Architecture And Civil Engineering

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Sudheer Birodkar

The science of architecture and civil construction is known as Sthapatya-Shastra. The word Sthapatya is derived from the root word Sthapana i.e. 'to establish'. The technique of architecture is both a science and an art, hence it is also known as Sthapatya-kala, the word Kala means an art.

From very early times the construction of temples, palaces, rest houses and other civil construction was undertaken by professional architects known as Sthapati. Even during the Vedic times, there existed professionals who specialized in the technique of constructing chariots and other heavy instruments of war. These professionals have been referred to in the Rig Veda as Rathakara which literally means 'chariot maker'.

The excavations of the ruins at Mohenjodaro and Harrappa proved the existence of an ancient, developed urban civilization in India. The existence of an urban civilization presumes the existence of well developed techniques of architecture and construction.

These techniques would no doubt have had been systematically stated in record books for transmitting them to the later generations as well for being used as reference media for actual construction. Unfortunately, as far as the Indus Valley civilization goes no such records have been preserved either as rock edicts, manuscripts, or in folk tales and legends. But the fact that cities on the scale of Mohenjodaro had been constructed bear testimony to the existence of a systematized and highly developed technique of architecture.

But in the later ages, from about the 7th century B.C., we have both literature references as well as archeological evidences to prove the existence of large urban civilizations in the Ganges Valley. Like in most other sciences, even remotely connected with religion, in architecture also the scientific ideas and techniques have been integrated with philosophy and theology. This was so as the majority of the large constructions were temples. As the construction of temples rarely used mortar but used a technique where the stones could be affixed to one another with the force of gravity. The technique followed in doing this was similar to the one used in the Roman Aquaducts. The exquisite carvings were engraved after the stones had been fixed in their places. Thus the carving of figurines right upto the top of a temples roof must have been a demanding task.

Such carvings are especially seen in the Gopurams[1] and on the tall doorways to the temples. The Raj-Gopurams[2] of such temples rise to a height of nearly 90 to 100 ft. and are fully carved with various figurines depicting gods and goddesses.

Architectural Tradition Extends Overseas

Techniques of art and architecture spread both westwards and eastwards from Ancient India. During the reign of Ashoka; Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Seistan were parts of the Mauryan empire. Buddhist Stupas were constructed in these Mauryan provinces.

Khajuraho Temple complex

However the huge Boddhisattvas (statues of Buddha) that were cut out of rock faces covering entire mountain faces and cliffs, have until recently survived human and natural ravages. During Kushana times, Central Asia was a part of the Kushana empire. Indian art blended with Greek and Kushana styles, and spread into central Asia.

Thus India's cultural frontiers at one time extended upto Balkh (referred to as Vahalika in Vedic texts) on the river Oxus (Akshu) and beyond, and played an important role in shaping the art traditions which flourished between the 1st and the 8th centuries in Central Asia.

The Gandhara school of art of Afghanistan and Central Asia was actually derived from Indian art styles. In fact even the portrait art of the Oxus region is actually an extension of Indian art forms.

Besides Central Asia, the whole of Southeast Asia received most its art and architectural traditions from India. Along with Buddhism, Indian art and architecture also traveled to countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma as also to China, Korea and Japan. Sri Lanka being on our back door was heavily influenced by Indian art and architecture.

Temple mandala

The Mandala was a blueprint for any Vastu (edifice) Vastu-Shastra was an amalgam of architecture and theology

The Stupas in Sri Lanka which belong to the period between the 3rd Century B.C. to 4th century A.D. follow the pattern of a hemispherical Stupa shaped like an egg and called Anda.

The inter-locking dome of the Stupa was to be the prototype for the domes (over Mosques and churches) that were built later by Romans and Arabs.

The Dome of the Mosques in Islamic Architecture is derived from the Stupa

The hemispherical construction of the stupas also seems to have influenced Byzantine architecture perhaps through Pre-Islamic, Sassanian Persia. The famous Sophia mosque at Istanbul overlooking the Bosphorous Straits has domes which closely resemble the Buddhist Stupa. In fact the minarets in the mosque were erected late when the Ottoman Turks captured Istanbul (then called Constantinople) from the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century.

The dome over this Mosque at Istanbul has borrowed the technique from the Indian Stupa The mosque, incidentally was built as a Church but was later converted into a mosque by the conquering Ottoman Turks.

One can imagine that without the minarets, the mosque, which was originally a Christian Cathedral must have looked very much like a Stupa. The dome mosques in all Muslim countries perhaps have borrowed the style of having dome from the Anda of the Buddhist Stupa. Europe Christian Basilicas also have similarities with the Buddhist Stupas. Their mosaics seem have borrowed ideas from, the Buddhist chaityas. Indian motifs can also be traced in Gothic sculpture in the carvings in the cathedrals of Bayeux, Achen and Trier. Though this influence has been indirect and slight, its existence cannot be denied. But the more pervading influence of Indian art and architecture through Buddhism was in countries of south-east Asia.

Bernard Groslier the author of the section on 'Indochina' in the 'Art of the World Series' has made the following observations about the influence of Indian Art.

This is a another Panel at Borobudur in Indonesia. The carving follows an Indian motif.

"It was one of the most important civilizing movements of the ancient times, worthy to compare with the Hellenisation of the Mediterranean world. And India can justly be proud to have spread the light of her understanding over such distant lands, which without her might have remained in darkness"[3]. The regions to which Bernard Groslier is referring to are the countries of south-east Asia. Many architectural and art forms in these countries display a clear Indian influence.

One instance is the famous 108 meter high statue of Buddha at Dong Duong which closely resembles the Amravati sculptures. The presence of curly hair especially, indicates Indian origin in a country where people have straight hair. In the Bali islands in Indonesia many idols of Ganesha have been found. The people of Bali call themselves Hindus.


  1. Gopuram: roofs over Indian temples
  2. Raj-Gopuram: main roofs
  3. Groslier, Bernard. "Indochina", "Art of the World Series"