The Vernacular Architecture Of Rajasthan

Both in India and abroad, several concepts dealing with architectural spaces havetheir roots in some abstract notions. Spaces oscillate between ‘nothingness’ and something universal. It is also observed that mythical and mythological beliefs have a share in influencing such thinking.

This study does not explore those notions or question such perceptions. Its purpose is to examine manifest architectural spaces that have a strong underlying base with a wide spatial and temporal spread.

This can be seen in the replication of the essential forms in various parts of the country as well as the thematic continuity generated by similarity of skills and commonality of beliefs. Some of these spatial configurations and their formal expressions have crystallised into widely accepted architectural spaces.



In Indian architecture there are features like pavilions, courtyards,   terraces, as well as threshold and realm accentuating transition.  All these come together to articulate the space. To these new room are also added. These structure can also be a part of temple, palaces, ghat and institutional buildings.  These features show the simultaneous  existence versatility and anonymity. In essence, the meaning emerges from the context and the manner of its application.

Indian architecture, generally speaking, conjures up images of huge temple spires and gateways, large fortified palace complexes, mosques and tombs. On the other hand, there is the mundane domestic architecture with its occasional flair for refinement. Yet there are features that retain continuity and scale, playing an instrumental role in the characterization of Indian architecture. An effort to understand space in Indian architecture can draw on the simple and direct physical conditions of the environment prevailing at any place, thus giving meaning to the creation of spaces within specific physical parameters. Amongst these parameters, climate has a very deterministic role in shaping activity areas by creating indoor, outdoor and in-between spaces. Consequently, for Indian communities, ‘outdoor activity’ spaces acquire special significance.



They came into being by multiplying very simple spatial units in modules. Consisting of four columns and a roof. Irrespective of the style and construction method, their essence is the same. Mandapas and baradaris are some outstanding examples of spaces created to provide well-articulated shelters for gatherings or for pleasure. Pleasure pavilions known as baradaris have an extremely sophisticated form in Rajput and Mughal complexes. The most important aspect of this kind of space is that it offers a simultaneous experience of the inside and the outside.

The essence of this spatial unit lies in its modular character and therefore in its potential for multiplication – in contiguity or as independent units organized in a certain proximity. It is a built space, yet open. It defines and yet extends boundaries and can exist by itself or be part of a group. Despite regional and temporal variations, the power of its manifestation has remained unaffected. It conveys the idea of shelter, but does not enclose; it is built and has a presence, yet it is transparent and ethereal.

Climatic Response: It is clear that such open shelters served best during summer evenings in arid regions, or even in the warm humid regions, allowing a free flow of fresh air.



Fairly common in north-western parts of India. It is a beautiful example of how the basic form has responded to the various construction methods and styles of building. Every royal complex has to have a baradaris often more than one. The use of the baradaris as pleasure pavilions is clearly understandable since they are invariably located in gardens, or on high points or along water tanks and lakes. These structures are so articulated with the landscape and the spatial order of a building complex as to provide the most strategic location for a good view, fresh air and general comfort.


Another version of pavilion is the large cupola-like structure called a chattri in the north-western parts of India. The structure is polygonal or circular in plan and has a domical roof. This extremely adaptable element is space, but  equally it is a complete form. Chattris are often grouped in clusters. However, since they are a complete form by themselves, unlike the other pavilion forms, they to make larger spaces. Also, chattris generally have only peripheral supports allowing a columnless space. This naturally brings about dimensional limitations.



Internal open spaces, become another thematic element in all scales of domestic architecture. From small urban houses to large mansions and palaces, courtyards became the key organisational elements responding to climatic conditions as well as the cultural needs of communities. This private internal open space also acquired special significance while serving various levels of privacy. A wide range of household activities could extend into courtyards. These spaces became the living areas of all domestic architecture.

Courtyard spaces, drawing people out into the open, were further supported by terraces serving similar functional and climatic needs. In the warmer and more and zones, one can see the extra effort made to build terraces, as if one was gilding a courtyard at a higher level. It would not only be articulated in its construction system, but also get connected to the spaces at that level. Courtyard contributes to its spatial quality beautifully by bringing in a subdued light, creating a peaceful environment.

This room without a roof is often bounded by verandahs along its periphery. Other rooms open into these verandahs creating a spatial organisation based on a hierarchical sequence of spaces ranging from open to enclosed. The rooms get their light and ventilation from this courtyard and have very few openings onto the exterior. This spatial sequence encourages the intermittent flow of activities responding to various private needs. Also, the tropical climate of India demands air movement as well as shaded spaces for comfort. The open, yet protected spaces, become the heart of Indian living.

Variations in the generic form of the courtyard come from changes in materials, articulation of the enclosing elements, scale, proportion and complexity of plan. The articulation of the sides of a courtyard is dependent on the kind of building and the users. By and large they receive a treatment similar to the external facade; they are in fact facades inside the house. In large houses, havelis, palaces or public buildings, the nature of the architecture is formal. Hence, all sides tend to be of symmetrical, orthogonal and ordered. In vernacular conditions where the houses are smaller, it is quite different.

In most cases courtyard is scaled to human proportion making it comfortable space to use. At houses it becomes larger, it is the number of courtyards and terraces that multiply, not the size.  A sequence of courts is generated based on a hierarchy ranging from public to private.

It is the courtyard that gives porosity to an otherwise extremely dense fabric of the city. It is the breathing space the lungs of an Indian city.



The most important transitional relationship between two distinct realms is expressed through entrances. Whether it is the entrance to a city through a fort wall with defense as the major consideration, or a hierarchical sequence of spatial layers with a series of in-between realms,incorporating symbolic as well as functional values, transition remains the most significant aspect. The complexity of transition as an architectural element varies from community to community.









In many cultures, entrances are intentionally indirect in order to achieve greater privacy. On the other hand, there are numerous examples all over the world, where a single door can be the total and only link between the inside and the outside. In yet another form, an entrance may be the prelude through which one is introduced to the interior right from the first step. vet is not shown the inside completely.



A typical town of Rajasthan presents a very compact picture of houses and other buildings huddled together so that they not only shade each other but also considerably reduce the exposed open spaces around them.







The height of the building compared to the width of the streets is large to create shaded cool environment for the pedestrians and other social activities on the streets

In cases where normal low level dust swirls within the settlement the interiors of buildings are protected by almost blank walls with very small openings.

All major streets are oriented almost in the East-West direction at right angles to the direction of dust storms.

The famous have,lies with jharokhas and decorative facades are located on these streets. The streets are relatively narrow and winding .



The heat inside of the building is controlled by the use of textures in Jaisalmer. This is organized at three levels.

At the town scale the buildings are of unequal height with parapets and high walls, creating uneven sky lines and desired shading of each other.

Secondly, the building facades have large number of projections like jharokhas and chajjas which provide shade to the facades.

Thirdly, the front part of the facade which remains exposed are controlled by creating deeply carved patterns. Use of such devices minimizes the heat gain by providing shading due to texture. Such devices also result in increased convective transfer of heat because of increased surface area. In summer in day time when the major heat source is Sun the exposed textured surfaces will be cooler than plain surfaces.

In evening when ambient conditions are cool the increase surface area helps in cooling it faster. However, an extended surface will warm up faster than a plain surface under winter conditions due to low solar altitude, therefore the location in context of these surfaces is very important.



The building is always oriented by the cardinal directions: North, South, East, West, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and outhwest. Each of these directions is considered as energy by itself. Hence the spaces in different orientation are considered differently for design purposes which is a very climate sensitive approach. For example the East or the North walls are made more open to light and air as the West is the heat gaining side in the warm humid climates of India

The placement of the building within the site is the first step toward forming the grid for internal planning. The centre of the plot is generally not where the centre of the building is placed, only exception being temples. The climatic logic behind this is that in the house the outdoor and indoor is designed as one.



The grid system of planning was always followed regardless of the site or building type. The grid was made flexible enough to accommodate any site condition and topography. Grid system is more sustainable in terms of economy and speed of construction. It is also easier to recycle materials if it was built on a grid. Prefabrication also favors the grid. The grid was not always symmetric or simple. Complex geometry and curvilinear grids were also adopted. The central courtyard is the ‘lung space ‘of either the house or the housing block. Just to ensure there is a courtyard in every house,the centre of the house is never built up and is called the Brahmastana, the genius loci of the house



The four golden rules in architecture which were outlined in the great epic “Ramayana”, the story of Lord Rama, summarise Indian architecture as a whole. They are function or bhogadayam, aesthetics or sukha darsham, harmony and poornam. The perfect example which explains all the four principles is a temple structure which is designed and built by the most skilled architects .

Function or bhogadam which was given the first priority keeps climate among the first considerations in architectural design. Bioclimatic approaches to new forms and materials were explored. The architects never considered climate as a force to fight or win but to enhance and enjoy. Even extremities in climate were handled with master skill and remarkable comfort levels were achieved. There was no question of thinking about climate in the last stage of design and trying to come up with ‘quick fix’ solutions. Most of the forms were aimed at long term benefit and well thought about before the designed building is built.

The aesthetics or sukha darsham were not ‘added on’ to the building but were an integral part of it. It is sometimes difficult to tell apart where the functional aspect stops and the aesthetic one starts.

Harmony or ramyam was achieved by geometry  and play of shapes, Solids and voids. The architectural language was of simple spaces with complex ornamentation, which in most cases had a use along with its aesthetic appeal. For example a rain water gutter was so well sculpted in the temples that one just thinks it is for the delight of the eye.

Lastly, the ‘all encompassing’ factor or poornam of Indian Architecture was a result of the perfect blend of the above-mentioned three factors which makes it feel eternal.

There is more to the spatial order that runs right across this enormous range of building types in Indian architecture. A large part of this order emanates from its own meaning as built space rather than from the specific function it caters to. There is a range of spaces, irrespective of the material and the construction methods, that are built, as if for their own sake. This is essentially to create a ‘spatial opportunity’ for things to happen and they do. The meaning is in the space itself and the range of activities it can accommodate and not in the specificity of a function. One can see meaning in its ambiguity and yet very essential nature. It is important that the style and manner of creating a space are seen independently of factors that generate them.

Space in Indian architecture can draw on the simple and direct physical conditions of the environment prevailing at the place, thus giving meaning to the creation of space within specific physical parameters. Architectural expressions in post-Independence India have oscillated between European modernism and archaic Indianism. At times some combinations of the two have also been observed. There are examples where some efforts have also been made to relate the spatial organisation and formal structure of some historic buildings and complexes with modern buildings. In any case the basic forms and principles seem to have meant very little. It is the visual imagery and stylistic expressions that seem to have been the most influential.  Indian architectural space in the manner in which it is enclosed is vet different form the Western notion of space. The definition of boundaries are often changing with physical or other contextual changes. Quite often one does not know when one is inside and when outside.


Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply