Evolution of Buddhist architecture

Evolution of Buddhist architecture

Question:-Stupas, viharas and chaityas were built for religious purposes, however soon they took shape of elaborate architecture with embellishments. Explain each of these with their evolution with time and their significance in Buddhist architecture.

Rise of Buddhism in ancient India gave rise to a distinct type of architecture of which the viharas, chaityas and stupas were the important architectural features. These evolved with time and also were modified and changed as per requirement.


- The dome shaped structure was relatively simple in the initial stages. These were built on the relics of the Buddha and other revered monks.

- In the later times, the domes came to be more ornamented and were characterized by gateways with huge toranas with various sculptures.

- There were panels depicting stories from the Buddha's life along with the circumambulatory path and the harmika crowning the stupa.

- The most important and well known stupas come from Bahrut, Sanchi, Nagarjunakonda and Sarnath.

- It is perhaps only in Buddhism that a particular structure has been recommended by its founder for worship and salvation, for the Stupa enables the worshiper to not only think of the Buddha as an imminent reality but also epitomizes his enlightenment and nirvana.

- In this way the Buddhist Stupa transcends its predecessor, the burial mound or tumulus, by shifting the emphasis from a particular relic to a higher transcendental actuality as realized by the Buddha, i.e. the Buddha's attainment and the worshiper's goal.


- The viharas served as monasteries for the monks to reside. The rectangular hall had small cells on either sides with a circular chamber in the centre of the hall which housed the relics or even the image of the Buddha.

- These viharas could be either rock cut set in caves or even structured. Ultimately some of the most important viharas transformed into universities like Nalanda and Takshashila.


- Chaityas were prayer halls used by monks for various spiritual and religious purposes.

- These were rectangular shaped halls consisting of many pillars and often enclosed a stupa or an image of Buddha.

- Chaityas were carved either as rectangular halls with an apsidal vault-roof.

- The chaitya halls embodied the same metaphysical symbolism that was attached to the stupa form. One of the reasons, according to Stierlin, for the preference given to rock-hewn monuments was: "the stupa, in its meaning as cosmic egg, could be represented directly in the 'primeval matter', stone, in the dark depths of a subterranean chamber, without the substance of the anda having to be transported or reconstructed by human hand."

- The chaitya hall itself was thought of as a universe in a microcosm, with the entrance arch as a doorway to the world. But as rock-cut chaitya halls became more popular, the stupa began to lose its original meaning and became merely symbolic.
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  • RE: Evolution of Buddhist architecture -Mohan (05/07/15)
  • Thanks man