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Buddhist Art And Architecture

Buddhist Art And Architecture


  • The Buddhist architecture is related to different aspects of Buddha’s life, symbols representing Buddha and tales and stories associated with him.
  • Ashoka the Mauryan King was the greatest patron of Buddhist architecture.
  • During his reign, several stupas and mounds of bricks commemorative of the Buddha were constructed.
  • The three key element of Buddhist architecture is Stupa, Chaityas, and Viharas. However, Under Mauryan rule, several pillars were also constructed to commemorate Buddha

Types of Buddhist architecture

The distinctive structures and sculptures have been associated with early Buddhist religious architecture such as

  • Stupas,
  • Viharas (Monasteries) and
  • Chaityas (Prayer halls), which later came to be called temples in some places.
  • Stambhas (Pillars)

Stupas  | Buddhist Art And Architecture

  • The Stupas holds the most important place among all the earliest Buddhist architecture. They offer the earliest sculptural representations of important episodes in the Buddha s life and of the Jataka stories. A Stupa is a dome-shaped sacred burial mound of brick which was used to house Buddha’s relics or to commemorate significant facts and events related to Buddhism.
  • The earliest archaeological evidence for the presence of Buddhist stupas dates back to the late 4th century BCE. In India, Sanchi, Sarnath, Amaravati and Bharhut are among the oldest known stupas.

Chaityas (Prayer Hall)

  • A chaitya is a Buddhist shrine or prayer hall with a stupa at one end for congregational worship by the monks. The chaitya is entered from one end, and at the other end, a small stupa is situated. Chaityas were commonly part of a monastic complex, the vihara.
  • Structures like Chaitya were common in Jainism and Hinduism as well. However, many early examples of chaitya that survive in India belong to Buddhist rock-cut architecture.
  • These early chaityas are apsidal in the plan. At the centre of the apse was a rock stupa or a large figure of Buddha, sitting or standing. The later Buddhist temples at Buddhagaya (Bodhgaya), Nalanda, Ellora, Ajanta, Kuda, Shelarwadi, Karad etc., consist of a square or oblong ground plan. To provide sufficient light for the interior of the cave a chaitya window was pierced in the facade. In due course of time, the chaitya window had become an ornament to the facade.
  • Some of the most beautiful Chaitya caves are those at Ajanta, Ellora, Bhaja, Karle, Bagh, Nasik and Kanheri etc.

Viharas (Monasteries)

  • Viharas or monasteries were dwelling place for Buddhist monks. The term is also found in Ajivika, Hindu and Jain monastic literature, usually referring to a temporary refuge for wandering monks during the rainy season. These monastic buildings carved out of rocks or built of bricks were self-contained units and had a Chaitya hall attached to it with a stupa – the chief object of worship.
  • Viharas were constructed with brick or excavated from rocks. Usually built to a set plan, they have a hall meant for congregational prayer with an open courtyard surrounded by a row of cells and a pillared verandah in front. The hall has one or more entrances. The cells served as dwelling places for the monks. Each cell had a door and one or two stone platforms to serve as beds.
  • The use of images and paintings in these monasteries produces rich iconography not only architecturally, but artistically as well.
  • Some of the important Buddhist viharas are those at Ajanta, Ellora, Nasik, Karle, Kanheri, Bagh and Badami. Twenty-five of the rock-cut caves of Ajanta is the finest of monasteries. The viharas of Ellora are of one, two, and three stories and are the largest of the type. They contain sculptured figures and belong to both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism.

Stambhas (Pillars)

  • The tradition of constructing pillars is very old in India. A large number of stone pillars were erected during the Mauryan empire with inscriptions engraved on them.
  • The Mauryan pillars are rock-cut pillars thus displaying the carver s skills. The top portion of the pillar was carved with capital figures like the bull, the lion, the elephant, etc. Some of the existing pillars with capital figures were found at Basarah Bakhira, Lauriya-Nandangarh, Rampurva, Sankisa and Sarnath.
  • The Mauryan pillar capital found at Sarnath popularly known as the Lion Capital is the finest example of Mauryan sculptural tradition. It is also our national emblem. It is carved with considerable care voluminous roaring lion figures firmly standing on a circular abacus which is carved with the figures of a horse, a bull, a lion and an elephant in vigorous movement, executed with precision, showing considerable mastery in the sculptural techniques.
  • This pillar capital symbolizes Dharmachakrapravartana (the first sermon by the Buddha) and it has become a standard symbol of this great historical event in the life of the Buddha.

Bodhgaya  | Buddhist Art And Architecture

  • Most important Buddhist site because Prince Siddhartha achieved enlightenment here to become Gautama Buddha.
  • The Bodhi Tree is important.
  • The Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya:
    • The first shrine situated at the base of the Bodhi tree was probably built by Emperor Ashoka.
    • The vedika around the shrine is post-Mauryan built during 100 BC.
    • Many sculptures in the niches in the temple belong to the Pala Period (8th century CE).
    • The temple itself was constructed during the colonial period.
    • It is a 7th century design. It is neither nagara or Dravida in style.

Nalanda University

  • It was a monastic university.
  • It is a Mahavihara since it is a complex of many monasteries.
  • Only a small portion of the place has been studied as most of it lies buried under present civilisation and impossible to excavate.
  • The records of the Chinese traveller Xuan Zang (Hsuan-tsang) gives a huge amount of information about Nalanda.
  • As per the records, the foundation of the learning centre was laid down by Kumaragupta I, the Gupta king in the 5th century CE. Later kings added to the original centre.
  • Evidence for all three Buddhist doctrines of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana taught here.
  • Monks came from China, Tibet and Central Asia in the north; and from Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and other countries in Southeast Asia.
  • Nalanda was a centre for art production and Buddhist sculptures and manuscripts were taken from here by monks to their countries. So, art in Nalanda had a profound impact on art in all the Buddhist countries.
  • The Nalanda School of sculpture was influenced by Buddhist Gupta art of Sarnath, the local Bihar tradition and Central India. This synthesis emerged during the 9th century.

Brick Structures  | Buddhist Art And Architecture

  • While early Buddhist structures were constructed by carving rocks in the form of caves. Gupta period embarked a new chapter in the history of Indian architecture with the commencement of brickworks. Many Buddhist temples and monasteries were constructed across India, in Gupta period and post-Gupta era.



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