A chaitya is a Buddhist shrine or prayer hall with a stupa at one end. In modern texts on Indian architecture, the term chaitya-grihais often used to denote an assembly or prayer hall that houses a stupa.
Architecturally, chaityas show similarities to ancient Roman architectural concepts of column and arch. The monks built many structures which were carved out of a single massive rock, done with hammer and chisel, bare hands. These were known as cave temples. About 1200 such cave temples were built throughout India. The most important of these are the Karla Caves, Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, Aurangabad Caves and the Pandavleni Caves. They were rectangular halls, with finely polished interior walls. There were a number of well proportioned pillars, generally around 35, and a semi-circular roof. Opposite one entrance stood a stupa. All the pillars have capitals on them, with carvings of a kneeling elephant mounted on bell-shaped bases.
The pillars had three parts: prop, which is the base which is buried into the ground; the shaft, the main body of the pillar which is polished and chiseled; and capital, the head of the pillar where figures of animals are carved. The Stupa at the end of the Chaitya Hall has an umbrella at the top. This Umbrella suggests association with Buddhism. There is a wooden facade, made out of teak wood. The facade makes it look as if the entire structure was resting on the back of an elephant with ivory tusks and metal ornaments.
The chaityas were almost 40 meters long, 15 meters wide and 15 meters high.
The Karla Caves or Karle Caves or Karla Cells are a complex of ancient Indian Buddhist rock-cut cave shrines located in Karli nearLonavala, Maharashtra. The shrines were developed over the period – from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. The oldest of the cave shrines is believed to date back to 160 BC, having arisen near a major ancient trade route, running eastward from theArabian Sea into the Deccan. Karli’s location in Maharashtra places it in a region that marks the division between North India andSouth India. Buddhists, having become identified with commerce and manufacturing through their early association with traders, tended to locate their monastic establishments in natural geographic formations close to major trade routes so as to provide lodging houses for travelling traders. Today, the cave complex is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India.
Caves contain enormous chaitya – the largest and possibly the most beautiful among the more than 1,000 cave temples in India, carved in the 1st century BC. Sometimes this cave temple is considered to be the highest achievement of Indian cave architecture.
This 45 m long and up to 14 m high chaitya has beautiful façade with numerous sculptures in both sides of the central doorway and rich, intricate artwork and structural elements inside, often imitating woodwork. The stone carvings depict people, lions and elephants – and it is believed that sculptures of elephants in the central hall originally had tusks of genuine ivory. Frequent element is mithuna – women and man in pairs. Walls originally were covered with murals.
Important role is played also by the light coming in through the large window – the softened sunlight adds different flavour to exquistie sculptures and architectural details.
At the entrance of this chaithya stands 15 m high pillar with exquisite capital adorned with lions. Earlier there was one more pillar. The site of this another pillar nowadays is taken by a temple of another religion – it is devoted to Hindu goddess Ekveera and visited by thousands of piligrims every year. Often this temple and pilgrimage is seen as encroachment of Hindu religion on Buddhist shrine.
Rows of pillars divide the chaitya in three parts – central hall and narrow side aisles, divided by two rows of ornate pillars – 15 pillars in each row. Pillars have beautiful capitals, which, among others, include also a representation of man and women riding elephants and bowing to Buddha. Representations of Buddha have been added around the 7th century AD.
Contrary to some other cave temples, the ceiling in Karla Cave No. 12 has wooden ribs and not stone ribs. This woodwork (chhatri) is unique – wood has been cut 2,000 years ago and has been preserved rather well, without signs of corrosion.
Far end of chaitya contains the shrine – stupa with an umbrella over it.
Chaitygruha at Karla Caves
Inscription on pillar
Carving on pillar
Exterior of Main Chaitygruha
Pillar at entry of Main Chaitygruha
Exterior of the cave complex in 2007
The Ajanta Caves locally known as in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state of India are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. The caves include paintings and sculptures described by the government Archaeological Survey of India as “the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting”, which are masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the Jataka tales. The caves were built in two phases starting around the 2nd century BCE, with the second group of caves built around 400–650 CE according to older accounts, or all in a brief period of 460 to 480 according to the recent proposals of Walter M. Spink. The site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, and since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cave 9 is part of the heart of the Ajanta complex, begun in the second or first centuries BC. It is a large liturgical hall, with a monolithic stone stupa carved from the living rock.
This cave has a Chaitya gathering hall. There are two early paintings, which survive.
Frieze Of Animals And Herdsmen
Giant Horseshoe Window
There is a Giant Horse-Shoe Window on the façade. The carving of this window suggests that it copied a wooden structure of the same time. The pillars and the slanting eight-sided columns are also copied from wooden structures of earlier times.