Buddhist Architecture of India

The earliest Buddhist monuments in India are attributable to Asoka (273-232 A.D) who exerted his energies and resources of his empire for propagation of Buddhism.  Three main types of structures are associated with buddhist architecture in India, they are:

  • Stupas
  • Viharas
  • Chaityas
  • Apart from these building, Pillars (Stamba) also form an integral element of buddhist design and architecture

Buddhist Architecture: A. Stupas

  • Mound-like structure containing Buddhist Relics
  • Construction: Brick work , surface of dome finished of with a thick layer of lime water
    •  Anda is the Hemishperical dome.
    • Harmika: Top of dome is ‘Harmika’ , square balcony in decorative form enclosing a pedestal
    • Chattra: A 3 tiered stone / wooden umbrella chhatrayasti raised over pedestal which was the vedic alter of sacrifice and represented the village shrine.
    • Vedica: Stupa is enclosed with a wooden / stone railing called vedica.
    • Toranas : They were cermonial gateways placed at cardial point similar to Aryan village gates .
    • Medhi : Medhi (predestrian Path) for devotees to wave in homage to stupa. Medhi was approached by double staircase sopana .
    • Example: Sanchi Stupa

Sanchi Stupa

  • Located at Sanchi – 3 Stupa on hill – Great Stupa (biggest)
  • Laid by Ashoka (3rdBC)
  • Large hemispherical dome which is flat at the top
  • Crowned by a triple umbrella or Chattra on a pedestal surrounded by a square railing or Karmika
  • Exquisitely carved gateways or Toranas in the North, South, East and West
  • Another stone Balustrade and two flights of steps leading to the circular terrace
  • Reconstructed during
    • Shunga Period
    • Satvahana –King Stakarni
    • Gupta Period

Amravati Stupa:

  • New architectural forms, i.e. a quadrangular monastery, square and rectangular image shrine, pillared hall and a. small stupa on a square platform

Other Stupa’s
Stupa List


Buddhist Architecture: B. Viharas (Monasteries) 

  • They are residential places of Buddhist priest.
  • Main halls entered by a doorway , it has assembly halls , dining chambers , meditation cells , walls depict figures of Buddha .

Nagapattinam Vihara in Tamilnaduuntitled

  • It was built by Sailendra Kings of Sumatra
  • Chola emperor Rajaraja 1 had made an official charter to pay for the expenses of running this Vihara.

Ajanta Caves:

  • Sahyadri Hills – U-shaped gorge on the small river Waghora (or Wagura)
  • 1st phase: Satavahana dynasty, 2nd Phase- 5th century-during reign of Harisena – Vakataka dynasty
  • There are 30 caves in Ajanta of which 5 are chaitya-grihas(9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) and the rest are monasteries
  • All paintings centre around Buddha, Bodhisattvas, incidents from the life of Buddha and the Jatakas.
  • The paintings are executed on a ground of mud-plaster in the tempera technique.
  • Abandoned in AD 650 in favour of Ellora
  • First mentioned by Chinese pilgrim Huen Tsang – visited India between 629 – 645 AD.

Ellora Caves (5th -13th Cen AD)

  • Representing 3 major religion of india- Hinduism, Buddhism & Jainism.
  • Lies on ancient trade route- dakshinpatha.
  • 12 Buddhist caves(1-12)
  • 17 Hindu Caves(13-29)
  • 5 Jaina Caves(30-34)
  • Best example of Religious Harmony

Other Monasteries:


Buddhist Architecture: C. Chaityas

  • Chaityas were Temples or Assembly halls where monks used to Pray.
  • Opened by small rectangular doorways to vaulted hall with apisidal end .
  • Divided longitudinally by 2 colonnades forming a broad nave   in the centre and two side aisles.
  • The roof is usually semi – circular .
  • The chaityas resemble to that of church

Other Examples of Chaitya:chaitya

  • Barabar HillsThe Lomas Rishi & Sudama
  • Nagarjuni Hills: Sita Marhi Caves
  • Gunta Palli: Largest brick chaitya
  • Ajanta Caves: Caves 9, 10
  • Ellora Caves: 12 Caves
  • Bagh Chaitya
  • Kondane

Karle Caves, Pune

  • Largest Chaitya-grihaamong all Buddhist monuments in India
  • Has a huge lion pillars in front of Chaitya-griha. (only two caves have this design- Karla and Kanheri)
  • stupa has cylindrical drum shape
  • Octagone shaped pillars behind Stupa, without any decoration

Kanheri, Mumbai

  • Second largest Chaityagriha in India, after Karle caves.
  • Lion Pillarsat the Entrance. (Just like Karle caves)
  • Podhis: water cisterns for rainwater harvesting
  • Images of both Standing Buddha and sitting Buddha flanked by Bodhisattvas
  • Famous Satvahan king Gautamiputra Satakarni’s namementioned in the inscriptions here.

Bhaja, Pune

  • Hinayana faith
  • has Woodenceiling over Chaitya-griha.
  • Stupa has a hole on top, for inserting wooden
  • Verandaha has woodenreliefs showing royal women driving chariots over a demon.
  • Vihara for resting monks with rock cut seats and benches.

Pandavleni, Nasik

  • Also known as Pandava’s caves
  • Inscriptions mention King Gautamiputra Satakarni’s motherGautami Balasri had financed the construction of third cave.
  • Contains a panel depicting Buddha’s Mahaprinirvana

Buddhist Architecture: D. STAMBHAS OR LATS

  • Buddhist pillars bearing inscriptions on their shafts, with emblems or animals on their capital.
  • Typical Buddhist column are of two types: one is based on persepolitian type and other graeco-roman
  • Persepolitian type is a octagonal with bell shaped capital supporting animal sculpture. The shaft is highly polished and has a vase-shaped base.
  • Graeco-roman type is rectangular with shallow flutes. They are tall and slender; the height nearly six to eight times its lower diameter. At the top is a capital usually with a fluted vase motif.
  • Ashokan Pillars:19 surviving, Sarnath Pillar best example448px-ashokalions
    • Sarnath pillar is 15 m high .
    • Four lions surmounting capital; supporting metal wheel containing 24 spokes and called wheel of lane .
    • The wheel symbolizes first summon of Buddha , which is alsoadopted as national emblem of India .
    • Sarnath lion capital (restored) of monolithic column showing buddhist symbols.



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