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Indian Architecture - Examples

( Originally Published 1921 )


(B.C. 250-A.D. 750)

The monuments can be divided into :—1. Stambhas or Lats. 2. Topes or Stupas. 3. Rails. 4. Chaityas. 5. Viharas.

1. Stambhas or Lats.—The Lat, Allahabad (B.C. 250), is the best-known of these columns, which were carved with inscriptions and crowned with emblems, such as the elephant and lion, often reminiscent of Persepolitan architecture (p. 57).

2. Topes or Stupas (Sanskrit, sthupa = a mound).—The Bhilsa Topes north of the Nerbudda River form the principal group of these mounds, erected to give importance to some sacred spot. The Sanchi Tope (c. B.C. 150) (p. 791 B), the best-known of this group, is raised on a platform 14 ft. high surrounded by proCessional paths with railing and four gateways, and is a solid mound of brickwork 106 ft. in diameter, 42 ft. high, faced in stone and cement and crowned by a " tee " or relic-casket. An excellent model is in the Indian Museum, South Kensington.

There are other groups at Samath (near Benares), Buddh-Gaya, and Amaravati (portions in the British and Indian Museums). When the mound contained a sacred relic it was known as a " dagoba."

3. Rails.—The Rail of the Sanchi Tope (p. 791 B, 792 A, E), like many others which formed enclosures to topes, clearly indicates a timber origin, and was elaborately carved. The gateways in this rail (p. 792 A) are 35 ft. high and 30 ft. wide, and are covered with symbolic sculpture of historic interest, which tell the life-story of Buddha and illustrate the worship of relics and trees, besides giving a record of the law and depicting battle scenes. These rail gateways, of which there is a full-size reproduction in the Indian Museum, are the prototypes of numberless Chinese pai-lous".

4. Chaityas or Temples.—The Chaityas at Bhaja (B.C. 250), Nasik (B.C. 129), Karli, Ellora, Ajanta (p. 795 B), and Elephanta (p. 791 A) form parts of the principal groups, hewn in the face of the Western Ghats east of Bombay. They date from B.C. 250 to A.D. 750, and recall the rock-cut tombs of, Upper Egypt (p. 26) ; as they are all excavated out of the solid rock they present only one external facade. The normal plan is like that of a three-aisled cathedral with semicircular apse, containing the shrine at the end farthest froth the entrance. The roofs are hewn to a semicircular form, with ribs resembling timber-work. In many the frontal screen was of wood, with an opening of horseshoe form through which the only light was admitted.

The Chaitya, Karli (B.C. 78) (p. 795 A), which resembles the choir of Norwich Cathedral in general arrangement and dimensions, is 126 ft. long, 45 ft. wide, and 45 ft. high, and the columns separating nave and aisles are octagonal with elephant capitals to support the circular roof.

5. Viharas or Monasteries.—The Monasteries, Gandhara (North-West India), opened out by General Cunningham, are in some instances structural in character and are probably of the fourth century of our era, some containing courts for shrines. Others are in proximity to chaityas, and are rock-cut with a central square space, with or without columns, surrounded by priests' chambers, while there is occasionally a sanctuary for the shrine. The details of the Gandhara Monasteries show Greek and Byzantine influence in the acanthus leaf (p. 105 D), the Byzantine cubiform capital (p. 240), and the Corinthian capital. In Ceylon there are numerous remains of topes, chaityas, and viharas, principally at Pollonarua and Anuradhapura, which was the capital from B.C. 400 to A.D. 769.


Mount Abu (p. 797 C) with a fine group of temples, Palitana (p. 797 A), Girnar (in the Gujerat district), Parasnath, Gwalior (p. 796 B), and Khajuraho, possess the principal monuments in Northern India.

The Dilwarra Temple, Mount Abu (A.D. 1032) (p. 796 A, 797 B), erected by Vimala Sah, is one of two important temples in white marble on this granite plateau, which is interspersed with luxuriant vegetation, 5,000 ft. above the sea. It has a splendid portico-hall with columns crowned by bracket capitals (p. 796 A), from which raking marble struts appear to support the architrave, and the interior of the dome is sculptured with concentric rings of ornament, with sixteen statues at the base and a richly carved pendant in the centre, recalling those at Caudebec (Normandy) or in Henry the Seventh's Chapel, Westminster. This exquisitely carved gem is but one of the wonderful series of temples and shrines erected by the wealthy sect of Jains in the sacred seclusion of Mount Abu.

The Temple, Ranpur (A.D. 1439), near Sadari on the side of the Aravulli Mountains, is perhaps the most complete of all Jaina monuments. It stands on a lofty substructure some 200 ft. square, and is surrounded by a range of eighty-six cells, each crowned with a " sikra " or pyramidal roof. There are five shrines, one central with a quadruple image of Adinath, and one in each angle, and four open courts for the admission of light. Twenty domes, 21 ft. in diameter, supported on over 400 columns, are placed symmetrically in groups of five round these angle shrines. The central dome of each group is three storeys in height and 36 ft. in diameter, and is formed, as usual, of stone in horizontal courses. The interior resembles a woven architectural web of great beauty of design and delicacy of detail ; there are endless vistas of many columns, light and shade from open court and covered colonnades, variation of grouped domes, and a multiplicity of image cells—all intricately connected one with another by corridors laden with delicate sculpture. The external appearance, with domes of different heights and many pointed " sikras," is rich and varied in character with the rose quartz mountains as a back-ground.

In Southern India there is another type of Jaina temples known as " bettas," consisting of open courtyards containing immense statues, sometimes cut out of the solid rock, as the statue, 6o ft. in height, at Stravana Belgola.


(a) NORTHERN HINDU (A.D. 600 to the present time).

The Temples, Orissa (A.D. 800-1200), on the east coast, form a remark able series of these Hindu monuments, which display the chief characteristics of the style. The normal type of temple is square on plan ; the "vimana" has a curved pyramidal roof, the porch is without columns and is crowned with stepped roof, while other chambers were sometimes added. Each facade has rectangular projections in the centre, which increased so much in depth, as the style developed, that they formed the points of a square ; but the large enclosures and gateways, typical of the Dravidian temples, are absent.

The Great Temple, Bhuvaneswar, dating probably from the ninth century with later additions, is one of some hundreds to be found in this ancient city, and is often quoted as the, finest of Hindu temples. Originally it had only a "vimana " and porch, to which in later times a dancing-hall and refectory were added. Its chief glory lies in the devotional labour lavished by the Hindus on the delicate carving of every separate stone, not only in the interior, but on the facades and pyramidal roof of the " vimana " ; which is practically a square tower curved inwards towards the top to support a melon-like ornament and finial. Multiplicity of detail and minuteness of features make the building seem of imposing dimensions.

The Black Pagoda, Kanarak (ninth century) (p. 792 C, D), really a sun-temple, is another example in Orissa. It is typical of the construction of Hindu temples, with two chambers, of which the beautiful porch, with its three-storeyed roof, alone remains. The cell is, as usual, square on plan, and its position is indicated externally by a tower or "sikra " bending inwards towards the summit and surmounted by a massive circular coping stone bearing a vase.

The Temple of Juganat, Puri (A.D. 1174), is world-famous, and of immense size, with four chambers and a double enclosure about 65o ft. square, surrounded by a wall 20 ft. high with four gateways, but is artistically inferior to the older temples.

The Temple of Papanatha, Pattadakal (A.D. 700), in Dharwar on the west coast, was influenced by Dravidian architecture, with pillared porch opening into a large hall of sixteen columns, which gives access to the shrine beyond.

The Temple, Chandravati (ninth century), in Rajputana, beautiful in design and of exquisite craftsmanship, is one of the earliest temples in this style.

The Temple, Baroli (ninth century) (p. 802 C), although in ruins, is of dainty proportions, and has a columned porch with magnificently sculptured roof, while in front is a detached nuptial hall.

The Temple, Udaipur, in Gwalior, dates from the eleventh century and is still in a very perfect state, with low pyramidal stepped roof over the porch and a lofty tower, with a multiplicity of delicate carvings.

The Temple of Kandarya Mahadeo, Khajuraho (p. 802 D), is the most important of a group of thirty temples (A.D. 950). It has the usual two chambers raised on a well-proportioned stylobate, and has three rows of sculptured figures half life-size, nearly one thousand in number. The " sikra " is enriched by sculptured reproductions of itself in miniature, which is a favourite method in this style.

Modern monuments are found in Kantonugger (A.D. 1704), Amritzar (A.D. 1766), the sacred metropolis of the Sikhs, and in Gwalior.

Civil Architecture.—Palaces, cenotaphs, and ghats abound. The ghats, or landing-places, lining the great rivers, such as the Ganges, are used by the Hindus as bathing-places, and have long ranges of steps terminated by kiosks and backed by shelters and temples.


The Temple, Umber (p. 798 A), like many other temples of this style, is distinguished by terraces, 3 or 4 ft. high, on which it stands, and has the star-shaped "vimana " and the straight-sided roof-cone, in richly carved steps, surmounted by the typical vase ornament.

The Temple, Hullabid (A.D. 1224) (p. 798 B), consists of unfinished twin temples standing side by side on a terrace 5 ft. high, with detached pillared porches, each as a shrine for an idol. The walls are rich in sculpture and have friezes 700 ft. long, carved with numerous representations of elephants, lions, horsemen, birds, and bas-reliefs of scenes representing the conquest of Ceylon, while the window openings have pierced marble slabs of elaborate design.

The Temples at Somnathpur (A.D. 1043) and Baillur (A.D. 1114) (p. 792 J) are other well-known buildings in the province of Mysore.


The " Raths " at Mahavellipore (near Madras) and Ellora (A.D. 750–950) (p. 801 A) are actually rock-cut temples, but differ from other rock-cut examples in that they are free-standing, with the surrounding rock cut away so that all external facades are exposed. The normal type, as in the Jaina temples, has a square " vimana" or image-shrine, crowned by a many-storeyed pyramidal roof with a " mantapa " or entrance porch (p. 802 B). In connection with the temples are " choultries " or halls of 1000 columns, " gopuras " or gate pyramids (p. 802 A) to the enclosures round the shrines, and sacred lakes or water tanks, with flights of steps, all grouped together with little regard for symmetry, and enclosed by a high wall as in Egyptian temples.

The Temple, Tanjore (fourteenth century), with its thirteen-storeyed "sikra" (p. 801 B) ; the Temple, Madura (A.D 1623), with its celebrated " gopura" (p. 802 A) and " choultrie," 333 ft. by 105 ft., and columns with life-sized sculptural figures attached ; the Temple, Seringham (seventeenth century) (p. 792 F), with its fifteen great "gopuras" ; the Temple, Tinnevelly, with its double temple and hall of i,000 columns, and the temples at Conjeveram, Vellore (A.D. 1350) (p. 792 K), Tarputry (p. 802 B), and Chidambaram (seventeenth century) are the best-known monuments.

In further India, Burma, Siam, Java, and Cambodia there are temples, monasteries, and pagodas of great size and importance.

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