The various objects of Buddhist architecture may be catalogued as consisting of :—1. Stûpas or Topes; 2. Ornamental Rails, which however are found only in connexion with stûpas, pillars, sacred trees, and temples; 3. Stambhas or Lâts; 4. Chaitya-halls or temples; 5. Vihâras or monasteries (including Bhikshu-gṛihas or hermitages); and 6. Poṅḍhis or cisterns.

1. Stûpa, from a root meaning “to heap,” “to erect,” is applied to any pile or mound, as to a funeral pile, hence it comes to be applied to a Tumulus erected over any of the sacred relics of Buddha, or on spots consecrated as the scenes of his acts. Such were the Stûpas erected by Aśoka all over northern India, and the great Dâgobas raised in Ceylon in early times.1 But not only for Buddha himself, but also for the Sthaviras or Thêros,—the elders of the Buddhist religion, were stûpas erected; and, in later times, probably for even ordinary monks. Moreover, when the relics of Buddha became objects of worship, as they did even before the time of Aśoka, it became necessary that they should be exhibited in some way to the congregation, on some sort of altar or receptacle called a dhâtugarbha or dhâtugopa, abbreviated into Dâgaba or Dâgoba and Dâgopa.2 Stûpa has been corrupted into the Anglo-Indian word “Tope,” which is generally applied to such of those monuments as are structural and outside caves,—as Dâgoba usually denotes those in caves or attached to them, and hewn out of the solid rock.3

2. Ornamental rails. Though from their nature of difficult application to Caves, and comparatively of little importance in their architecture, ornamental rails4 are among the most original and important features of the earliest Buddhist architecture that have come down to our times; and on them in some cases the most elaborate sculpture was lavished. They were employed round the sacred trees, stûpas, pillars, and occasionally round temples. The smaller ones, however, have so far as we know all disappeared, and it is only some of those round the stûpas that have come down to our time. The most remarkable are those of Bharhut, Sânchi, and Amrâvati, and the rectangular one at Buddha Gayâ,—perhaps originally enclosing a temple. In the cave temples examples are hardly to be looked for, yet a form of them does occur in the caves of the Ândhra dynasty, as at the great Chaitya Cave at Kâṇhêri, and at Nâsik. The simplest form of rail consists of square pillars set at little more than their own breadth apart, and joined by three thin broad bars rounded on the sides and placed near to one another and to the head rail which joins the tops of the pillars. In more ornamental examples the pillars are carved with a circular disc in the centre, and semi-circular ones at the top and bottom, usually carved with rosettes, but sometimes with animals, &c., and the interspaces chamfered. This is well exemplified in the rail round Tope No.2 at Sanchi (Woodcut No. 42). Mr. Fergusson remarks that “the circular discs may be taken as representing a great nail meant to keep the centre bar in its place in the original carpentry forms; the half discs, top and bottom, as metal plates to strengthen the junctions—and this, it seems, most probably, may really have been the origin of these features.”

In other rails a disc is also added on each bar, and the head rail carved with festoons. Copies of such rails are also employed as friezes, and the member under it is then sometimes carved with a line of animal figures in festoons. (See Plate XXII.)

3. Stambhas or Lâts are pillars, usually erected in front of a temple, whether Śaiva, Vaishṇava, Jaina, or Bauddha, and carrying one or more of the symbols of the religion to which it was dedicated; the Buddhist Stambhas bearing the wheel representative of Dharma or the law, or Lions. The Śaiva ones bear a triśula or trident; the Vaishṇava a figure of Garuḍa; the Jaina a Chaumukha or fourfold Tirthaṅikara. Some of the finest Buddhist Lâts, erected by Aśoka, are not apparently in connexion with any temple, but bear his edicts or other inscriptions; they may, however, have been erected in connexion with wooden or brick buildings which have disappeared ages ago.

4. Chaityas. Like Stûpa, the word Chaitya is also derived from a root (chitâ) signifying “a funeral pile,” “heap,” and hence means “a monument” and “an altar,” and in a secondary sense it is used by Jains and Buddhists to indicate “a temple containing a Chaitya”. In Nepal and Tibet, and in Buddhist Sanskrit literature, the word is applied to the model of a stûpa placed in the temples and to which we have applied the term Dâgoba. These Chaityas or Dâgobas are an essential feature of chapels or temples constructed solely for purposes of worship and which may therefore be appropriately called Chaitya-Caves. Such temples never have cells for residence in their side walls. One or more of them is usually attached to every set of Buddhist caves. Their earliest form in the rock in Western India is an oblong room, about double as long as wide, entered from one end, and with the Chaitya or dâgoba near the other. This, in some of the earliest examples, is connected with the roof, by a slender shaft representing the staff of the umbrella or chhatri, the flat canopy of which is carved upon the roof. Sometimes this is omitted, and the thin flat members which form the capital are attached to the roof. The end of the chamber behind the dâgoba was at first square, but very early came to be cut in the form of a semi-circular apse, leaving a pradakshiṇâ or passage for the circumambulation of the Chaitya. The flat roof, however, was early replaced by a semicircular one, and then a side aisle was cut quite round, separated from the central nave by a row of plain octagonal shafts arranged close together, while the Dâgoba was left to stand free, surmounted by an umbrella (or three of them) in carved wood and sometimes in stone. This last plan seems to have fully met the requirements of the worship, for, with the addition only of more ornamentation, it continues down to the latest example.

When this form of temple became enlarged, however, the lighting became a difficulty, for it was necessary that a strong light should be thrown on the Chaitya. To effect this, the front, instead of being left in the rock with only a large door, was cleared quite out; the façade surrounding the arched opening thus formed was ornamented with carving, in which the “Buddhist-rail” pattern, the dâgoba, and the horse-shoe arch were repeated of every size and in every variety of arrangement. The opening itself was in the oldest caves occupied by a wooden front, of which we have no example left; but its chief features, as it once existed at Kondâṇê, Bhâjâ, and Pitalkhorâ, can be easily recovered from what we still find at Ajaṇṭâ, KârIê, and Beḍsâ, where the wood is partly replaced by the rock over the doors and between them, leaving a large horse-shoe formed window above, partly screened by lattice-work, in wood. From the mortices left in the rook, we know that this once existed in all the older caves. At Kârlê the original woodwork still remains entire, and fragments of it have been found in other caves.

5. Vihâras.—These were for the accommodation of Buddhist Bhikshus, or mendicant monks living together in communities. The earliest form of vihâra or monastery cave seems to have been that of one or more (gṛihas) cells with a verandah (padaśâla) or porch in front. In many instances the cells were small; in others they consisted of two apartments, the inner having a stone bench or bed (as in several instances at Junnar). This bed is a constant feature of all the earlier cells, but disappears in those excavated after the second century after Christ. A permanent spring or stream of water close by, or a cistern (pôṅdhi) cut in the rock, usually beside or under the cell, was an indispensable accompaniment. The number of these cells at one place was often considerable.5

The next step in Western India was to introduce a square hall for assembling in, probably copied from some wooden and structural erection that existed before any rock-cut excavations were attempted, and often also used as a school: this must have been a very early accompaniment of every group of Bhikshu-gṛihas or monks' cells. At first this room perhaps had no cells, but it would soon be evident that the walls of a large hall offered special facilities for excavating cells all round it, and, for purposes of worship, a larger cell was afterwards cut out in the back wall, containing a dâgoba to serve in place of a separate chapel. At first, too, the smaller halls or śailagṛihas might have been formed without pillars to support the roof,—the tenacity of the rock being assumed to dispense with the necessity of any prop between the side walls. Afterwards, however, when the size was increased, it was found that this was unsafe, and that, owing to flaws and veins, large areas of roofing, if left unsupported, were liable to fall in. Pillars were then resorted to, as in the ordinary wooden buildings of the country, arranged either in rows running round the śâlâs or halls, separating the central square area from the aisles, or disposed in equidistant lines, as in Cave XI. at Ajaṇṭâ, and probably in the vihâra at Pitalkhorâ.

Little sculpture was at first employed in any of the caves; but in later examples the pillars came to be elaborately carved; and, though Buddha did not preach idol-worship, in course of time the plain dâgoba ceased to satisfy the worshippers of certain sects, and the shrine came to be almost invariably occupied by an image of Buddha seated on a sort of throne, called a Siṅhâsana, or ‘lion-seat,’ because the ends of it rested on lions carved in bas-relief,—and usually with an attendant on each hand bearing a chauri or fly-flap. Eventually this representation came to be repeated in all parts of the caves; while in still later times, when the Mahâyâṇa sect became popular and influential, other beings were associated with him, first as attendants, and then as distinct and separate objects of adoration. Such were the Indras, Bodhisattwas, Padmapâni, and Manjuśri.

This idolatry appears at first sight quite antagonistic to the principles taught by their great sage, for, having entered Nirvâṇa, or perfect quiescence, he can no more hear or be in any way influenced by the worship of his followers. But they hold that this does not detract from the efficacy of the service, for the act is in itself an opus operatum, and that as the seed germinates when it is put into the earth without any consciousness on the part of the elements relative to the vivifying influence they exercise, so does merit arise from the worship of the images of Buddha, though the being they represent is unconscious of the deed. And this merit is, in like manner, spontaneously and without the intervention of any intelligent agent, productive of prosperity and peace. For the same reason they worship the bodhi or bo tree, under which he attained to Buddhahood, and the relics of the sage and of his disciples, enshrined in dâgobas, &c.

In the Vihâra-caves there is frequently in front of the shrine an antechamber forming the approach to it, and with two pillars and corresponding pilasters separating it from the great hall. All the Vihâras have a verandah, or padásâla, as it is termed, in front, frequently with cells or chapels opening from the ends of it; and some are of two and three storeys.6

6. Pôṅḍhîs or cisterns are almost invariable accompaniments of mendicants' houses and Vihâras, and are cut in the rock, usually near or at the entrance, and often extending partly under the caves. The water was brought to them by numerous small runnels cut in the rock, by which it was carried over the façade of the cave and otherwise collected from the face of the hill in which the excavations occur. The entrance to the cistern is usually by a square opening7 in the floor of a small recess; and on the back wall of this recess, or on the face of the rook over it, is frequently an inscription. Sometimes, but seldom, the jambs of the recess are carved with pilasters.

In addition to the foregoing may be quoted the Images of Buddha found in so many of the Western Buddhist Caves, but perhaps in none earlier than the fourth or fifth century. These images8 when found in the shrines are always represented as seated, though oftentimes attended by standing figures bearing fly-flaps. The seated figures are distinguished by Buddhists according to the position of the hands. The most usual attitude of the great teacher is that in which he is represented as seated on a throne, the corners of which are upheld by two lions, with his feet on a lotus blossom and his hands in front of his breast holding the little finger of the left hand between the thumb and forefinger of the right. This is known as the Dharmachakra mudrâ, or attitude of “turning the wheel of the law,” that is of teaching. He is also sometimes represented standing, or with his legs doubled up under him and his hands in this mudrâ or attitude.

The next most common attitude of Buddha is that in which the Jaina Tîrthaṅkaras are always represented, viz., with their legs doubled under them in a squatting attitude, and the hands laid one on the other over the feet with the palms turned upwards. This position of meditative absorption is called the Jñâna or Dhyâna mudrâ. A third attitude in which he is sometimes represented, as when under the Bodhi tree, where he is said to have attained to Buddha-hood, is called the Vajrâsana or Bhûmisparśa mûdra, when the left hand lies on the upturned soles of the feet, and the right resting over the knee, points to the earth. He is also figured on the walls standing with the right hand uplifted in the attitude of blessing, or with the alms bowl of the Bhikshu or mendicant, or, lastly, resting on his right side with the head to the north, in the attitude he is said to have lain at his death or Nirvâṇa. Behind the head is often represented a nimbus (Bhâmandala), or aureole, as in mediæval figures of the saints. This occurs in the earliest sculptured and painted figures of Buddha, probably as early as the third century and possibly even earlier.

On each side the principal image we usually find attendants, standing with chaurîs or fly flaps in their hands. These are varied in different sculptures; in some they are Śakras or Indras with high regal headdresses; in others Padmapâṇi9 holding a lotus by the stalk is on one side, his hair in the jâtâ or headdress of a Bhikshu, and Manjuśrî or Vajrapâṇi,—another Bodhisattwa, on the other.10

On the front of the seat, when the feet are turned up, is usually sculptured a wheel (chakra) turned “edgewise” to the spectator with a deer couchant on each side of it, and sometimes behind the deer are a number of kneeling worshippers on each side (Plate XXXV.) In more modern reliefs Buddha is often represented seated on a lotus, the stalk of which is upheld by Nâgâ figures—people whose heads are canopied by the hoods, usually five, of a cobra.

To what has already been said respecting Buddhism generally, it may here be added that the Buddhists are divided into two sects, the Hinâyâna and Mahâyâna or of the Lesser and Greater Vehicle. The original or Puritan Buddhists belong to the Hinâyâna or Lesser Vehicle, whose religion consisted in the practice of morality and a few simple ceremonial observances. The thirteenth11 patriarch, Nâgârjuna, a native of Berar, who lived 400, or according to others, 500 years12 after Buddha, and shortly before the time of Kanishka,13 was the founder of the new school of the Mahâyâna, which soon became very popular in the Dekhan; it taught an abstruse mystical theology which speedily developed a mythology in which Buddha was pushed into the background by female personifications of Dharma or the Prajnâ Pâramitâ, and other goddesses or śaktis, by Jñânatmaka Buddhas, or forms of the senses, &c. From all this, as might be expected, we find a very considerable difference between the sculptures of the cave temples of the earlier and later periods of Buddhism. This does not, however, become very early marked, and it is only after the fifth century that we have any very decidedly Mahâyânist sculptures—as in the later caves at Ajaṇṭa, Elurâ, Aurangabad, and in one cave at Nâsik.

As already stated, the earlier temples in the West are the plainest in style. The Chaitya Caves are sculptured indeed on their façades, but the ornaments consist almost solely of the “rail pattern” and models of the horse-shoe arch which formed the front of the temple; human figures are rarely introduced. The sculpture, however, as will be indicated below, grows more abundant and varied as we descend the stream of history, and perhaps in the century preceding the Christian era, the custom began of introducing sculptures of the kings with their wives who executed the works. In the Assembly Halls, as well as in the Chaitya-Caves, the only object of worship was the Dâgoba, to which offerings of flowers and salutations were ,made, and which was circumambulated by the worshipper repeating short prayers and mantras. The Dâgoba, be it remembered, was the emblem by which the memory of Buddha was represented, hence the step was an easy one to substitute the image of Buddha himself. But first with the dâgoba was associated in a subordinate way the siṅhastambha and chakrastambha or Lion and Wheel pillars, in front of the Chaitya-Caves. And when the image of Buddha came to be substituted in the Viháras for the Dâgoba, he was seated on a siṅhásana or Lion throne, and the Wheel was placed under the front of it. This, however, does not seem to have taken place till considerably after the Christian era. Indeed no imago of Buddha in the caves of Western India can belong to an earlier period than the fourth century; possibly some of the wall paintings may however be older. The time that separates the older from the later style may be drawn approximately at the second century, after the Christian era. Somewhere about that date, under the Ândhrabhritya dynasty whose power extended southward from the Tâptî or perhaps the Narmadâ river, probably to the northern boundary of Maisur and the Penâr river, sculptured figures and paintings began to assume great prominence in the Cave Temples.

  • 1. The origin of the domical form of all the stupas in India, has never yet been satisfactorily explained. It is not derived from an earthen tumulus, like the tombs of the Etruscans, or it would, like them, have been a straight-lined cone. Nor was it from a Dome of construction, as none such existed in India when the earliest examples were erected. It could, apparently, only be copied from such models as the tents of the Tartars or Kirghiz, which all, so far as we know, always were domical, and with a low circular drum, very like those of the Topes (see Yule's Marco Polo, vol. i., woodcuts, pp. 247, 395).—J. F.
  • 2. Turnour derives this word from dhâta, a relic, and gabban, a casket, receptacle, or shrine; Wilson (As. Res, vol. xvii. p. 605) from deha, “the body,” and gopa, “what preserves”. The Chaitya, or the form of Stûpa usually found in the Caves, consists of a short, wide cylinder or plinth, supporting a high dome, on which stands a square neck, usually carved on the four sides, surmounted by a capital consisting of a number of flat tiles, each overlapping the one below it, and on this stands the chhatri, or umbrella. The most important feature is the dome called the garbha; the neck or gala represents a box to contain a relic, and at Bhâjâ it is quite hollow; the capital or toraṇa forms the lid of this box, and served the purpose apparently of a small table or shelf, on which relics were displayed in small crystal caskets, over which hung the umbrella. In Nepal the gala is always marked with two eyes, or a face, and over the capital rises a spire called chûḍamaṇi—“the crest jewel”—of thirteen grades, typical of 13 Bhuvanas, or heavens of the Buddhists, and the palus or finial which terminates it represents the Akanishṭha Bhuvana, or highest heaven of Adi Buddha. In Burma, the finial of the spire is called Htî, aud popularly “Tee,” a term which has frequently been applied to the capital of any chaitya (see Woodcut, No. 43, page 227).
  • 3. The Dâgoba is the symbol of Buddha, just as the Tree or Lion and the Wheel are probably the symbols of the Assembly and the Law—the triratna or “three precious things” of the Bauddha creed. In some instances we find the tree apparently substituted for the Lion or Siṅha (e.g., see figs. 38, 39, Fergusson's Ind. and East. Archit. pp. 101, 102). “The Parinibhan Suttan states that Chaityas or Stûpas ‘originated’ upon the death of Gautama, when ‘eight thûpas were built over the corporeal relics, a ninth over the kumbhan, and a tenth over the charcoal of his funeral pile’ (Jour. As. Soc. Beng. vol. vii. p. 1014). And it would seem from the same Suttan that Chaityâni existed in several parts of the Madhyama deśa even during the lifetime of Gautama. The Atthakathtâ explains that the Chaityâni were not ‘Buddhistical shrines,’ but Yakkhattanâni, ‘erections for demon worship,’... Gautama himself repaired to the Chêpala Chaitya for rest, and there expatiated on its splendour, as well as that of many others (J. As. S. Beng. vol. vii. p. 1001). It was doubtless from a contemplation of the busy throng of religious enthusiasts who crowded these monuments of worship, that Gautama gave his sanction for the erection of the thûpas over his own relics and those of his disciples. Gautama's words were (Parinibhan Suttan), ‘If in respect of thûpas any should set up flowers, scents, or embellishments, or should worship (them), or should (by such means) cause their minds to be purified (pasâdessanti), such acts will conduce to their well-being and happiness... Ananda, many thinking that “this is the thûpa of the adorable, the sanctified, the omniscient, supreme Buddha,” compose their minds; and when they have caused their minds to be cleansed, they, upon the dissolution of the body after death, are born in a glorious heavenly world.’”—Alwis, Buddhism, pp. 22, 23.
  • 4. From Fergusson's Ind. and East. Archit., p. 98.
  • 5. Groups of caves are often called Lêṇâs, a word which Dr. J. Wilson derived from Sansk. layanam, “ornamentation”; but layana, “a place of rest, a house,” from the root, , “to adhere,” seems a more natural derivation, for the name of “an abode.”
  • 6. The Vihâras of Nepâl at the present day are formed with an open court in place of the hall, surrounded by cloisters of one or two storeys, with a shrine or temple at the back of two or three storeys, usually containing an image of Sâkya Muni, Dipaukara Buddha. or of Padmapâni. In the smaller side cells are images of Bodhisattwas and Dêvîs, while in the upper rooms live the priests and devotees.
  • 7. This was probably fitted with a square wooden cover to keep insects, leaves, &c. out of the water.
  • 8. The Singhalese and Chinese Buddhists have a legend that a Pilima image of Gantama was made during his lifetime by the King of Kosala. The Tibetan scriptures (Asiat. Res. vol. xx. p. 476) speak of Buddha having lectured on the advantages of laying up his image; and the Divya Avadâna of Nepal gives a story (Speir's Life in Ancient India, p. 272) of his having recommended Bimbisâra to send his portrait to Rudrayâna, King of Roruka; but all these stories are doubtless like very much besides in Buddhist literature, the invention of later times. The earliest mention of images in Ceylon is in the Mihintali inscription of 241 A.D.—Alwis, Buddhism, pp. 19, 20.
  • 9. In China Padmapâni is called Kwan-yin, and is usually, though not always, represented as a goddess—of mercy: he is the Kanon of the Japanese.
  • 10. Ânanda and Kaśyapa are frequently placed on the right and left of Buddha in Chinese temples.—Edkins, Religion in China, p. 45 .
  • 11. Vassilief, Le Bouddisme, p. 214; Lassen makes him 14th; lnd. Alt. II. 1203.
  • 12. Vassilief, p. 81 ; Jour. As. S. Beng. vol. v., pp. 530 ff.; vol xvii. pt. ii. pp. 616, 617.
  • 13. Kanishka was a king on the North-west frontier of India in the first century of the Christian era, and is said to have been converted to Buddhism by Âryaheva the pupil or Nâgârjuna. Vassilief, p. 76.