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Indian Architecture - Comparative Analysis

( Originally Published 1921 )

A. Plans.

Buddhist. — The remains of Buddhist " chaityas" show that these temples were hewn out of the rock with only one external facade. In plan they resemble Christian cathedrals with three aisles formed by two rows of piers or columns ; while the sanctuary around which the aisle is carried is semicircular. The "viharas " (monasteries) are also rock-cut, and generally consist of a central hall surrounded on three sides by cells for the priests. Sometimes there are columns in the central space to support the rock overhead, and in the larger " viharas " the sanctuary is a special apartment with a screen of columns, as at Nasik.

Jaina.-Temples owe much to picturesque grouping on hill-sides or in wooded valleys. They consist of a square cell for the image of the Jina, roofed with a high curvilinear pyramidal tower or " sikra." In front is a pillared portico with pointed dome supported on eight pillars forming an octagon which was brought to a square by adding four angle columns (p. 792 B), and further columns make the structure externally cruciform on plan. The planning of the dome, on an octagonal base makes the width of nave to aisles in the proportion of o to 7, a some-what similar treatment adopted in the successful interior of S. Stephen, Walbrook, London (p. 725). The larger temples stand in a great open court surrounded by numerous cells, which at Girnar number seventy, each containing a cross-legged statue of the Jina to whom the temple is dedicated.

Hindu (or Brahman).—Hindu temples are similar in plan to Jaina temples, but with local differences ; Dravidian temples, for instance, have in addition characteristic " choultries " or " halls of 1,000 columns," and the surrounding wall generally encloses sacred lakes or water tanks, while Chalukyan temples are usually star-shaped on plan.

B. Walls.

Wall construction and treatment is very similar in Buddhist, Jaina, and Hindu buildings. The material is principally massive blocks of granite, stone, or marble, sometimes laid without mortar. Plain wall surfaces seem to have been avoided, and the characteristic Eastern treatment of the whole surface of walls with sculpture is employed in all three styles (see Ornament, p. 804). The " gopuras" or gate pyramids of the Dravidian style (p. 802 A) resemble, in their massiveness, the pylons of Egyptian temples (p. 28 B).

C. Openings.

Buddhist.—The gateways of the Sanchi Tope (pp. 791 B, 792 A) are special and peculiar features of this style. In rock-cut facades a horse-shoe arch forms one great eye as the only opening for light (p. 795 B). Within this arch an open decorated wooden screen moderated the glare of the Eastern sun. This single beam of subdued light is thrown from behind the worshippers on to the shrine, and produces an impressive effect of light and shade among the surrounding close-set columns (p. 795 A) .

Jaina.—Openings are normally square-headed. In pillared porches stone architraves rest on bracket capitals, and a characteristic Eastern effect was produced by stone struts, evidently derived from a timber form (pp. 792 B, 796 A), and occasionally filled in with ornament to form a triangular-headed opening (p. 797 A). An extension of the bracket capital is sometimes applied to wall openings, lintels being supported by brackets built out in horizontal courses.

Hindu. — Flat-headed openings are usual, but variations in roofs are made by the use of brackets supporting purlins of stone on which other brackets were placed, thus gradually reducing the span so that stone slabs could roof over the apartment, as at the Dravidian temple at Chidambaram. Chalukyan buildings have pierced window slabs, as at Baillur and Hullabid in star-shaped patterns, ornamented with foliage or with mythological subjects (p. 798 B). These pierced slabs are very distinctive of this style, though somewhat similar to Byzantine and Saracenic treatment.

D. Roofs.

Buddhist—The early rock-cut " chaityas " have semicircular roofs excavated in the rock with stone imitations of wooden ribs (p. 795).

Jaina.—The " sikra over the idol-cell was formed of stone slabs in horizontal courses ; its external curved outline was probably produced by following the internal pointed dome, and the apex was crowned by a melon-like ornament and finial (p. 797 A). The roofs of Jaina porches are of two types :—(I) A roof of flat slabs which was evolved from the simple square slab of stone resting on architraves supported by four columns. Larger spaces were roofed by introducing courses of triangular slabs at the four angles to support the square slabs (p. 792 B). Still larger spaces were roofed by the addition of two extra columns on each side to support the longer architrave, making twelve columns to the compartment, of which the intermediate columns form an octagon. (2) The Jaina dome, which seldom exceeds 30 ft. in diameter, is formed in horizontal courses (cf. the Treasury of Atreus, Mycenae;, p. 70 A), and is pointed or conical in section (p. 792 D) so that a single stone can crown the top. When covering an octagonal plan, the circular cornice from which the dome springs is supported by struts from the capitals of the columns forming the octagon beneath, instead of by pendentives, as in the Byzantine style. The use of ornamental struts gives an appearance of strength to the architrave, but their constructive value is doubtful (p. 792 B, 796 A). Decoration in concentric rings followed the horizontal lines of the construction and a top stone formed a pendant.

Hindu.—Dravidian temples have roofs over the "vimana" of the storeyed pyramidal type (p. 801 B), normally carried to a considerable height and carved with miniature representations of itself in each well-defined storey. Chalukyan towers are either of the storeyed Dravidian type and follow the curvilinear outline of the Northern Hindu temples or are in the form of a straight-sided stepped cone.

E. Columns.

Buddhist.—Indian columns are most characteristic and are unlike those in any other style. The origin of their form is unknown, but it seems certain that they had a timber prototype. There was no standardised system of recognised types as in Greece or Rome (p. 116). The shaft is as much ornamented as capital and base (p. 792 K), and the characteristic bracket capital (p. 792 B, H) takes a variety of forms. Buddhist columns are often octagonal (p. 795 A). In the great rock-cut Chaityas at Karli and Bedsa they are stumpy and so closely set as to screen the rock-wall behind. They gave the necessary light and shade to the interior, as did the columns to the exterior of a windowless Greek temple. The numerous forms of capitals, resembling in certain instances those of Assyria and Persepolis, are bewildering. Sculptured lions, horses, or elephants supporting men, women, and the " chakra " or Buddhist wheel occur, as at Bedsa ; while at Elephanta, torus or Dutch-cheese mouldings, ornamented with palm leaves, are found under capitals of a coarse Roman Doric type (p. 791). In north-west India, in the Gandhara district, Greek or Byzantine influence produced capitals with delicate acanthus-leaf carvings.

Jaina.—Columns are much used and exhibit great variety of design, and capitals are of the " bracket" type, probably derived from a timber original. Sometimes, as at Mount Abu, they are even superimposed, the upper supporting an architrave which is further upheld in the centre by stone struts resting on the lower capital (pp. 796 A, 797 B).

Hindu.—The Northern Hindu Column at Baroli (p. 802 C), with its sculptured shaft reminiscent of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (p. 103 C), has evidently lost its bracket capital, and, with a companion column on the right, formerly supported a " toran " or archway. In Dravidian " choultries " there was great scope for the inventiveness of the Hindu craftsman. Capitals are of the " bracket " type, and in some instances not more than two columns in a building are alike. Some, as at Madura or Seringham, have life-size figures of saints or Yalis (weird lion-like monsters) attached to them (p. 792 F), forming a contrast to Greek caryatids (p. 123 ). In other cases there are compound piers formed of one sturdy and one slight column (p. 792 K).

F. Mouldings.

In all three styles mouldings are normally of a bulbous, swelling outline and often lack refinement. A form made by overlapping rectangular slabs is frequently used in the bases and capitals of columns and " dagobas " (shrines). In other instances, as at Bedsa, a semicircular open-work moulding, recalling basket-work, is employed. The torus is used, and the double-convex shape, into which the cross-pieces of the " rails " are cut, forms deep horizontal bands of ornament and takes the place of mouldings proper (p. 792 E).

G. Ornament.

Sculpture is carried out in all three styles with a profusion unknown in other countries, and is executed principally in hard stone ; having little plain wall surface as a frame, it forms a monument of patient labour, perhaps unequalled. Sculpture is indeed so bound up with the peoples' religion and mythology, of which it forms the mirror, that the two cannot be considered separately. In Jaina architecture, each of the twenty-four Jinas (p. 787) had a distinctive sign, which was utilised by the sculptors. The trident, shield and " chakra " (or wheel), the " rail " ornament, copied from the Sanchi Tope (p. 792 E), and imitations of window fronts and facades are also repeated on the fronts of the early chaityas, as at Bedsa, Nasik, and elsewhere. Most characteristic are the repetitions on a facade or tower of numerous miniature carved representations of itself—a mode of decoration also used in Assyria—and the remains often enable a fanciful restoration to be made. Painted frescoes were employed, as at Ajanta, where the walls of the cave were left plain for the purpose. The evolution of the sculptured umbrella-shaped " tee " surmounting the " dagoba " is interesting as the prototype of the nine-storeyed pagodas of China. On the Gateways at Sanchi (of which there is a plaster copy in the Indian Museum, South Kensington) are represented legendary events from the life and religion of Buddha, the worship of trees and relics as well as war-like scenes (pp. 791 B, 792 A). The three, five, or seven-headed Naga or serpent is frequently introduced ; while horses, lions, " hansas " (sacred geese) form favourite subjects, in striking contrast to the motifs of Mahometan sculpture (p. 831).

The Indian Museum, South Kensington, possesses a valuable collection of portions of original buildings and models of temples, monuments, and houses.

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