Study Aid 8: The Architecture of India and South-East Asia

India is an ancient, complex and deply religious society, which is reflected in its architectural traditions. While visisting India in the last century, Mark Twain reported that while Indians may seem poor to rich Westerners, in matters of the spirit, they were millionaires and we were paupers.

The Buddhist religion arose out of the proto-Hindu faith in India (Buddha, c. 563-483 BC) and was spread widely throughout the continent. The Buddhist religious complex at Sanchi enshrines some relics of the Buddha in a mound or dome-like building called the Great Stupa, (c. 250 BC, enlarged and embellished later). The patron of the complex was King Asoka who attempted to unify his realm under Buddhism. Although the stupa was supposed to be a reminder of the Buddha, it also symbolized the Buddhist conception of the universe and its place for ritual. Assembly or chaitya halls were built by both Buddhists and Hindus, some of which took the form of long caves excavated into the living rock,e.g. Ajanta, 2nd century BC - 8th century AD; Karli, 78 BC.

As Buddhism spread, the form of the stupa underwent many changes. It was transformed into a tall pagoda in China and Japan. The great stupa-mountain at Borobudur, c. 774-840 AD on the island of Java in Indonesia, takes the form of a mandala with a square base, surmounted by sculpted terraces and finally 72 smaller stupas that contained statues of the Buddha. Elaborately designed as a model of the Buddhist cosmos, one learned the tenets of Buddhism by studying the reliefs as one circumambulated and ascended the monument.

The polytheistic Hindu faith produced monumental stone and brick temples whose form became standardized after the 8th C. AD with designs that blur the distinctions between sculpture and architecture. Early Hindu temples were often similar to Buddhist, rock-cut chaitya halls, e.g. Kailasa, Ellura, 758-773 AD. The Muktesvara Temple at Bhubaneshwar, circa 950-1000 AD, is dominated by tall, faceted or pleated, stone tower called a sikhara. The sikhara symbolizes Mt. Meru, the "world mountain" and the bodies of deities and features elaborately carved decoration and small sacred, internal chambers featuring an image of the deity. The large, southern Temple complex of Minakshi at Madurai (or Madura), has a wide variety of buildings including temples, pools and massive pyramidal gateways (gopuras) that are oriented to the cardinal directions and covered with brightly-painted sculptures. The temple complex achieved its mature form under the patronage of King Tirumali Nayyak (c.1623-1659).

Hinduism was adopted but altered by the Khmer rulers of Cambodia, who elevated the king to the position of a divinity. The capital at Angkor has several monumental complexes which included barays (resevoir/reflecting basins) and multi-towered temples, e.g. Angkor Wat, (patron: Suryavarman II, 1113-1150); and Angkor Thom, a Buddhist complex built by Jayavarman VII.

Buddhist Religious Complex

Date: 3rd Century BC-1st Century AD
Location: Sanchi, India
Architect: Unknown
Patron: Originally King Asoka


Reconstruction - Great Stupa and surrounding buildings, Birds-Eye View in 2nd Century AD

Great Stupa with West Torana Gate

Great Stupa Railing and Stairs

Stupa #3


Elevation - East Torana Gate at the Great Stupa

Detail - North Torana Gate

Detail - North Torana Gate - Monkey's Gift

Chaitya Hall (Building #18)

Monastery (Building #51)


Date: 774-840AD
Location: Java, Indonesia
Architect: Unknown



Aerial View


Birds-eye and Section Views

Exterior View


"World of Desire" Carving - Evil Deeds & Rewards in Hell


Corridor in the "World of Form"


View into the "World of Formlessness"

Platteau of Formlessness

Platteau of Formlessness


Detail - Exposed Buddha in the "World of Formlessness"

Muktesvara Temple

Date: 950-1000 AD
Location: Bhubaneshwar, India
Architect: Unknown


Exterior View

Torana Gate

Temple Tower

Temple Detail

Temple - Sculptural Detail of Monkeys

Temple Ceiling


Interior View with Sacred Pool

Minakshi Temple Complex

Date: 1623-1659 AD
Location: Madurai, India
Patron: King Tirumali Nayyak, et. al.


Plan of Temple Complex

Distant View of Complex


Section - South Gate Tower (Gopuram)


View of North Gopuram


View of South Gopuram

Detail of Gopuram

Detail of Gopuram with Protective Monster on Top

Golden Lotus Tank

Interior View - Great Gallery Aisled Hall

Angkor Wat

Date: 1113-1150 AD
Location: Cambodia
Patron: Suryavarman II


Reconstruction - Birds-eye View of Greater Angkor




Reconstruction - Birds-eye View of Sacred Precinct


Aerial View


Exterior Elevation - Reflection in Moat (Baray)

Causeway to Temple

Corner of Northeast Central Precinct

Relief Panel of Apsara

Interior View - North Gallery

Window Screened with Turned Stone Posts in Central Precinct


Exterior Elevation - Central Temple