Contributions of Buddhism to Architecture of India

  • The types of structure are associated with the religious architecture of early Buddhism are as follows:
    • Chaityas (Shrines or prayer halls)
    • Viharas (Monasteries)
    • Stupas (Places to venerate relics)
    • Rock cut architecture
    • Sculpture:


  • Chaityas were prayers halls in Buddhist tradition. Chaityas were built near viharas for congregational worship.
  • Buddhist Chaityas usually enshrined a stupa and later the icon of Buddha as well. Earliest existing Chaityas date from the end of first millenium BC.
  • These were built all over the country either of brick or excavated from rocks. However, wooden chaityas are expected to exist even earlier.
  • Largest brick chaitya hall has been excavated is at Guntapalli in Seemandhra.
  • Some of the most beautiful examples of rock-cut chaityas are found at Bhaja and Karle along the Western Ghats in Maharashtra.
  • Chronologically significant Hinayana Chaitya include:
    • Bhaja (oldest)
    • Ajanta (6 caves belong to Hinayana)
    • Nasik
    • Karle, Maharashtra (built by Satvahanas in 1st century AD; considered to be the best): It consists of dampati and mithuna figures.
    • Kanehri
  • Chronologically significant Mahayana Chaitya include:
    • Ajanta: It consists of total 29 caves. Under it Cave no. 9, 10, 19 and 26 are Chaitya and rest are Viharas. It was built under Satvahanas and later Guptas and Chalukyas. They are primarily Buddhist caves.
    • Ellora: It consists of 34 caves dated between 7th – 9th century AD It has caves dedicated to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain faith.


  • Viharas were primarily the place of residence of Buddhist monks which came into being from the time of Buddha himself.
  • Initially, viharas were constructed of bamboo and reed in the form of hearths in any natural park offered to Buddha by wealthy followers to rest and preach during four months of rainy season.
  • After the demise of Buddha, viharas began to assume more permanent character. During Ashokan period, viharas constructed with bricks or hewn out of rocks could be found in most parts of India.
  • A typical Buddhist Vihara consisted of a series of individual cells enclosing a courtyard (open space), which served congregational purposes. Cells allowed monks secure spaces for regular practice of meditation.
  • When Buddha began to be worshipped in the form of images, viharas also tended to become places of worship. Walls in the caves in the viharas were painted with figures of Buddha, Bodhisattvas and scenes from Buddha’s life. Viharas belonging to Mahayana sect had sculptures of Buddha installed for worship.
  • Many viharas were built on famous trade routes like uttarapatha and dakshinapatha and the silk route.
  • Examples of Viharas: Ajanta caves, Udaygiri and Khandgiri, Nalanda, Nagarjunakonda etc.

Buddhist Stupas

  • It is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics (typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns) that is used as a place of meditation. In the Buddhist religion, it is believed that a stupa brings enlightenment to the one who builds and owns it. In addition, the stupa is considered a place of worship, and many Buddhists complete pilgrimages to significant stupas.
  • Buddhist places of worship were known as Stupas.
  • All stupas have a few features in common; however, they can vary visually.

There are five types of stupas:

  • Relic stupas, in which the relics of Buddha and other religious persons are buried.
  • Object stupas, in which the objects belonging to Buddha or his disciples are buried.
  • Commemorative stupas, built to commemorate events in the life of Buddha and his disciples.
  • Symbolic stupas, built to symbolize various aspects of Buddhist theology.
  • Votive stupas, constructed to commemorate visits or gain spiritual benefits

Style of Stupas 

  • It was made in two styles i.e., Indian and Gandhara style.
    • Indian Style: Chronologically significant Indian style stupas include:
      • Piprahwa, Nepal (oldest stupa)
      • Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh (built by Ashoka): We find depiction of stories of Lord Buddha’s previous birth on its Toranas.
      • Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh (built by Ashoka and later by Shungas): Biggest stupa
      • Amaravati, Guntur, Andhra Pradesh (2nd cen BC- 2nd cen AD built by Satvahanas with use of white marble): Its ancient name is Dhanyakataka.
      • Nagarjunakonda, Andhra Pradesh (2nd – 3rd cen AD built by Ikshavakus)
      • Dhamekh/Sarnath stupa (built during Gupta period by use of bricks and stones).
    • Gandhara style stupas include:
      • Dharmarajika stupa, Takshila
      • Purushapur stupa, Peshawar (built by Kanishka)

Buddhist Rock-Cut Architecture

  • Buddhist rock-cut temples and monasteries were often located near trade routes, and these spaces became stopovers and lodging houses for traders. As their endowments grew, the interiors of rock-cut temples became more and more elaborate and decorated.

Barabar Caves

  • The Barabar caves in Bihar were built in the third century BCE during the Mauryan period credited to Emperor Ashoka. They are the oldest examples of Buddhist rock-cut architecture. These caves mostly consist of two rooms carved entirely out of granite.

Ajanta Caves

  • The Ajanta caves in Maharashtra are a group of rock-cut caves that span six centuries, beginning in the second century BCE. They are carved into the hills of the Sahyadri Mountains.
  • The Ajanta caves are considered masterpieces of Buddhist architecture and contain living and sleeping quarters, kitchens, monastic spaces, shrines, and stupas. The residences of monks are called viharas, while the cave shrines used for worship are called chaityas.
  • There are paintings, and the theme is Buddhist and gracefully illustrate the major events of Buddha’s life, the Jataka tales, etc

Ellora Caves

  • The Ellora caves were built between the fifth and tenth centuries. These caves are made up of twelve Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain rock-cut temples, excavated out of the Charanandri hills.
  • The proximity of the temples that belong to different religions demonstrates the religious harmony of the time. The Ellora caves contain many frescoes, reliefs, and shrines, including carvings of the Buddha, bodhisattvas and saints. In many cases the stone is intricately carved to look like wood.
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