Buddhist religious architecture
in the third century BC.
Three types of structures are associated with the religious architecture
: monasteries (viharas
, and temples
Viharas initially were only temporary shelters used by wandering
monks during the rainy season, but later were developed to
accommodate the growing and increasingly formalised Buddhist
. An existing example is
at Nalanda (Bihar).
distinctive type of fortress architecture found in the former and
present Buddhist kingdoms of the Himalayas are dzongs
The initial function of a stupa was the veneration and
safe-guarding of the relics of the Buddha
. The earliest surviving example of a stupa is
in Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh).
In accordance with changes in religious practice, stupas were
gradually incorporated into chaitya-grihas (temple halls).
reached their high point in the first century BC, exemplified by
the cave complexes of Ajanta and Ellora (Maharashtra). The Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh
Gaya in Bihar is another
well known example.
is an evolution of the Indian
Buddhist architecture emerged slowly in the period following the
Buddha’s life, building on Brahmanical Vedic models
incorporating a specifically Buddhist symbols.
Brahmanical temples at this time followed a simple plan – a square
inner space, the sacrificial arena, often with a surrounding
ambulatory route separated by lines of columns, with a conical or
rectangular sloping roof, behind a porch or entrance area,
generally framed by freestanding columns or a colonnade. The
external profile represents Mount Meru
the abode of the gods and centre of the universe. The dimensions
and proportions were dictated by sacred mathematical formulae.
simple plan was adopted by early Buddhists, sometimes adapted with
additional cells for monks at the periphery (especially in the
early cave temples such as at Ajanta, India).
In essence the basic plan survives to this day in Buddhist temples
throughout the world. The profile became elaborated and the
characteristic mountain shape seen today in many Hindu temples was
used in early Buddhist sites and continued in similar fashion in
some cultures (such as the Khmer). In others, such as Japan and
Thailand, local influences and differing religious practices led to
Early temples were often timber, and little trace remains, although
stone was increasingly used. Cave temples such as those at Ajanta
have survived better and preserve the plan form, porch and interior
arrangements from this early period. As the functions of the
monastery-temple expanded, the plan form started to diverge from
the Brahmanical tradition and became more elaborate, providing
sleeping, eating and study accommodation.
A characteristic new development at religious sites was the
. Stupas were originally more sculpture
than building, essentially markers of some holy site or
commemorating a holy man who lived there. Later forms are more
elaborate and also in many cases refer back to the Mount Meru
One of the
earliest Buddhist sites still in existence is at Sanchi, India, and
this is centred on a stupa said to have been built by Ashoka the Great (273-236 BCE).
original simple structure is encased in a later, more decorative
one, and over two centuries the whole site was elaborated upon. The
four cardinal points are marked by elaborate stone gateways.
As with Buddhist art
followed the spread of Buddhism throughout south and east Asia and
it was the early Indian models that served as a first reference
point, even though Buddhism virtually disappeared from India itself
in the 10th century.
Decoration of Buddhist sites became steadily more elaborate through
the last two centuries BCE, with the introduction of tablets and
friezes, including human figures, particularly on stupas. However,
the Buddha was not represented in human form until the first
century CE. Instead, aniconic symbols were used. This is treated in
more detail in Buddhist art
phase. It influenced the development of temples, which eventually
became a backdrop for Buddha images in most cases.
As Buddhism spread, Buddhist architecture diverged in style,
reflecting the similar trends in Buddhist art. Building form was
also influenced to some extent by the different forms of Buddhism
in the northern countries, practising Mahayana
Buddhism in the main and in the south
Image:JetawanaStupa1.JPG|Jetavanaramaya stupa is an example of brick-clad Buddhist
architecture in Sri Lanka
Image:Bhutan dzong at paro.jpg|The
follows a distinctive
type of fortress architecture found in the former and present
Buddhist kingdoms of the Himalayas, most notably BhutanImage:Sanchi2.jpg|The
Great Stupa in Sanchi, India is
considered a cornerstone of Buddhist
architectureImage:Vatadage.jpg|Vatadage Temple, in
Polonnaruwa, is a uniquely Sri Lankan circular shrine enclosing
a small dagoba.
The vatadage has a three-tiered conical
roof, spanning a height of 40–50 feet, without a center post, and
supported by pillars of diminishing height ]
- The World of Buddhism, Thames and Hudson, quoted at the
- Some photographs and further description at