Toranas, Brackets and Mughal-Rajput Arches through Time

Culture is a dynamic process which continuously evolves and changes through interaction with other cultures, climate change and political and economic shifts. However, in most cases we do not appreciate the dynamic nature of culture and instead stick to our own ideas believing that they are supreme and pure. By doing so, we don’t appreciate how other cultures and ideas have influenced on our own ideas and vice versa. This leads to conflict and disrespect for others.

Architecture is a tangible way to show how ideas evolved, refined and influenced other cultures in Indian context. Torana is a type of gateway in Hindu-Buddhist-Jain architecture of Indian Sub-continent. But its influence in Islamic and later Mughal architecture is noteworthy.

Toranas in Hindu and Buddhist architecture are believed to bring good fortune and signify auspicious and festive occasions. The earliest architectural evidence of torana dates back to Sanchi Stupa in 2nd century BC. The Sanchi torana is an imitation of timber and brick construction in stone, which was a popular feature in Ancient Indian architecture.

As time progressed, torana was adopted in Hindu temples with makaras (crocodile) sculptures on base at both ends. Makara is a sea creature. It appears as the vahana of the River Goddess Ganga and of the Sea God Varuna.

Depiction of Varuna God in Rajarani Temple, Bhubaneswar

Makara is also considered as guardian of gateways (torana). An interesting feature of the Makara torana is that it is artfully designed to suggest if the doorway is held afloat, at either end, by the extended snouts of two makaras.

In Gujarat and Central India, depiction of Makara torana was a prominent feature in the 11th century. The best example of it can be found at Sun Temple in Modhera and Kandariya Mahadev Temple at Khajuraho.

In 14th Century AD, Gujarat became a seat of Islamic power under Delhi Sultanate. Several mosques were built of this new faith in Gujarat. One of these is the Jama Masjid in the port town of Khambhat featuring a Makara torana. Most probably it was recycled from an abandoned Hindu temple as in Islam depiction of animals are restricted. However, a century later at Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad we see an earliest form of torana in its true Islamic adaptation.

In Malwa and Bundelkhand, which were already strongholds of Hindu temples, a hybrid variety of slender serpentine brackets evolved in the 15th century. Its best examples are found among monuments of Chanderi.

These brackets formed into ornamental toranas in Gwalior Fort and then adopted in Mughal buildings at Fatehpur Sikri.

At Bundi, in southeast Rajasthan, these further evolved into torana arch.

The earlier variety of Makara torana further evolved into arch in the Mughal and Rajput monuments forming one of the most splendid features of Indian architecture.

Makara Torana and torana inspired arches in Indian art silently tell the story of India, a civilization that is strongly rooted in fusion of ideas representing different cultures and religions.

India as an idea has always been dynamic and open to experimentation. Today when some vested groups are trying to divide us on the basis of religions and castes, the meaningful interpretation of visual history of India can act as a bridge bringing communities together irrespective of their castes and religions.   img_3772-copy

Author: jitumisra

founder of Virasat E Hind Foundation

2 thoughts on “Toranas, Brackets and Mughal-Rajput Arches through Time”

  1. Amazing pictures and informative content. Moreover a nice depiction of different types of Toranas/Arches from different places of India gives us a clear picture of the style of architecture built by Hindus, Muslims as well as Fusion of Indo-Islamic skill.


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