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Cave Architecutre

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This OER enables you to:

  • trace the origin of cave architecture
  • identify different types of cave architecture found in India
  • distinguish between types of Buddhist caves
  • describe the importance of caves as tourist destination


What are the structures given in the following photographs? Are they hideouts ?

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A group of students have reached world famous Ellora caves as a part of their study tour. They have hired the services of a guide approved by Ministry of Tourism to explain the magnificent architectural wonder. Their guide Raju an expert in cave architecture welcomes them and explains:

Cave architecture is often called as Rock-cut architecture.Indian rock-cut architecture is one of the main forms of architecture seen in caves.It is the practice of creating a structure by carving it out of solid natural rock. Along with sculptures some caves are famous for painting like the Ajanta caves.

The earliest caves were natural caves used by people for a variety of purposes such as shrines and shelters.Indian rock-cut architecture is mostly religious in nature.There are more than 1,500 rock-cut structures in India.

Harish asked guide Raju, “ what is the origin of carving caves”? The guide explains---

Origin of cave architecture

Caves were excavated out of rocks , as rocks are very durable as compared to other materials like wood or any structural building.They were used as (Varshavasa)residences for Buddhists monks during rainy season and as a medium to propagate principles of different religions. Harish understood the reasons for carving the caves by our ancestors and was fascinated by the number of benefits which these beautiful carvings can give for generations to come.

Suddenly Meeta asked, “Sir, can I know how old these caves are? Raju explains , “ These caves were carved in 3rdcentury A.D and completed in 11th century A.D. These are not the oldest caves. Now I will highlight the major aspects of history of cave architecture.

History of cave architecture in India

The Oldest rock-cut architecture is the Barabar caves, Bihar built around 3rd Century BC. Other early cave temples were used by Buddhist and Jain monks as places of worship and residence found in western India.Buddhist cave architecture reflected in the form of caves date back from 100 BC to 170 AD. At some places we see traces of wood being used and this indicates imitation of wooden construction of that period.The earliest cave temples include the Bhaja Caves, the Karla Caves, the Bedsa Caves, the Kanheri Caves and Ajanta Caves. These caves are related to Buddhism.
Later caves were associated with Hinduism and Jainism.Caves are found at different places like Ellora, Elephanta, Badami etc. There are variations in the architectural elements according to the religions.


1. Where do you think caves are found?
in Oceans
in Mountains
in Plains

Score =
Correct answers:

Meeta was happy by the inputs given by the guide. They were proceeding to the caves. Guide Raju , “ stop for a while , I would like to share some important information before we actually visit the caves.” He continues further, Fortunately you have selected the right cave site to know about cave architecture’.
Here in Ellora we will be able to find different types of caves.

Types of caves

Major elements of cave architecture are reflected through caves. Caves in India are basically related to three different religions.

  • Buddhist caves
  • Hindu caves
  • Jain caves

Buddhist caves in India

Dates back from second century B.C. to second century A.D. In the first phase of Buddhism (Hinayana) Buddha was worshipped in the symbolic form (Stupa) . “What are different types of Buddhist caves and what is Stupa” ? Asked students in chorous. ‘ Yes , let me show you

  • Chaitya caves-image
  • Vihara caves-image

Chita caves

These are the places of worship used by the Buddhist monks . It has an object of worship called ‘Stupa’In Hinayana period (earlier Buddhism ) symbolic worship is observed so any sculpture of Buddha and related deities are not carved on the Stupa. In Mahayana ( later Buddhism ) Buddha , related deities and jataka Stories are carved and painted. On the Stupa, Buddha in various posture is also carved.

Vihara caves

Are the places of residence in Buddhist caves. Is also called as monastery.They are found both in Hinayana and Mahayana sects.Some caves contain cells or small rooms for the monks . Hinayana Vihara are with carving of Stupa with out image of Buddha.Mahayana Vihara have sculptures related to Buddhism.Some Viharas have more than one storey.

Hindu Caves in India

They are found at various sites located all over India .They are the continuation of the Buddhist cave architecture . the period of excavation is from fourth century to eight century A.D.Major themes depicted are associated with Hinduism like Dasavatara, Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Jain Caves in India

Generally dated between Sixth century A.D. to and 12th centurys A.D.Depict the stories related to Tirthankaras of Jain Pantheon.The sculptures are highly ornamented.It is the culmination of cave architecture in India.

Major caves in India

The following caves have been declared as World Heritage Sites

  • Ellora
  • Ajanta
  • Elephanta

Other important caves are

  • Karla
  • Badami

Significance of cave architecture:

Interests in toursists is created due to significance of cave archtecfture. The caves in our country contain artworks of global importance. Most are adorned with exquisite stone carvings. These ancient and medieval structures are amazing achievements of structural engineering and craftmanship


Understanding cave architecture will help in creating interest for tourist visits. In India we find different old caves with beautiful architecture.

Inkpot.png Assignments

Visit any cave in your locality and find out the history of the cave. Prepare a write up with photographs.