Rock-Cut Architecture in Early Indian History - Seeker's Thoughts

Recent Posts

Seeker's Thoughts

A blog for the curious and the creative.

Rock-Cut Architecture in Early Indian History


Rock-Cut Architecture in Early Indian History

Early rock-cut temples were Buddhist and Jain sanctuaries hewn out of the landscape by Emperor Ashoka and his successors to demonstrate religious tolerance. These caves stood as monuments to their construction.


rock cut architecture in India

As cave-temples became increasingly elaborate, they increasingly resembled freestanding buildings; however, their designers still maintained some basic design elements which reflected wooden architecture.


Maurya Period


Rock-cut architecture was in full bloom during the Mauryan era. Numerous Buddhist-related sanctuaries were constructed during this period; caves at Barabar hills are some of the best examples; in particular Karan Chaupar and Lomas Rishi caves dedicated to Buddha with stone carvers' signatures on their front facades and other artisans' signatures on their inside surfaces.

Chaitya and vihara also came into widespread use during this period; these structures served as prayer halls and residential quarters for monks of both Buddhist and Jain religions respectively. Each one typically included a central hall with shrine cells connected by passageways leading to individual shrine cells; symbols depicting Buddha like footprints, stupas, lotus thrones and chakras could often be found within these structures.

Chandragupta established a centralized political system in his empire by guaranteeing security and creating an economy across his vast landholdings. Bindusara (also known as Ashoka) became third ruler and believed firmly in Buddhism's principles, publishing edicts that encouraged peaceful living among his subjects.


Second Phase


Indian rock-cut architecture entered a second phase with the development of real structural temples. This period saw increased ornamentation, aesthetic experimentation and architects exploring ways to turn solid rocks into usable temples.

Beginning with early temples, this period was dominated by religious structures. Cave basadi or temples of Buddhist and Jain religions emerged due to their ascetic practices; their followers preferred living in natural caves or grottoes that became improved and embellished over time.

Many cave temples were later transformed into monasteries or chaityas, housing monk sanctums but designed for congregational worship. At this point, sculptural designs on their cave walls began to differ slightly from earlier Hindu temples.


Third Phase


Buddhists during this time period were prolific creators, building stupas, mound-shaped commemorative burial areas and monasteries. Additionally, they developed freestanding temples which were carved directly out of existing rock rather than cut through existing rock layers.

Rock-cut architecture of this phase stands out by including sculptural elements. This style emphasizes beauty as an offering to the gods; this philosophy finds its source in ancient medical theories such as Ayurveda that prioritize inner health as well as exterior beauty.

This style can also be identified by its use of ratha and mandapa structures, an open hall that resembles a simple pavilion; and mandapa shrines with cells built into their backwall that featured cells for stupas in early examples or Buddha statues later. Such structures acted as precursors for real structural temples to replace cave temples in India during a period of rock-cut temple construction that lasted until 12th century AD.


Fourth Phase


Cave temples at Ajanta provide an instructive environment for exploring this varied architectural style.

This period spanned the 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE. Initially it consisted of shrines carved into natural or artificial caves; over time this evolved into larger monolithic structural temples cut out of rocks - the Pancha Ratha of Mahabalipuram stands out as a prominent example, located on Tamil Nadu India's Coromandel coast near Coromandel Bay and featuring five chariots chiseled out of one rock into five temple-shaped chariots in honour of Pandavas brothers and Draupadi from Mahabharata myth.

Though each temple had distinct design features that depended on when and what religion they were intended to worship, most shared certain underlying design principles that transcended centuries and dynasties - many even remaining unfinished for decades after being inaugurated and in use.


Fifth Phase


Post-Mauryan periods saw the construction of numerous rock-cut cave temples used primarily as Viharas and Chaitya halls for Jain and Buddhist monks.

At this period, aesthetic experimentation also was prominent. As temples became larger and more intricate, artists experimented with various styles of carving and design to produce beautiful ornamental structures that often served as monuments.

At this same time, India began expanding through maritime trade routes and inland trading networks which eventually connected with China - this process is known as Indianization and allowed Hinduism and Buddhism to influence early state-level cultures across Southeast Asia.

Temples like Ajanta and Ellora Caves featured three-dimensional carvings that became three-dimensional over time, yet some areas remained incomplete; historians suggest these unfinished sections may have been created using the point of chisel chisels; this indicates that artists and viewers in premodern India had more fluid ideas about sculpture's state of completion.


Sixth Phase


The sixth phase of rock-cut architecture dates from the 5th to 7th century AD and can be distinguished by open pavilions made from rock known as mandapa and monolithic shrines built into temple walls known as rathas; both were part of an elaborate building design system intended to please gods.

Though these temples were inspired by many religions, many design elements shared among them were shared regardless of dynasty or century - including chandrashalas or arched details that oversaw doors and windows.

One of the best-known examples of this style is Kailash Temple at Ellora Cave 16 of UNESCO World Heritage Site, built by Krishna the First of Rashtrakuta Dynasty between 756-773 CE and being considered one of India's most stunning structures.


Seventh Phase


India boasts more rock-cut temples than any other nation in the world, and they can be found throughout every region. Made of solid natural rocks, these unique structures attract devotees who leave gifts behind and can often be heard reciting mantras or making individual prayers inside them.

Some caves were dedicated to Buddhism, Jainism or Hinduism while others served both. Most caves served as shrines, while a select few could even serve as monasteries with central halls and cells cut directly out of rock - often featuring stupas in early examples or later Buddha statues as they did for monastic life.

A remarkable number of cave complexes were excavated during this period, such as Ajanta Caves, Karla Caves and Ellora Caves - famous for their carvings and iconography that even contains Gupta inscriptions - such as Ajanta, Karla and Ellora Caves. Udayagiri caves are particularly noteworthy as they show how Hindu iconography evolved throughout history - one such cave depicting Vishnu as Varaha saving Earth from destruction being particularly notable among them being Cave 5 where Vishnu appears as human-boar Varaha in Cave 5.


Eighth Phase


Indian religious communities have historically congregated at rock-cut temples with remarkable regularity, leaving offerings such as sweets, fruit or figurines at these cave and temple sanctuaries as a mark of respect and reverence.

Western Deccan in India was home to some of the earliest cave temples, particularly Buddhist shrines and monasteries. While initial cave temples may have been inspired by wooden structures, over time skilled artisans created intricate, beautiful designs by carving into solid rock to craft intricate cave temples that were both beautiful and functional.

As part of this style, various design elements were adopted, such as the concept that temple architecture should echo its surroundings - something still evident today in cave temples such as Barabar Caves in Bihar or Karla, Bedse, Kanheri or Ajanta caves. Chaityas and viharas also underwent change; inner cells would become homes for Buddha images within these structures.


Ninth Phase


Prior to the Gupta Dynasty, most monasteries in India were constructed out of wood instead of stone. At this point, however, Indian architecture began its transformation into an intricate form of sculpture excavated out of rock.

Cave temples crafted in Bihar during the 3rd century BCE served both Buddhist and Jain sanctuaries and as meditative prayer caves, offering one of the earliest examples of such structures.

These cave temples were constructed using wooden models and featured a central hall with cells connected to it, similar to a vihara (a Buddhist bhikkhu monastery). Cell walls contained sculptured figures depicting animals and men giving praise or offering obeisance to God or Goddess; additionally they bore the names of Gupta rulers such as Kumaragupta I and Chandragupta II of the Gupta dynasty as well as insignia from that time period; additionally there were mandapas which resemble cave temples but feature rows of pillars decorated with depictions such as Varaha, Lord Vishnu's boar-like avatar that represented god Vishnu.

No comments:

Post a Comment