Architecture has always been one of the major means of expression of peoples’ vision of the better world, religious and social beliefs. There is a great number of glorious buildings that became cultural heritage of the world history. According to Devangana Desai:
“Art activity is a social process in which the artist, the work of art and the art public are interacting elements. The social history of art explores the dynamics of the relationship between the patron/public, the artist and the work of art in the context of the social formation of a given period of history” (3).
The Indian social history is closely related to its architecture. Style and meaning of Indian architectural buildings expresses the social character and religious beliefs of Indian people. There are two major temples widely known in the world that perfectly express this idea. These buildings are the Kandariya Mahadeva temple and the Taj Mahal. They are “the most characteristic artistic expressions of Hinduism that provide a focus for both the social and spiritual life of the community they serve” (Michell 14).
Though they are very different in form and design, as well as in their meaning, they express the ideas of life of the period in which they were built. As all temples, they were built with one purpose: to maintain the links between Indian people and their gods. In order to understand the peculiarities of style and meaning, it is necessary to explore these issues in details and compare them to one another.
One of the most important issues that influence on the form of the building is its purpose, or function. A famous American architect Louis Sullivan wrote, “form ever follows function”. This principle can be one of the explanations of the architecture of both buildings. The Kandariya Mahadeva is a great stone temple dedicated to god Shiva.
The temple was built in the middle of the 11th century. It is an example of the central Indian architecture style. In was built in honor of one of the major Indian gods. That is why it has a specific architecture design. It is a very big stone building decorated with stone sculpture figures of women engaged in different activities. Below, there are smaller friezes that depict different aspects of the social life of Indian people, processions of horses and figures of elephants, army, etc.
The building is also decorated with towers of different forms and sizes, “the principal shaft of the superstructure is almost completely obscured by a clustering group of miniature towers which grow in number as they descent, providing summit for each of the projections of the walls beneath” (Michell 121).
A total number of figures is about 8000 and the height of them are about three feet high. In addition, unlike the sculptures in other temples, the sculptures of the Kandariya Mahadeva are slender and rather tall. The carvings of different gods, goddesses and spirits can be found on the malor shrine of the temple. This temple is a bit larger than other Kandariya temples, “(102 feet long by 67 feet wide and 102 feet high)” (Allen 210).
Among the interior compartments, there is portico, entrance hall, which was designed in order to impress people who came there, a very big main hall, chamber and ambulatory. The platform, on which the temple is built, is also decorated with figures of women. The temple is surrounded by a beautiful green field. The entire image of the temple was designed in order to create a special atmosphere of calmness and spirituality. However, according to Michell:
“The temples are much more than a mere setting for the practices associated with certain beliefs; it is imbued with a complex system of symbolism by which it embodies the most elevated notions of Hindu philosophy while still serving the requirements of everyday religious life.” (14).
Indeed, the design of the building perfectly shows Indian cultural traditions. The poses of some of the figures suggest “a yoga exercise” (Allen 210). The poses are performed as a kind of ritual promoting the Indian spiritual traditions. Moreover, the design of the temple suggests a divine mission of the temple and promotes special ideology.
As Kulke and Rothermund suggest, the construction of the temple “coincides with the increasing samantisation of the regional kingdoms of India” (139). The temples of such kind were supported with grants of land and there were many servants. Though, the construction of the temple was rather expensive, very soon they became self-supportive and, what is more, they brought a great benefit for the king.
There was even a personal priest for the king. Thus, style, subject matter and meaning of the Kandariya Mahadeva are closely related to the social structure and beliefs of the Indian society. It represented not only religious traditions and cultural life of Indian people, but was one of the means of power, “the economic and political functions of the temple were realized in the role of the king in the royal ritual” (Kulke and Rothermund 140).
As opposed to the Kandariya Mahadeva temple, the Taj Mahal has an absolutely different style and design, as well as, it had a different function. If the Kandariya Mahadeva temple was built in honor of god, the Taj Mahal was built in honor of woman. It is a “mausoleum raised in honor of Mumtaz Mahal and it is determined to produces the finest building possible” (Ballard 72).
It is also known as the world’s most famous and inspiring memorial to love and devotion. It was created by the emperor Mughal Shah Jahan in 1632. Apart from the temple of Kandariya Mahadeva, it did not have any religious context and served only as a tomb. However, there is no building in the world that would produce so many legends and inspired so many poets to write about immortal love. Today, visitors from all over the world believe in its magic power and salutary qualities.
So, as well as Kandariya Mahadeva, it is the greatest building of its period, “It presents the high flowering of a civilization” (Ballard 73). If the style of Kandariya temple is purely Indian, the Taj Mahal is more Persian building than Indian. Its design is very romantic and tender:
“The Taj Mahal’s architecture is not for certain, but this much debated figure produced a design of flawless symmetry and exquisite elegance, a synthesis of Muslim and Hindu styles executed in rose sandstone and milk-white marble” (Preston and Preston 2).
The basic structure is a big cube with arched balconies, pishtaqs, columns and archways. Due to such construction, the design of the building is symmetrical. There are several chambers and in the main one, there are two sarcophagi of Shah Jahan “the sultan, who created the place, wishing to enshroud his dead wife with unheard-of splendor.” (Berinstain 148) and his wife.
The largest dome of the mausoleum is the Taj. It is also considered to be one of the wonders of the world. It is decorated with a lotus. Actually, the lotus motifs can be observed in many decorative elements of the building.
The finial is decorated by the mood, a typical element of the Islamic architectural tradition. Thus, we can say that Taj Mahal is very different from the Kandariya Mahadeva temple in its form, format and composition. The temple is made from sand and stone and widely decorated with sculptures. In its turn, the Taj Mahal is made from marble and decorated with carvings, paintings, stone inlays and stucco.
However, both of the buildings have specific meaning and deep social context. Apart from religious meaning, both architectural buildings reflect Indian traditions. In addition, both of them transfer the social aspect of power. The Kandariya Mahadeva temple deals with the issues of religious and political power, and the Taj Mahal embodies the power of feeling of love.
Thus, both buildings are the brightest representatives of the Indian architectural culture and traditions. They are very different in design, style and construction as these issues were determined by their purposes and social structures of the époques in which they were built. However, there is one common thing that unites these buildings, it is the issue of power as the aspect of the social context. The Kandariya Mahadeva temple deals with the politic power and Taj Mahal is the world’s most famous symbol of power of love.
Allen, Margaret Prosser. Ornament in Indian Architecture. London: Associated University Press, Inc, 1991.
Ballard, Martin. Era Histories: 11 Land of the Great Mogul, Akbar’s India. London: Taylor and Francis, 1973.
Berinstain, Valerie. India and the Mughal Dynasty. New York: Harry Abrams, 1997.
Desai, Devangana. “Social Dimensions of Art in Early India”. Social Scientist. 18 (3), 1990: pp. 3-32.
Kulke, Hermann, and Dietmar Rothermund. A history of India. New York: Routledge, 2004
Michell, George. The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.
Preston, Diana, and Michael Preston. Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire. New York: Walker and Company, 2008.