Buddhist Architecture in India 2

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THE VEDIC CULTURE (c. B. C. 1500-800.)


The huts within the village enclosure were of various shapes but it is fairly certain that at first those of a circular plan predominated. 

Students of constructional origins have remarked on primitive man’s natural tendency towards rounded forms, and give as instances pots and baskets. 

Incidentally, as shown in the bas-reliefs, the earliest Indian seat resembled a round inverted basket. 

In the case of the building art the foundations of the old city of Rajgriha in Bihar which probably flourished about 800 B.C. indicate that circular buildings were then common, and even at the present-day village store-houses in parts of India arc often round structures of bamboo. 

In the Vedic village, huts were of the beehive pattern made of a circular wall of bamboos held together with bands of withes and covered with a domical roof of leaves or thatched with grass. 

A remarkable illustration of this may be seen in the interior of the rock-cut Sudama cell in the Barabar hill group, where every detail of the timber construction is copied in the living rock. 

At a later date in the evolution’ of the Vedic hut, the circular plan was elongated into an oval with a barrel roof formed on a frame of bent bamboos also covered with thatch. 

Soon some of these huts were arranged in threes and fours around a square courtyard and the roofs covered with planks of wood or tiles.


Sudama Cell

In the better class houses, unbaked bricks were used for the walls, and the doorways were square-headed openings with double doors. 

One device to maintain the barrel shape of the roof was to stretch a thong or with across the end of the arch-like the cord of a bow, in a word an embryo tied-rod. 

This contrivance constricted the chord of the arch and produced a shape assembling a horseshoe, a type of archway commonly referred to as the chatty a or “sun-window”, which became characteristic of the subsequent architecture of the Buddhists. 

It will be seen, therefore, that a very ancient usage underlies many of these village forms, which is significant in view of the ensuing structural developments.

Such primitive shapes and expedients as the railing and the gateway, the rounded hut with the heavy eave of the thatch, the barrel-roof with its framework of bent bamboos, all in a greater or lesser degree influenced the style which followed. 

As to the decorative character of these [forest dwellings, there is little doubt that this was obtained by means of color applied on the mud walls. 

Huts in the remoter villages of India, notably in Orissa, are still almost invariably white-washed and patterns of archaic designs in red pigment (hematite) painted on this white ground. 

The symbolism in such patterns suggests a very early origin that may go back to Vedic times.

Towards the middle of the first millennium B.C., the social system of the Vedic community so expanded that towns arose at certain important centers. 

where the traditional structural features of the village were reproduced on a larger scale and in a more substantial form. 

Owing to a fierce rivalry that had sprung up between the various groups, the towns, which were the capitals of states, were strongly fortified.

They were, therefore, of necessity surrounded by a rampart and wooden palisades while within this enclosure the buildings were also almost entirely of wood. 

The Vedic civilization now enters on an era of timber construction. In many countries, there is an age when the inhabitants lived in forests so that they became closely identified with their woody environment, as their ancient folklore frequently testifies. 

According to the natural disposition and trend of these people, the period during which they practiced wooden construction was long or short but it was inevitably followed in the course of time by the employment of more permanent materials for building purposes. 

With the early inhabitants of India, the timber age appears to have been a long one, due to no doubt to the vast extent of the Mahayana or “Great Wood” in which they were cradled, picturesque references to which find a place in their epics. 

So closely connected with their existence were these forests that the early people developed a dexterity in wooden construction of a very high standard. 

Their pronounced manipulative skill in this material may be accounted for by their prolonged apprenticeship to the woodworkers craft when they were forced to rely on the trees around them for many of the necessities of life. 

In the Rig-Veda, the carpenter is recorded as holding the place of honor among all artizans as on his handiwork the village community depended for some of its most vital needs. 

It is not remarkable, therefore, in view of this timber tradition that its constructional features were freely and closely imitated in the rock and stone architecture which eventuated and was the form of expression for many centuries afterward.

Cities largely of wooden construction, therefore, began to appear in various parts of the country, and according to Dhammapala, the great Buddhist commentator they were planned by an architect of the name of Maha-Govinda who is stated to have been responsible for the layout of several of the capitals of northern India in the fifth century B.C. This is the first mention of an architect in the annals of the country. 

In principle, these cities were rectangular in plan and divided into four quarters by two main thoroughfares intersecting at right angles, each leading to a city gate. 

One of these quarters contained the citadel and royal apartments another resolved itself into the residences of the upper classes, a third was for the less pretentious buildings of the middle class, and the fourth was for the accommodation of traders with their workshops open to view as in the modern bazaar. 

Of the quarters reserved for the citadel and palace a fairly detailed account has been handed down, and the general arrangements of the royal residence have so much in common with the later medieval palaces of India that it seems evident the latter were a continuation of an ancient convention, Although the long interval of two thousand years separates the Vedic palace from that of the Mughals, both were built around an inner courtyard within the citadel and both had a large central window for the darshan or salutation of the king. 

Both had a wing reserved for the royal ladies with pleasure gardens, having fountains and ornamental waters attached, In each, there was an official enclosure containing audience and assembly halls, a court of justice, a music gallery, and near at hand an arena for wrestling displays and contests of wild beasts. 

But whereas the pavilions of the Mughals were of marble, the building art in the Vedic era was at the primitive stage when even the royal residences had not advanced beyond thatched roofs.

In spite, however, of the evidence of the literary records which indicate that much of the building construction at this early date was of a temporary nature, the one example that has survived proves that some efforts were already being made to produce stone masonry of a durable character. 

The beginnings are seen in the city wall of Rajgriha, the ancient capital of Magadha, now a vast area of ruins in the Patna district of Bihar.

Immensely strong and of cyclopean proportions, this wall consists of a rough pile of massive undressed stones, each between three and five feet in length, but carefully fitted and bonded together. 

The core between is composed of smaller blocks less carefully prepared with fragments of stone packed within the interstices; no mortar appears to have been used. 

This type of masonry seems to have been carried up to a height of about twelve feet, above which was erected a superstructure of wood and brick, -or stone and brick combined. 

It is noteworthy that the same system of walling is found in the primitive masonry of the Pelasgicum of the Acropolis at Athens, with which it is probably contemporary. 

The desire for some stable method of construction was evidently being felt, but at this stage, the skill and experience were lacking.


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