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 monuments scattered across the landscape of the nation.
Now let me ask you, how many of these 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 them 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.
Read More – Gulmarg Gondola and Beyond
Dakshineswar Kali Mandir – Kolkata
Rani Rashmoni Devi was born into Mahishya family in 1793. At 11, she married Babu Rajachandra Das who came from a wealthy zamindar family of Kolkata. After her husband passed away she took over the reins of Zamindari and fought many fights with the British who ruled from Kolkata then. While doing this, she also funded many philanthropic projects that included roads, ghats, libraries. However, her biggest legacy is the beautiful Dakshineswar Kali Temple
Legend is that when Rani Rashmoni was on a pilgrimage to Kashi, she had a dream of building a Kali temple. Soon she began her search for the right location for it. Dakshineswar on the banks of Ganga on land that resembled the hump of a tortoise. The construction began in 1847 and the temple was completed in 1855. For the Pran Pratishtha of the Kali, 100,000 Brahmins from all across the country were invited. Ramkumar Chattopadhyay who was the elder brother of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhans became the first priest of Dakshineswar Kali Mandir.
Rani Rashmoni lived only for 5-6 years after completion of this temple as if her life’s job was done.
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. An 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 the form of Chhatris blends well with the overall architecture of this perfectly symmetrical building.
After its recent restoration by the Aga 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.
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 have 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
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.
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
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 to 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 the 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 on my Travel Blog.