Evolution and Development of Chaitya Halls

What Is A Chaitya Hall?

  • The Buddhist Prayer – Hall.
  • Large – vaulted hall with apsidal end and divided longitudinally by two colonnades into a broad nave and two aisles.
  • Stupa in the apse.
  • Aisles and apsidal end for circumambulation and nave for congregational service.

Why A Chaitya Hall?

The Stupa evolved from being a funerary mound carrying ashes to an object of worship.

  • Carried the ashes of the Buddha so gained a sacral value.
  • A building was needed to accommodate copies of the Stupa and provide shelter for devotees.
  • Initially religious rites were conducted in the open, so no need for a structural house of prayer.
  • As Idol worship evolved, temples to house deities were required.
  • In order to house a hemispherical Stupa and to provide for circumambulation building which was circular in plan and had a domed roof was made.
  • Accepted as was sanctified by bee hive huts and conical roofs of hermits.

Birth Of The Basilica – Shaped Hall

  • Rock – cut chambers of Barabar Hills, Bihar were predecessors of the Basilica – shaped hall.
  • Inner cells are copies of circular huts with thatched roofs and overhanging eaves.
  • Rock cut chamber at Guntupalle is a copy of a circular hut with the conical thatched roof resting like an inverted basket on the wood frame, stupa being in situ.
  • Barrel – vaulted ante – chamber attached to inner cellar with a doorway in between.
  • An example is of Taxila, 1st century B.C.
  • Wall separating cellar from ante – chamber was removed, and Basilica shaped hall formed.
  • Earliest example is Temple No. 40 at Sanchi.

Temple No. 40, Sanchi

  • Exterior plan is rectangular, but one end of interior plan is apsidal.
  • Unusually high plinth in order to raise building above flood level in low plains.
  • Side entrances copied from rock – cut chapels which were so due to shallow contouring of quarried rock.
  • Row of pillars aligned down center of nave.
  • Built mainly of wood. Wooden pillars and railings and timber roof covered with tiles.

Chaitya Halls Of The Hinayan Period

  • Chaitya halls at Bhaja, Kondane, Pitalkhora, 9th and 10th caves at Ajanta, Bedsa, Nasik and Karle.
  • Karle is the most important and best executed.
  • Bhaja, Kondane, Pitalkhora and the 10th cave at Ajanta in the 2nd century B.C.
  • Bedsa, Nasik, Karle and the 9th cave at Ajanta in the 1st century B.C.
  • Last Chaitya hall at Kanheri in the middle of the 2nd century, A.D.
  • The earlier the building, the closer it copies timber construction.
  • The slope of the interior pillars helps decide chronology. The inward slope is a derivation of wooden posts slanted to take the thrust of the heavy timber roof, hence greater the angle, older the hall. 
  • The chronology also depends on the Chaitya arch.

General Characteristics

  • Apsidal plan.
  • Pillars in colonnades are copies of plain wooden posts, of octagonal section and without capitals and base.
  • Massive pillared portico or vestibule in front.
  • Behind is a façade consisting of a great horse – shoe archway with a wall or screen below, and doorways accessing the nave and aisles.
  • There is a sun window in the centre of the archway to let in sunlight. 
  • It is a stilted semi – circular aperture, divided into lunettes (an area framed by an arch or vault) using curved wooden transoms (a crossbar dividing a window horizontally) held by wooden braces and radiating like spokes of a wheel.


  • Most primitive hall.
  • 55ft X 26 ft, side aisles 3 ½ ft wide and high – stilted vault 29 ft high with close ranked wood ribs.
  • Façades have numerous mortice holes for fixing elaborate wooden frontages.
  • H – shaped framework in the front with the two uprights fitting into each side of the rock – cut archway and the horizontal beam connecting and holding them acting as a cross – piece.
  • Screen with one central and 2 side doorways under the arch.
  • Hanging balcony supported on 4 pillars above cross – beam constituting a portico.
  • Stupa consists of a cylindrical base, tall domical body and a wooden harmika and chhatri.


  • 66 ft X  26 ½ ft X  28 ft.
  • Next step in evolution of Chaitya halls.
  • Structure similar to Bhaja.
  • Upright beams on both sides of the archway are partially stone carved instead of fully in wood.


  • 50 ft X 34 ½ ft X 31 ft.
  • Roof – ribs in side – aisles  carved of rock.

Ajanta Cave 10

  • 100 ft X 40 ft X 33 ft.
  • Roof – ribs in side – aisles  radiate from end pillars and carved of rock.
  • Two tiered stupa with circular base, and elongated dome.

Ajanta Cave 9

  • Entire hall rock carved.
  • Rectangular plan. The ceilings of the side aisles is flat with perpendicular pillars.
  • Doorway in the centre and a window on either side, each topped by an elegant cornice on brackets like a portico.
  • Broad sill or ledge on top with a sun window above within a Chaitya arch. There are small lattice windows carved around the archway.
  • The wooden ribs bracing the vault of the nave have been removed leaving a broad space like a triforium.


  • 45 ½ ft X 21 ft.
  • Exterior  consists of two rock cut columns between pilasters acting as a vestibule to the arcaded screen at the rear.
  • Vase – shaped base, octagonal shaft and figurine carved capital.
  • Pillars support the main beam of the roof.
  • Beams, binding joists and railing parapet copied from timber construction. 
  • The archway, sun window, and entrance doorway are within the portico.
  • Interior is very plain, pillars are copies of octagonal posts.


  • Pinnacle of Hinayana Chaitya construction.
  • 124 ft X 46 ½ ft X 45 ft.
  • At the front are the SIMHA STAMBHA; 50 ft tall free standing pillars on both sides of the façade, placed ahead of the entrance to inspire reverence. 
  • Each stands on a wide rock cylinder base, with a 16 – sided shaft, fluted abacus above the capital and a harmika pedestal for wheel bearing lions.
  • Behind them is a vestibule, the front made of a rock cut screen with a triple entrace and pillared clerestory. There are mortice holes to attach a wooden gallery accessible by stairs behind the column.
  • Inner wall of the vestibule has a horse – shoe archway with a recessed sun window. Rock tiers of arcading separated by railings are carved on the spandrils.
  • Entrance was by 3 doorways, approached by a raised pathway. On each side the sunken floor formed shallow cisterns for water.
  • There are pillared aisles, with 37 closely set pillars. The ones encircling the apse have unadorned octagonal shafts. 
  • 15 on each side of the colonnade are highly decorated like the SIMHA STAMBHA. Each has a vase base on a plinth, octagonal shaft, campaniform capital with abacus an statuary.
  • High arched vault with narrow projecting ribs (wind braces) of flat planks of wood attached by plugs or socketed in grooves. 
  • The Stupa is like the one at Bedsa.
  • The sun – window lets in light. It is first filtered between clerestory openings, then the wooden grill of the window. 


  • Last Hinayana Chaitya Hall, 2nd Century A.D.
  • 86 ft X 40 ft X 50 ft.
  • There is a courtyard in front of the exterior contained within a small wall and accessible by steps.
  • Within it are SINHA STAMBHAS as at Karle but these are attached to rock. Also there is a cushion member in between the octagonal shaft.
  • The outer façade is a plain wall screen with three tall square openings below and a 5 window clerestory above.
  • There are mortice holes to attach wooden construction, showing that the hall returned to half timber construction.
  • Behind the screen is a vestibule with 3 doorways and an unfinished bare semi circular sun window.

Chaitya Halls Of The Mahayana Period

  • Rock cut Chaitya halls are not stone copies of timber construction.
  • Only timber framework with curved transoms in Chaitya window and ribs of  the vault resemble woodwork.
  • Workmen more aware of the material, carved solid rock to make structures instead of copying slender wooden beams and joinery.
  • Cushion capital developed. The shaft is a plain square prism, the upper being round in section, vertically fluted with compressed capital.


Ajanta Cave No 19

  • Exterior 38 ft X 32 ft, interior 46 ft X 24 ft.
  • Exterior entrance court with side chapels, with one doorway and pillared portico. The roof of the portico forms an entablature with a minstrel’s gallery on it. Chaitya window at the back.
  • Interior divided into nave and aisles by 15, 11 ft high, pillars with patterned shafts, cushion capitals and brackets supporting a 5 ft wide triforium.
  • Vaulted roof with carved ribs.
  • Stupa is a monolith 22 ft high, double domed. The domical portion is a pillared niche and canopy with the Buddha in the recess. 
  • Above is a tall tiered finial, a harmika, 3 decreasing parasols and a vase.


Ajanta Cave No 26

  • 68 ft X 36 ft X 31 ft.
  • Last Ajanta Hall, 50 years after no. 19
  • More ornamented, a member added in the pillars, panels recessed and elaborate triforium.
  • Portico has 3 doorways with Chaitya window above.
  • Decline of style signaled by excessive sculpture and shoddy workmanship.

Mahanwada Cave

  • 117 ft X 58 ½ ft.
  • Down the center of the nave two low narrow and parallel platforms left in rock. Used to seat priests in two facing rows.

Viswakarma Cave

  • 85 ft X 44 ft x 34 FT.
  • Plainer than Ajanta.
  • Stupa is a foundation to support a shrine or niche of Buddha.
  • Chaitya arch of the sun window compressed to a small opening, with a transverse foliation below.
  • Two canopies over the niche, predecessors of Indo Aryan and Dravidian temple shrine styles. 

Evolution Of Chaitya Arch

  • Lomas Rishi had a gable end, an arrangement of boards.
  • First horse – shoe at Bhaja but stilted.
  • Arch at Kondane has an inward return to the spring.
  • At Ajanta and Karle it reaches its pinnacle.
  • During Mahayana period at Ajanta the arch becomes constricted at the base and florid in curves.
  • At Viswakarma its almost a circle.
  • Ornamental accessory in Brahmanical temples. 
This presentation was created by: 
Vidushie Shriya


nedved1000's picture
Member since:
16 August 2015

Your work is very good and I appreciate you and hopping for some more informative posts. happy new year 2016 new year 2016 happy new year 2016 images feliz año nuevo 2016 imagenes de año nuevo 2016 feliz año 2016 bonne année 2016