Indian Architecture: Early Historic Period: Cave Architecture, Rock-Cut Temples and Free-Standing Temples (For CBSE, ICSE, IAS, NET, NRA 2022)

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An important phase of Indian architecture began with the Mauryan Period. The material prosperity of the Mauryans and a new religious consciousness led to achievements in all fields.

Early Historic Period

  • Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador of Selucas Nikator who visited the Mauryan court described Chandragupta Maurya՚s palace as an excellent architectural achievement.
  • In the Mauryan Period especially under Ashoka architecture saw a great advancement.
  • Mauryan art and architecture depicted the influence of Persians and Greeks. During the reign of Ashoka many monolithic stone pillars were erected on which teachings of ‘Dhamma’ were inscribed.
  • The lion capital of the Sarnath pillar has been accepted as the emblem of the Indian Republic.
  • The stupas of Sanchi and Sarnath are symbols of the achievement of Mauryan architecture.
  • The Amaravati school developed under the patronage of the Satavahanas of the Andhra region.
  • The Gupta Period marks the beginning of the construction of free-standing Hindu temples.

Cave Architecture

  • The development of cave architecture is another unique feature and marks an important phase in the history of Indian architecture.
  • More than thousand caves have been excavated between second century BC and tenth century AD.
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  • Famous among these were Ajanta and Ellora caves of Maharashtra, and Udaigiri cave of Orissa.
  • These caves hold Buddhist viharas, chaityas as well as mandapas and pillared temples of Hindu gods and goddesses.

Rock-Cut Temples

  • Temples were hewn out of huge rocks. The earliest rock-cut temples were excavated in western Deccan in the early years of the Christian era.
  • The chaitya at Karle with fine high halls and polished decorative wall is a remarkable example of rock-cut architecture.
  • The Kailash temple at Ellora built by the Rashtrakuta and the ratha temples of Mahabalipuram built by the Pallavas are other examples of rock-cut temples.
  • Most probably the stability and permanence of rocks attracted the patrons of art and builders who decorated these temples with beautiful sculptures.

Free-Standing Temples

  • The temple building activities that began during the Gupta rule continued to flourish in later periods.
  • In southern India the Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas, Hoyshalas and later the rulers of the Vijayanagar kingdom were great builders of temples.
  • The Pallava rulers built the shore temple at Mahabalipuram. Pallavas also built other structural temples like Kailash Nath temple and Vaikuntha Perumal temples at Kanchipuram.
  • The Cholas built many temples most famous being the Brihadeshwara temple at Tanjore. The Cholas developed a typical style of temple architecture of south India called the Dravida style, complete with vimana or shikhara, high walls and the gateway topped by gopuram.
  • The Sun temple at Konark was built in thirteenth century by the eastern Ganga rules Narsimha Deva I.
  • The temple complex at Khajuraho was built by Chandella rulers between the tenth and eleventh centuries in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. Most important among them is the Kandariya Mahadev temple.
  • Somnath temple at Gujarat, Vishwanath temple at Banaras, Govinda temple at Mathura, Kamakhya temple at Guwahati, Shankaracharya temple at Kashmir and the Kali temple at Kalighat of Kolkata are some other important temples which bear testimony to temple building activity of the Indian sub-continent.

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