Evolution of rock-cut architecture in India

Evolution of rock-cut architecture in India

  • The earliest rock-cut caves are attributed to Ashoka and his grandson Dasaratha.
  • The early Buddhist architecture covers the period from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD. The excavations belonging to this period mostly consists of- the chaitya, viharas. They were mostly constructed of wood. Examples of the early Buddhist architecture can still be seen at Karla, Kanheri, Nasik, Bhaja and Bedsa and at Ajanta.

Karla Caves

  • The second phase of rock-cut architecture began in the 5th century AD. This phase was characterized by the elimination of timber and by the introduction of the image of the Buddha as a dominant feature of the architectural design. Viharas underwent a slight change during this time, the inner cells inhabited by the monks alone, now housed the image of the Buddha as well.

Buddha in Kanheri caves


  • The next and perhaps the most dominant phase in the tradition in the rock-cut tradition happen to be Dravidian rock-cut style. The primary features of this style are mandapa and ratha. The mandapa is an open pavilion excavated out of a rock. It takes the form of a simple columned hall with two or more cells in the back wall. The ratha is a monolithic shrine carved out a single rock.

Mahishamardini Rock Cut Mandapa