India has a long and rich history of production and use of clay fired bricks dating back to the Indus valley civilization (2500-1500 BC). Historical monuments at Sarnath (3rd century BC - 11th century AD), Nalanda (4th -12th century AD), Qutab Minar (12th - 13th century AD) are some of the prominent examples of use of clay fired bricks. During the Mughal period, the bricks were generally thin (2 inch thickness). The arrival of Europeans in India had an impactful influence on Indian brick making. German missionaries introduced state-of-the-art clay roofing tiles manufacturing facilities on the Malabar Coast in the 18th century which consisted of mechanized clay preparation and extrusion machinery for shaping and Hoffmann kiln for firing of tiles and bricks. The British introduced large size bricks (10 inches X 5 inches X 3inches) bricks. The recent history of brick production in 19th and 20th century in India is that of stagnation in technology and enterprise management.
1. HISTORY OF BRICK CONSTRUCTION IN INDIA
1.1 The Ancient Period
The earliest evidence of the use of adobe for constructing house in rectangular forms in the subcontinent dates to 7000 BC. There are over 1000 Harappa sites across the Indian subcontinent of which Mohenjo-Daro, Taxila, Harappa and Lothal are better known. Building materials used were stone, mud adobe and hard baked clay bricks.
Different brick sizes used in ancient period
Pre-Harappa – (30 x 20 x 10) cm
Post-Harappa – (50 to 25 x 25) to (12.5 x 12.5 to 6.35) cm
Early-Harappa – (33 to 27.9 x 15.2) to (12.7 x 12.7 to 8.9) cm
Early Historical – (60 to 20 x 31.75) to (16 x 10 to 5) cm
Late Historical – (60 to 11 x 28.6) x (8 x 12 to 4) cm
These only exemplify the variety of brick sizes but do not exhaust the innumerable sizes found in excavated buildings in different sites.
Lothal brick-makers used a logical approach in manufacture of bricks, designed with care in regards to thickness of structures. They were used as headers and stretchers in same and alternate layers. Archaeologists estimate that in most cases, the bricks were in ratio 10:50:25 on three sides, in dimensions which were integral multiples of large graduations of Lothal scale of 25 mm. From 1100 to around 300 BC there is little evidence of use of hard baked clay bricks. In Nalanda, Bihar (5th and 3rd century BC), the shrine is made of baked bricks with stucco figures done in lime. The monasteries at Nalanda were made of bricks and superstructures were supported on wooden beams. Since the imperial Maurya period, burnt brick have been continuously in use as building materials in the alluvial plains of India.
Brick Constructions in Lothal
1.2 The Medieval Period
Relatively, fewer examples of dwelling units survive. It is, however, quite clear that stone, timber, biomass and brick were the main building material for the common man.
1.3 The Sultanate Period
The Indian subcontinent has a long history of trade and commerce with west Asian tribes. It is clear that during this period the primary materials continued to be stone, brick and timber. While techniques may be improved, materials remained the same. The fortified city of Tughlaqabad built by emperor Ghiyath ud Din Tughluq; the ‘Adilabad Fort’ built by Muhammad bin Tughlaq; and the Ferozabad fort and palace constructed by Firoz Shah Tughlug, marks the architectural style of the Tughlug dynasty. The Qutub Minar in New Delhi made of red sandstone and marble is the highest brick minaret in the world.
Qutub Minar Feroz Shah Kotla or ‘Ferozabad Fort’
1.4 The Mughal Period
In the Mughal period, bricks were called ajur or khisht. In the architectural sense, the Mughal period can be divided into the early, high and late Mughal periods. In the earlier period, the construction was generally simple. Evidence shows that houses of the nobility and wealthy men were made of stone and burnt bricks. Houses built of un-burnt bricks have collapsed. This shows that constructions even of wealthy people required regular repairs and maintenance. The dominant material in these constructions is stone which was quarried locally.
During the time of Shahjahan, the standard bricks measured 18-19 cm in length, 11-12.5 cm in breadth and 2-3 cm in thickness, traditionally known as the ‘lakhauri’ brick. Three kinds of bricks were used in this period: pukhta (the baked), nim pukhta (half baked) and kham (unbaked) . The baked brick exhibited superior properties and were more expensive. In a typical Shahjahani structure, the bricks are laid in horizontal courses composed largely of stretchers, but alternating at times with headers, in a thick bed of mortar made with kankar, a nodular limestone.7,8 The brick masonry was then faced with marble or sandstone slabs, which were firmly locked together with iron dowels and clamps.
Based on her field studies, Koch has identified a typical construction technique for the walls, which she calls “Mughal bond”.7 As per this method, “long sandstone slabs, of size 125-200 cm in length, 60-80 cm in width and 10-15 cm in thickness, were laid alternately horizontally and vertically in a fixed pattern. The alternate vertical slabs were placed at right angles through the thickness of the wall and, with the horizontal slabs, formed a permanent framework that was filled with rubble or bricks set in mortar.”7 The supporting walls are then clad with red sandstone, a typical feature in Mughal masonry.
1.5 The Colonial Period
The advent of the British and the establishment of the Raj across the Indian subcontinent led to interesting constructions and extensive use of local materials. The most extensive constructions by the British were the Dak bungalows. The foundation and walls were made of local bricks, bonded with surkhi (crushed brick aggregates) and lime until these were replaced with cement. With the British came ordinary Portland cement, Victorian bricks and steel as key building materials. Also, with the British came the bull’s trench kiln to produce burnt clay bricks. The earliest Bull’s trench kiln was established off Mapla in Hooghly district, about 100 years ago. This brick field is still in operation and its bricks sell under the brand name “Kishori”. With the establishment of the Bull’s kiln based mass production of brick, building materials emerge as an industry. Later cement and steel also came to be produced in India.
A study of the various brick sizes through the ages will show that with different cultural influences, brick size and shape were changed in India. The change in building construction details also affected the brick size according to the needs - like in the early medieval period, mostly cuboids shape was used because they were better suited to arches and domes. In corbelled constructions of the early period, thick large-sized bricks were used for compression and cantilever action. For the ancient period until the end of the British Raj, the dominant materials have been mud, adobe, stone, sundry bricks, baked bricks, lime and timber. Steel and cement were introduced in the Indian sub-continent by the British.
• Building Material in India: 50 Years A Commemorative Volume – Gupta, T.N And Others
• The Chemistry of Building Materials – R.M.E Diamant
• History of Brick Making – Britannica Online Encyclopaedia
• Brick in 20th Century Architecture - Jonathan Ochshorn
• An Encyclopaedia of Indian Archaeology
• The Complete Taj Mahal: And the Riverfront Gardens of Agra – Ebba Koch
• New Insights On Artisans Of Taj – R. Balasubramaniam
• Brick & Brick Sizes – A Tool to Find History, Built Heritage Conservation, wordpress.com