Indian Monuments belonging to different historical eras can be found across the length and breadth of the country. Wherever you go you would find some historical monuments of India. It is like history in India continues to live through these Indian monuments scattered across the Indian landscape.
Now let me ask you, how many of these Indian monuments do you remember were built by women? Think hard and you may come up with examples of monuments built for women. The biggest example is, of course, India’s most famous monument – Taj Mahal. Go back and read my question again – Tell me the famous Indian Monuments built by women.
Indian Monuments built by Women
Maharani Temple, Gulmarg
The Maharani Shankar Temple stands proudly on a small hill in the middle of Gulmarg Town in Kashmir valley. It is also known as Rani Ji temple or Maharani Shankar Temple. Although its official name is Shri Mohinishwara Shivalay.
This temple was built in 1915 by Maharani Mohini Bai Sisodia who was the wife of the then king of Kashmir Raja Hari Singh. She was the daughter of Maharana Mohan Dev. Sisodia surname indicates that she came from the region of Mewar. And the fact that she continued to carry the legacy of her parental home. I assume the name of the temple also comes from the name of the queen.
Take a flight of stairs to reach the small temple with a perfect backdrop of snow-clad mountains. Temple is rather small for a temple built by a royal queen. But then one must not forget the small population of Kashmir. And the minimal needs of the people living in harsh climates.
Rani ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat
The Rani ki Vav in Patan is my favorite Indian monument built by a woman. Rani Udaymati built this highly ornate step well in late 11th CE in memory of her husband King Bhimadeva I of Solanki dynasty. She probably wanted to build something that would not only serve as a memorial to her departed husband but something that would solve the water problem for the kingdom. Maybe she wanted her husband to be remembered every time someone came to Rani Ki Vav for water.
The step well goes several levels below the ground level. With each level, the ornamentation of the walls gets more intricate. There are sculptures of Vishnu’s Dashavatar and of women doing Shringar. There is Vishnu on Shesh Shaiyya. When you look down the well at the end of the well, you are overwhelmed by the sculpted stones and the stories it tells.
Mahim Causeway, Mumbai
Avabai was the wife of famous Parsi businessman Jamshetjee Jejeebhoy who ruled the business circles of Bombay of mid 19th CE. She was the mother of many sons and wanted a daughter. She was told that if she asked for her wish at Mount Mary Church located on Bandra Island, it would come true. So she took a boat and arrived at the church. However the boat journey was very difficult and she promised that if her wish comes true, no one would ever have to take a boat to reach the church. Her wish came true and she commissioned the linking of Bandra Island to mainland Bombay through a causeway.
This is how Mahim Causeway in Bombay came into being – which is now a lifeline of the city of Mumbai. Not sure if it can be counted among monuments of India but to me, it is something that many generations to come would thank Lady Avabai for.
One intriguing fact in this story is that Avabai wished for a daughter and not a son. Given our attitudes towards daughters, it seems incredible.
Virupaksha & Mallikarjuna Temple, Pattadakal, Karnataka
Pattadakal in Karnataka is often referred as the laboratory of Indian Temple Architecture. Located almost in the center of Karnataka, you can find both North Indian Nagar Style and South Indian Dravidian style of temple architecture here. Pattadakal is a group of Indian monuments most of which are the temple that has been built by the Chalukyan kings between 7-9th CE. However, two important temples here – Mallikarjuna temple and Virupaksha temple were built by the two queens of Vikramaditya II.
Queen Lokmahadevi built the Virupaksha temple in Dravidian style. It is said that the Virupaksha temple took inspiration from Kailashnatha temple at Kanchipuram. And later served as a model for Kailash temple at Ellora. In fact, the temple is sometimes called Lokeshwara temple – commemorating the queen who built it.
Mallikarjuna Temple was built by the queen Trilokmahadevi. It is similar to Virupaksha temple, just a bit smaller.
The reason the queens built these temples – well they were celebrating husband Vikramaditya’s victory over the Pallavas of Kanchipuram. Does it have anything to do with the temple taking inspiration from a Pallava temple – well we can only speculate?
Just think of the influence queens had on the temple architecture of India. Imagine about 1300 years back the queens knew about the temples at Kanchipuram. And could derive the influences and create a unique temple that would continue to inspire for thousands of years.