tughlaq initiated new irrigation schemes and bilt many canals. The Yamuna canal was built by him. Iltutmish constructed the Hauz-i-Sultani the king's reservoir-in Dehli.

The Mughal Architecture : Gardens, Tombs and Forts  

The Muslim rulers of India began constructing gardens, tombs and forts. The Mughals, in particular, made excellent progress in these field. Babur made beautiful gardens in India. From that time, gardens became an intrinsic part if the design of Mughal palaces and mausoleums. The Mughal Age is famous for its culture, developments and has been called the Second Classical Age, the first being Gupta Age in Northern India. A new style of Indo-Persian architecture developed during the Mughal period.

They built beautiful forts, palaces, public buildings, baolis (water tanks or wells),mosques, etc. A special feature of Mughal architecture was the use of running water in the palaces and pleasure resorts. Babur was especially fond of gardens and laid out some beautiful gardens around Agra and Lahore. Important Mughal gardens which have survived even today are Shalimar Bagh at Lahore and Srinagar, Nishant Bagh in Srinagar and the Pinjore Gardens in Punjab.

A few building of Babur's time that have survived are the Kabul Bagh at Panipat and the Pirzada Masjid at Delhi. Humayun did not get enough time to construct places and forts due to his involvement in constant wars. In spite of this, he built a palace at Delhi named 'Din Panah'.   

Sher Shah, though not a Mughal
Sher Shah's Tombs, Sasaram

All the sources and evidences show that the Mughals were enthusiastic builders. Their massive forts at Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri are proof of the scientific techniques and precision. Sher Shah, though not a Mughal, built the Purana Qila near Delhi. He also built his mausoleum at Sasaram (Bihar) which still stands.

Akbar was the first Mughal ruler with the time and resources to undertake construction on a massive scale. One of the earliest specimens that came up during this reign is Humayun's tomb, built by Humayun's widow Hamida Bano. The tomb, built on raised platform, is situated in the middle of a garden. At the entrance to the tomb is a large gateway. The tomb has both Indian and Persian architectural featuers.

Akbar built many forts. The most famous of which is the Agra Fort, completed in 1571 CE Made of red sandstone, this massive fort had many magnificent gates.

Quick Facts

The cost of constructing Humayun's Tomb was approximately 15 lakh rupees at that time. In addition to the tomb of Humayun, it contains another 100 graves including that of Hamida Begum, Humayun's wife. Thus, it was earned the name "Dormitory of the Mughals'.  

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