(Video) Indian Art & Culture in English : Buddhist Art and Architecture : Chaitya and Vihara

Indian Art and Culture in English Medium

(Video) Indian Art & Culture in English : Buddhist Art and Architecture : Chaitya and Vihara

In our previous video, we briefly took you through the history of Buddhism and also let you know about the architectural style during the spread of Buddhism. Fundamentals of Buddhism and Buddhist art, its defining principles, and notable examples from art history are talked about in these videos. Earlier we gave you an insight about the stupas and why were they important. Today we will tell you about the rest of the important features like Viharas and Chaityas.

Throughout his life, Buddha spoke on the value of respect, peace, honesty, and wisdom to help others achieve a higher sense of consciousness. However, it wasn’t until after his death that artists depicted his teachings. The very first Buddhist artworks were stupas, filled with Buddha’s relics. The spiritual value of the stupas drove artists to create other statues and monuments that could serve as a place of worship and deep reflection for those looking to follow Buddha’s path.

Viharas were monasteries constructed to shelter the monks. Viharas were dwelling places used by wandering monks during the rainy season but eventually they evolved into centers of learning and Buddhist architecture through the donations of wealthy lay Buddhists. Many Viharas, such as Nalanda, were world famous, and their Buddhist teachings were transmitted to other parts of Asia including China and Tibet, where Buddhism continued to flourish. Viharas were mostly constructed with brick or carved out of rocks.

Usually, Viharas were built to a set plan, they have a hall dedicated for congregational prayer with a verandah on three sides or an open courtyard surrounded by a row of cells and a pillared verandah in front. These cells served as dwelling places for the monks. These monastic buildings built of bricks were self-contained units and had a Chaitya hall or Chaitya mandir attached to a stupa - the chief object of worship.

Some of the important Buddhist viharas are those at Ajanta, Ellora. Nasik, Karle, Kanheri, Bagh and Badami. The Hinayana viharas found in these places have many interesting features which differentiate them from the Mahayana type in the same regions. Though plain from the point of view of architecture, they are large halls with cells excavated in the walls on three sides. These hall have one or more entrances. The small cells, each with a door have one or two stone platforms to serve as beds.

The excavations of viharas at Nagarjunakonda reveal a large rectangular courtyards with stone-paved central halls. Around the courtyard, the row of cells, small and big, depict residences and dining halls for monks.
Twenty-five of the rock-cut caves of Ajanta are viharas and are the finest of monasteries. Four of the viharas belong to the 2nd century BC. Later, other caves were excavated during the reign of the Vakataka rulers. Some of the most beautiful viharas belong to the period Vakataka, who were the contemporaries of the Gupta Rulers. The finest of them is Cave 1, of the Mahayana type consisting of a verandah, a hall, groups of cells and a sanctuary. It has a decorated facade. The portico is supported by exquisitely carved pillars. The columns have a square base with figures of dwarfs and elaborately carved brackets and capitals. Below the capital is a square abacus with finely carved makara motifs. The walls and the ceilings of the cave comprise of paintings.

The viharas of Ellora dated 400 AD to 7th century AD are of three storeys high and are the largest of the type. They contain sculptured figures and belong to both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism.

Now talking about Chaityas, these were halls of worship. These were made out of bricks or carved from rocks.

Ruins of a large number of structural Buddhist Chaityas are found in the eastern districts of Andhra Pradesh. The ruins located in the districts of Srikakulam, of Visahkapatnam, of West Godavari, of Krishna at Vijayawada, of Guntur at Nagajunakonda and Amaravati belong to the 3rd century BC and later. The largest brick Chaitya hall was excavated at Guntapalli.

Some of the most beautiful rock-cut caves are those at Ajanta, Ellora, Bhaja, Karle, Bagh, Nasik and Kanheri. Some of the chunar sand-stone rock cut Chaityas of Bhaja. Kondane, Karle and Ajanta, in Maharashtra are early excavations belonging to the first phase or Hinayana creed of Buddhism.

Some of the Chaityas show that wood had been used in the roofing and entrance arches. The Chaitya at Bhaja is the earliest surviving Chaitya hall. It is a long hall 16.75 metres long and 8 metres broad with an apse at the end. The hall is divided into a central nave and an aisle on either side flanked by two rows of pillars. The roof is vaulted. The rock-cut stupa in the apse is crowned by a wooden harmika. The Chaitya has a large arched toran, entrance with an arched portico.

Hinayana rock architecture reached the peak of excellence in the splendid Chaitya at Karle. This Chaitya has a double-storeyed facade and has three doorways in the lower part. It has an upper gallery over which there is the usual arch. The walls of are decorated with sculptured figures of couples. The pillars separating the central nave from the aisles have a pot base, an octagonal shaft, and inverted lotus capital with an abacus. The abacus has carved pairs of elephants kneeling down, each with a couple in front and horses with riders on them. The stupa at the apse end is tall and cylindrical with two tiers of railings around the drum. It is crowned by the original wooden chhatra.

The second phase of Buddhist architecture is marked by the Mahayana creed of Buddhism. It can be noticed in some of the excellent rock-cut Chaityas at Ajanta in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra excavated between 5th AD and 9th century AD during the rule of the Vakataka, the Guptas and the Rashtrakuta.

The caves were discovered in the beginning of the 19th century. These caves are excavated from a semi-circular steep rock with a stream flowing below, and were made for the use of the monks who spent the rainy season there in meditation.

The caves are at different levels and have stairs leading down to the stream. Five of the thirty caves are Chaityas or sanctuaries. The earlier group of two cave dated 2nd century BC belong to the style of Kondane and Nasik caves.

The Chaityas have a vaulted ceiling with a huge horse-shoe shaped window over the doorway. There are large halls divided into three parts - the central nave, apse and aisles on either side separated by a row of columns. The side aisles continue behind the apse for circumambulation. At the centre of the apse is a rock stupa with large figure of Buddha, sitting or standing. A remarkable feature of these Chaityas is the imitation of woodwork on rock. Beams and rafters were carved in the rock though they serve no purpose.

The unfinished caves, give us an idea of the method of excavation. Starting from the ceiling, they worked downwards. Solid blocks were left to be carved into pillars. After finishing the verandah, they excavated the interior. They used tools like pick-axe, chisel and hammer.

The most perfect of this group of Chaitya grihas is cave 19. Excavated at the end of the 5th century AD. It is similar to the other Chaityas in its plan except that it has a single doorway and elaborate ornamentation. Pillared portico in front leading into a courtyard with the walls on either side have heavily sculptured with figures. The interior pillars are well decorated with cushion shaped capitals.

The Ajanta caves are one of the UNESCO World heritage sites in INDIA.