Since time eternal, India has been home to settlers and nomads who have travelled through mountainous passes, braved the strong gusts, endured the harshest of heat in the deserts, waded through waist deep waters of different rivers, braved violent seas and uncharted waters just to set foot on the land washed over with many different hues of cultures and civilisations throughout history.
Consequently, India’s architecture, over the years, has also been affected by the different cultures that have graced the dynamic population. Hence, we look towards the ten most famous historical sites of our beloved Motherland.
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10. Qutub Minar, New Delhi
Situated in the Capital, New Delhi, Qutub Minar, standing at a height of 120 meters, was built by Qutub-ud-din-Aibak, in the year 1199 CE. There, however, remains a confusion when it comes to its name as historians aren’t quite sure whether it has been named after Qutubuddin Bakhtiar kaki, the famous Sufi saint or Qutub al-Din Aibak, the emperor. The top floors of the minar were destroyed by lightning and were later reconstructed by Firoz Shah, this can be easily distinguishable as they are built with white marble, unlike the other floors. The tower, if noticed minutely, also seems to lean a bit on one side.
There are other accompaniments alongside the famous minar, which is equally famed in their own rights such as the Iron Pillar built by Ashoka, being nearly 2000 years. The astonishing fact about this pillar remains that it hasn’t rusted even after facing storms for all this time. Scientists still remain baffled and without an answer regarding how this pillar has not rusted for two millennia. Other famous sights in the complex include Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid.
9. Charminar, Hyderabad
This historical structure was built by the King, QuliQutub Shah, in the year 1591. The famed structure was supposedly copied off a similar structure in an Iranian City called Isfahan by the king. It is said that much like Shah Jahan, Quli Qutub Shah had built the monument in the memory of his wife and as a symbol of his affection and love towards her. The famed structure was built right after the city had suffered from a plague induced by mice and hence, has the statue of the head of a cat inside it as it is thought that cats were responsible to fend off the city from the mice.
For the adrenaline addicts, this place offers a series of interconnected tunnels which were built to connect this monument to the Golconda Fort. It is also said that in many of these tunnels, treasures are buried till this day, waiting to be discovered.
8. Victoria Memorial, Kolkata
Situated in the British Capital of India, Victoria Memorial was built in the memory of Queen Victoria, between the years 1906 and 1921, by the lead architect William Emerson. It is a beautiful example of the amalgamation of the architecture of two cultures, viz., Roman Catholic and Mughal. Its foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Wales in the year 1906. Each and every corner of the structure shrieks out saying that it has been made as a European mod of the Taj Mahal.
Even then, though, the architectural masterpiece is undeniable, unquestionable and worthy of praise. The grounds which house the monument now were previously home to the Presidency jail, which was demolished for its construction and shifted to Alipore and the total cost of construction, then, amounted to 1 crore and 5 lakh rupees. There are a total of 25 galleries inside the structure which include the likes of the royal gallery, the portrait gallery, the central hall, the sculpture gallery, the arms and armoury gallery and much more. The domes very top houses the statue of, “The Angel of Victory”, which rotates when it is windy.
7. Red Fort, New Delhi
The Red Fort is named so because of its red sandstone walls. It was built by Shah Jahan in the year 1639 and was a 10 year long and hard endeavour. It primarily has two gates, the Delhi gate and the Lahore gate. The Lahore Gate gets its name since it faces towards Lahore, once a part of India and also the Mughal Empire.
The walls were not completely white, once upon a time, as some portions were constructed using limestone which made it white in colour, however, these portions were getting chipped off and hence, the British draped the whole monument in red. The famed Kohinoor Diamond, which now is the most precious diamond in the world, sitting on the crown of The Queen of England, was once a part of the Emperor’s Chair in the Diwan-i-Khas hall, essentially, the saying, “crown jewel” comes from the Kohinoor being a part of the Queen’s crown.
The present day monument has a museum inside it with other important monuments like Rang Mahal, which housed the Empresses and their maidens and could be only visited by either the Emperor, himself or the princesses. Every Independence Day, the Prime Minister inaugurates the parade from India Gate to Red Fort, which adds to its importance as a historical monument.
6. Hawa Mahal, Jaipur
Situated in the Pink City of India, Jaipur, Hawa Mahal, was designed by Lal Chand Ustad and built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh in the year 1799. Hawa Mahal is famously called so because of its 953 windows which provide a constant breeze into the halls of the five-storied medieval marvel of architecture and hence, was a favourite summer retreat for the Rajput Royals of the olden days.
The most interesting fact about the monument is that it is the tallest building in the world without a solid foundation, has 5 floors, the upper floors, however, do not have stairs and has to be reached with the help of ramps. Furthermore, the palace is curved and leans at an angle of 87 degrees. The main purpose of its construction was to enable the ladies of the royal household to observe everyday life without being observed by the commoners. Its windows are known as Jharokhas and can be easily mistaken as cells in a beehive.
5. Golden Temple a.k.a. Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar
Guru Ram Das, in the year 1578, had excavated a reservoir which later on came to be known as Amritsar or, “Pool of the Nectar of Immortality”. Subsequently, The Golden Temple was built in between this reservoir and is now the epicentre of a major world Religion known as “Sikhism”. India has always proved its secularism over the due course of history and in this case too proves it, as the foundation was laid by a Muslim Sufi Saint who went by the name of Hazrat Mian Mir. It further adds to it because people from any and all walks of life are allowed to enter the monument and pray.
The four doors of the structure is a metaphor to the acceptability and openness of the Sikhs towards peoples of all religions. The golden temple owes its name to Maharaja Ranjit Singh as he was responsible for draping it with gold, 200 years after the actual construction. The Sikhs offer free lunch to the worshippers, which is served by other fellow worshipers and cooked by them too. Every day, the kitchen at the Temple feeds over 200,000 hungry souls.
4. Mysore Palace, Mysore
The Mysore Palace was built when the Maharaja of Mysore, Rajarshi Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV and his mother the Regent of Mysore, Vani Vilas Sannidhna commissioned the British architect Henry Irwin to construct a new palace since the old one turned into ashes due to a fire. The construction ended in 1912 and the Palace’s grounds were further extended in 1912.
The total construction period was 15 long years and the Palace has over 6 million visitors every year. It was originally a palace made out of woods, over the years and many renovations later, it has taken the present form. The Palace of woods, supposedly, got burnt during the wedding ceremony of a Princess Jayalakshammanni. The Mysore Palace is an architectural marvel with hues of styles such as Hindu, Gothic, Rajput and, Mughal forming an intricate picture.
3. Lake Palace, Udaipur
Built by Maharana Jagat Singh II, between the years 1743 and 1746, the Lake Palace was, at first, known as Jan Niwas or Jagniwas. It was erected facing towards the east, as the Royal Rajput inhabitants prayed to Surya, the Sun God. The palace’s upper most room is constructed as a perfect circle with a 6.4-meter diameter. The floors of the Lake Palace are ornamented with black and white marbles. In the subsequent years, Maharaja Bhagwat Singh decided to unveil the Jag Niwas Palace as Udaipur’s first 5-star hotel and so he did, in the year 1963.
Consequently, though, in 1971, Taj Hotels acquired the managerial rights to the property and changed its name to “Taj Lake Palace Hotel”. It is famed for being the most romantic hotel in the world. Some of the famous suites, in the luxury hotel, are Bada Mahal, Dhola Mahal, Khush Mahal, Ajjan Niwas and, Phool Mahal. The hotel consists of a total of 17 suites and 66 rooms from which the guests enjoy the luxurious comfort and enthralling views of The Aravalli Hills and Lake Pichola, a sacred haven for migratory birds during the winters.
2. Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
The Meenakshi Temple in Madurai was built, in the honour of Goddess Parvati, by Viswanatha Nayak, following the Dravidian Vijaynagar South Indian style of architecture, between the years 1623 CE and 1655 CE. Unlike most temples in the South, where Lord Shiva is the honoured deity, Meenakshi Temple has its deity as the lady Goddess Meenakshi, who is described as the triple breasted, fish-eyed goddess, also known as, Meenakshi Amman. The temple contains over 33000 sculptures, famous among which are the sculptures in the “hall of the thousand pillars”, each pillar containing, one carved sculpture and the towering sculpture of the Nataraj.
Additionally, it is the largest temple complex in Tamil Nadu which is accompanied by a pond known as Porthamarai Kulam, which translates to, Golden Lotus Pond. This pond is aptly named because, astonishingly enough, golden lotuses do bloom in the waters of the pond. The monument has also been nominated as a candidate to be one of the future wonders of the world.
1. Taj Mahal, Agra
The crown jewel in architectural wonder of the medieval India, The Taj Mahal, which translates to “The Crown Palace” is literally a sight to behold and soak in. Built by the Emperor, Shah Jahan, between the years 1631 and 1648, in the loving memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj’s name has been etched in the history books as a symbol of eternal love. Legend has it that Shah Jahan, to ensure his creation wouldn’t be copied by anyone else, chopped off the hands and tongues of all the architects and builders involved in its construction.
Another version says that since the lead architect new about his destiny, he secretly created a small passage way for a stream flowing down to the Yamuna River, as a metaphor for the tears of the architects and builders. The gates of the Taj Mahal induces a visual hallucination of sorts, which makes the Taj Mahal look humongous when one is far away from the gate. The size keeps reducing as one nears the gate. The Taj Mahal’s white marble reflects the sunlight and creates different hues during different times of the day.
This is said to reflect the different mood s of the Empress Mumtaz Mahal. It is said that Shah Jahan had planned to construct a similar mausoleum for himself but completely with black marble, however, his son, Aurangzeb had placed him under arrest at the Agra Fort, from where he would look out at his beloved creation, till his death in the year 1666. This monument is truly a wonder of wonders, especially as it houses the remains of two eternal lovers whose story shall continue into time immemorial.
India’s currency notes, having the values written in 22 different languages, gives us an insight into the dynamic hues which adorns the architectural palate of the country. With hundreds and thousands of architectural wonders, it is quite an arduous and mind boggling task to pick the best out of them all, even though, masterpieces like the St. Paul’s Cathedral and Shanti Stupa also are a part of the architectural prowess of the nation, they couldn’t be included because of far more important and intricate details in the architecture of other historical monuments. This is why, perhaps, it truly is Incredible India, the land of temples and spiritualism.