Buddhism and Jainism introduced the art of rock-cut caves. The caves were cut out of solid rocks and were in two parts, one called the hall of worship or Chaitya and the other the monastery for living of monks or Vihara. The earliest viharas were made of wood, and then of brick.

The Indian gateway archs, the torana, reached East Asia with the spread of Buddhism. Buddhist architecture blended with Roman architecture and Hellenestic architecture to give rise to unique blends – such as the Greco-Buddhist school during the time of Kushanas.

Sunga and Satvahana rulers (around 1st century BCE) also patronized Buddhist art and architecture. It is visible in the Bharhut stupa, stupas around Sanchi (originally commissioned by Ashoka, but later repaired by Sunga and other), Amravati etc.

During Gupta period also many Buddhist shrines and sculptures were made. In East, post-Gupta, Pala kingdom promoted Buddhist architecture starting from 8th century.

Bodh Gaya is one of the most important Buddhist centers in India with Mahabodhi Temple as prime attraction and it is a brick temple. The first shrine is said to have been made by Mauryan King Ashoka, the Vedika was added in post-Mauryan time and later additions were done by Pala rulers in 8th century. The design of the Mahabodhi temple is neither dravida nor nagara.

Nalanda is another example of Buddhist architecture and it was a Mahavihara as it housed many Viharas. The sculptural art of Nalanda, in stucco (a type of plaster), stone and bronze, and was a direct offshoot the Gupta Buddhist art of Sarnath and it later infused local elements to emerge as a unique style of its own leading to the formation of the ‘Nalanda school of sculpture’. The characteristic features of Nalanda art, distinguished by its consistently high quality of workmanship, are that the precisely executed sculptures have an ordered appearance with little effect of crowding. Sculptures are also usually not flat in relief but are depicted in three-dimensional forms. The back slabs of the sculptures are detailed and the ornamentations delicate.

Laddakh Art also developed influenced initially by Kushan art and later infused local elements. This architectural style profusely uses wooden elements and is influenced by Tibetan architecture. In painting also a new style called ‘Thanka’ painting evolved.


Jaina Caves vs Buddhist Caves –

Jaina caves were cut in sandstone which is easy to cut but not good for sculpting. But Buddhist caves were cut into hard rocks and were better for sculpting.

The Jaina caves had no congregation halls or rock cut shrines. Later, however, some cells were enlarged into shrines. The Buddhist caves on the other hand had clear halls and the shrine area.

The Jaina caves were simple and reflected the asceticism of jina monks. The cells were tiny (not tall enough to stand, not long enough to stretch while sleeping, small  entrances so as to bend very low). The only luxury was occasional shelves cut into rocks and sloping floor acting as a pillow but actually designed to keep of water from accumulating. Only the outer portions were carved sometimes. The Buddhist caves on the other hand were an elaborate and spacious affair.

In terms of similarities, the sculptures use similar motifs like animals, plants. The honeysuckle style is similar too. Examples of such caves are Khandgiri and Udaigiri in Puri.


The word stupa means a mound. While there are several kinds of stupas, round and tall, big and small, these have certain common features. Generally, there is a small box placed at the centre or heart of the stupa. This may contain bodily remains (such as teeth, bone or ashes) of the Buddha or his followers, or things they used, as well as precious stones, and coins. Maximum numbers of Stupa were built by Maurya kings – more than 80, 000 of them. Sunga kings also built and refrubished the old ones.

General features of a stupa

  1. Harmika – It is built on the top of the oval shaped stupa.
  2. Medhi – It is an elevated circular path around the stupa used for Pradhikshina
  3. Torana – It is the Gateway to the stupa. Sculptures can be seen on both Toranas and Medhi.
  4. Vedica – It is a railing meant for the protection of the holy place.
  5. Chatras – They are umbrella like structures on top of a Stupa and are three in number representing ‘Tri-ratnas’ of Buddhism viz – Buddha the enlightened one, Dham or doctrine and Sangha or order.
  6. Pradakshina Path – Often, a path, known as the pradakshina patha, was laid around the stupa. This was surrounded with railings. Entrance to the path was through gateways. Both railings and gateways were often decorated with sculpture. Surface of the hemispherical body of Stupa was built with bricks and inner side had thick layer of plaster.

Famous stupas are – Sanchi stupa by Maurya and later Sunga rulers, Bharhut (MP) constructed by Sunga rulers and Amravati Stupa by Satvahanas. Nagarjunkonda is another place that is famous for Buddhist architecture.

Bharhut Stupa was probably originally made by Mauryas in 300 BCE, but was later improved by later rulers like Sunga in 100 AD. Sungas added exquisitely carved railing around the Stupa which depicts scenes from Jataka.

Sanchi Stupa was initially built by Mauryan kings, was later refurbished by other kings like Sunga kings who added Pradakshinapath, railing etc. It is a stylistic progression over Bharuht and relief is high in carvings than those in Bharhut. Earlier it has representation of Buddha only in symbolic form, as original Buddhism has, later Jatak tales and imagery of Buddha were also added.

Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh is a place where a magnificent stupa once existed. Amravati has a ‘Mahacahiatya’ and many sculptures. The Amaravati School developed under the patronage of the Satavahanas of the Andhra region.


Jainas were prolific temple builders like the Hindus, and their sacred shrines and pilgrimage spots are to be found across the length and breadth of India except in the hills.

The oldest Jain pilgrimage sites are to be found in Bihar dating back to

Mauryan times.

Udaigiri and Khandagiri caves are also old Jain sites which were built in 2nd century BCE by Kharvela kings.

In the Deccan, some of the most architecturally important Jain sites can be found in Ellora and Aihole. Karnataka also have Jain architectures around Sharavanbelagola. Here the statue of Lord Bahubali/Gomatehwara is the largest monolithic freestanding statue of the world. Jain architecture has an origin in its own style which is considered as more Turanian.

In Central India, Deogarh, Khajuraho, Chanderi and Gwalior have some excellent examples and Rajasthan and Gujarat are traditional strongholds.

Mount Abu in Rajasthan is known for the Dilwara temple dedicated to Jain tirthankaras. These were built under the patronage of Solanki rulers.

Jain sculptures are mainly shown in either Yogic mudra or standing position with symbols of their teerthankars unlike Buddha which is shown in various other positions like reclining also.