(Last Updated on : 11-02-2010)
Chaitya halls or grihas of worship were made either of brick or were excavated from rocks. Chaitya Halls were essentially Buddhist Structures. The Chaitya halls are also known by the name Aspidal temples. The Aspidal temples or Chaitya halls have been discovered in many other parts of India; such as Taxila near Rawalpindi, Sanchi near Bhilsa in Central India, Aihole
and Ter in the Nizam's dominions in South-western India and at Sankaram and Ramatirtham in the Vishakhapatnam
district of the Madras Presidency in South-eastern India.
The Chaitya-hall at Aihole
in the Bijapur
district of Mumbai, the capital of the older Chalukya Dynasty
of Southern India, was converted into a Hindu temple in later times. The Chaitya-hall at Ter, about thirty miles from Barsi in the Sholapur district, is built of bricks and is slightly different in plan from other Chaitya-halls of northern and southern India.
The older Chaitya-halls were therefore not peculiar to the Deccan or Western India as some people have supposed, they were essentially Buddhist in nature and are to be found almost all over India wherever Buddhist remains of greater antiquity have been discovered. In later times they fell into disuse and the Vihara took its place, from which all mediaeval temples, e.g., those at Nalanda
, Bodh Gaya
in the north and at Nagapatnam in the south, have been evolved.
Chaitya halls all over India are built on the same plan. They are large rectangular halls, the far ends of which are semicircular. In this semicircle is built a small circular or octagonal altar, the centre of which is the same as that of the bigger semicircle attached to the end of the rectangular hall. The object of worship is placed on this altar or pedestal. In all cases where the temple has not been converted into a Jain or a Hindu Shrine the altar is still occupied by a stupa.
The great Chaitya Hall at Taxila stands in a spacious courtyard and consists of a porch in front, a nave or wide floor-space in the middle of the hall and the circular apse behind. Surrounding the entire structure was a passage for circumambulation. In this respect only the Chaitya halls of the north differ from those of the rest of India. In the rock-cut Chaitya-halls there-is no passage for circumambulation outside the hall. Therefore for the first circumambulation, aisles were provided along the sides, separated from the nave by rows of pillars. Indian ritual requires two different circumambulations. The first is taken three or seven times around the shrine and the second the same number around the altar or the image.
There are two Chaitya Halls at Sanchi Temple. In the first temple the shrine is enclosed within a second circular wall which ran parallel to the outer wall, instead of a semicircular row of pillars. In the front part of the hall there were two aisles separated from the nave by rows of pillars similar in style exactly to the rock-cut Chaitya halls. The porch or veranda of this temple projected in front out of the rectangular courtyard.
The second apsidal temple at Sanchi was built on a rectangular stone plinth 11 high, 87 long and 45 broad. Inside this plinth were found the foundations of the Chaitya-hall.
The Bhaja Chaitya-hall may be older than the rest but it is impossible to maintain that the Chaitya-hall of the Pandulena group is older than that at Karla. The Karla Chaitya-hall contains two important inscriptions, one of the reign of the Sevthian monarch Nahapana according to which the village of Karajika was given to the ascetics living in the caves of Valuraka by Nahapana's son-in-law Ushavadata, and another of Vasishthi-putra Pulumavi, the son and successor of the Satavahana king Gautamiputra Satakarni according to which another village was given to the same ascetics in the seventh year of the reign of the king. In fact it is believed that Hinayana architecture had reached the peak of excellence in the Karla Caves.
The Chaitya-hall on the Manmodi hill at Junnar in the Nasik district also belongs to the period of the Saythian monarch Nahapana and the style also proves that it belongs to the same period of Architectural development as the hall in the Pandulena caves. The facade is mean and narrow and the interior shows incapability of wide conception on the part of the architect. The top of the chaitya in the Pandulena hall touches the curved roof and has been placed on a high pedestal.
The peculiar feature of the Chaitya-halls of Western India is the use of circular wooden beams under the barrel-shaped vault of the roof. These beams or roof timber can still be seen at Karla, Bhaja, Kondane and their marks or traces in the Chaitya-hall at Kanheri, but there is no such trace in the Chaitya hall of the Pandulena group.
Thus, Chaitya halls are places of worship generally for the Buddhists. But at the same time they were not limited as places of worship they were excellent representations of marvellous Buddhist Architecture.