There are hardly any remains of Hindu temples before the Gupta dynasty in the 4th century B.C.; no doubt there were earlier structures in timber-based architecture. The rock-cut Udayagiri Caves are among the most important early sites. The earliest preserved Hindu temples are simple cell-like stone temples, some rock-cut and others structural, as at Sanchi. By the 6th or 7th century A.D., these evolved into high shikhara stone superstructures. However, there is inscriptional evidence such as the ancient Gangadhara inscription from about 424 A.D., states Meister, that towering temples existed before this time and these were possibly made from more perishable material. These temples have not survived.
Examples of early major North Indian temples that have survived after the Udayagiri Caves in Madhya Pradesh include Deogarh, Parvati Temple, Nachna (465 A.D.), Lalitpur District (c. 525 A.D.), Lakshman Brick Temple, Sirpur (600–625 A.D.); Rajiv Lochan temple, Rajim (7th-century A.D.).
No pre-7th century A.D. South Indian-style stone temples have survived. Examples of early major South Indian temples that have survived, some in ruins, include the diverse styles at Mahabalipuram, from the 7th and 8th centuries A.D.. However, according to Meister, the Mahabalipuram temples are "monolithic models of a variety of formal structures all of which already can be said to typify a developed "Dravida" (South Indian) order". They suggest a tradition and a knowledge base existed in South India by the time of the early Chalukya and Pallava era when these were built. Other examples are found in Aihole and Pattadakal.
From between roughly the 7th and 13th Centuries A.D. a large number of temples and their ruins have survived (though far fewer than once existed). Many regional styles developed, very often following political divisions, as large temples were typically built with royal patronage. In the north, Muslim invasions from the 11th century A.D. onwards reduced the building of temples and saw the loss of many existing ones. The south also witnessed Hindu-Muslim conflict that affected the temples, but the region was relatively less affected than the north. In the late 14th century, the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire came to power and controlled much of South India. During this period, the distinctive very tall gopuram gatehouse actually a late development, from the 12th century A.D. or later, typically added to older large temples.
The South Indian temple consists essentially of a square-chambered sanctuary topped by a superstructure, tower, or spire and an attached pillared porch or hall (maṇḍapa or maṇṭapam), enclosed by a peristyle of cells within a rectangular court. The external walls of the temple are segmented by pilasters and carry niches housing sculpture. The superstructure or tower above the sanctuary is of the kūṭina type and consists of an arrangement of gradually receding stories in a pyramidal shape. Each story is delineated by a parapet of miniature shrines, square at the corners and rectangular with barrel-vault roofs at the centre.
North Indian temples showed increased elevation of the wall and elaborate spire by the 10th century. On the shikara, the oldest form, called latina, with wide shallow projections running up the sides, developed alternative forms with many smaller "spirelets" (urushringa). Two varieties of these are called sekhari, where the sub-spires extend vertically, and bhumija, where individual sub-spires are arrayed in rows and columns.
Richly decorated temples—including the complex at Khajuraho—were constructed in Central India. Examples include the Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneshwar in Odisha, Sun Temple at Konark in Odisha, Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Indian traders brought Indian architecture to Southeast Asia through various trade routes.
Styles called vesara include the early Badami Chalukya Architecture, Western Chalukya architecture, and finally Hoysala architecture. Other regional styles include those of Bengal, Kashmir and other Himalayan areas, Karnataka, Kalinga architecture, and Māru-Gurjara architecture. Hoysala architecture is the distinctive building style developed under the rule of the Hoysala Empire in the region historically known as Karnata, today's Karnataka, India, between the 11th and the 14th centuries A.D.. Large and small temples built during this era remain as examples of the
Hoysala architectural style, including the Chennakesava Temple at Belur, the Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu, and the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura. Other examples of fine Hoysala craftsmanship are the temples at Belavadi, Amrithapura, and Nuggehalli. A study of the Hoysala architectural style has revealed a negligible Indo-Aryan influence while the impact of Southern Indian style is more distinct. A feature of Hoysala temple architecture is its attention to detail and skilled craftsmanship. The temples of Belur and Halebidu are proposed UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Approximately 100 Hoysala temples survive today.
Vijayanagara architecture of the period (1336–1565 A.D.) was a notable building style evolved by the Vijayanagar empire that ruled most of South India from their capital at Vijayanagara on the banks of the Tungabhadra River in present-day Karnataka. The architecture of the temples built during the reign of the Vijayanagara empire had elements of political authority. This resulted in the creation of a distinctive imperial style of architecture that featured prominently not only in temples but also in administrative structures across the Deccan.
The Vijayanagara style is a combination of the Chalukya, Hoysala, Pandya and Chola styles which evolved earlier in the centuries when these empires ruled and are characterised by a return to the simplistic and serene art of the past.
The Warangal Fort, Thousand Pillar Temple, and Ramappa Temple are examples of Kakatiya architecture.
Jain temple architecture is generally close to Hindu temple architecture and in ancient times Buddhist religious architecture. Normally the same builders and carvers worked for all religions, and regional and period styles are generally similar. The basic layout of a Hindu and most Jain temples has consisted of a small garbhagriha or sanctuary for the main murti or cult images, over which the high superstructure rises, then one or more larger mandapa halls.
The earliest survivals of Jain architecture are part of the Indian rock-cut architecture tradition, initially shared with Buddhism, and by the end of the classical period with Hinduism. Very often numbers of rock-cut Jain temples and monasteries share a site with those of the other religions, as at Udayagiri, Bava Pyara, Ellora, Aihole, Badami, and Kalugumalai. The Ellora Caves are a late site, which contains temples of all three religions, as the earlier Buddhist ones give way to later Hindu excavations.
There is considerable similarity between the styles of the different religions, but often the Jains placed large figures of one or more of the 24 tirthankaras in the open air rather than inside the shrine. These statues later began to be very large, normally standing nude figures in the kayotsarga meditation position (which is similar to standing at attention). Examples include the Gopachal rock-cut Jain monuments and the Siddhachal Caves, with groups of statues, and a number of single figures including the 12th-century A.D. Gommateshwara statue, and the modern Statue of Vasupujya and, largest of all at 108 feet (32.9 meters) tall, the Statue of Ahimsa.
Regional differences in Hindu temples are largely reflected in Jain ones, except that Māru-Gurjara architecture or the "Solanki style" has become to some extent a pan-Indian, indeed pan-global Jain style. This is a particular temple style from Gujarat and Rajasthan (both regions with a strong Jain presence) that originated in both Hindu and Jain temples around 1000 A.D. but became enduringly popular with Jain patrons, spreading to other parts of India and the global Jain diaspora of the last century. It has remained in use, in somewhat modified form, to the present day, indeed also becoming popular again for some Hindu temples in the last century. The style is seen in the groups of pilgrimage temples at Dilwara on Mount Abu, Taranga, Girnar, and Palitana.
The main buildings of the largest Dilwara temples are surrounded by "cloister" screens of devakulikā shrines, and are fairly plain on the outer walls of these; in the case of the Vimal Vasahi this screen was a later addition, around the time of the second temple. Surrounding the main temple with a curtain of shrines was to become a distinctive feature of the Jain temples of West India, still employed in some modern temples.
Mostly funded by private individuals or groups, and catering to a smaller population, Jain temples tend to be at the small or middle end of the range of sizes, but at pilgrimage sites, they may cluster in large groups – there are altogether several hundred at Palitana, tightly packed within several high-walled compounds called "tuks" or "tonks". Temple charitable trusts, such as the very large Anandji Kalyanji Trust, founded in the 17th century and now maintaining 1,200 temples, play a very important role in funding temple building and maintenance.
The earliest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture were constructed during this period by the Delhi Sultanates, most famously the Qutb Minar complex, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. The complex consists of Qutb Minar, a brick minaret commissioned by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak, as well as other monuments built by successive Delhi Sultans. Alai Minar, a minaret twice the size of Qutb Minar was commissioned by Alauddin Khilji but never completed. Other examples include the Tughlaqabad Fort and Hauz Khas Complex.
Significant regional styles developed in the independent sultanates formed when the Tughlaq empire weakened in the mid-14th century A.D. and lasted until most were absorbed into the Mughal Empire in the 16th century. Apart from the sultanates of the Deccan Plateau, Gujarat, Bengal, and Kashmir, the architecture of the Malwa and Jaunpur sultanates also left some significant buildings.
Notable buildings of the Bahmani and Deccan sultanates in the Deccan include the Charminar, Mecca Masjid, Qutb Shahi tombs, Madrasa Mahmud Gawan, and Gol Gumbaz.
The style of the Bengal Sultanate mostly used brick, with characteristic features being indigenous Bengali elements, such as curved roofs, corner towers, and complex terracotta ornamentation. which were blended. One feature in the sultanate was the relative absence of minarets. Many small and medium-sized medieval mosques, with multiple domes and artistic niche mihrabs, were constructed throughout the region.
The largest mosque in the Indian subcontinent was the 14th century A.D. Adina Mosque. Built of stone demolished from temples, it featured a monumental ribbed barrel vault over the central nave, the first such giant vault used anywhere in the subcontinent. The mosque was modeled on the imperial Sasanian style of Persia. The Sultanate style flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries A.D.. A provincial style influenced by North India evolved in Mughal Bengal during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Mughals also copied the Bengali do-chala roof tradition for mausoleums in North India.
The most famous Indo-Islamic style is Mughal architecture. Its most prominent examples are the series of imperial mausolea, which started with the pivotal Tomb of Humayun, but is best known for the Taj Mahal. It is known for features including monumental buildings with large, bulbous onion domes, surrounded by gardens on all four sides, and delicate ornamentation work, including pachin kari decorative work and jali-latticed screens.
The Red Fort at Agra (1565–74 A.D.) and the walled city of Fatehpur Sikri (1569–74 A.D.) are among the architectural achievements of this time—as is the Taj Mahal, built as a tomb for Queen Mumtaz Mahal by Shah Jahan (1628–58 A.D.). Employing the double dome, the recessed archway, the depiction of any animal or human—an essential part of the Indian tradition—was forbidden in places of worship under Islam. The Taj Mahal does contain tilework of plant ornaments. The architecture during the Mughal Period, with its rulers being of Turco-Mongol origin, has shown a notable blend of Indian style combined with the Islamic. Taj Mahal in Agra, India is one of the most famous buildings of the world.