Buddhist and Jaina Architecture in India

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Buddhist and Jaina Architecture in India

Buddhism gained promi – nence during the reign of the emperor Ashoka. It is primarily represented by three important building types – the Chaitya Hall ( place of worship ), the Vihara ( monastery ) and the Stupa ( hemispherical mound for worship / memory ) – exemplified by the magnificent caves of Ajanta and Ellora and the monumental Sanchi Stupa. The Greek influence led the Indian architecture of the time, especially the rock – cut art, to fall under one of the two categories : the Mathura school of art which was strictly Indian in spirit and did not adopt from the Greek styles, and the Gandharva school of art which incorporated influences of the Greek art. The Jaina temples are characterised by a richness of detail that can be seen in the Dilwara Temples in Mt. Abu.

Buddhist Architecture in India

The Buddhist architecture has its root deeply implanted in the Indian soil- the birthplace of the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddhist architecture began with the development of various symbols, representing aspects of the Buddha’s life ( 563 BCE – 483 BCE ). For the first time, it was the Indian emperor Ashoka, who not only established Buddhism as the state religion of his large Magadh empire, but also opted for the architectural monuments to spread Buddhism in different places. Distinctive Buddhist architectural structures and sculptures such as Stupas, Pagodas, monasteries and Caves, which have been mere spectators of different eras quietly speaks about the phases of the Buddhist stages.


Caves or grottoes are the oldest form of the Buddhist architecture. They are also known as the rock – cut monasteries, which were hewn from the cliffs and rock walls of the valleys. The Buddhist caves traces back their beginning around 100 BCE. In India, the most significant cave is Ajanta caves, near modern Aurangabad, Maharashtra. The Indian Buddhist monks carried this art of cave hewing to China, where the earliest cave temples were built in the 4th century in Dunhuang or Tun – Huang, which were further decorated with relief carvings, paintings and stone images of the Buddha or the Bodhisattvas.General Studies Question Bank CD


The Stupas holds the most important place among all the earliest Buddhist sculptures. A Stupa is a dome – shaped monument, used to house Buddhists’ relics or to commemorate significant facts of Buddhism. Though the Stupas are the most prominent sculptures throughout the world, but Myanmar or Burma is credited to have more Stupas than anywhere else. In India, the most important and well preserved site is at Sanchi, where one can find the full range of Buddhist art and architecture from the 3rd century BCE to the 12th century CE.


Pagodas are the principle form of Buddhist architecture, which are used as religious multistory Buddhist towers, erected as a memorial or shrine. They are symbols of five elements of the universe – earth, water, fire, air and ether, and along with them, the most important factor – Consciousness, which is the ultimate reality.

The early Buddhists had started using the royal symbol of ‘Pagoda’, by applying an umbrella-like structure to symbolise the Buddha, which soon took over the functions of the Stupas. In the 3rd century BCE, an Indian emperor Ashoka, who had converted to Buddhism, promoted the Pagodas by building 84,000 of them throughout India, and since then, Pagodas have been an inseparable parts of all those countries, which practice Buddhism : China, Japan, Korea, India and Southeast Asia. Myanmar houses the Mahamuni Pagoda, one of the most important pagodas in Mandalay, which has an ancient statue of the Buddha, brought there by king Bodawpaya in 1784 CE.

The Indian Pagodas, full of carvings and sculptures, are mainly pyramidical in shape and taper to apex, whereas those of China and other Asian regions are stereotypical pagodas with tiled and upward curving roofs.

Temples and Monasteries

The Buddhist temples and monasteries, found in every Buddhist country, form another distinctive example of the Buddhist architecture. The Buddhist temples in India are superb examples of the temple architecture with the most prominent one at Bodh Gaya ( Mahabodhi temple ), the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Other major Buddhist temples in India, which are fine examples of the golden Indian architecture, are at Sanchi( 450 CE ), Taxila and Sarnath. Similarly, other temples such as those at Cambodia ( the famous Angkor Wat temple ), Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and Japan presents an excellent example of the Buddhist architecture. Japan boasts of being the greatest surviving concentration of the Buddhist art and architecture in its 80,000 temples, most of which retain original features from as early as the Nara period ( 710 CE – 794 CE ).

Secondly, monasteries, a dwelling place for community of monks, presents fine example of the Buddhist architecture and charismatic Buddhist spirituality. In India, the ruins of the Nalanda monastic university and the ancient monasteries at Sarnath, whose ruins are still present along with some of the latest ones, still depicts the golden past of Buddhism and developed architectural style in India. The Tibetan, Japanese and Chinese monasteries along with others presents a very distinctive style of architecture with splendid use of colour and ornamentation. The use of images, paintings, thangkas and mandalas in these monasteries produces rich iconography not only architecturally, but artistically as well. General Studies Question Bank CD

Jain Architecture in India

Jain architecture in India is found in Jain temples of states like Karnataka, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Mount Abu is considered as the finest specimens of Jain architecture. Jain architecture has an origin in its own style which is considered as more Turanian. The main feature of Jain buildings is the horizontal archway. The bracket form of capital was also introduced in Jaina buildings for the first time in Indian architecture.

The Aiwalli temple in Dharwar, in Western India has the ground plan of the Jain temples. This is identical with the ground – plan of the structural chaitya at Sanchi Stupa. Jain temple covers an image to which the worshippers must have access. There is a thickening of the apsis wall in order to carry the tower that marks the position of the image. The neighbouring Jain temple at Pittadkul which was built two centuries later, it is seen that the cell has become the base of a square tower. The nave of the chaitya has become a well – defined porch but distinct from the cell and these two features are the essential elements of the plans of Jaina temples of subsequent years.

Jain Architecture in North India

The sikra or tower or the vimana is a common to both Jaina and Hindu architecture in Northern India. The image in a Jain temple is always placed in a square cell and receives its light only from the doorway. It seems to be a rule that the presence and position of the main idol should be indicated externally by a tower and should have a curved outline.

The upper part of sikra overhangs the base and bends inwards toward the top is surmounted by a melon-shaped thing called the amalika. The northern Jaina style is seen at Palatina and Girnar, in Gujarat and at Mount Abu and at Parswanath in the highest point of Bengal range of hills to the south of Rajmahal. There are ruins of Jain temples at Gwalior, at Khajuraho, at Gyraspore, near Bhilsa, in Central India, at Amwah, near Ajanta and at Chittor, in Rajputana, where the noble nine – storeyed pagoda was erected as a jaya stambha to commemorate the victory of the Rajput raja Khambo over Mahmud of Malwa. Another Jain structure can be found at The Indra cave at Ellora which was built A.D. 750. Examples of Modern Jaina temples are visible at Sonaghur, in Bandelkhand at Delhi and at Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

Jain Architecture in South India

Jain Architecture in South India in Southern India is divided into bettus and bastis. The bettus contain images of Gomata Raja. Bastis are ordinary Jaina temples dedicated to the Tirthankars and those at Shravanabelagola are best specimens of Jaina architecture in India. They are of the Dravidian style and the towers are surmounted with a small dome. Jaina temple is always twelve pillared here.

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