Architecture in the Late Medieval Period

The rulers of the small kingdoms in the Rajputana region built many forts. The Meharangarh fort in Jodhpur and the fort at Chittor are massive structures. Rana Kumbha of Mewar built the famous Victory Tower at Chittor.


The capital of the Vijayanagar empire was Hampi. It has beautiful buildings, especially temples. The Vittalaswami temple, the Virupaksha temple and the Hazara Rama temple are fine specimens of temple architecture under the Vijayanagar rulers. Beautiful sculptures were carved on the walls of these temples.

The Mughal Period

The period of the Mughals saw architecture at its peak, both in terms of number and style. The Mughals built many forts, palaces, gates, public buildings, mosques, baolis, etc. They also laid out many gardens with running water.


Babur introduced the concept of garden palaces in India. He built palaces at Agra, Sikri and Dholpur and laid out many gardens around the palaces. He also built a mosque at Panipat.


The architectural achievements of Humayun were limited. His tomb was built in Delhi by his widow, Hamida Banu Begum. The tomb has a double dome.

The Surs

The Sur dynasty gave a new impetus to architecture. Sher Shah’s mausoleum at Sasaram (Bihar) is situated in the middle of a lake. It has a huge dome. The Purana Qila at Delhi is also considered an architectural marvel. The Qala-i-Kuhna Masjid and the Sher Mandal are two beautiful structures in this fort complex.


Akbar’s reign saw the fusion of Persian, central Asian and Indian styles of architecture and the creation of a new style. This can be seen in the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri, the new capital that Akbar built near Agra. The buildings here, such as the Buland Darwaza, Panch Mahal, palace of Birbal, Jodha Bai’s palace, Diwan-i-Khas, Diwan-i-aam, etc, are built of red sandstone. The tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti is also located at Fatehpur Sikri. It is built of white marble.

Akbar also built forts, palaces and tombs. The Agra fort is an impressive structure. In it is the beautiful Jahangiri Mahal. The tomb of Humayun at Delhi is another fine example of the architectural style of this period. The tomb, built on a raised platform, is situated in the middle of a garden. At the entrance to the tomb is a large gateway. The tomb has both Indian and Persian architectural features.

There was a lot of give and take between the traditional Indian and the Mughal architectural styles. Features such as square brackets at the entrance influenced Mughal architecture. At the same time, Mughal styles influenced the temple and palace architecture of Hindu rulers. The Govind Dev temple at Vrindaban is made of red sandstone and has a mixed architectural style. During the seventeenth century, the trend of combining Indian and Persian styles in architecture continued. However, the simple styles during Akbar’s reign gave way to more complex forms under his successors.


Jahangir’s architectural achievements were limited. He built the tomb of Akbar at Sikandra (near Agra). The tomb has a gateway with four minarets in white marble at the four corners. The main tomb is decorated with white marbles and coloured stones.

The tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah at Agra was also built during the reign of Jahangir. The exterior of the tomb has exquisite ornamentation in white marble.


Architectural innovations stopped under Aurangzeb. Most of his buildings were mere copies of the earlier ones. They also lack the sense of proportion and an attention to detail, which characterise the buildings of Shah Jahan. The tomb of Rabia Daurani at Aurangabad is a poor imitation of the Taj Mahal. The Badshahi Masjid at Lahore was also completed during Aurangzeb’s reign.

The Eighteenth Century

There was degeneration in architecture during this period. The most famous monument built during the reign of the later Mughals is the tomb of Safdarjung in Delhi. The tomb is located in the middle of a garden and has a single dome.

The independent kingdoms of this period tried to emulate the architectural traditions of the Mughals. The nawabs of Lucknow built many imambaras. The Bara imambara was built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula in the year 1784. The Chota Imambara and the Rumi Darwaza are the other monuments in Lucknow. The nawabs of Bengal built the Katra Masjid and the Chowk Masjid. Raja Sawai Jai Singh of Amber built astronomical observatories at many places. The monuments of the kingdom of Mysore include the Darya Daulat palace, the Gumbad-i-Ala and the Jami Masjid.

Shah Jahan’s Patronage of Architecture

Mughal architecture reached perfection during the reign of Shah Jahan, the great patron of architecture. He is often called the ‘engineer king’ as he built a large number of buildings. He was a perfectionist and looked into the minute details of his building projects. The buildings constructed by him have the finest features of Indian, Persian and central Asian architecture.

Shah Jahan’s patronage to architecture stemmed from his love for monuments. He also wanted to establish his identity as a ruler and also set an example for the coming generations. The monuments constructed by him are majestic and graceful in appearance.

Features of the Monuments

Under Shah Jahan, there was a change in the building style as well as in the materials that were used in construction.

The emphasis was now on uniformity and symmetry. Red sandstone, popular with Akbar and Jahangir, was replaced by white marble. The walls began to be decorated with precious and semi-precious stones. This method of decoration is called pietradura. Domes and minarets also began to form an important part of the buildings. The interiors of the monuments began to have multiple columns, curved roofs, and big and small arches. The interiors were also decorated with floral motifs and calligraphic verses from the holy Quran.

Monuments Constructed

The early buildings of Shah Jahan include the tomb of Jahangir, near Lahore and the tomb of Nur Jahan. He also constructed many mosques. The Moti masjid in Agra was completed in the year 1653. It is built entirely of white marble and has three domes. The Jama Masjid in Delhi was completed in the year 1656. It is the largest mosque in India. The well-balanced domes, decorated arches, tall minarets, huge balconies and small pavilions in these two mosques make them very striking and beautiful.

Taj Mahal

The most famous monument constructed by Shah Jahan is the Taj Mahal. He built it in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The monument is as tall as a 20-story skyscraper. It took 22 years to build and was constructed at a cost of 32 million rupees. Over 20,000 labourers worked on it day and night. Most sources attribute its design to Ustad Isa Khan Effendi, of Shiraz and his pupil, Ustad Ahmad Lahori.

The Taj is a mix of several architectural styles. It is placed in the middle of a garden. It is built of white marble, which was obtained from Makrana in Rajasthan. The Taj is decorated with colourful, precious and semi-precious stone, imported from other countries. Shah Jahan used the pietra-dura ornamentation on white marble on a large scale in his favourite the Taj.

The Taj has a huge pearl-shaped dome and four slender minarets, which link the platform to the main building. The tapering minarets have a slight tilt away from the main body of the tomb so that in case of an earthquake, they do not collapse on the tomb. Marble screens, pietra-dura inlay work, and numerous chhattris add to the beauty of the building. The interior has the marbles cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. The cenotaphs are covered with pietra-dura ornamentation. Originally, the cenotaphs were enclosed by a gold railing which was encrusted with pearls, rubies and diamonds. However, the gold railing has now been replaced by a marble one. The Taj Mahal reflects the glory of Mughal architecture at its peak. It is one of the seven wonders of the world and one of the most popular tourist attracting of India.

Red Fort

  • In 1639 , Shah Jahan laid the foundation of a new city Shahjahanabad.
  • He built the Red fort here. It has numerous beautiful structures such as:
  • Diwan-i-Aam – Built in red stone, this was the place where the king held his court.
  • Diwan-i-Khas-Shah Jahan’s Peacock throne was kept here.
  • Shah Burj-It was used by the emperor for ‘jharokhadarshan’ (the king’s ceremonial appearance before his subjects).
  • Khwangah-It was the private chambers of the king.
  • Rang Mahal-It was a place for the women of the royal household.

Key Concepts of Architecture

  • True Arch- Curved structure not supported by beams but by stones, placed at an angle
  • Dome- Large, semi-circular roof
  • Minaret- Tall, slim tower usually tapering in shape
  • Madrasah- School of religious learning
  • Baolis- Step wells; used to store water
  • Pietra-dura- Style of ornamentation in which precious and semi-precious stones are embedded in marble.

Summary of the Architectural Aspects of the Medieval Period

  • Many beautiful temples were built in the north during the early medieval period. Most of them followed the ‘nagara’style of temple architecture. Temples were centres of social, cultural, economic and educational life.
  • The dynasties of the south were also famous for temples. The Cholas built many temples in the Dravidian style. The most famous is the Brihadesvara temple at Tanjore. It was very rich and participated in trade activities.
  • During the Sultanate period, the Turkish and Afghan architectural styles were combined with the Indian style to form the Indo-Islamic style of architecture. The true arch, the dome and the minaret were used in the monuments constructed during this period.
  • Regional kingdoms also contributed to the development of architecture. Many monuments were constructed in Gujarat, Malwa, Bengal, Jaunpur, Rajputana, and in Hampi, Gulbarga and Bidar.
  • The Mughal period witnessed further developments in architecture. The Indo-Islamic style of architecture was further improved. The buildings at Fatehpur Sikri are very beautiful. After Shah Jahan, building activity entered a period of decline.
  • Architectural activities reached their peak under Shah Jahan. He constructed many beautiful buildings such as the Moti Masjid and the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Jama Masjid and the Red fort in Delhi. These monuments were made of white marble or red sandstone.
Indian History for UPSC Prelims