Secular Architecture of India around 1000 AD


Architecture is product of its environment.
Secular architecture in particular evolves to suite the needs of the people.

Homes, cities, forts, palaces, schools, universities, hospitals, man made reservoirs, step wells, resting place for travellers etc. are prime examples of secular architecture.  Monuments such as ceremonial gateways, carved edicts, victory pillars and towers are also examples of secular architecture.  Such monuments are globally popular – such as Nelson’s column (to celebrate victory over the French), Eifel tower (to mark a major event), Lincoln memorial (honour a great man) etc.

Secular architecture was built with local material – wood, stone, bricks, clay, dung, bamboo, thatch, tiles etc.

Huts of the poor people and farmers living in the countryside were usually made with mud and plastered with dung.  They had thatched roof made from local material, such as palm fronds, coconut leaves or dry straw.  Veranda would have extended the covered area at the front and back.  People used the “room” to store things and during the rainy or cold season.  Most of the time they lived on the veranda or the outer courtyard.  This allowed people to socialise and catch the breeze during the hottest part of the day.  Even at night, they would have slept outside to keep cool.  There were no indoor toilets in huts – people went out in the fields to relieve themselves.

Animals would have been tethered in sheds nearby, there would have been a small garden to grow herbs, vegetables and fruits.  Cooking would have happened in the open courtyard or at one end of the veranda.  This way the smoke and smell would have been immediately expelled. 

In hot countries around the world, cooking indoors is hot and stuffy, so it is still preferable to cook outside.


Houses of the middle class and towns folk were usually made from bricks or stones.  Downstairs would be simple on the outside, with few doors and windows to keep their privacy and keep out thieves.  If the house was in the countryside, there would be a veranda for socialising with neighbours.  The downstairs rooms would get their air and light from a central courtyard.  Courtyard was usually surrounded by a veranda to stop the harsh sun light entering the rooms directly.  Courtyard was an ideal place to cook, clean and generally gather in during the cooler parts of the day.

Such houses had rooms with specific purpose – sitting room, kitchen (during rainy and wintery season), store room, bedrooms, meditation room etc.  There would usually be a room set aside for ladies that were either ill, menstruating or pregnant.  Women were not allowed to cook etc while in either of these conditions !

Usually brick and stone house were multi-storied.  Country houses would have had 2 – 3 floors and town houses would have had 3 – 4 floors max.  Building higher than that was complicated, expensive and painful for people – there were no lifts !!!  Cellars were built to store food in areas where flooding was not an issue. 

Upper floors were usually reserved for sleeping.  They helped catch the breeze and kept people cool during the summer evenings.  It was also above the noise and dust of the lower floors.  Town houses would have had indoor toilets, country houses may or may not have had such a facility.  Having toilets indoors was considered “impure” and people were very careful about hygiene.  Only if you had running water, sewers or deep pits was it possible to have indoor toilets.

In hot countries around the world, such courtyard houses are popular – Spain, Middle East, Mexico etc


Example of house in different parts of India.

House in Ladhak House in the Himalayas.  Note, animals live below the main living space of the house.
House in Gujarat In the hotter plains, houses have a thatched roof to keep out the sun and rain.  Mud and dung plaster keeps the interior cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
House in Kerala This courtyard house catches the breeze and lets the courtyard be the air-condition unit for the house.


Palaces had multiple courtyards, halls with areas clearly marked for private or public use.  Palaces grew “organically” as per the needs of the state or kings and their family.  Additional rooms, courtyard or gardens would be added as and when required.  Often palaces were elaborate to show off the wealth and power of the state.  Palaces were very busy places and were full of people all the time.  Servants, officials, bureaucrats, aristocrats, courtiers, soldiers and guards shared the palace with the royal family.  Royal family was often “extended family” and went far beyond the nuclear family of king, his wives and their children.  Kings had multiple wives and often each wife had her own suite of rooms or even an entire courtyard to herself.

Palaces were a microcosm to themselves and people lived very public - private lives.  With innumerable family members, servants, spies and guard, it was virtually impossible to keep secretes in palaces !!  Paintings and sculpture from this period show how busy palace life really was. 


Click here to read about spiritual architecture around 1000 AD. 


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