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?

Sudama, Barabar Hills

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

Lomas Rishi, Barabar Hills. 3rd Century B.C
  • 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.

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