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10 archaeological sites of ancient India that are a marvel to behold

India is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world because of the Indus Valley civilization and the number of great empires and kingdoms that came after it. India has much more than a thousand archaeological sites, like old forts and some of the world’s oldest universities. From the remains of the ancient Indus Valley cities to the majestic rock-cut cave temples of Bihar, India is an archaeological wonderland; and many of these sites are open to travelers and tourists.

Left Kailas Temple in Ellora, Maharashtra state in India. Right bottom picture is the famous Stone Chariot monument at Hampi India. Right top picture is the main structure of the Konark Sun Temple. © saiko3p/Istock

Since ancient times, the vast region has been fought over by many empires and kingdoms, which has led to the growth of many different cultures. All of these cultures have given the land different kinds of technological and architectural advances.

In this article, we have compiled some of the finest archaeological wonders you must see for yourself during your trip to the magical land of India.

Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan

Kumbhalgarh Fort just before Sunset. The tower rising into the sky at the left side is part of Badal Mahal being Maharana Pratap’s birthplace. © Wikimedia Commons

Kumbhalgarh Fort is one of the biggest hilltop forts in the world. It is one of six spectacular Hill Forts of Rajasthan that are on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.

The Sisodia Rajputs were a clan of Rajputs in charge of the area around Kumbhalgarh. The Fort is named after King Rana Kumbha, who started building it when it was the capital of the Country of Mewar in the 15th century AD. The Sisodia Rajputs lived in Kumbhalgarh until Udaipur, a more strategic city, became the new capital of Mewar.

The Fort is built in a style that is both unique to Hindu Rajput architecture and influenced by Persian architecture. The impressive walls are thick enough that eight horses can walk side by side on top. They stretch for about 36 kilometers around a hilltop about 1,100 meters above sea level. This is the second longest ancient wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China.

Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan

Jaisalmer Fort is said to be one of the largest fortifications in the World. © Wikimedia Commons

If you still have doubts about how grand the forts of Rajasthan are and want to see another ancient jewel in that area, you should think about going to Jaisalmer Fort. In the 12th century AD, a Bhati Rajput ruler named Rawal Jaisal built the Fort and gave it his name.

Ala-ud-din Khilji and his army took over Jaisalmer in the 13th century and ruled there for nine years. Before that, Jaisalmer was ruled by the Rajputs. In the 16th century, the Mughals took the Fort again, led by their emperor Humayun.

As a typical hill fort in Rajasthan, Jaisalmer is on Trikuta Hill, which makes it stand out in the Thar Desert’s vast stretches of sand. Yellow sandstone was used to build it, which adds to its already striking look. So, when the sun shines on it, the Fort looks like it is made of gold against the sandy desert background. This is why it is also called Sonar Quila or the Golden Fort.

The royal family’s living quarters, temples, and Havelis are inside the Fort’s three layers of walls, elaborately carved merchant homes. There are also Jain temples from the 12th century, and a big library called the “Granth Bhandar” with texts and scripts from the 12th and 13th centuries.

The city of Jaisalmer has grown beyond the walls, but there was a time when everyone, mostly merchants and people who worked for the Bhati Rajputs, lived inside the walls of the Fort.

Dholavira, Gujarat

Dholavira in Gujarat, India, is one of the largest cities of Indus Valley Civilisation, with stepwell steps to reach the water level in artificially constructed reservoirs. © Wikimedia Commons

A journey to Dholavira is a paradise on earth through the saline desert of Rann of Kutch. The ancient town indicates the presence of the historic ruins of Indus Valley Civilization dating back 2900 BC to 1500 BC. It is the second-largest Harapan culture site in India and fifth in Indian sub-continent.

The ancient soil of Dholavira narrates the story of Harappan culture that had sketched the city with broad roads, markets, embraced by two monsoon channels and the world’s largest rainwater reservoir to mention a few. The prominent charisma of Dholavira is the museum that displays Harappan artifacts as first signboards, tools, urns, ornaments and vessels that were dug out from this archaeological site.

Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Aurangabad, Maharashtra

Kailas Temple in Ellora, Maharashtra state in India. © saiko3p/Istock

If we say these caves glorify the splendid work of ancient Indian artisans most extravagantly, we won’t be exaggerating! The finest examples of rock-cut caves, Ajanta-Ellora Caves, are among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are 34 caves at Ellora, consisting of the remains of the several Buddhist, Hindu and Jain temples.

On the other hand, Ajanta has a total of 30 caves, all Buddhist. Look close at the walls of these caves and you will see engravings of murals, fine paintings and exotic sculptures. Dating back to the period between the 2nd and 11th centuries, these caves are still considered as one of the most outstanding works of Buddist art in India. If you have made up your mind to witness the brilliance of the caves, you can take a flight to Aurangabad to reach these beautiful sites.

Hampi Village, Karnataka

The famous Stone Chariot monument at Hampi India. © Anubhav Raikar/Shutterstock

Hampi is a village in the Indian state of Karnataka. It was the most-searched historical place on Google in 2014. The village is known for having another UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of India’s largest archaeological sites. The ruins of the ancient Indian city of Vijaynagar, the capital of the Vijaynagar Empire, can be found in Hampi.

It is known for the wonderful Virupaksha Temple and the rich archaeology of the once-prosperous city of the now-lost kingdom. Between the 14th centuries and 16th centuries, Hampi was an important stronghold for the Vijayanagara Kings. It is known for its many Hindu Temples.

In addition to the temples, the site has some city buildings and structures, including the Zanana Enclosures, Elephant Stables, The King’s Balance, canals and aqueducts, and the Lotus Mahal. Several archaeological finds are now on display at the Kamalapura archaeological museum.

No one knows where the people who lived there came from, but excavations show that they began around the 1st century AD. The Chalukyas, who ruled the area around the 7th century AD, built the Virupaksha Temple in a typical Dravidian style. It is one of the most well-known buildings in Hampi.

Later, the Vijayanagar King Krishnadevaraya fixed it up and added to it. He is the one who made the pillared hall. Every year in February, the chariot festival is held here and is a must-see event.

Meenakshi Temple, Tamil Nadu

Meenakshi Amman temple, Madurai, state of Tamil Nadu, India. © Wikimedia Commons

This temple is one of the best things about the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. It is well-known as the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Madurai has been inhabited for more than 2,000 years. It is the oldest city in India and the oldest city in the world that has always been inhabited.

The Hindu goddess Parvati, the wife of the god Lord Shiva, is honored by the temple. The 14 gopurams at the temple complex are known for being very beautiful. These are gateway towers with many stories and thousands of brightly colored carvings of animals, gods, and demons.

Meenakshi Temple – North Tower. © Wikimedia Commons

It’s unclear when the temple was built, but Lord Indra is said to have started it about 2,500 years ago. The architecture is in the typical Dravidian style, and the Gopurams are very ornate, with carvings, motifs, and stucco figures of Hindu mythological beings.

It is thought that there are about 33,000 sculptures in the temple as a whole. This makes the Meenakshi Amman Temple an archaeological wonder for anyone who loves ancient and religious art. The temple is in the middle of Madurai, one of the best places to visit in TamilNadu.

During the 10-day festival at the temple every year in April and May, more than a million people come to see it. The tallest gopuram is one of the main things to see at the temple. Many see the two golden vimanas, built in the 1600s, standing nearly 60 meters tall. They have many sculptures on them.

The hall of a thousand pillars is also a must-see, especially for people interested in Dravidian architecture and how to carve stone.

Konark Sun Temple, Odisha

Main structure of the Sun Temple. © Wikimedia Commons

The Black Pagoda, also called the Konark Sun Temple, is in the Indian state of Odisha. The Eastern Ganga Dynasty built the temple in the middle of the 13th century. The temple is one of the 7 Wonders of India and is on the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

As the name suggests, the temple is for the Sun. It is built in the shape of an Indian chariot, and the side of the temple has wheels carved into it. The temple was built near the Chandrabhaga River, but the water has since gone down. The temple was made to look like the chariot of the Sun god. It has 12 sets of wheels that were carved out of stone.

The wheels of the temple were also used as sundials to tell time-based on where the Sun was in the sky. The intricate carvings show that the building is in the Kalinga style. A temple constructed around 700 AD stood where the new temple is now.

During the time of the Delhi Sultanate, the Eastern Ganga King Narasimhadeva built the current temple I to honor his victory over the army of Tughral Tughan Khan. Today’s temple is just a shadow of the huge building that stood there until it was mysteriously torn down in the 1800s. There are different ideas about why the temple building fell.

The ancient University of Nalanda, Bihar

The ruins of Nalanda Mahavihara. © Wikimedia Commons

An ancient Buddhist monastery in India, Nalanda is recognized as having been one of the first institutions of higher learning and education in the country. It is found in the Indian state of Bihar, which was formerly the ancient kingdom of Magadha and is today known simply as India.

The Gupta and Pala empires were responsible for the construction of the university, which later became an important centre of learning between the 5th and 13th centuries before being destroyed by the Mamluk dynasty. The Mamluks were in power at the time. It is said that Gautama Buddha, Lord Mahavira, and the Jain Tirthankaras visited the village of Nalanda while they were in the ancient capital of Magadha. Nalanda was an important trade site in the ancient capital of Magadha.

The Gupta dynasty’s emperors were the ones who first created the university, and the Pala dynasty was responsible for its further expansion and improvement. In addition, the Chinese explorer Hiuen Tsang is said to have stopped by the monastery in the year 700 AD, when he was there for a period of almost two years.

It is possible to describe Nalanda as a boarding school because it featured separate dorms for each of the approximately 10,000 pupils and 2,000 teachers that attended there. In addition to being a historic architectural wonder, the university was home to a sizable library that was housed among three separate structures, the tallest of which had nine storeys. Students and academics from all over the world, including those from Korea, China, Japan, Indonesia, Turkey, and Persia, travelled to Nalanda in order to pursue their education there.

The importance of the University was directly proportional to the growth of Hinduism across the subcontinent, which occurred concurrently with the demise of Buddhism in India. Bakhtiyar Khilji, a conquering Turkic chieftain, put an end to the University’s illustrious history in the 13th century when he set fire to the great library, looted the buildings, and destroyed the archives of the institution.

Khajuraho Temple, Madhya Pradesh

The 11th century Hindu temple of Matangeshwar. © Wikimedia Commons

The temples of Khajuraho depict more than just erotic, but with interesting facts showcasing the life of the common man that existed during that time. Contrastingly, the world-famous erotic art of Kama Sutra is only 10 per cent of all carvings found in the complex. The temples have a significant role in Indian archaeology for their nagara-style architectural symbolisms.

The epic clusters of 85 temples comprise of both Hinduism and Jainism, which was built in between 885 AD and 1050 AD by the rulers of the Chandela Dynasty. Among them, only 22 temples have managed to survive and stood up from the ordeal of time. The temples are carved from hard river sandstone embellished into three complexes-the Western, the Eastern and the Southern. It is one of the wonders of India, rich with mythological stories, artistic creativity and marvel of the architecture.

Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh

Paleolithic cave art found at the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh, central India. © World History Encyclopedia

The rocky terrain of Bhimbetka is a gift from our ancestors with the broken path which will grasp you in the pre-historic era. It is surrounded by craggy cliffs and lofty mountain which is rich in flora and fauna. The natural rock shelter is an archaeological treasure among cave paintings of the palaeolithic age established around 30,000 years old.

The exclusive art of vibrant colours highlights the expression of early human social life and their interaction with nature and animals. Fortunately, these paintings in the inner walls of the cave are well preserved from the exposure of extreme weather. The entire region is environed by 600 caves at Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh. It is in the mids of the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary at the foothills of the Vindhya Range.

Final words

India is a land of incredible beauty and has the highest concentration of ancient ruins in the world. These ruins are spread across the country. They can be found in every state and in many forms, being a treasure trove of information about the country’s past. They can tell us about the people who once lived there, their daily lives, their culture, their way of dealing with natural disasters, their art and architecture, their beliefs and knowledge, etc. Therefore, all these archaeological sites of ancient India have been well-preserved and are a marvel to behold.