7 History

Rulers and Buildings

Learning Goals:

  • Construction technology
  • Temples, mosques, tanks
  • Importance of temples

Till the 5th century AD, very few buildings were made of stone or brick. With gradual developments in construction technologies, huge structures of bricks and stones were being made in later years. Most of the grand buildings were built by the rulers. In this lesson, you will read about the buildings, architectural styles, and construction methods during the medieval period. You will also learn about the significance of such grand monuments.

Between the 8th and the 18th century, kings and their officers built the following kinds of structures:

  • Safe, protected and grandiose places of rest in this world and in the next world, e.g. forts, palaces, garden residences and tombs.
  • Structures meant for public activity, e.g. temples, mosques, tanks, wells, bazaars and caravanserais.

These constructions were carried out by:

  • Kings: Since they were expected to care for their subjects; they believed that they will be appreciated by their subjects if they make such structures for their use and comfort.
  • Others including merchants: They built temples, mosques and wells. But domestic architecture- large mansions (havelis) of merchants – has survived only from the 18th century.

Engineering skills and construction

We get an insight into the technology used for construction by seeing the monuments. For example; a roof can be made by placing wooden beams or a slab of stone across four walls. But if we want to make a large room with an elaborate superstructure, it will be a difficult task warranting specialized skills.

Time periodParticulars of construction
Between the seventh and the tenth centuriesArchitects started adding more rooms, doors and windows to buildings. They continued making roofs, doors and windows by placing a horizontal beam across two vertical columns. This style of architecture is called ‘trabeate’ or ‘corbelled’.
Between the eighth and the thirteenth centuriesThe trabeate style was used for constructing: temples, mosques, tombs and buildings attached to large stepped wells (baolis).

There were two technological and stylist developments noticeable from the twelfth century; which were:

  • Arcuate form of architecture: In this form of architecture, the weight of the superstructure above the doors and windows was sometimes carried by the arches. In an arch, a keystone bears the weight of the superstructure and transfers the weight to the base of the arch.
  • Increased use of limestone cement in construction: This was of high quality. It hardened into concrete when mixed with stone chips. It made the construction of large structures easier and faster.

Temples, mosques and tanks

As aforementioned; these were the structures meant for public activity. Temples and mosques, besides being places of worship; were also meant to demonstrate the power, wealth and devotion of the patron. There was also similarity in the name of the ruler and god. For example, Rajarajeshvara temple was built by King Rajarajadeva. The king took the god’s name with the reason that it was auspicious and also because he wanted to appear like a god. By performing rituals of worship in the temples, one god (Rajarajadeva) honoured another (Rajarajeshvaram).

Temples: Kings constructed the largest temples. On the other hand; the other, lesser deities were the gods and goddesses of the allies and subordinates of the ruler. The temple was a miniature model of the world ruled by the kings and his allies; when they worshipped their deities in the royal temples it was as if the just rule of gods were brought on earth.

Mosques: Muslim Sultans and Padshahs did not claim to be incarnations of god. However, Persian court chronicles described the Sultan as the “Shadow of God”. The Quwwat al-Islam mosque has an inscription which states that God chose Allauddin as a king because he had the qualities of Moses and Solomon who were the great lawgivers of the past. God Himself was the greatest lawgiver and architect. He introduced order and symmetry in the chaotic world.

Importance of temples

With the emergence of new dynasties, kings wanted to emphasise their moral right to be rulers. Constructing temples facilitated this by giving them a chance to proclaim their closeness with God, more importantly when there was rapid political change. They tried to gain popularity during their rule by;

  • Offering patronage to the learned and the pious
  • Attempting to transform their capitals and cities into great cultural centres that brought fame to their rule and realm.
Significance of water

It was believed that if a just king is ruling, there will be enough rain, i.e. no water scarcity. At the same time, making precious water available by constructing tanks and reservoirs was highly appreciated. For constructing a large reservoir just outside Dehli-i Kuhna, Sultan Iltutmish got universal respect. The reservoir was called the Hauz-i-Sultani or the ‘King’s Reservoir’. Big and small tanks and reservoirs were constructed by rulers for people’s use. Sometimes these were part of a temple, mosque or gurudwara.


Lesson Part 2

Lesson Part 3


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