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Buddhist Architecture

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The beginnings of the Buddhist school of architecture can be traced back to B.C. 255 when the Mauryan emperor Asoka established Buddhism as the state Religion of his large empire. Buddhism spread rapidly throughout India and other parts of Asia. Buddhism was, as it were, a graphic Creed, and correspondingly its expansion was accompanied by a distinctive style of architecture that expressed the teachings of The Buddha. In India this early Buddhist Art was influenced to a large extent by Asoka. He was responsible for the construction of several Stupas, which are sacred mounds of brick commemorative of The Buddha. Asoka also constructed stone pillars symbolizing his Creed. These were lofty free-standing monolithic columns erected on sacred sites. The most famous of these is at Sarnath.

The Mauryan dynasty crumbled after Asoka's Death in 232 B.C; in its wake came the Sungas, who in turn were succeeded by the Andhras. Both these Brahmanical dynasties treated the Buddhists with toleration. The initial steps of the new architectural movement involved enlarging Asoka's Stupas. For instance, the Stupa at Sanchi was enlarged to nearly twice its size and elaborate gateways were added.

At about the same Time that the Buddhist communities were elaborating Asoka's Stupas, an entirely different Form of architecture was developing in western India. These structures were not, however, built of stone or wood, but carved out of living rock. It is therefore unfortunate that these structures are now referred to as "Caves", as though they were natural grottoes in the mountainside, since they are actually large and well planned temples. Some of the finest specimens of this rock cut architecture are to be seen at Ajanta.

Under the reign of the 8th century ruler Lalitaditya, the central Kashmir valley became an important artistic site. A magnificent Surya temple was constructed at Martand. Though now ruined, this remains the masterpiece of Kashmiri architecture. Mahayana Buddhism flourished in the arid valleys of Ladakh, beyond the first high range of the Himalayas. The Monasteries at Alchi, dating from the 11th century, have beautiful paintings depicting the Mahayana pantheon. Cave Temples were constructed in the 13th to 15th centuries at Saspol and Karsha. The Monasteries at Leh and Phiyang continue to be renovated even today, and the recent resurgence of Indian Buddhism, associated not only with the Conversion of lower-Caste Hindus to Buddhism under the influence of Ambedkar but with the establishment of Tibetan Buddhist communities, particularly in north India, has introduced a fresh chapter in the history of Buddhist architecture in India.


Brown, Percy. Indian Architecture. Bombay: Taraporevala and co., 1959.
Michell, George. The Penguin guide to The monuments of India, Vol I. London: Viking, 1989.
Tadgell, Christopher. The History of Architecture in India. London: Phaidon Press, 1990.

What is the basic information of the Buddhist Architecture?

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. For the first time, it was the Indian emperor Ashoka, who not only established Buddhism as the state religion of his large Magadha 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.

What are different types of architectures of the Buddhist Architecture?

Stupas, Erdene Zuu.JPG

Caves (Grottoes)

Caves are another type of Buddhist Architecture, which is often chiseled into cliffs. In the 3rd century, Chinese Buddhists began to build grottoes and Xinjiang is the first area where Caves were used. Grottoes are decorated with painted sculptures, carvings and frescos. Craftsmen revealed real Life pictures and their understanding of society in these Art works, which gave them great historical and cultural value. The four famous grottoes in China are: Mogao Caves, Longmen Grottoes, Yungang Grottoes and Maiji Caves.


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.


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.

Temples and Monasteries

The Buddhist temple is the holy place where Buddhist Doctrine is maintained. Differing from other religions' temples, Chinese Buddhist temples have many characteristics of their own. The oldest temple in China - White Horse Temple is a typical example of this. The architectural styles of Buddhist temples in China were mainly formed in three periods: Han Dynasty (206BC-220), Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-589), and Tang Dynasty (618-907). The first period sees the retention of Indian styles. In the second period, wooden framework was added to the original styles. In the third period, the styles of Buddhist temples were totally Sinicized and the pavilion-like Pagoda, which is unique to China, became popular.

Tibetan Buddhist Architecture


Tibetan Buddhist architecture, in the cultural regions of the Tibetan people, has been highly influenced by China and India. Many of the houses and monasteries are typically built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south. Rocks, wood, cement and earth are the primary building materials. Flat roofs are built to conserve heat and multiple windows are constructed to let in the sunlight. Due to frequent earthquakes, walls are usually sloped inward at 10 degrees. The Potala Palace is considered the most important example of Tibetan architecture. Temples and monasteries were all built by Tibetan Buddhist followers. All decorations--plated statues, elaborate frescoes, and expensive silk hangings--were all bought and paid for by donations.

Buddhist Architecture is a representative of the religious culture in China, also a wealthy of Chinese ancient culture. To protect those ancient brilliant wealthy is an urgent task for a large amount of damages happened on the Buddhist Architecture during going for a tourism. Therefore, it is important to call up tourists to protect Buddhist architectures.

Ancient Indian Cave Architecture


The Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India, are 29 rock-cut cave monuments which date from the 2nd century B.C. The Caves include paintings and sculptures considered to be masterpieces of both Buddhist religious Art (which depict the Jataka tales) as well as frescos which are reminiscent of the Sigiriya paintings in Sri Lanka. The Caves were built in two phases starting around 200 B.C, with the second group of Caves built around 600 A.D.


Ellora is an archaeological site, 30 km from the city of Aurangabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra, built by the Rashtrakuta rulers. Ellora represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. The 34 "Caves" actually structures excavated out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills: being Buddhist, Hindu and Jain rock-cut temples and monasteries, were built between the 5th century and 10th century. The 12 Buddhist Caves, 17 Hindu Caves, and 5 Jain Caves, built in proximity, demonstrate the religious Harmony prevalent during this period of Indian history. These structures consist mostly of viharas or monasteries: large, multi-storeyed buildings carved into the mountain face, including living quarters, sleeping quarters, kitchens, and other rooms. Some of these monastery Caves have shrines including carvings of Buddha, bodhisattvas and saints. In many of these Caves, sculptors have endeavoured to give the stone the look of wood.


The Elephanta Caves are a network of sculpted Caves located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri (literally "the city of Caves") in Mumbai Harbour. The island, located on an arm of the Arabian Sea, consists of two groups of Caves: the first is a large group of five Hindu Caves, the second, a smaller group of two Buddhist Caves. The Hindu Caves contain rock cut stone sculptures, representing the Shaiva Hindu sect, dedicated to the God Shiva. The rock cut architecture of the Caves has been dated to between the 5th and 8th centuries, although the identity of the original builders is still a subject of debate. The Caves are hewn from solid basalt rock. All the Caves were also originally painted in the past, but now only traces remain.