Famous Indian Monuments Built By Women

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Indian Monuments Built by Women 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

Not many names pop up. So here is my list of Indian Monuments built by women.

Maharani Temple, Gulmarg

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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.

For more details read my post on Gulmarg Gondola and Beyond.

Humayun’s Tomb, New Delhi

Humayun's Tomb, New Delhi
Humayun’s Tomb, New Delhi

Hamida Banu Begum, also known as Haji Begum built the beautiful Humayun’s tomb. That is now a part of Nizamuddin East in New Delhi. Interesting fact about Humayun’s tomb is that Humayun died in 1556. And Hamida Banu Begum started the construction of this lovely tomb in red sandstone in 1569, good 14 years after his death. Wonder was she spending that kind of time on planning the design of the monument or was she raising the funds for the same.

All we know is that she employed Mirak Mirza Ghiyat, a Persian architect to build Humayun’s tomb. Persian influence is clearly seen in the Char Bagh style where the main building stands at the intersection of 4 gardens that are divided by various water channels. Indian architecture in form of Chhatris blends well with the overall architecture of this perfectly symmetrical building.

After its recent restoration by the Agha Khan Trust, Humayun’s tomb is fast becoming the iconic Delhi monument. It can be seen prominently in many new Bollywood films when they need a backdrop of famous monuments of India.

Humayun’s Tomb is one of the 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Delhi. 2 others being Red Fort and Qutub Minar.

Itmad-Ud-Daula, Agra

Itmad-Ud-Daula Agra

Noorjehan, the famous queen of Jehangir, built Itmad-Ud-Daula in Agra as a resting place for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg in 1622. Her mother and siblings are also buried in the same place.

A delicacy in the structure, lattice work and the inlay work of Itmad-Ud-Daula clearly has a feminine touch. We would never know how much was Noorjehan herself involved in the building. But this first Mughal monument in white marble does carry her distinct mark. From a distance, it looks like a jewel box kept in a garden.

Usually known as Mini Taj in Agra, I would count Itmad-Ud-Daula as one of the important Indian monuments in its own right.

To my knowledge, this is one of the only monuments that I know that has been built by a daughter, for her parents. Do you know of any other?

Read my detailed post on Itmad-Ud-Daula – A daughter’s tribute.

Rani ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat
Rani ki Vav Patan Gujarat

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.

Rani Ki Vav is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Read my detailed post on  Legacy of a Queen: Rani ki Vav, Patan.

Mahim Causeway, Mumbai

Bandra Worli Sea Link at Dusk
Bandra Worli Sea Link at Dusk

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

Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakal
Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakal

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.

Pattadakal is also a UNESCO World heritage site.

I am keen to expand this list. Do you know of any other Indian monuments built by women?

Recommend you to read following monuments on my Travel Blog.

  1. Epitome of Indian Art – Temples of Khajuraho.
  2. Gol Gumbaz – A Reverberating Dome.
  3. Revisiting Hampi.
  4. Big Temple or Brihadeeswara Temple, Tanjore.
  5. Jain Temple at Ranakpur.

46 COMMENTS

  1. very interesting post with unique knowledge . Gulmarg temple in the lap of mountains looking very beautiful !!

    • I have researching for this for some time now. Was hoping for a longer list but this is all I could gather. Hoping that all of you will find more and help me enhance this.

  2. Revived my memories of ” Rani kl vav ” which I visited about 6 years back.A wonderful place for people with an eye for art in the stones.Honestly I was dumb stuck.
    Thank you Anuji for the article on this day.

  3. What about all the repair and reconstruction work done by Ahilyabai Holkar. There is a magnificent list of temples and palaces on wikipedia.

    • Hema, I thought of Ahilyabai Holkar but all I could find was repairs and reconstructions – may be she deserves a separate post for being the best known heritage conservator in Indian history. Will come back to you for more references to her work.

  4. A refreshing take on Women’s Day. Tired of the same old themes. No doubt, the monuments are interesting by themselves though the only one I have visited is Rani ki Vav. Hope to visit some others in the future.

  5. Great list, Anuradha. Hadn’t known about several of those. To add to your list, North India’s most well-known cathedral, the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces (at Sardhana, near Meerut) was built by a woman, Begum Samru.

    • Ah Madhulika, Rani ji ki Baoli is something even I forgot. It was in my mental list, was there just a few months back and simply forgot while writing. Adding it soon.

  6. is it correct what i heard/ read somewhere that gulmarg was called as gauri marg in the ancient times.
    yes, indeed the view from that shiva temple is breathtaking more so when u watch the herds of sheep down.

  7. And last night I remembered several more: Fatehpuri Masjid (built by one of Shahjahan’s wives, Fatehpuri Begum) near Chandni Chowk; Zeenat-ul-Masajid (Daryaganj, built by Aurangzeb’s daughter); and Khairul Manazil, opposite Purana Qila, built by Akbar’s wet nurse, Maham Anga.

    There’s also Masjid Mubarak Begum near Hauz Qazi, but nobody’s quite sure if Mubarak Begum (Ochterlony’s chief ‘wife’) actually built it. I’ve come across conflicting opinions on that.

    • Thanks Madhulika.

      I was just wondering if I should include private mosques in this list. I was originally looking at some public value for the monuments listed here. I understand Humayun’s tomb and Itmad-ud-daula are also private spaces but they have immense architectural value and are a kind of milestone in the architectural journey.

      I am getting a list of several small monuments built by women, specially queens of small princely states, that now I think I need to put a criterion. Can you help me with what could be the good criteria so that the list does not lose its relevance.

      • You could probably put in a ‘space’ criterion – the monument must occupy at least so-and-so space, but that can be very misleading, since there could be places that are of value in terms of heritage, but are not very large. (Incidentally, barring the Masjid Mubarak Begum, the others I’ve listed are pretty huge – Fatehpuri Masjid is probably the largest in Chandni Chowk, after the Jama Masjid, and Zeenat-ul-Masajid is almost a smaller, not so exquisite replica of the Jama Masjid.

        Another idea might be (and this could be more challenging) that you include only World Heritage sites in your list. 🙂

        • I thought of WHS, but that would limit the space to only 32 odd monuments or may be 100 odd if we include the tentative list also. I want places like Mahim Causeway – which was a huge public project and played a key role in evolution of the city itself to be a part of this list than just the personal worship spaces built for / by women basically for their comfort or privacy needs.

  8. Anuradha, do consider Bhopal, a place ruled by begums for over a century. Offhand, here’s a list of monuments built by begums in Bhopal:
    1. Taj-ul-Masajid
    2. Jama Masjid
    3. Moti Masjid
    4. Gohar Mahal
    Some research might throw up some more!
    Cheers!

  9. You may also consider the Red Taj Mahal in Agra. It is the tomb of John Hessing built by his estranged wife. It is next to Bhagwan Talkies in Catholic Cemetery. She spent Rs.1 lac on this unique monument that apes Taj Mahal. But due to the paucity of funds, could not get the minarets completed. This monument is a blend of Christian, Islamic and Indian architecture!

  10. Incredible list Anuradha. Such an excellent composition of different monuments under one theme.
    I was aware of some of these, not all. Glad I got to know so many more.

    • Thanks Indrani. I think the best part of this post is that it involved all of you and am go glad to see you all here admiring the women who left us incredible heritage that tells us stories of their times.

  11. I never knew that a woman was behind the construction of Humayun’s tomb. I was also surprised to know about the Virupaksha temple. This shows the prowess of woman even in those days when men were considered to be supreme. Really liked the information here and thanks for the effort.

    • Sarvana ji, Look at all the comments, how many monuments were built by women. We were just not mentioned by the history writers otherwise we were an equal part of history always.

  12. Inspiring architecture by Indian women, who in a way brought many good changes in human life. Nicely crafted article.

  13. This is very interesting Anuradha, and one of the first too! It’d be great if you could add Mysore palace as it was also built by queen Vani Vilasa. The KRS dam, which was the second biggest one during that era was also funded by her personal gold. There are many such interesting stories we would like to share with you the next time you drop in here to Mysore!

    ~Royal Mysore Walks

    • Thanks, Faizan, would definitely add Vani Vilasa to the list as and when I update the list. This is the joy of blogging, when heritage lovers from around the country add to the knowledge base.

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