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THE rock-cut viharas, or monastic “houses” of the Hinayana Buddhist order, although not of such architectural importance as the chaitya halls or temples described in the previous chapter, contain many significant features. 

Among other interesting facts, their planning, and treatment generally throw considerable light on the system which prevailed in these retreats, and reveal the manner in which the practical requirements of the community were provided for. 

In their broad aspect they also demonstrate that the Buddhist monachism of India had much in common with the monastic establishments of Europe, a condition due to the similarity in their aims. 

For instance, the Buddhist monks, as did their Cistercian brethren, planted the houses of their order in wild and desolate places, for apparently the same reasons that they might conduct their observances undisturbed by the distractions of any human environment. 

In a like manner their habitations had a similar beginning, for just as the cloister with its simple lean-to roof on stone pillars was the first step in the construction of the Benedictine monastery, so the early Buddhist vihara consisted of an open court, corresponding to the cloister-garth, enclosed also by a lean-to roof propped up by wooden posts. 

Then, in connection with the former were developed the “carralls” or small study-rooms, whereas in the latter these took the form of cells leading out of the central court. 

In the course of time the full complement of each type of monastery, whether European or Buddhist, was composed of a dormitory, a common room, a refectory or frater, a kitchen with other service amenities, and, in the case of the former a fish pond, and the latter a tank for the water supply. 

As a proof of the fact that both communities occasionally broke away from the rigid discipline of their order to indulge in a little relaxation, certain sinkings in the shape of small cups in the stone benches in the one instance, and in the rock flooring in the other, indicate that the Benedictines in their spare moments played some such game as Nine Men’s Morris, and the Buddhists the national Indian game of pachisi, Finally, and in the same way that, after the Dissolution, the monasteries in England lay in ruins, so the rock-cut viharas on the decline of the Buddhist faith, were completely deserted and left to crumble into decay; where at one time these numerous halls pulsated with spiritual life, they have now for centuries been the home of the jackal and the bat.

As already indicated the architectural significance of the excavated monasteries of the Hinayana sect lies in the fact that they are facsimiles, in the rock, of structural buildings devised to meet a similar demand, and which undoubtedly existed in considerable numbers. 

All these rock-cut viharas were by no means alike in their design, they took a variety of forms, but a representative example of the earlier or Hinayana type may be distinguished from that of the later or Mahayana, by several well-defined characteristics. 

Chief among their typical features was the open simplicity of the central hall, for, with one or two exceptions, this assembly room was a large square compartment, its space uninterrupted by any formation of pillars or colonnade.

Further, the cells opening out from the central hall always contain couches or beds also formed in the rock, and there is often a small recess for use as a locker cut in some convenient position. 

Owing to the situation of the couch in such small cells, which average only nine feet square, the doorway is not in the center but to one side of the outer wall. 

In these rock-cut copies of the structural original it is quite easy to see that the central hall corresponded to the open courtyard, while the facade, vestibule, and cells were all translations, in the rock medium, of the conventional wooden type of viharas, of which, owing to their impermanency, no examples have survived.

An illustration of the Hinayana system of monastic retreat may be seen at the famous Buddhist settlement of Ajanta, where, for a long period, a relatively small group of the early type were the only examples. 

This first series consisted of five excavations in all, two of which, Nos. 9 and 10, are chaitya halls, while there are three viharas, Nos. 8, 12 and 13. It will be noted that No. 

11 is omitted from the series as it is a Mahayana vihara rather awkwardly interposed at a much later date. 

Chaitya hall No. 10, with its attached vihara No. 12, were the first to be cut, vihara No. 13 being added shortly afterwards to accommodate the increasing body of monks. 


Then, most probably because the priestly community had been still further augmented to justify the production of another house of prayer, chaitya hall No. 

9 was excavated, together with vihara No. 8 as its accompanying monastery. Of these early viharas, No. 12 provides a simple but typical example of the single-storied variety, although its facade has almost entirely disappeared. 

Around its square central hall is carved that horse-shoe arcading characteristic of the work of this phase, its upper portion resolving itself into a pleasing frieze. 

Every feature is planned and cut with remarkable precision, the facility with which the artificers chiseled out the surfaces and finished off the ornamentation being noteworthy.

Another vihara in one story is that attached to the left side of the chaitya hall at Kondane, a representative example, save that it is one of the rare exceptions of the Hinayana type in which the central hall is not plain, but pillared. 

The exterior, although much of its lower part has broken away, is a very interesting production, as originally it consisted of a pillared portico, the end walls of which still remain. 

Projecting over this portico is a massive cornice, together with a feature corresponding to an entablature, every detail of which is an exact copy of intricate wooden construction. 

Within the portico is a screen wall with three square-headed openings, forming the doorway and a window on each side. 

Inside is a large hall measuring 23 feet by 29 feet, surrounded by a colonnade, and with cells opening out from the three interior sides. 

The pillars of the colonnade support roof beams with bridging joists and other structural details, all faithful imitations of a timber original. 

An instructive motif carved on the end wall of the portico is a conventional representation of a chaitya hall facade, from which it is possible to gain no little information as to the final appearance of these frontages. 

The other Hinayana monastery with pillars in its central hall is that at Pitalkhora, but of this example all that remains are a few of the cells. 

These cells, however, are not plain square rooms as in all the other viharas, but small vaulted chambers with ribbed roofs and lattice windows, reproductions in miniature of the work of the carpenter. 

The exteriors are as ornate as the interiors, as between the overarch of each doorway is a Persepolitanpilaster surmounted by addorsed animals or gryphons.

Buddhist Vihara

The single storied type of Hinayana vihara in its most decorative form may be seen in a series of three examples at Nasik, particularly in the treatment of their exteriors (Plate XXIIA). 

Judging by the style of their design and workmanship, supported by inscriptional evidence, they appear to have been executed in the first century A.D. According to their inscriptions they have also been named, Gautamiputra(No. 3), Nahapana (No. 8), and Sri Yajna (No. 15), Nahapanahaving been the first to be excavated, followed shortly afterwards by the two others. 

All have columned porticos and large central halls without pillars, out of which open the usual range of cells containing in most instances stone beds. 

In their general appearance the porticos of these three viharas are much alike, but the variations in the details are notable, particularly in the design of the pillars. 

The series of four, with a half pillar at each end, which form the Nahapana facade, are almost exact copies of those in the interior of the Ganesh Lena chaitya hall at Junnar, both of which in their turn having been derived from the portico pillars at Bedsa, every detail, from the lotus-base on the stepped pedestal below to the animal groups on the abacus above, being the same.

In the facade of the Gautamiputra example at Nasik the designer has worked out a somewhat similar scheme, but with elaborations, as in addition to the range of pillars forming the portico, he has placed their bases behind a richly carved dwarf wall, while below he has sculptured a row of giant figures appearing to carry the entire structure, by means of projecting beams, on their shoulders like an immense tabernacle. 

Under its enormous weight these stalwart atlantes, rising out of the earth, with bulging muscles stagger along, seeming to represent elemental beings from an underworld, forced into the service of the creed. 

Above the portico is a broad architrave supported on the superstructure of the pillars, each of which consists of either a pair of elephants, bulls, gryphons or other beasts, while there is a fine border of animals, alternating with a scroll of foliage, the whole rendered with exceptional spirit, The entrance doorway in the inner wall of the portico is a square-headed opening surrounded by an elaborate ornamental composition in which are included figures of an unusual character. 

In some respects, the treatment of this doorway recalls that of the Sanchi toranas, as it has lintels or crossbars with voluted ends, but like most of the rock-carving at Nasik, although it retains the principles of the style, shows a marked originality and independence in certain details.

The remaining example of the three large viharas at Nasik, the Sri Yajna, may have been the last to be executed, but it was produced in much the same form as the others of the group. 

Then, several centuries afterwards, when the Mahayana priests took over these early monasteries, the interior of this particular vihara appears to have been considerably altered in order to make it suitable for the performance of the later theistic ritual. 

Such a procedure presented no special difficulties, as the floor was merely sunk so as to provide a square dais towards the middle of the central half, and a cella excavated at the far end with a pillared antechamber for the accommodation of a large image of the Buddha; the style of this alteration indicates that the seventh century was the date of its conversion.

Contemporary with the monasteries excavated in the Western Ghats, another group of rock-cut halls and cells was being produced on the eastern side of the country, near Cuttack in Orissa. 

This resolves itself into a collection of chambers, not Buddhistic, but attributed to the opposing belief of the Jains, as in their treatment there are certain features implying a connexon with the latter creed. 

Nor are there any chaitya-halls, for they consist in most instances of a formation of cellular retreats recalling in some respects the viharas of the western Hinayana type. 

The close grouping on two low hills, not far removed from the famous Brahmanical fanes of Bhubaneshwar, supplies additional proof, if such were required, that this area was of special sanctity, the whole country around having sacred and historical associations. 

To Orissa, as its share in the precious relics of the Buddha fell the left canine tooth and the holy city of Dantapura, the “Town of the Tooth”, where this priceless possession was at one time deposited, lay in the vicinity of one of the neighboring towns, either of Bhubaneshwar or Puri, although all traces of it are now lost. 

As a token of the antiquity of these parts, near at hand is Dhaulihill, where is inscribed one of the rock edicts of Asoka, guarded by a fine sculpturesque representation of an elephant. 

The two tree-clad hills in which the rock-cut chambers are situated, are, together, locally known as Khandragiri, but the northern elevation is called Udaigiri, Separated by a defile, between them wound the “Pilgrims Sacred Way,” or Via Sacra, to Bhubaneshwar, where it is likely there stood, in early days, a stupa—the pilgrims’ goal.




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