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Ellora (cave no. 10) - Chaitya hall with octagonal pillars, richly decorated architrave and stone rafters with ridge purlins ; In front of the stupa a Buddha image (approx. 5th century): the Buddha shown in the teaching gesture ( dharmachakra-mudra ) and in a European sitting posture is accompanied by the bodhisattvas Padmapani and Vajrapani .

The so-called Chaitya halls are worship or prayer halls in the Buddhist temples of India . Together with the numerically more frequent - Vihara ("refuge", "dwelling place") called - caves or rooms of the monks they form a Buddhist cave monastery.


Chaityagriha in Lalitgiri

Nothing is known about the origin of this type of building, which is so characteristic of Buddhist art in India - free-standing wooden models (assembly halls?) Are likely due to the wooden vaults still preserved in the early rock caves, but have not been preserved. In Andhra Pradesh there were also Chaitya halls made of burned bricks, proven by remains of foundations. Century BC Are attributable to Chr. The earliest Chaitya halls carved into the rock, which offered a more representative and above all permanent protection, are around the 3rd / 2nd Century BC To be assigned to BC (cf. Bhaja ). The latest cave chaityas are likely from the 4th / 5th centuries. Century.

Remains of an apsidal, but only single-aisled, free-standing Chaitya hall from the first centuries AD with brick walls about 3 meters thick and a circular stupa in the apse were excavated in Lalitgiri . The remains of a late free-standing Chaitya hall from the 7th – 10th centuries. Century can be found in Sanchi ; The so-called temple no. 18 consisted of two parts: an open vestibule ( mandapa ) and an apsidial hall of worship ( chaitya ), also with only one nave .

In general, it can be assumed that the Chaitya halls are among the earliest buildings within a Buddhist cave monastery - only the existence of such a hall made the Buddhist worship rite of pradakshina possible and attracted pilgrims (willing to donate).


Chaitya halls served both to protect the cult image (initially only a stupa , later also a Buddha image) and to protect the monks and believers from the effects of the weather (sunlight, thunderstorms, monsoons ). The side aisles together with the apse surround enable the walking around ( pradakshina ) of the stupa or cult image, which is so important for the Buddhist worship rite . Whether a (rank) difference was made between the close encirclement - connected with a possible touch of the stupa and / or the cult image - and the distant Pradakshina is an unresolved question. The outer walls and facade of the Chaityas separate the secular and sacred world from one another.


The Chaitya halls are usually divided into a wide central nave and two narrow aisles by two rows of columns at the sides ( pillars or columns ). The out carved from the natural rock roof is curved (half ton in the nave, quarter ton in the aisles) and is in early Chaitya halls of one - underpinned wooden beams, which in the early - static completely superfluous cave temples of Bhaja and Karli has not yet received or has been partially restored; in later buildings this entablature was reproduced in stone ( Ellora , cave no. 10) - also meaningless in terms of construction.

The holy of holies forms an internal stupa, which from around the 4th / 5th Century AD a Buddha image was presented. The stupa is surrounded by a walkway for ritual evasion ( pradakshina ); the side aisles form a semicircular apse in the rear part of the hall.

Originally the Chaitya halls were closed with a wooden facade, in which one or more gates opened and in the upper part of which sunlight penetrated through a large window opening and - at certain times of the day or year - directly irradiated the stupa, including the rest of the hall but left largely in the dark. Although these wooden facades or wooden gates have disappeared, in some cases the holes in which they were once fixed have been preserved. Later buildings were given stone facades; these were carved out of the rock at the same time as the hall (cf. Ajanta , caves no. 9, 19 and 26). The cave 19 of Ajanta (6th / 7th centuries) even received a small vestibule carved out of the rock ( mandapa ).


Ajanta (Cave No. 9) - Facade of the Chaitya Hall with kudu windows and arched niches

Nothing is known of the decoration of the early Chaitya halls - constructed of wood or brick. The earliest Chaitya halls carved into the rock were still largely unadorned; there were only undivided or hardly structured rooms (e.g. in the Barabar Caves ). Supports appeared later and consisted of simple, mostly octagonal pillars without a base or capital (e.g. bhaja ). Finally the supports were provided with bases and decorated capitals (e.g. Karli ), then the entire architrave was decorated with figure reliefs; the side aisle walls were provided with Buddha sculptures and / or painted.

A popular decorative motif on the façades of the Chaitya halls were arches above windows or window niches ( chandrasalas or kudus ), which had already been created on earlier, non-preserved wooden structures ; These were covered by the keel arches - which were still completely unknown in Europe and other parts of the world at the time - which, moreover, were sometimes drawn in in the lower part, so that the earliest known horseshoe arches were created; However, the keel arches themselves are usually not designed as load-bearing structures, but only as blind arches .

These false windows ( chandrasalas or kudus ) are - mostly in a reduced form and assembled in large numbers to form panels ( udgamas ) - to a constantly recurring and defining decorative motif on the facades and on the Shikhara towers of north Indian temples from the 8th to 13th centuries ( Kalika Mata Temple ; Teli-ka Mandir ; Lakshmana Temple ; Kandariya Mahadeva Temple ).


  • Emily Cole (Ed.): Styles and Epochs of World Architecture . Fleurus Idea, Cologne 2005, ISBN 3-89717-350-6 .
  • Bernd Rosenheim: The world of the Buddha. Early Buddhist Art Sites in India . Philipp von Zabern, Mainz: 2006
  • Dietrich Seckel : Art of Buddhism. Becoming, wandering and changing. Holle-Verlag, Baden-Baden 1962
  • Jeannine Auboyer u. a .: Handbook of Form Style Studies - Asia. Fourier Verlag, Wiesbaden 1988 pp. 28ff ISBN 3-925037-21-7

Web links

Commons : Chaitya  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Excavated Buddhist site, Laitagiri. In: Archaeological Survey of India, accessed December 13, 2018 .