Introduction

Indo-Saracenic Architecture is an amalgamation of Indian traditional architecture and Indo-Islamic Architecture along with Neo-Gothic and Neo-Classical styles of 19th Century Britain. ‘Saracen’ means Muslim/Arabic-speaking people – this term was used in Europe until the 19th Century. 

An overview of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India - Sheet1
Indo-Saracenic Architecture_Gateway of India_©httpsplanetofhotels.comguideenindiamumbaigateway-india
An overview of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India - Sheet2
Indo-Saracenic Architecture_Victoria Memorial_©httpshousing.comnewsvictoria-memorial-kolkata
An overview of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India - Sheet3
Indo-Saracenic Architecture_Madras High Court_©Wikipedia Commons

Indo-Saracenic Architecture began in the late 19th Century. Before this style, the Britishers followed the Greek and Roman classical architectural style for the public building to express the colonial rule that reflected the power and holder of status. But after the Great Revolt of 1857, their thoughts towards this idea changed. They tried to adapt Indian and Islamic architecture in their design process to be able to blend with the Indian culture. They took elements from Indian and Islamic Architecture and amalgamated them with Neo-Gothic and Neo-Classical styles. That was visible in the elevations of the public buildings designed by the British architects. But their colonial mindset had not changed. They kept the layout according to British Architecture and added Indian and Islamic architectural features to the building, making it look like a traditional building in India. They built the structures following the advanced British structural engineering standards that included iron, steel, and poured concrete. They tried to capture India’s past and show their control through the buildings. 

The intention of adapting the Indian features was the outcome of the Arts and Crafts Movement back in England. This movement was about reforming the design and decoration; reviving the diminishing craftsmanship due to industrialization. Hence, the British architects in India chose to focus on the Indian traditional features in Indo-Saracenic Architecture. A few architects were leading practitioners of this style in that period: Robert Fellowes Chisholm, Samuel Swinton Jacob, Henry Irwin, Edwin Lutyens, and Charles Mant.

Indo – Saracenic Architecture was majorly used for public and government buildings in the British Raj and palaces for rulers of princely states. Chepauk Palace in Chennai was one of the first structures to be built in this architectural style in 1768 by Paul Benfield. The utilization of Indian architectural features such as Rajasthani jalis and arched windows of Islamic architectural features are evident. 

Characteristics

The prominent architectural features seen in Indo-Saracenic Architecture are

  • Motifs and Elements are from the Hindu, Islamic, and Byzantine Styles.
  • Pointed Arches, Cusped Arches or Scalloped Arches.
  • Towers or Minarets 
  • Domed Kiosks
  • Harem Windows
  • Many miniature Domes or Domed Chhatris
  • Onion (Bulbous) Dome
  • Vaulted Roofs
  • Overhanging Eaves
  • Pinnacles
  • Pierced Open Arcading 
  • Open Pavilions
An overview of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India - Sheet4
Cusped Arch_©httpsislamicart.museumwnf.orgdatabase_item.phpid=object;ISL;es;Mus01;9;en
An overview of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India - Sheet5
Minarets_©httpswww.iranroute.comroutes27the-soaring-journey-in-the-city-of-minarets-isfahan
An overview of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India - Sheet6
Domed Chhatri_©Benjamin Hemer
An overview of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India - Sheet7
Vaulted Roof_©httpshotcore.infobabkifacts-about-cathedral-of-milan.htm
An overview of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India - Sheet8
Pierced Open Arcading_©siraj fastrack

Indo-Saracenic architecture buildings were not voluminous in size despite having a significant impact on India. Britishers wanted to validate their presence in India, so they used Indo-Saracenic as a counterplay against Imperialism or Colonialism. The desire was to be meld amongst the native of India in the form of buildings and structures through the ideology and application of local and traditional elements. It was a superficial attempt as this style began to fade in 1920. The architectural styles was later limited to only official commissions or local patrons like princely states. This style was based on political motives, keeping the British citizens living in India and native Indians satisfied. This style was a clever move to progress ahead without any controversies. Although this style gave us many Iconic buildings that are part of Indian history today. 

Many outstanding examples are still present today and are part of iconic buildings. 

1. Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus)

An overview of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India - Sheet9
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus_©Sonika Agarwal

Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, initially known as Victoria Terminus is one of the iconic examples of Indo-Saracenic Architecture located in Mumbai, Maharashtra. This 127-year-old building was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2004. This building was designed by British architect Frederick William Stevens and is not just an architectural icon but one of the symbols of Mumbai. It took 10 years to construct the building starting in 1878. It is a railway station with a headquarters and also a major international port in India. The marvelous features of these buildings are stone domes, pointed arches, and turrets taken from Indian architecture. Along with these features, there are Gothic characteristics that can be seen on the facade like the gargoyles and allegorical grotesques.

2. Mysore Palace

Mysore Palace_©httpswallpapercave.commysore-palace-wallpapers 

Mysore Palace also known as Amba Vilas Palace is located in Mysore, Karnataka. This building is an official residence of the Wadiya dynasty . This was designed and built by British architect Henry Irwin. It has a spectacular 3-storied stone building made of grey granite with deep pink domes dominated by a 5-storied with a glided dome mounted by a single golden flag. This building was built in 1897. The features like curved arches, bow-like canopies, magnificent bay windows, columns in varied styles ranging from Byzantine to Hindu, intricate detailed elevation, and the use of sculpture are prominently seen in this building. The use of Islamic designs and Rajasthani styles combined with Gothic elements and traditional materials is a euphoric display of magnificence.

Citation

  1. (Jeyaraj, 2022)
  2. (Sheeba and Dhas, 2022)
  3. (Chani, 2022)
  4. (Centre, 2022)
  5. (TDJI, 2022)
  6. (Mysuru Palace, 2022)
Author

Soundariya Shetty is an architect from Mumbai. She believes architecture is not limited to buildings, landscapes or its aesthetics, architecture is in every corner. She has high regards for sustainable architecture and strives to learn more to build her knowledge and understanding in this field by listening, reading and observing.

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