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  • 01 Sep 2022 GS Paper 1 Indian Heritage & Culture

    Day 53: Rocks have preserved human history. Discuss. (250 words)



    • Write a brief introduction about rock cut architecture.
    • Describe the various forms of rock cut architecture and its significance.
    • Give a fair conclusion.


    Rocks occur naturally but a rock-cut architecture is a man-made piece of architecture. The rock-cut caves in India, are associated with Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism and were made for the followers of these religions.

    The rock-cut architecture is a type of Rock Art in which a structure is created by carving it out of solid natural rock. Cave temples and monasteries are found in many parts of India, but the largest and most famous artificial caves were excavated from Western Deccan region. It was constructed during the regime of the Satavahana rulers and their successors. This architecture had three definite phases:

    • The earliest dating from the 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD.
    • The second from the 5th to 7th century.
    • The last from the 7th to 10th century.


    • Rock-cut architecture occupies a very important place in the history of Indian Architecture as they present the most spectacular piece of ancient Indian art specimen.
    • Most of the rock-cut structures were closely associated with various religions and religious activities.
    • Numerous caves were excavated by the Buddhist monks for prayer and residence purposes.

    Design plan of the caves and their function:

    • Rock was scooped out from a mountain and the negative space was used to create two types of areas.
    • One of these was the Chaitya Griha, from chaitya meaning stupa and Griha for house. The Chaitya Griha was a place for congregation.
    • People would sit here, chant, worship or meditate. The viharas are the other type of space inside the caves.
    • There was an open courtyard at the center and rooms around it. This is a typical Indian plan of a house, which you get from Harappan times.
    • Buddhism started in 600 BC but the earliest Buddhist caves we get are from 2nd century BC.

    Rock-Cut Caves:

    • Mauryan period: The earliest rock-cut caves in India are attributed to the Mauryan period, mainly to Ashoka (273-232 BC) and his grandson Dasharath.
      • Caves in this period were generally used as viharas, i.e., living quarters, by the Jain and Buddhist monks.
        • Caves were earlier used by the Aajivika sect and later by the Buddhists as monasteries.
    • Barabar caves and Nagarjuni caves in Bihar were formed during the time of Dasharath, grandson of Ashoka in Bihar was formed during the time of Dasharath, grandson of Ashoka.
    • Post-Mauryan Period: The construction of rock caves continued as in the Mauryan period. However, this period saw the development of Viharas and Chaitya halls.
      • The Chaitya halls were mainly quadrangular chambers with flat roofs and used as prayer halls.
        • Inside Chaityas and Viharas, windows and balconies and gates were carved as huge arch shaped openings.
      • The caves also had open courtyards and stone screen walls to shield from rain and were decorated with human and animal figures.
        • Examples: Karle Chaitya Hall, Ajanta caves (29 caves (25 Vihars + 4 Chaitya), etc.
    • Gupta Period: The emergence of the Gupta Empire in the 4th century A.D. is often hailed as the “Golden period of Indian Architecture”.
      • During the Gupta period, architectural development of the caves remained constant.
        • However, the use of mural paintings on the walls of the caves became an added feature.
    • Important Caves of the Gupta Period:
      • Udayagiri Caves: At Udayagiri, Madhya Pradesh, 20 rock-cut chambers were excavated during the Gupta period, two of which bear inscriptions from the reign of Chandra Gupta II.
        • These caves are vital documents since they constitute the earliest intact body of Hindu art in India.
        • One of the most important Udayagiri caves is Cave 5, the Varaha Cave .
        • Its main feature is a colossal rock-cut relief of the boar-incarnation of God Vishnu rescuing the Earth Goddess from chaos in the presence of adoring gods and saints.
    • Ajanta Caves: Ajanta is a series of rock-cut caves in the Sahyadri ranges on Waghora river near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
      • These caves were carved out in 4th century AD out of volcanic rocks.
      • It consists of a set of 29 caves, carved in a horse-shoe shape.
        • 25 of them were used as Viharas or residential caves while 4 were used as Chaitya or prayer halls.
    • Ellora Caves: Ellora caves are another important site of cave architecture.
      • It’s located nearly 100 Kms away from Ajanta caves.
      • It is a group of 34 caves – 17 Brahmanical, 12 Buddhist and 5 Jain.
      • These caves were developed during the period between 5th and 11th centuries A.D.
    • Bagh Caves: Located on the bank of the Bagh River in Madhya Pradesh, Bagh Caves is a group of 9 Buddhist caves developed around the 6th Century A.D.
      • It is architecturally very similar to the Ajanta caves in terms of their design, execution and decoration.
      • These are remarkable and interesting rock-cut shrines and monasteries.
      • In modern times these caves were first discovered in 1818. (Newer as compared to the Ajanta caves).
    • Rock-Cut Temple Architecture:
      • A monolithic rock-cut temple is chiseled out of a single colossal rock in the shape of masonry or wooden temples including embellishment on walls and other areas showcasing fine work of art and engineering.
      • The architects of the Pallava Dynasty initiated rock carving to create monolithic structures that resemble temples.
    • Rock-Cut Temple Architecture in South India:
      • Temple architecture in South India began under the Pallava ruler Mahendravarman.
      • The temples developed during the Pallava dynasty reflected the stylistic taste of the individual rulers and can be classified into four stages chronologically.
    • Mahendra group:
      • This was the first stage of Pallava temple architecture.
      • The temples built under Mahendravarman were basically rock-cut temples.
        • Under him, the temples were known as mandapas, unlike the Nagara style in which the mandapas meant only the assembly hall.
    • Narasimha group: Second stage of the development of temple architecture in South India.
      • The rock-cut temples were decorated by intricate sculptures.
      • The mandapas were now divided into separate rathas.
      • The biggest one was called the Dharmaraja ratha while the smallest one was called the Draupadi ratha.
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