In transcribing the following paragraphs from the rough text in the Internet Archive online version, I have changed the formatting for easier reading, added images that appear in the original and also ones that come from other sources and I have omitted cross references to comparative material, such as examples from ancient Greece. — George P. Landow]

As only rock-cut examples are existent, the appearance of the structural temples is only to be conjectured from these. The rock-cut temples have but one external façade, which is in the face of the rock and the architecture is therefore mainly internal, but interesting in showing an undoubted imitation of timber originals. Wooden forms were repeated long after their signihcance was dead (compare Greek Architecture). With the exception of the one façade the ornament was lavished on the interior columns and roof the former of which were short and overladen with ornament the latter being generally semicircular, with ribs showing a timber derivation (Nos. 267 and 268).

Buddhist monuments can be divided into 5 classes: (1) Stambhas (or Lats); (2) Topes (or Stiipas), (3) Rails, (4) Chaityas (or Temples), and (5) Viharas (or Monasteries).

Stambhas, or Lats

Stambhas, or Lats, were columns on which were carved inscriptions, the top being crowned with emblems, such as the elephant and lion, often reminiscent of Persepolitan architecture. The best known is the Lat at Allahabad, B.C. 250.

Topes, or Stupas

Topes, or Stupas (Sanscrit sthupa = a mound), were mounds erected (a) to commemorate some sacred spot; (b) to contain sacred relics and then known as dagobas or receptacles for relics.

Dhamek Tope, Sarnath. Click on image to enlarge it.

The principal group is that known as the Bhilsa Topes, north of the Nerbudda River, and the best known of the group is the Sanchi Tope (e.g. 250-A.D. 100). It is a solid mound of brickwork, faced with stone and cement, and contains the relic near its base. It is 106 feet in diameter, 42 feet high, crowned by a "Tee" or relic casket, and is placed on a platform 14 feet high, surrounded by a procession path, railing and four gateways. An excellent model is in the Indian Museum, South Kensington.

Other groups are at Sarnath (near Benares), Buddh-Gaya, Amravati (remains in the British Indian Museums), and Jarasandha.


Rails were often used as inclosures to the Topes. They clearly indicate a wooden origin (No. 266 a, f), and were elaborately ornamented with sculpture. The rail and gateways (of which there is a full-size cast in the Indian Museum surrounding the Sanchi Tope are the best known, and date from the first century of our era. The height is 35 feet and width 30 feet. The symbolic sculpture is of historic interest : it tells the life story of Buddha, and illustrates the worship of relics, trees, the law, and battle scenes. These gateways are rhe prototypes of the numberless pailoos (page 642).

Chaityas, or Temples

Chaityas, or Temples (b.c. 250-A.D. 750), are all excavated out of the solid rock, thus presenting only one external face. They recall the rock-cut tombs of Upper Egypt (No. 6). The normal type resembles in plan an English three-aisled cathedral with circular apse, containing the shrine, at the end furthest from the entrance. The roofs are hewn to a semi-circular form, and have ribs resembling timber work. In many, the frontal screen of horse-shoe form, through which the only light was admitted, was of wood. The principal groups are liewn in the face of the Western Ghats, to the east of Bombay, at Bhaja (b.c 250). Nassick (b.c 129), Karli (b.c 78), Ellora, Ajunta (No. 268), and Elephanta (No. 269).

Left: Karli. Interior of a Rock-cut Cave. Right: Ajunta. Façade of Rock-cut cave. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The cave at Karli (No. 267), resembles the choir of Norwich Cathedral in general arrangement and dimensions. It is 126 feet long, 45 feet wide, and 45 feet high. The columns separating nave and aisles are octagonal, with elephant capitals, which support the circular roof.

Left: Elephanta. Interior of a Rock-cut Cave. Right: Entrance to the Caves of Elephanta. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Viharas, or Monasteries

The rock-cut examples are in proximity to the Chaityas. The normal type is a central square space, with or without columns, surrounded by chambers for the priests, and occasionally containing a sanctuary for the shrine. In Gandhara (North-West India), General Cunningham has opened out some structural monasteries, probably of the fourth century a.d., some of which contain courts for shrines. Their details show Greek and Byzantine influence, the acanthus leaf, the Byzantine cube-capital, and the Corinthian capital being met with.

In Ceylon are numerous remains of topes, chaityas and viharas, principally at Anuradapura, the capital from is.c 400- A.D. 769, and Pollonarua.

Related Material including Nineteenth-Century Engravings of Cave Temples


Fletcher, Banister, and Banister F. Fletcher. A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method for the Student, Craftsman, and Amateur. 5th ed. London: B. T. Batsford, 1905.

Last modified 22 July 2020