Architecture and civilization have evolved inter-dependently due to the involvement with each other on fundamental grounds. The Indian sub-continent is home to one of the oldest civilizations recorded in history, and hence it is home to the most ancient architectural concepts and techniques. Having a rich cultural heritage, Indian Architecture developed a complex set of building typology specific to the needs of the people- places to carry out certain rituals and practices. Many of these building types have been discontinued, the rest have not been constructed anywhere outside the context of Indian Architecture. Indian Architecture is more than just temples: it encompasses all that originated in India: monasteries, step wells, temples (of course), courtyard housing and many other things. There are some building types developed quite recently as well, yet not reproduced anywhere else in the world! 

Following is a list of five out of those numerous building types that are unique to Indian Architecture. 

Chaitya Hall

Buddhism took form in India, and with its followers increasing in number the requirement developed for an enclosed space to carry out the ritual prevalent amongst them- meditation and spiritual enlightenment. 

 Chaitya Hall source: wikipedia
Chaitya Hall source: wikipedia

The Chaitya hall is a space with a stupa and a rounded apse at the opposite end of the entrance (quite a lot like churches), and a high arched roof. The ‘chaitya’ is the stupa itself the Indian buildings are chaitya halls, although the term is now being used interchangeably to address for local styles of small stupa-like monuments in Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia and elsewhere. Even so, the earliest examples of chaitya that survived are in Indian rock-cut architecture. The halls are high, long and quite narrow. At the far end stands the stupa, the focus of devotion. ‘Parikrama’, the act of circumambulation around the stupa was an important ritual and devotional practice, and there is always clear space to allow this. The entrance porch is often very elaborately decorated with a relatively low entranceway. The only natural light enters from a large horseshoe-shaped window above the porch called the ‘Gavaksha’, inspired from the eye of a cow. 

The halls that followed the tradition of free-standing halls made of wood have not survived themselves but in metaphor- the curved, ribbed ceilings in the caves imitate timber construction. The rock-cut structures also sported elements in wood such as screens, porches, and balconies. The surviving examples are mostly similar, though the design has evolved over the centuries. The Chaitya hall is one of the Five building types only in Indian Architecture

Baoli/ Vav 

Agrasen ki Baoli source: wikipedia
Agrasen ki Baoli source: wikipedia

Most rituals in Indian culture have a necessity of water as an integral element, apart from the fundamental requirement of civilization for access to water. But sources of water in India experience seasonal fluctuations, a phenomenon that led to the concept of a ‘Baoli’ or stepwell. A stepwell is a water reservoir in which a series of steps are utilized to access the corresponding water level. There are a few variants, like the one being run by a bullock-driven motor, found in arid regions of the Indian subcontinent and present-day Pakistan. Agrasen ki Baoli source: wikipedia Deep trenches were dug into the earth and lined with blocks of stone, without the use of mortar, to create stairs leading down to the water. The base of the well provided relief from the heat during the day; it soon became a place for social gatherings. 

This feature was also adopted by some temples and other sacred structures as a continuation to their idea that the temple is an embodiment of the cosmos, emerging from the earth rising towards the heavens, the stepwell corresponds to the inverted model of the cosmos, going into the earth. It’s like the product of using the ‘Shikhara’ (roof) of a temple to dig a hole in the earth. 

This led to some significant ornate and architectural features being added to the stepwell, and also ensured its survival as a monument. 


Chattri at Rani Roopmati Mahal of Mandu source: pinterest
Chattri at Rani Roopmati Mahal of Mandu source: pinterest

The word translates to ‘umbrella’ or essentially a shading device/ structure. It is built as an ornate memorial of a significant individual/ group of individuals. The difference between a cenotaph and a Chhatri is that it is constructed on the area of cremation of the entity; the site holds a memory of the personality as an abstraction of his existence. Chhatris originated in Rajasthan, where initially they were strictly used as memorials for the royalty but were later adapted as a standard feature in all buildings. They may also be nothing but a dome raised by four pillars to a building


The Bakhar is a term that is used mostly in the Bundela style of architecture. In its essence, a Bakhar is a miniature fort- it is the mansion that houses the landlord or ‘Zila-Adhikari’ and his family. 

The standard Bakhar design consists of ornate exterior facades, basements for storage of grains and housing for a small group of soldiers. They are usually two or three stories high with a symmetric layout in accordance with the traditional Indian bye-laws, the Vastu Shastra

They are made with stone, lakhori bricks and a very special mortar made with pulses. They include design elements like bastions with perforations allowing gun-fire in case of external attacks.  The Bakhar is best one of the Five building types only in Indian Architecture



In the 1970s, the government felt the need to establish various centres for child-care in the rural parts of the country. This idea gave birth to the ‘Anganwadi’ or the ‘courtyard shelter’. These are used by the population of village and nearby areas as a centre for community gatherings, schools and as health-care centres. 

An Anganwadi is a part of the Indian public health-care system, providing basic facilities including contraceptive counselling, supply, nutrition, education and supplementation, as well as pre-school activities. Any vaccination to be provided to the general population of the village? Anganwadi. Any government scheme to be introduced to the village population? Anganwadi. It also became a source of employment generation for the women of the village, helping them grow into independent individuals. All this in addition to being a child-care centre where a child is sent to be provided with supplementary nutrition, formal pre-school education, immunization, health check-ups and referral services. The Anganwadi is best one of the Five building types only in Indian Architecture


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Article by
Pranjal Maheshwari



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