Chaitya – from sanscrit chita  –  means pyre or Sacred spot

Rock -cut Buddhist architecture         —Chaitya hall (Prayer hall)

—Monastery (Viharas)


  • Though it was great in size, it had function limitation during unfavorable weather. So this drawback resulted into formation of right solution i.e. Chaitya hall ( enclosed space) with a miniature stupa at one end
  • Sacred spot
  • Temple as well as assembly hall relating Buddhism
  • Vaulted hall with non – structural colonnade
  • Rectangular hall with apsidal end with chaitya
  • Double row of columns divide whole area into nave , ( used as congregational space) in the centre and double aisles (circumbulation space) all around the colonnade and stupa
  • Entry through rectangular opening with chaitya window or sun window (derived from period hut)
  • Stupa has been carved out of living rock

Examples: Chaitya cave at Bhaja, Karle,Ajanta

Chaitya hall at Kondane, Ellora


  • The monks were getting away from city core to avoid resistance of people at power
  • Need of peaceful atmosphere for mediation
  • The act of going more close to nature to achieve natural and spiritual aspects rather than physical and material aspects in life
  • To protect oneself and ones shelter from the adverse effects of climate
  • The desire of creating monumental architecture from the permanent and long lasting material i.e.stone


  • Use of chisel, hammer and selection of cliff of Dolarite (a hard stone) stone to cut the rocks
  • A hill side with a homogenous rock formation chosen
  • Clearing the chosen hill side from shrubs, grass etc
  • Chopping the sloppy hill into possible plain face
  • At first two holes are dug in a linear manner inside the rock to parallel tunnels
  • Then timber pegs are placed vertically at certain distance inside the tunnel. When moistened, the pegs expand and the rock cracks. These dislodged chunks are removed from the mouth of the cave and later it is used to make entry platform or forecourt
  • The exposed rock surfaces are chiseled to final smoothness before breaking further in or downwards i.e. quarrying and carving  are done simultaneously
  • The digging and finishing is done from top to bottom


  • Though the great stupas are magnificient it occupies more space but it is functionless inside
  • Space around the stupa is inappropriate to congregate during unfavorable climatic condtion…which resulted into construction of chaitya hall
  • Felt of inconvenience during circumbulation in the place formed between circular profile of chaitya and straight wall of hall
  • So rectangular hall was changed into ratangular hall with apsidal end
  • Initially chaitya hall was built over high plinth enclosed by inevitable sacred railing e.g.Temple no 40 at Sanchi is rectangular in shape
  • Later on chaitya were built in another medium that is in living rock by carving

Example:caves at  karle , Bhaja, Kondane,Ajanta, Ellora.


  • Mahayana Buddhist movement at both Ajanta and Ellora – simultaneous beginning in the mid of 5th c
  • Ajanta – Already occupiedsite by Hinayana Buddhist rock cut architecture

Out of 30 caves, 9,10, 19,26,and 29 are chaitya hall and remainings are viharas

  • Ellora – no earlier excavation had been made (unoccupied)

New construction – first attempt was done by Buddhist, then by Jain and afterward by Hindu

Only one chaitya hall i.e. Vishwakarma

  • Mahayana sect is different from Hinayana

                  Iconography of Buddha means they worship image

Worship Buddha image as a god in Mahayana

Relic worship was replaced by image worship

Influencing Budhha doctrine and vitally affecting the art and architectural practice


  • With the assurance of patronage of elite and rich mercantile classes and communities of Buddhaist monks, Buddhist monks instead of wandering around as mendicants began to settle down around sacred stupa
  • Thus mons settlement grew up as monastery/ vihara around the chaitya hall
  • Viharas were inevitable need to house the resident monks
  • It consists of series of individual cells or square open to sky courtyard – basic idea matched to courtyard of indus valley
  • The open courtyard served all community facilities including well fro drinking water
  • The call afforded the monks sufficient privacy for the practice of meditation
  • Examples, 25 rock cut vihars in Ajanta and 11 at Ellora
  • It consists of main hall entered by a door way
  • Assembly hall and dinning halls were also present
  • Access to meditation cells from main hall
  • Those of Ajanta had decorated walls telling stories of Buddha

Example , Monastery of Takht-e-Bahi

Monastery of Takht-e-Bahi

  • Mahayana monastery
  • One of the most impressive and schematically planned
  • Built in stone
  • Use of lime
  • 15.2m high stupa rested on 6 m wide square platform set with in 23.7m x16.7m area
  • Stupa was surrounded by cells and in turn they had alternate roofs of domical and barrel vault shapes derived from chaitya
  • Cells were for housing image of Bodhisattavas


  • Simple chaitya hall with no decoration comprising to other chaitya hall representing the initial stage of construction pertaining to Hinayana style
  • Entrance is an open archway leading to the interior hall 16.7m x 8m wide , side aisles of 1 m width
  • Pillars are 3.4m high, the vaulted ceiling is at a height of 8.8 m from the floor level
  • The stupa is plain with a cylindrical base supporting a huge dome with railing like finial
  • Use of timber work in the chaitya window trellis


  • Gigantic hall(14mx46m) with 13.7m high vaulted roof , is very unique and extra ordinary than other chaitya hall as it offers visual drama
  • A large platform built at the sloping hill side leading to the magnificent  cave
  • Entrance is guideded by 2 enormous 15.2 m high free standing stone column crowned with lion
  • The next important part is a trantitional vestibule with double height.The walls are magnificiently carved with  recessed sun window set in hoese shoe archway
  • The hall contains 2 rows of column forming nave at the centre and aisles all around which was used for circumbulation
  • Each column is 7.32 m high with 1.22m dia
  • The shaft is octagonal with vase shaped base
  • Capital is bell shaped and sculptured
  • The stupa at the end is carved with railing and has inverted pyramid type finial
  • The marvelous things of the cave  are magical quality space,light and sculpture along with their relationship
  • This magical experience is created by light that is filtered in through the columns, screen and the chaitya window offering soft and peaceful light
  • It is the unending source for architectural inspiration
  • The roof is supplemented  by a series of wooden ribs


  • Chaitya hall has similar façade as that of Bhaja
  • Shows a little progress in construction
  • Hall measures 20 m long and 8.5 m high
  • Chaitya also belongs to Hinayana

AJANTA CAVES (2nd century BC)

  • Caves are situated in a horse shoe shaped valley spread over a length of 500 m East-West cliff is 79 m high
  • Out of 30 caves, 9 ,10,19,29 and 26 are chaitya halls and other remainings are vihars excavted on the face of almost vertical cliff
  • Walls are carved with figures of myths and deities related to Buddha
  • Among all chaitya hall no  26 is the most wonderful and so popular
  • It has a small rectangular door way with horse shoes shaped window opening above it with tracery work through which light is admitted into the vaulted hall
  • Vaulted hall has an apsidal end and is divided longitudinally by 2 rows of columns forming broad nave and 2 aisles
  • At the end , a stupa carved out of living rock with statue of Buddha seated in front of with his feet down and surrounded by his attendant and heavenly flying figures
  • The vaulted roof is supplemented by closely space ribs carved out from rock representing prototype timber member
  • T the entrance of hall, there is a standing statue of Bodhisattva
    • Ajanta caves are popular for their fresco painting, depicting Buddha’s life. These are ranked as world’s finest fresco painting
    • Use of plaster of 1 cm thick, made from clay, cowdung,straw,rice husk and gypsum. On it outlines are drawn and finally coated with colours made of natural dyes
    • Work of arts in dark cave were made bright by reflecting rays of sun from large metal reflectors installed outside


  • Ellora – derived from Ellapur , a village named after the king Ela who ruled over there
  • Nagarjuna – Founder of the Mahayana school is said to have had them excavated in 1st century AD
  • Out of 12 caves, only one is chaitya hall i.e. vishwakarma
  • Construction is similar to Ajanta caves
  • Other details inside the hall are also same as in Ajanta
  • Columns are rectangular with shallow flutes and wide capitals of elaborately carved sculptures
  • Vaults of roof are supplemented  by natural rock ribs
  • There are 17 Hindu caves(8th and 9th c AD) and 5 Jain caves(9th and 11th c AD)