Indian Traditions of Visual Arts (Drik Kala): Architecture and Sculpture - Rock-cut Architecture




Rock-cut caves:  

  • Rock-cut architecture is the creation of structures, buildings, and sculptures by excavating solid rock where it naturally occurs. 
  • Temples, tombs, and cave dwellings were the three main uses of rock-cut architecture. 
  • The oldest rock-cut architecture is the Barabar caves in Bihar, which were built around the third century BC. 
  • Because India had many rocky mountains, rock-cut architecture was ideal, and structures excavated in stone were the most durable. 
  • Technically the entire composition of a rock-cut cave represents a union of architecture and sculptural art.
  • Its entrances, interiors with its carved columns, and images are excellent specimens of sculptural art. The paintings on the walls and ceiling have survived in some of the caves till today.

Phases of Rock-cut architecture:  

Phase 1: The first rock-cut caves were built by Ashoka and his grandson Dasaratha. The early Buddhist architecture spans the years 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. This period's excavations are mostly made up of chaityas and viharas. They were mostly made of wood. Early Buddhist architecture can still be seen in Karla, Kanheri, Nasik, Bhaja, and Bedsa, as well as Ajanta. 

Phase 2: In the fifth century AD, the second phase of rock-cut architecture began. This stage was distinguished by the removal of timber and the incorporation of the image of the Buddha as a dominant feature of the architectural design. Viharas underwent a slight change during this time, the inner cells inhabited by the monks alone, now housed the image of the Buddha as well. 

Phase 3: The next, and possibly most dominant, phase in the rock-cut tradition is the Dravidian rock-cut style. The main characteristics of this style are mandapa and ratha. The mandapa is an open pavilion carved from rock. It's a simple columned hall with two or more cells in the back wall. The ratha is a single-stone shrine carved out of solid rock. 

Examples of Rock-cut Architecture:

Caves  Particulars 

 Kanheri Caves

Kanheri Caves Mumbai Timings (History, Entry Fee, Images, Built by &  Information) - 2022 Mumbai Tourism

1.  Kanheri Cave:

Location: Mumbai 
Period: 2nd to 9th century AD  

  • They are from the Hinayana period of Buddhist architecture. 
  • Kanheri Chaityas follow the Karle Chaitya design.
  • However, additions were made as Mahayana Buddhism gained popularity. For example, a Buddha image from the fifth century. 
  • It has approximately 100 caves. 

Jogeshwari caves

Jogeshwari Caves: A hidden gem in Mumbai - Get Ahead

2. Jogeshwari caves:

Location: Salsette
Period: second half of the 8th century  

  • They belong to the last stages of Mahayana Buddhism 
  • There are also Brahmanical shrines here. 

Karla caves

Karla Caves, Lonavala | Timings, Entry Fees, Images - Holidify

Chaitya Hall, Karla Cave No.8 

3. Karla caves:

Location: Banaghta hills near Mumbai 
Period: 120 CE. 

  • It dates from the Hinayana period of Buddhist architecture. 
  • The chaitya here is one of the country's largest and best preserved. 
  • Many merchants and Satavahana rulers contributed to the construction of these caves. 
  • The main cave, known as the Great Chaitya cave or Cave No.8, is home to a large, intricately carved chaitya, or prayer hall. 

Bhaja caves

Bhaja Caves - Wikipedia

Chaitya, Cave No. 12, Bhaja

4. Bhaja caves:

Location: near Pune 
Period: 2nd Century CE  

  • In Maharashtra, it is associated with the Hinayana Buddhist sect. 
  • These caves are notable for their indications of wooden architecture awareness. 

Ellora caves 

Gajasur Shiva, Cave No.15, Ellora

Parvati and Dancing Shiva in an Ellora cave

Vishnu at the Dashavatara Ellora temple


5. Ellora caves:

Location: Maharashtra 
Period: 600–1000 CE period 

  • Cave 16 is home to the world's largest single monolithic rock excavation, the Kailash temple, a chariot-shaped monument dedicated to Lord Shiva. 
  • Over 100 caves have been excavated from the basalt cliffs of the Charanandri Hills. 
  • Dashavatara cave is located in Ellora Cave 15. It dates from the reign of Rashtrakuta king Dantidurga. This cave is mostly dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu in various forms. This two-storeyed structure features a large courtyard with a monolithic Nandi mandapa.

Ajanta caves

Ajanta Caves | | Attractions - Lonely Planet

6. Ajanta caves:

Location: Aurangabad 
Period: 200 BCE to 650 CE. 

  • There are 29 caves in total. All of these caves are associated with the Buddhist religion. 
  • The caves were built with the help of the Vakatakas kings. 
  • There are references to these caves in the observations of Chinese travelers Fa Hien and Hieun Tsang. 
  • Caves 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15A comprise the first group. The murals in these caves depict Jataka stories. 

Elephanta caves

India's largest ropeway across sea will allow passenger from Mumbai to  reach Elephanta Caves | Times of India Travel

Three-face image of Shiva

Ardhanarishvara at Elephanta Caves, Mumay, India | Ralph Kränzlein | Flickr


7. Elephanta caves:

Location: Mumbai 
Period: 8th century AD 

  • Important sculptures here are- Ravana shaking Kailasa, the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, Shiva performing the Tandava dance, Ardhanariswara 
  • The three-faced image of Shiva is one of the cave's masterworks. 
If you would like to contribute notes or other learning material, please submit them using the button below.

      Forgot password?
Use app×