India's recorded history began in the cradle of Indus Valley around the 5th millennium BC. Since then, many rulers and kingdoms have risen and fallen on the subcontinent. During their reign, kings and emperors constructed a number of architectural wonders to mark their rule, their status to satisfy their creative impulses or to honor deities or their ancestors. Over the eons many of these architectural gems were destroyed by other rulers or by time, but several have survived giving us a glimpse on the architectural prowess of generations past. Here we look at few of these architectural wonders.
Taj Mahal: Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal, this ivory-white marble mausoleum is situated on the south bank of the Yamuna River in Agra. The tomb is the center-piece of a 42-acre complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall.
Tughlaqabad Fort: This site, located in the vicinity of Delhi, has an uncanny resemblance to the ruins of Mohenjdaro-Harappa. Any sightseer who comes face to face with this monument will only wonder why it is not one of the biggest attractions of the city. The height of the citadel is imposing and the view from top is truly unique. The labor, knowledge and engineering skills that went into creating the artificial lake and embankments around the areais truly astonishing. The sheer size of this fortress and its earthy charm never fails to mesmerize visitors.
Fatehpur Sikri: This magnificent fortified ancient city, 40km west of Agra, was the short-lived capital of the Mughal Empire between 1571 and 1585, during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Akbar visited the village of Sikri to consult the Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who predicted the birth of an heir to the Mughal throne. When the prophecy came true, Akbar built his new capital here, including a stunning mosque and three palaces for each of his favorite wives. The city was an Indo-Islamic masterpiece, but erected in an area that supposedly suffered from water shortages and so was abandoned shortly after Akbar’s death.
Hawa Mahal: Jaipur’s most distinctive landmark, the HawaMahal is an extraordinary fairy-tale palace of pink sandstone constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh. The façade of the palace, with its delicately honeycombed exterior that rises a dizzying five storey’s, allowed ladies of the royal household to view life and processions in the city without being observed by outsiders. The top of the façade offers stunning views over JantarMantar and the City Palace on one side and over the Siredeori Bazaar on the other. Within the palace is a small museum with miniature paintings and several rich relics, such as the eremonial armor that evokes the royal past.
Jantar Mantars: Constructed in the early 18th century, during the time when Jaipur was the seat of Maharaja Jai Singh II, the Jantar Mantars were built to compile astronomical tables and calculate the times and movements of the sun, moon, planets and stars. There are a total of five Jantar Mantars, one each in Jaipur, Ujjain, Mathura, Varanasi and New Delhi, with the one in Jaipur being the world’s largest stone sundial. Located near City Palace and Hawa Mahal of Jaipur, the monument features masonry, stone and brass that help in detecting time, identifying the constellations and even in analyzing the orbits around the sun.
Kumbalgarh: Also known as the jewel of Mewar, Kumbalgarh is situated in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. History, royalty, power and culture are all packed in this place. It is a treat to the human eyes and mind. The fort accommodates three hundred Jain and sixty Hindu temples.
Vikaramsila University: Not many people are aware that India had many excellent educational centers in the past including Vikramsila University, located 50km east of Bhagalpur in Bihar State. It was one of the largest centers of Buddhist learning and spread over hundred acres of land. The center has an astonishing fifty two rooms spread on both sides of a corridor with an elaborate stupa at the center. What is even more marvelous is the enormous library that has been excavated and which testifies to the rich history of India. A visit to this glorious and historical university is highly recommended just to get a sense of advancement that India had thousands of years ago.
Ajanta and Ellora caves: Astonishingly carved into hillside rock, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the Ajanta and Ellora caves are located in the Marthwada region of Maharashtra State . There are 34 caves at Ellora dating from between the 6th and 11th centuries AD, and 29 caves at Ajanta dating back to between the 2nd century BC and 6th century AD. While the Ajanta caves are rich in paintings and sculpture, the Ellora caves are renowned for their extraordinary architecture. The most incredible aspect about these caves is that they were crafted by hand, with only the use of hammer and chisel.
Hampi: Located in northern Karnataka State, Hampi was one of the best areas of the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire from 1343 to 1565. The forlorn ruins of Hampi belie the fact that at its prime, in the early part of the 16th century, it was one of the largest and richest cities in the world. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins around Hampi marked by the imposing and towering Virupaksha Temple remain an important religious center. Heaps of giant boulders, perching precariously over miles of undulating terrain, bear witness to the fact that they were once the source material for the numerous statutes of Jain deities that dot the city’s temples and other buildings.