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The Effects of Colonization on Indian Architecture
When Britain invaded India, many of the Kings were no match for the colonizing entity. Their influence impacted the architecture of India with the fusion of many styles coming together.
Abiran Raveenthiran
Regional Sales Manager
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As with much of history, the influence of the British altered the direction of science, technology and architecture that the country was headed towards. As with most of the world, the influences are still in effect today. When the British entered India, they documented the palaces that they found a liking to - most being situated in North India. Many of South India’s palaces were abandoned or did not receive as much claim- many of their greatest palaces were already abandoned for reasons history may or may not remember.

Hinduism took on different forms in Northern and Southern India; similar to Christianity and Catholicism, it is from the same root but evolved into different ideologies. India’s architecture cannot be analyzed using one religion or group of people because they are a jigsaw of various religions put together. That was apparent in their day to day life, their understanding of religion and even their architecture. The effects of colonization could be analyzed through the Great Chaitya Hall in Maharashtra, Ramnad Palace in Tamil Nadu, the Gateway of India in Maharashtra, the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, and the structures of the city of Chandigarh of Punjab and Haryana. 

The Great Chaitya hall was built in 200 BCE. Negative space is the space that surrounds an object in an image or artwork which was how the hall was built. Chaitya Hall was carved into a hill of solid rock to honor Buddha. In this case, the negative space would be the hill and the positive space would be the actual Chaitya Hall. The shrines, hall and everything was carved from a single rock - meaning it is constructed using the removal of material. From our view, it is dealing with as much positive as negative because the viewer will need to also think of what’s not there in order to see what is there. That concept of viewing what isn't there to see what is there is the entire reason behind negative space. Removal of that much hard material without the resources we have today would have taken numerous years to excavate. Chisel markings can be seen to further support the evidence of excavation (Figure 1).

Chisel markings are apparent along the columns presented in the shrine of Ekirva

The ceiling is at least 10 feet high with pillars, with carvings of Buddha’s work, at different levels. For further structural support, enhanced wooden timbers were also used. These wooden timbers were cut nearly 2,000 years ago and preserved without many signs of corrosion. The style of its creation made it a well preserved cave temple. (ArchitectureCourses.Org, n.d.) The entrance of the hall looks upon an excavated court with a large column consisting of 4 lions (Figure 2). Although dedicated to the Buddhists, there is a small Hindu Shrine dedicated to the goddess Ekvira. The windows to the entrance have large caitya archs, or beams, that appear as a repeated decoration that - similar to most of Buddhism - evolved from Hinduism. It is an elaborate form that spreads wide around a semicircular medallion (Britannica, 2016). The large stupa at the end of the hall is raised on a double circular drum carved with railing friezes. The hemispherical dome is topped with an inverted stepped finial and a unique wooden umbrella. Its underside is carved with delicate petalled patterns. Part of the caves are accessible by climbing 350 steps cut in rock. Construction in that period of time required the workers to carry the tons of excavated rock up and down the stairs. There is natural light entering through a large window that further enhances the sculptures and architectural details that can add to the understanding of the negative space of the cave.

Look up within Great Chaitya hall to see column with 4 lions

Temples carved in natural cliffs suited Indian climates to be cool in the summer and pleasant in nature. Also, Buddhism heavily relies on the spiritual connection with nature and your surroundings which can be further exemplified through the use of the carved caves. Many similar halls and carved caves were attempted to be made at the same level of beauty of the Great Chaitya Hall of Karli but cannot compare. Often, it is considered the largest  among 1,000 cave temples in India.

Being built in the 1690s, the Ramnad Palace is free from any touch of colonial influence. The Ramnad Palace was built in the centre of the kingdom in a fortified town due to the many warring kingdoms before it. The palace had a number of activities relating to the maintenance of the king and many cultural events that could hold a number of the rest of the town. The palace was placed strategically to protect the king, his wealth and his family. The palace has a walled compound that is connected within a temple. The compound is where the annual navaratri festival is conducted. Navaratri is a hindu festival that is celebrated for nine nights; there are many various reasons behind the reason of this festival. The size of the palace allowed it to function similar to a smaller but richer town within the premises of the actual town. Many larger Indian palaces and wealthier king’s followed a similar style in that time period. The palace was broken up into two divisions: the antapuram or domestic quarters and the bahya salam which contains the main gateways, armoury and a temple. The centre of these two factions was the quarters of the King.

Indian King’s of that era showed their wealth and strength through both their army and the beauty of the palaces and temples they constructed. “... the size of the elements is determined not by the use of scale, but according to the importance to the devotee” (Howes, 2002). For Hindu temples, the higher the placement of a particular deity in the centre of the structure indicated an increased importance to the location and structure. 

The previous two structures provided a baseline of how architecture was prior to the interference of the British Empire of North and South India with a window into two prominent religions in India. As every empire pushed onto the locals their customs, rules and regulation, art and, of course, their architecture. When the British first made inroads into India with little intended impact, structures were built to be reflective of their functions; such as simple warehouses and administration facilities. The British intended on incorporating Indian tradition into architecture to have a permanent presence as their interests in India grew into a governing role. Although their attempts at designing a building that could incorporate both styles overall failed due to India's detail oriented architectural style, one of the closest structures to succeed would be the Gateway of India. The structure was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the city. It’s classified as Indo-Saracenic with influences from Islamic and Britain’s gothic style (Mukherjee, 2018). This building combines two of the largest religions in India, which had warred for centuries, with a British twist on it (Figure 3). It’s large arches are drawn from Muslim influence, while its fine details are drawn from Hindu influence. It has become an iconic symbol of Mumbai and represents the mixing cultures of the city.

Gateway of India aerial view

Like any good relationship, there is giving and taking. The British Empire gave a lot of influence to the direction of Indian architecture in becoming a governing role. Inversely, they also took some of their designs and applied it to their own architecture. This was more apparent Post World War 2, while Britain was undergoing major reconstruction. India had taken its place as one of the colonies with special significance. During the 18th and 19th century, Indian culture, traditions, clothing and art were in fashion. This influenced British clothing designers to implore many of Indian styled floral, paisley and flat patterns into their fashion industry. Similar to its clothing industry, the effects of Indian themes could be seen in structures as well. Queen Victoria became an empress of India and designed the Durbar Hall and Durbar Room using wood carving styles and intricate floral panels to show her commitment to the colony (Style Guide: Influence of India, 2013). 

During the reconstruction of damaged buildings from World War 1 & 2 in London, many of its buildings were redesigned to have Indian influences such as the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, England (Smith, 2010). The Royal Pavilion was used for Indian soldiers who had been wounded on the battlefields of the Western Front. 

“The Indian Army played a vital role in the first few months of war. At a time when Britain was still recruiting and training volunteers, soldiers from across the Empire came to fight in Europe and support the British cause. The Indian Army provided the largest number of troops, and by the end of 1914 they made up almost a third of the British Expeditionary Force” (Amandakay, n.d.). 

Although used as an Indian hospital, the Royal Pavilion was originally built as a seaside palace for King George IV and designed with the mixed design of its two most significant colonies, India and China (Figure 4). This can be easily seen by the well known onion-like dome on the exterior of the central circular saloon. 

The Royal Pavilion as an Indian Hospital in 1915

Upon India's independence from Britain’s Empire, they also received architectural independence. Indians was finding themselves as a new country and could not revert back to old styles but did not want to continue Britain’s styles either. To that effect, Indian architects were able, through eastern schooling, and ready to take advantage of the Modernist movement that was well known and developed worldwide, the main tenet of which was the concept of a complete break with historical precedent and creating an architecture devoid of its meaning. This lead to the construction and establishment of the city of Chandigarh. This city began to become a playground for architects to experiment while the rectangular grid system allowed for its members to live a healthy, utopian living which concentration on maximizing sector-based transit lifestyle (Schmithe, 2001). From here on, Indian architects discovered methods of implementing both their older traditional styles into new modernistic styles to create the beautiful buildings they have today. 

Many argue the negatives and positives that rose from the colonization of India but it is important to see that it has indeed shaped its history and undoubtedly rose architectural beauty and refinery that may not have been achieved without the influence. 

Britain has had a special place in its heart for India causing changes to both of their architecture and lifestyle itself. The progression of how one has altered the other is evident through the various structures of alternate times presented through this paper. As time goes one, we begin to realize that the world is not as big as it seems. Globalization through technology is bringing us closer together and slowly forging very unique paths into the same path. As time goes on we will continue to see how various countries will impact one another’s lifestyle and architecture.   


Sources Used

Amandakay. (n.d.). WW1 and the Royal Pavilion. Retrieved from

ArchitecturalCourses.Org. Chaitya Hall, Karli. Retrieved July 2, 2018, from

Britannica, T. E. (2016, February 05). Caitya. Retrieved July 2, 2018, from

Howes, J. (2002). The courts of pre-colonial south india : material culture and kingship.     

Retrieved from

Mukherjee, M. (2018, June 21). The architectural wonders of South Mumbai - Times of India. Retrieved from

Schmithe, S. (2010). British Imperialistic Impact on Indian Architecture. Retrieved from

Style Guide: Influence of India. (2013, January 31). Retrieved from

William J. R. Curtis. Modern Architecture Since 1900. London: Phaidon Press Ltd. 2001

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Abiran Raveenthiran
Regional Sales Manager | Omnify
Abiran Raveenthiran is a first-generation born Canadian in Toronto, Ontario whose succe...
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