A Cave Architecture in Gupta Age

There was great development in the three branches of fine art- architecture, sculpture, and painting. The period of Gupta art lies between 300-600 or 650 A. D. and is “an age of combination and ultimate exhaustion of the earlier tendencies and movements in architectural types and forms”.The Gupta age is connected with the growth and development of the temple.The small antiquities and the various forms of pottery are the evidence of the prosperity and high culture of Gupta Age. In the Pre-Gupta period the artistic centres were Mathura, Peshawar, Amaravati, Nagarjunikonda. Ghantasala, Goli and Ajanta. Scenes from the life of Buddha like Renunciation, Enlightenment, Birth and Temptation were depicted. The Jataka. stories also supply many of the themes.The visit of India and of Ajatasatru to the Buddha are found in the sculptures of South India at places like Bharhut and Nagarjunikonda. In the Gupta age there was unprecedented artistic activity all over India. The various forms of art attained a maturity, perfection, balance and naturalness of expression. The immortal Ajanta frescoes are a cultural heritage of the Gupta period The important art centres were Mathura, Banaras and Pataliputra (Patna) in Northern India.

A Cave architecture:

The rock-cut architecture of the Buddhist consists of the Chairya hall and the sangharama or the vihara (monastery); they are found at Ajanta: Ellora and Aurangabad. Ajanta has twenty- eight caves, five of the caves belong to the earlier period, the remaining 23 were excavated between 300 and 650 A. D. The caves XIX and XXVI are Chaitya caves and the rest are Viharas. The cave XIX discards wood and shows Buddha figures. The caves XVI and XVII were excavated at the instance of a minister of Harishena, a Vakataka ruler. These caves strike a new line by the great beauty of their pillar of various design and the fine paintings. The Vihara became a place of worship as well as of residence. The pillars within the Chaitya are fluted columns richly ornamented. The wealth of carving was intended not only for decoration but also for lighting the whole structure. There are large number of figure sculptures. On the votive Chaitya the figures of the Buddha are standing or seated, carved in bold relief. Fergusson says, “From a pure atheism, we have passed to an overwhelming idolatry”.

The cave No. XIX consists of a nave separated from aisles by a row of pillars. The rail ornament disappears from the facade and is replaced by a double row of cornice decorated with Chaitya window motifs. The entrance is flat-roofed, supported by four pillars with a huge Chaitya window above it separated by a cornice. The pillars inside have fitted columns with pot and foliage capitals. The figure of Buddha can be seen at the facade in the frieze of niches above the brackets, and carved on the monolithic stupa inside. The rock-out stupa of the Chaitya consists of a high cylindrical drum decorated with the figure of Buddha between plasters crowned by graceful arches..

The Vihara cave  No. XVI and XVII are famous for their paintings. The cave No. XVI is a twenty pillared cave, 19.6 metres (65 feet) square having six, residential halls on either side, two at either end of the verandah and two at the back. There is a rectangular sanctuary with a big figure of Buddha. The beauty of the pillars is remarkable. No two pillars are exactly similar. The cave No. XVII is similar to cave No. XVI. The Wheel of Life is painted on the walls of its verandah. The walls were covered with painted scenes from the life of the Buddha or the Jatakas. The ornamental designs of the pillars are in bold outline..

The caves at Mogulrajapuram, Undavalli and Akkannamadanna were excavated under the Vishnukundins. Their plan is based on that of the Udayagiri caves in Central India. The Undavalli caves are three-storied. The caves at Ajanta and Ellora are among the best artistic monuments of the Gupta Age. Their pillars are beautiful and of varied designs. The Brahmanical cave temple at Udayagiri near Bhopal is the earliest Hindu temple having an inscription dated 401 A. D. The temple is partly rock-out and partly stone-built.

The rock-out monasteries and Chaitya halls were excavated at Ellora. There are halls, each comprising a prayer hall with monasteries. The “lines are straighter, angles more correct and surfaces more true than in any other example”. The technique reached its culmination in some vihars. The cave No. X at Ellora (Visvakarama cave) is the latest example of a Chaitya hall of the excavated type. It resembles the shrine at Ajanta. The apsidal end of the hall is blocked up by the votive Chaitya which has been completely relegated to a background for a big image of the Buddha that “serves as the frontispiece and the principal object of veneration”.

At Ajanta there is an excess of figure sculptures which are made to cover every possible space in the exterior facade as well as in the interior, while the earlier caves are of plainer architectural pattern.
Sangharama or Vihara- The Viharas were planned in the form of rows of cells round a central court. In the excavated examples it took the shape of a central hall approached from one side and with cells leading out of it on the other three sides. Twenty Vihara caves at Ajanta belong to this period. Cave No. XI, is the oldest of the series. In this cave the hall is small in area and four pillars are introduced in the centre of the hall as supports for the roof. It belongs to a date about 400 A. D. Cave No. VII  shows two groups of four pillars each, placed side by side. The cave No. VI is a two-storeyed one. Its upper storey has a harmonious and unified design of the pillars or all the four sides of the halls. The ordered design and rich decorative embellishments of the pillars created an effect of magnificience. The important Vihara caves are Nos. XVI, XVII, I and II. They were excavated about 500 and 600 A. D. The four caves had elegant paintings. Cave No. XVI has a hall about 19.6 metres (65 feet) square, with a colonnade of twenty pillars around a sanctuary with a figure of the Buddha at the back end, and a verandah with its roof supported on five pillars. There are sixteen cells. Cave No. XVII is similar in design. These caves are famous for great variety and beauty of their pillars. Fergusson says that their is “a general harmony of design and form, which prevents their variety from being unpleasing. Cave No XVI has fluted pillars with rounded capitals sometimes with horizontal ribs. The bracket supporting the cross-beams take the shape of squatting dwarf. Cave No. 1 has the most elaborate and beautiful facade with richly carved pillars and sculptured friezes of the architrave.

The interior is also magnificient. Cave No. II is also decorative. The two caves are dated about 600.A. D. other caves are Nos. IV XXIV, The former has a hall about 26.1 metres (87 feet) square with its roof supported on 28 pillars. The cave No- XXIV has a hall 22.5 metres (75 feet) square with 20 pillars. The vase and foliage capital attained its perfection. in cave no. XXIV.

The Bagh caves were excavated between 500 and 600 A. D. They are nine.” They are in Madhya Pradesh about 240 Kilometres (150 miles) north west of Ajanta, closely related to Ajanta caves in general plan and arrangement. The sanctuaries at the end of the hall contain a Chaitya instead of an image of the Buddha. One of the larger viharas is provided with a school room. The soft nature of the rock is responsible for the decay of the caves. The important vihara is the Rangamahall consisting of a central hall, 29 metres (96 feet) square, with a range of cells on all its sides except the front. It is 28 pillared cave with a complement of four central pillars. The porch is highly ornate, consisting of a deep entablature, supported on two circular columns.

There is a long rectangular hall 29 metres (96 feet) long, 12.2 metres (14 feet) deep, joined to the previous cave by a verandah 66 metres (220 feet) in length. Both the caves were decorated beautifully with paintings The caves near Aurangabad. are twelve in number, and were excavated in three groups. One is Chaitya cave and the rest are all viharas. The viharas belong to the seventh century. The important vihara caves are Nos. III and VII, The cave No. III has a big image of the Buddha. The groups of male and female votaries are shown kneeling before the image, they are the striking productions of artists excelled in figure sculptures which are of massive proportions, “distinguished by boldness of relief and a naturalistic and almost life like effect”. In cave No. VII there is a dancing scene which “in naturalness and case, in graceful-modelling and elegant effect, may be regarded as among the most significant products of Buddhist art in India”. These sculptures of deities and devotees are remarkable for “their massive proportions and bold relief and their like presentation of the people of the period, their garments, head dresses and ornaments”.

The rock-cut Brahmanical shrines are found at Badamı in Bijapur District, it was the site of ancient Vatapi, the capital of the early Chalukya dynasty. Three caves are Brahmanical. The third contains an inscription dated 578 A. D. The shrines are provided with open fore-court which leads to the pillared verandah, the columned hall and to the square sanctum cella. The facade is plain. The interior is rich on account of varied designs of the pillars and the profusion of images and carvings. The fourth cave in Jain. Cave No. III is a Vaishnava shrine and contains fine reliefs of Vishnu seated on Anant and a Narsingha in the verandah. The workmanship is marked by high degree of technical excellence. There is the running frieze of ganas in many amusing postures carved on each plinth. The Narsimgha and Varaha avatars are admirable.

At Ellora the excavations extend for a mile on a low ridge of hills. It consists of caves-Buddhist, Hindu and Jain. Twelve caves are Buddhist at the southern end and they were excavated between 550-750 A. D. The series is divided into two caves Nos. I to V, earlier in date. Caves No. I, II. III and IV are all one-storeyed excavations and have a central hall approached through a verandah in front, with a shrine chamber at the far end; and cells for monks on either side. Cave No, V known as the Mahanwada is 35 metres x 21 metres (117 feet x 70 feet) and has a rectangular hall divided into a nave and aisles by two rows of pillars with a sanctuary cella at the far end, there are two low and narrow platforms. The second group consists of Caves VI to XII. The Visvakarma Cave (No. X) is a Chaitya hall. The other caves were used as monasteries.

The caves Nos. XI and XII are known as the Don Thal and the Tin Thal. They have three storeys and an ample courtyard in front. The Tin Thal is the most imposing cave, its facade, rising to a height of nearly 15 metres (50 feet), gives a majesty to the appearance of the cave. The facade is plain, but the interior has a rich profusion of sculptures. There is a balance and consistency of design, and a grandeur in its conception. According to Fergusson, “it would be difficult to surpass in cave architecture,” in its grand conception. The Brahmanical caves at Ellora would be treated in Chalukya and Rashtracoota art.

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