Rock-cut architecture occupies a very important place in the history of Indian Architecture. It differs from traditional buildings in many ways.
The rock-cut art is more similar to sculpture than architecture as structures were produced by cutting out solid rocks.
Let’s have a look at the various specimen of rock-cut architecture in ancient India. Some prominent rock-cut structures of ancient India are Chaityas, Viharas, temples etc.
Monolithic Rock-Cut Temples:
1. Pattadakal :
Pattadakal, also called Paṭṭadakallu or Raktapura, comprising of 7th and 8th century CE Hindu and Jain temples in northern Karnataka (India). Located on the west bank of the Malaprabha River in Bagalkot district.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is 14 miles (23 km) from Badami and about 6 miles (9.7 km) from Aihole. The monument is a protected site under Indian law and is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
UNESCO has described Pattadakal as “a harmonious blend of architectural forms from northern and southern India” and an illustration of “eclectic art” at its height.
The Hindu temples are generally dedicated to Shiva, but elements of Vaishnavism and Shaktism theology are also featured. The Jain temple is only dedicated to a single Jina.
2. Badami Cave Temples :
The Badami cave temples are a complex of four cave temples located in Badami, a town in the Bagalkot district in northern part of Karnataka, India. The Early Chalukyas chose the finely-grained and horizontally-stratified sandstone cliffs of Badami for rock excavations. It also facilitated excavation of comparatively large cave-temples, the execution of fine sculptures and intricate carvings in them.
Out of four cave temples, three depicted Hindu and one depicted Jaina religion.
The largest cave is Cave 3, featuring Vishnu-related mythology, and it is also the most intricately carved cave
Members of the royal family of Chalukyas patronized many Chalukyan monuments. All of them were created in a 6th and 7th century. The architecture is a mixture of the Nagara style and Dravida style. Apart from the above four, there is a fifth natural Buddhist cave in Badami.
3. Bagh Caves :
Located on the bank of Baghani River in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. These rock cut caves possess the most amazing paintings known to be made by ancient man. Out of the initial 9 caves only 5 have been extant. The legend says that these caves were established by Buddhist monk Dataka. The caves were carved in the late 4th century – 6th century AD.
Bagh Caves are known for Mural Paintings. The walls and ceilings were to be painted were covered with a thick mud plaster in brownish orange color.
Over this plaster, lime-priming was done and then paintings were laid. This is also known as tempera technique, which refers to the use of permanent fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder media.
The sophisticated style of art that is seen in the paintings of Ajanta is also found in surviving wall paintings and in fragments of murals in many parts of India.
4. Kailashnath Temple, Ellora :
The grand climax of rock-cut architecture in India was the making of Kailashnath Temple at Ellora. It is a vast multistorey megalith structure, carved inside and outside, made out of the heart of a rock. This temple is a remarkable example of the Dravidian architecture with Pallava influence. It was designed to recall Mount Kailas and was carved out of one single rock. It was built in the 8th century by the Rashtrakuta king Krishna I.
The Kailashnath Temple has been carved via the vertical excavation in which the carvers started at the top of the original rock, and excavated downward.
The deities belong to both the Shaivite as well as Vaishanv faith. The grand sculpture of Ravana attempting to lift Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his full might is a landmark in Indian art.
Kailashnath Temple is one of the largest rock-cut monolithic structure in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
5. Kanheri Caves :
The Kanheri Caves are a group of caves in the forests of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, on the island of Salsette in the western outskirts of Mumbai, India.
The cave complex comprises 109 caves and it is adorned with Buddhist sculptures and relief carvings, paintings, and inscriptions, dating from the 1st century BCE to the 10th century CE.
Each cave has a stone plinth that functioned as a bed. An assembly hall with huge stone pillars contains a stupa (a Buddhist shrine). Rock-cut channels above the caves fed rainwater into a reservoir, which provided the complex with water.
Once the caves were converted to permanent monasteries, their walls were carved with intricate reliefs of Buddha and the Bodhisattvas. Kanheri had become an important Buddhist settlement on the Konkan coast by the 3rd century CE.
6. Group of monuments at Mahabalipuram :
Mahabalipuram is known for its world heritage site comprising of Group of monuments of the Pallava Period in 7th- and 8th-century CE. Most of the monuments at Mahabalipuram are rock-cut and monolithic. They denote the early Dravidian architecture and have inculcated in themselves the Buddhist elements of architecture.
The site has 400 ancient monuments and Hindu temples, including one of the largest open-air rock reliefs in the world the Descent of the Ganges or Arjuna’s Penance.
The group contains several categories of monuments: Ratha temples with monolithic chariots, mandapa viharas (cave temples) with narratives from the Mahabharata and Shaivic, Shakti and Vaishna inscriptions in a number of Indian languages and scripts; rock reliefs (particularly bas-reliefs); stone-cut temples, and archaeological excavations dated to the 6th century and earlier.
Panch Rathas, which is also a part of monuments at Mahabalipuram and UNESCO World Heritage site list, has five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembling a chariot (ratha), and each is carved over a single, long stone or monolith, of granite which slopes in the north-south direction with a slight incline.
Varaha Cave Temple
Varaha Cave Temple or the Adivaraha Cave Temple is a rock-cut cave temple located at Mahabalipuram. This rock cut temple dates back to 7th century and is considered to be one of the finest testimonial to the ancient Vishwakarma Sthapathis. The most prominent sculpture in the cave is that of Lord Vishnu in the incarnated form of a Varaha or boar lifting Bhudevi, the mother earth goddess from the sea.
Shore Temple is granite made temple at Mahabalipuram built during the reign of Narsimha Varman. It is the oldest structural temple (in contrast with rock-cut temples) in India. Shore Temple is a beautiful 5 storied temple, which is a combined complex of 3 shrines; 2 dedicated to Shiva and one to Vishnu.
7. Undavalli caves :
The Undavalli Caves, a monolithic example of Indian rock-cut architecture and is located in Undavalli of Guntur district in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
These caves were carved out of solid sandstone on a hillside in the 4th to 5th centuries A.D.
There are several caves and the best known largest one has four stories with a huge recreated statue of Vishnu in a reclining posture, sculpted from a single block of granite inside the second floor.
Undavalli caves are an example of how many Buddhist artifacts and stupas in Andhra were converted into Hindu temples and deities