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Ancient India's Contribution to



"The Indian way of life
provides the vision of the natural, real way of life.
We veil ourselves with unnatural masks.
On the face of India are the tender expressions
which carry the mark of the Creators hand. "

- George Bernard Shaw, Famous British Author


The Science of Architecture and Civil Construction was known in Ancient India as Sthapatya-Shastra. The word Sthapatya is derived from the root word Sthapana i.e. 'to establish'. The technique of arhitecture was both a science and an art, hence it is also known as Sthapatya-kala, the word Kala means an art.

Panel at Khajuraho
created in the 10th century
in Madhya Pradesh in Central India

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 specialised 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 (today in Pakistan) proved the existence of a developed Urban civilisation in India. The indus valley civilization is dated around 3000 B.C. Thus since the last 5000 years. India has had an urban civilisation. The existence of an urban civilization presumes the existence of well devel oped 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, etc., 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 systematised and highly developed technique of architecture 5000 years ago.

Boddhisattvas (huge Buddha Statues)
at Bamiyan in Afghanistan
These statues were carved out of this hillside
in the 1st Century under the
patronage of the Kushana emperor Kanishka
(These are the statues which
the Taliban has vowed to blow up)

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 Hindu 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.

Table of Contents






Chapter 1:

Production Technology and
Mechanical Engineering


Chapter 2

Shipbuilding and Navigation


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Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6

Physics and Chemistry


Chapter 7

Medical Science


Chapter 8

Fine Arts


Chapter 9

Sports and Games


Chapter 10



Chapter 11

Summing Up



Sanskrit-English Glossary


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A Search for Our Present
in History


Another panel from Khajuraho
Note the intricate and fine outline
of the figurines carved.The temples were
completed over a period of 200 years

Such carvings are especially seen in the Gopurams i.e. roofs over the south Indian temples and on the tall dorrways to the temples. The Raj-Gopurams or main roofs of such temples rise to a height of nearly 90 to 100 ft. and are fully carved with various figurines depicting gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon.

Borobudur in Indonesia
is a temple complex devoted to Buddha
This complex was built in the the 7th Century
Borobud means "Big Buddha"


Indian techniques of art and architecture spread both westwards and eastwards. During the reign of Ashoka; Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Seistan were parts of the Mauryan empire. Buddhist Stupas were constructed in these Mauryan provinces. Unfortunately, very few of them have survived till today.

However the huge Boddhisattvas (statues of Buddha) that were cut out of rock faces covering entire mountain faces and cliffs, have survived human and natural ravages and can even today be seen at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. 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. It is these Boddhisattvas that the Taliban recntly threatened to blow-up)

The majesty of this grand temple complex
at Khajuraho has to be seen to be believed

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 claimed by some scholars to have been an independent school 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. Alongwith Buddhism, Indian art and architecture also travelled 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.

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 Indian pattern of a hemispherical Stupa shaped like an egg and called Anda, as referred to earlier in the chapter.

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 th 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. In fact this style of architecture also influenced Islamic architecture. The dome mosques in all Muslim countries perhaps have borrowed the style of having dome from the Anda of the Buddhist Stupa. Indian influences have also felt in Europe Christian Basilicas 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
Note that the carving looks exactly Indian.

"It was one of the most important civilising 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". 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 metre 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.


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