TRAVEL to LYCIA, TURKEY, in the SPRING of 2000


When talking about cave temples, one will naturally recall those of India such as Ajanta and Ellora. The technique of creating cave temples was introduced to China (Tun-huang, Yun-kang and others) along with Buddhism. Compared with Indian cave temples, Chinese ones have many more wall and ceiling paintings, though they lack many characteristics from the architectural point of view. In Pakistan, cave temples are few, but in Afghanistan, we can find interesting western style carved ceilings in domes and laternendeckes at Bamiyan etc.

The cave temples in India have no superior in the world in their magnificent carvings and architectural formality, with pillars and beams in systematic order. In contrast to the fact that wooden buildings of ancient times were almost completely lost, about 1,200 ancient cave temples still exist, mainly in the Deccan, because they are carved structures on the strong rocky mountains. Approximately 75 percent of them are Buddhist, and it has been widely considered that they inform us about the figure and construction system in ancient times as replicas of the then current freestanding wooden temples and monasteries.

A Hindu temple is fundamentally a 'house of a god', but the Buddhist caves are combinations of 'Vihara' caves, where priests lived, and 'Chaitya' caves, chapels enshrining a 'Stupa'. Those conbination caves follow the same manner of the monasteries and Chaitya halls built of wood or brick on the ground. We can see the plans of such wooden temples through excavated foundations in various sites, but it is not clear what the appearances of their upper structures were. The ancient wooden architecture in India was consequently to be analogized from the figures of cave temples.
In fact, Indian cave temples seem to have followed the wooden structure in detail, and art and architectural historians, such as Percy Brown, took it for granted that the ancient wooden temples were built in just the same aspect as cave temples.

Left : Facade of a Chaitya cave, Cave 9 at Ajanta (India)
Right : Conjectural reconstruction of a wooden building
as the original form of a Chaitya cave by Percy Brown

When I wrote the books "The Guide to the Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent" and "Architecture in India", there was nothing for it but to summarize such a common view in related chapters. Although it is no problem to think that a Vihara cave is a replica of a single-story wooden building with a flat roof, except for the thickness of its elements, for a long time I was rather doubtful of the view that regarded Chaitya caves to be precise immitations of wooden structures.
A Chaitya cave usually possesses a large window with a pointed arch on its facade and an interior space that looks like a 'rafter structure' with a barrel shaped ceiling. It is quite unnatural to consider that these elements might have belonged to wooden architecture.
As we can see in the wall paintings, as in Cave 17 at Ajanta, it is most natural that wooden buildings were constructed with 'triangular gabled roofs'. Such a gabled roof is adopted at any place in the world where rain falls, such as in Japanese shrines and Greek temples as well.

Left : Cave 26 looking like a 'rafter structure', Ajanta (India)
Right : Wall painting showing a typical wooden house, Ajanta (India)

On the other hand, it is not easy to build a curved roof like a barrel vault (i.e. semi cylindrical ceiling) with the use of wooden material. How on earth could they make semicircular rafters as seen in cave temples? It was impossible to bend large pieces of timber with ancient technology.
The ceilings of early Chaitya caves, such as Baja or Karli, are attached by rafters of teak timber so as to look like real wooden buildings, but actually, the pieces of board are linked together by 'butt joints' at those rafters forming great arches without either metal fittings or bonding agents. If such a rafter structure is applied to a freestanding house without tie rods, it will easily be destroyed by earthquake or cyclone. In fact, there exist no such wooden buildings in India.

The art historian E.B. Havell insisted that the Indian arch was made of bamboo. However, bamboo is also an extremely solid material with a pipe structure with flanges, which is difficult to bend. Apart from slender bamboo used for craft works, builders could not bend large pieces of bamboo such as to be used as the building's framework. Even if relatively slender bamboo is used, one should tie up the bent bamboo by a tension member to keep the arch form. However, the arched rafters in Chaitya caves are placed freely above the pillars without any suggestion of a tension member.

After careful consideration, I reached the following conclusion; the interior spaces with barrel vault ceilings at Chaitya caves were created as only an interior design, with no connection to the fundamental structure of the whole building. The building itself would have been a box type with a flat or gabled roof. Inside of the building, they must have hung a cylindrical ceiling with wooden archd rafters, made by pieces of board linked by 'butt joints' as an interior design. Such a ceiling matches the hemispherical form of stupa, and as we see in the Chaitya cave at Karli, ancient architects created such a splendid interior space, in harmony with the gentle curve of the stupa.

Interior space of the Chaitya cave, Karli ( India )

The next question is how they got such an extraordinary idea as to compose a cylindrical ceiling by setting arched rafters in a row in the building. It is unlikely that they designed such a form without any model. A more curious point is in the design of the 'Chaitya window' on the facade. It consists of a large 'Chaitya arch', and is also carved as if it were a wooden structure; purlins on the rafters are supporting a cylindrical roof. Besides, the whole facade is designed as a sort of pointed arch with a horn on top.
It was in Islamic architecture during 8th -9th centuries that the pointed arch first appeared, and the arches before that period were almost all semicircular shaped. If so, why did they have a pointed arch in ancient India? In addition, why did they carve it as a wooden arch, not the 'real arch' of stone or brick masonry? These problems worried me for a long time, and finally I hit upon Lycian cave tombs and sarcophagi in Anatolia (Turkey).

There are caves and sarcophagi with pointed arches in Lycia, moreover carved as if they were wooden structures. Many of them were made in the 4th century B.C.E. As to India, the first cave temples appeared in the middle of the 3rd century B.C.E. They are the caves at Barabar and Nagarjuni Hills built for Ajivikas by King Ashoka.
If there is no connection between the two sites located so far apart, it might be considered only a strange coincidence. However, there exists historical evidence of the eastern expedition by Alexander the Great of Macedonia (reign 336 B.C.E. - 323 B.C.E.), in the latter half of the 4th century B.C.E.

Map of Anatolia (Turkey)

According to the "Anabasis (The Campaigns of Alexander the Great)" by Flavius Arrianus, the Lycians surrendered without fighting and accepted being put under the control of Alexander's army. Consequently, nothing was destroyed in Lycia. The book also says a Lycian interpreter-commander accompanied Alexander the Great as far as the Gandhara region in India (present day Pakistan), taking command of the army. It is not difficult to consider that Lycian architecture was introduced to India together with Greek culture at that time, or after the coming of the Seleukos Dynasty and the Greek Baktria Kingdom.
As the Buddhist images in Gandhara were created through the combination of Greek and Indian sculptures, it is reasonable to imagine Buddhist Chaitya caves were created through the combination of Lycian and Indian architectures.

I set up the hypothesis mentioned above based on books on Lycian archaeology, and presented it at the Summer Seminar of 'The Indian Archaeology Society' in summer 2000, and also at 'The World Archeology Excavation Academy' in autumn of the same year.
However, there was little photo data material, and I had to rely on the etched illustrations in the old books by Charles Fellows, Georges Perrot and so on. There were doubtful points in details, and I had been thinking I should visit Lycia to investigate in the field. In March 2000, I finally had a chance to visit Lycia, along with Phrygia and Caria, where I could take plenty of photos.


Lydian Artemis Temple, Sardis

Recently, Turkey has become a very comfortable country for tourists compared with my first visit of twenty years ago, with convenient transport, comfortable accommodation, delicious and cheap meals, etc. Besides, Turkish people are generally kind and amicable. As modernization is proceeding also in India since it adopted an open economy policy, a similar comfortable journey might also be expected there in the near future.
This time I again visited Istanbul, Edirne, and many other places to see Islamic and Byzantine architecture, but my first visit was to Lycia, the main purpose of this journey. From Istanbul I took a night bus to Salihli located near the remains of Sardis, the capital of the ancient Lydian Kingdom.

Lydia reigned the southwest region of Anatolia in the 8th - 6th centuries B.C.E., fighting with Phrygia of the central region. Nevertheless, it was conquered by Persia in 546 B.C.E. and lost her capital Sardis, and later became a Roman territory.
Its ruins are left in Sart, but they are mainly from the Roman era, such as a bath, a gymnasium, a synagogue, and a large temple dedicated to Artemis 1 km away. However, I was not so interested in Roman ruins this time.

I asked the staff at the Artemis Temple about the location of the Lydian era Necropolis and went up the hill looking for the vestiges, but unfortunately I could not find any. As far as the information of the excavation report of Sardis, which I gained at the superintendent's office of the Gymnasium, it seemed that there were rather few physical remains to see in this site.
According to the report, the tombs which remain here are from after the 6th century B.C.E. which means a later period than Phrygia, and they were in use through the Persian and Roman eras, as in Phrygia and Lycia. The forms of the tombs are both small rock caves and masonry constructions with ashlars, with benches for laying down corpses or a chamber to house a sarcophagus. Although it is done in the same way as in Phrygia and Lycia, no relief in facade remains here.

Leaving Sart, I visited the famous Roman site, Ephesus, and then headed to the Lycian sites. However, I will describe the Phrygian ruins first according to the historical order, though I visited them later.
The capital of the ancient Phrygian Kingdom is Gordion, close to 100 km west from Ankara, but the site was destroyed many times, leaving few things to see in this site.
The architectural remains in Phrygia are scattered in the hill country between Eskişehir and Afyon. They are rock caves and rock carvings from the latter half of the 8th century B.C.E. till the first half of the 7th century B.C.E., which means about 500 years before the first cave temples in India appeared, and they were to be related to Lycian caves in the 4th century B.C.E.

Phlygian Tomb of Midas, Midas Şehri

At first, I visited Midas Şehri where there was a large town on the hill in ancient times. So it is called Midas Town. Now the remains are only a cult throne, tombs and a deep cistern, but a huge rock-cut tomb stands at the foot of the hill. This is the famous Midas Tomb. (The name of King Midas who is famous for the episode of 'King's ears are donkey's ears' was likely popular at the time and also in Gordion we can see an old mound called the Tomb of Midas.)

The Tomb at Midas Şehri is a rock-cut tomb which is 17 meters high, and has a carved temple facade with a gabled roof. A niche excavated on the lower part is probably for the Goddess Cybele, and the frontispiece is wholly chiseled into geometric patterns. It looks like later Islamic architecture or Modern design. As the general motifs of ancient carvings are animals or plants, it is surprising to find plenty of abstract design on rock surfaces around Midas Şehri. It might have some relationship with the oldest style of Greek art, the so-called 'Geometric Style'.

Going south from Midas Town, I looked around many Phrigian remains such as at Bakshish and Yapuldak. It was very difficult to find them because they are not popular subjects for sight-seeing, small in scale, seriously weathered by the passage of 2800 years, and besides they are inconspicuously scattered around remote places away from the villages.
I carried with me the book "History of Art in Phrygia, Lydia, Caria and Lycia" written by George Perrot and Charles Chipiez, published in London (English edition) more than 100 years ago as one of a series on the art of the Near East. Without the book, surely it would have been impossible for me to research the remains of Phrygia in detail.

Phrygian Cave Tombs, Bakshish and Yapuldak

I found that they were basically carved in the shape of houses with a triangular gabled roof, such as the Midas Tomb, or in its developed form, the temple-type. In the 8th century B.C.E. temples in Greece were still built of wood. It seems that in Phrygia too similar wooden temples like these rock-cut tombs might have been built.
The cave tomb at Bakshish is the most simple in form, with a relief in a geometric pattern like the Midas Tomb. The small cave tomb of Yapuldak is supposed to be influenced by Greek temples. It has a ridge ornament on the top of the steep gabled roof, and the butt ends imitating wooden purlins are carved along the gable. The capitals of columns resemble Ionic order, so its date is possibly later.

In Aslantas nearby, the figure sculptures of two lions facing each other are carved on the rock, just like the 'Lion Gate' in Mykenai, showing us the link of civilizations. In Phrygia since then, the lion motif appears frequently, mainly on pediments.


Temple-type rock tombs of Caria, Kaunos

The two largest festivals of Islam, 'Eid', are referred to as 'Bayram' in Turkish. The festival that marks the end of Ramadan (the period of fasting) is called 'Şeker Bayram', and the festival of sacrifice held in the pilgrimage month is called 'Kurban Bayram'. The latter festival coincided with my stay in Turkey this year (2000), falling on March 15-18. During the festival, government offices and companies are all closed, and people living in cities go back to their hometowns, just like Japanese people during the 'Bon' festival. Long-distance buses, the main Turkish transport, and hotels were all full, and on the 16th, historic sites were also unfortunately closed.

Thanks to that, I missed the Crusader castle in Bodrum, and I could only enter the Mausoleion of Halikarnassos. However the famous mausoleum of Mausolos, a satrap of Caria, was no more than a heap of rubble, which did not properly allow me to imagine the ancient majestic figure.
The Carian Kingdom was located in the west of Lycia, and they contended for leadership with each other. However, as Lycia was a more civilized country, many Lycian style rock-cut tombs are found in Necropolises in Caria. The best-preserved are the Kaunos remains located on the opposite bank of the river in Dalyan.

The tombs are carved on the precipitous cliff, possibly ensuring nobody enters, so it is better called 'cliff-cut tombs' rather than 'rock-cave tombs'. They must have been carved by people using rope from the top of the cliff.
It is surprising for one who visits Lycia for the first time, to find the shape of the cliff-cut tombs of Kaunos look like Greek temples, and also it is surprising that they are arranged in a row as rock cave temples at Ajanta, India. The largest tomb is incomplete, only the upper parts of the four columns are carved, and it proves that in Lycia, workers started to carve from upper part just like the Indian rock caves.
The capitals supporting the gabled roof are of the Ionian style, which is not surprising because Caria was adjacent to the Ionian Kingdom which made the famous town of Ephesus.

Map of Lycia province

There are many temple-type cave tombs in Lycia, and the best-preserved are in Fethiye, which was called Telmessos in ancient times. The town was destroyed by an earthquake, and has been restored as a new port town. In the craggy mountains behind the town, many rock-cut tombs remain. Mainly they are of house-type rock-cut tombs, with some large temple-type tombs.
On the tomb at the top of the mountain, the inscription of 'Tomb of Amyntas, son of Hermapias' is engraved. Behind the porch with two columns of the Ionic order is a carved portal, and the inside space is a funeral chamber with benches around to lay out the corpse.

Lycian Tomb of Amyntas in Telmessos

On the house-type tombs, the facade is carved as if wooden logs are set out as the roof, whereas in the temple-type tombs, square joists are carved, not along the rafter of the roof, but on the horizontal girder. Such a style is common with Greek temples, different from the pointed arch-type rock-cut tombs or sarcophagi in Lycia. What would be the reason for such a difference, I wonder?

I was overtaken by a bad thunderstorm in Fethiye, but the next day was very fine, and I hired a car to visit various Lycian remains. At first I enjoyed various forms of remains at Tlos under the shining morning sun, such as ruins of the castle, cave tombs, sarcophagi, a Roman theater and a bath. And then I visited the remains of Pinara, which are spread over a vast area, Xanthos, once the ancient capital of Lycia, remains around the sunken city of Kekova in the sea, the flourishing port town of Antiphellos, now called Kas, etc. These Lycian cities which have existed since the 4th century B.C.E. are scattered along the beautiful coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.

Charles Fellows
(From "Xanthus, Travels of Discovery in Turkey" by Enid Slatter)

It was Charles Fellows (1799-1860), the English archaeologist, who first thoroughly investigated the ancient Lycian cultural remains. His first exploration of Lycia was in 1838, after which he wrote "A Journal Written During an Excursion in Asia Minor". His second exploration in 1840 was written up "An Account of Discoveries in Lycia". These two books attracted considerable attention from English artists, art historians and archaeologists.
He was nine years older than James Fergusson, the architectural historian who first systematized the history of Indian architecture, and fifteen years older than Alexander Cunningham, who is called the father of the Indian archeology. It is remarkable that these three all belong to almost the same generation.

Xanthos, LyciaXanthos, Lycia
Lycian Sarcophagus and Pillar tomb, Xanthos

In the 19th century, European archaeologists and architectural historians launched themselves on investigations to Asia. Stimulated by the information from preceding travelers and explorers, Fellows started traveling to research Anatolian culture, and discovered previously unknown Lycian remains. He made efforts particularly to research the remains at Xanthos, the ancient capital of Lycia. Based on his report and his advice, the British Museum carried many Lycian remains to London including the most important 'Nereid Monument' and 'Tomb of Payava' with the assistance of the Royal Navy.

In 1848, over 150 years ago, the 'Lycian Room' was opened in the British Museum and its display became very popular. However, in the 20th century Lycian art and the name of Fellows gradually came to be forgotten, and the items in the Lycian room were scattered. Since then, there has been rather little development in the study of Lycian archaeology.
There are a large number of places of interest in the Lycian region, in this article I will discuss only those architectural remains that are important in terms of their relationship with Indian cave temples.


The Necropolis at Myra

Although called the 'Lycian Kingdom', its actual form in the 4th century B.C.E. seems to have been a union of city-states, named the 'Lycian League'. According to Plinius, the league at the time consisted of thirty-six cities, the largest of which was Xanthos. As the Lycians were fiercely independent, their region was the last in Anatolia to be placed under the command of the Roman Empire.
There remain no ancient houses or palaces in Lycia, we can see only the castle ruins on the Acropolises, amphitheaters from the Roman age, church ruins from the Byzantine age and so on. The characteristics of Lycian architecture are most well preserved in Necropolises (cities of the dead) built along the slopes of hills.

The tombs are basically assorted into two categories; cave tombs and sarcophagi. The former are further divided into three types. The first is the 'temple-type' that is most monumental (already mentioned in the previous chapter), and not particularly limited to Lycia only. It is the same type as the wooden or stone temples with triangular gabled roofs in Ionia or Greece, though in those cases, they are not cave temples.
The second is the 'house-type' and the third is the 'pointed arch-type' (this will be discussed later). The house-type tombs are seen in necropolises of every city. Some are cliff-cut tombs in the steep rocky mountains, difficult to reach, and others are rock caves near ground level. It is at Myra that a lot of house-type tombs are gathered en mass, generating a quite wondrous sight.

The ruins of Myra are located 2km from the town of Demre where the Byzantine church of Saint Nicholas (who is regarded as the origin of Santa Claus) remains. The tens of rock-cut tombs are piled up in the hill behind a well-preserved Roman theater, and the view is so impressive. Their figures are the reproduction of wooden houses, and their pillars and beams are carved as if put together by wooden 'halving joints'.
The roof is flat type. Thin logs are placed in a row on beams, over which soil is piled up and rammed down. We can find such types of houses in Lycia even today. It is noticeable that when the tombs become more monumental, the ends of groundsills and beams become more warped, forming a decorative shape, which is difficult to make with a single piece of wood. It is doubtful if the actual wooden houses were made like that.

Reproduced wooden house in Limyra

It was interesting to find a reproduced wooden house that might have been the archetype of the house-type tombs. It was built at Limyra and actually inhabited. They closely follow the original, but its decorative warped groundsills and beams are made with jointed wooden pieces, which prove the difficulty of warping timber as expressed in the tombs. Perhaps, only for the rock-cave tombs, they might have been carved with exaggeration.
The external walls are considered mainly to be stone masonry, but there might be cases of boarding or brick masonry as well. In any case, the pillars and beams are exposed like the Japanese 'shin-kabe' structure.
The strangest element are the intermediate girders in the middle of the ground floor wall as frequently seen in the cave tombs. We find the cut ends of joists in a row on the middle girders, but it is improbable that real joists could be positioned in such a way. So in the reproduced house, they are treated as mere decoration.

House-type cave tomb called 'Painted Tomb', Myra

On the hill behind Myra, there are house-type tombs with many splendid relief carvings. 160 years ago, when Charles Fellows visited there, there were partial remains of vivid coloring, and he named it the 'Painted Tomb'. Although the lower part of the central pillar of the facade has been demolished, a framework of wooden-like 'post and beam' structure remains in good order. The pillars are not flush with the beams in combining together, seeming to represent a real wooden structure.

These house-type tombs are equivalent to the Indian Buddhist vihara caves where priests lived. The facades of the vihara caves are in different proportion from the Lycian, as thick as a stone structure, but their interiors are the perfect replica of a flat-roof-type wooden building, with large beams between pillars, small beams joining them, and smaller purlins lying on top of them. It shows the same principle as Lycian wooden architecture.
Nevertheless, it does not mean that there was an influential relationship between the two. A flat-roof-type wooden structure could be built similarly anywhere in the world, with only small differences in detail. The rock-cut tombs in Persia are basically in the same composition. However, there are no rock caves superior to the house-type tombs in Lycia in the sense of representing the details of wooden structure so faithfully.


Lycian Sarcophagi and Tombs at Sura

Ancient people made coffins for the dead either of wood or stone, and sometimes stone coffins to put wooden ones in. In any region where the Roman Empire dominated, sarcophagi in the form of gabled houses, often decorated with splendid reliefs, were used as memorials for nobles.
Such form of sarcophagi was inherited from ancient Greece or Anatolia, and basically it consists of two stones; one is a box to lay the corpse in, and the other is a lid on the box. The most popular shape for the lid was a roof of a building, usually a shallow triangular gabled roof. Sometimes the whole sarcophagus looked like a miniature temple building.

However, the Lycians, solely, developed a unique form of sarcophagi. Of the several hundreds of stone sarcophagi that remain in Lycia, some are simple and some are gorgeously carved. The form of their lids, however, are exclusively of the tall pointed-arched roofs, not the shallow gabled roof-type.
One can still see a lot of simple and lovely sarcophagi scattered on the hilltops or along the slopes of hills in Simena, Cyaenai and Appolonia, and a row along the seashore of Theimussa. The house-type sarcophagi with pointed-arched roofs, standing in arbitrary ways, make us feel as if we had strayed into a wonderland.

Sarcophagi on the hill of Simena and Istanbul Archaeological Museum

On the roof of a sarcophagus, there are six cubic prominences; one each on the pediments and two each on the lateral sides. The sarcophagi for higher class people have lion heads carved on each prominence. The fact that they are limited to figures of lions seems to indicate a continuous tradition from Phrygia. A good example is found in a grassy plain at Sura near Demre, but its box part has no ornamentation.

The most decorative sarcophagus was discovered at Sidon in Lebanon, together with the famous 'Alexander Sarcophagus' in the Ionic style. At present, it is displayed at the Archaeological Museum in the precincts of Topkapi Saray, Istanbul. Its gable sides have carvings of winged angels and centaurs, and the lateral sides have lion heads and equestrian cavaliers. On both ends of the ridge, a palmette stands like a Japanese 'Oni-gawara'.

In the case of the sarcophagus at Sura, a ridgepole lies at the top, which is the basic type of a Lycian sarcophagus. Checking the gable face (tympanum) carefully, one realizes vertical and horizontal lines carved around the lion head. These lines indicate small posts and beams. In addition, rafter lines are also carved along the curve of the roof edge. In short, Lycian sarcophagi were sculpted as if they were wooden buildings, just as the cave tombs.

Upper part of a Lycian sarcophagus in Kas and Tomb of Payava

A sarcophagus preserved in the town of Kas shows this fact more clearly. It soars in the middle of a road on a high pedestal, on which inscriptions are engraved with Lycian letters.
The main girders are laid over the pillars of the sarcophagus, small posts supporting small beams stand on the front girder, the ends of purlins are carved along the pair of curved rafters, then there is a ridgepole on the top - it is exactly the same principle as Buddhist Chaitya caves in India, excluding lion heads; that is to say, 'the rock-cut pointed arch-type facade' that is carved as if it were a wooden construction.
This pointed arch-type sarcophagi with such wooden-like details are seen in Pinara, Xanthos and other places. The best example is the 'Tomb of Payava', however as already mentioned, it was brought to the British Museum in London in the 19th century, so we cannot see it at its original site.

Why only in Lycia were such pointed arch-type sarcophagi made, despite the fact that the triangular gabled roof was the ordinary design? It is difficult to assert the reason exactly, but we can trace the changes of their forms.
Let us check the rock-cut tombs of Myra once again. There are not only house-type cave tombs with flat roofs, but also gabled ones. Moreover the ridge of the gable is higher than that of the temple-type, and the slope of gabled roofs are curved. That is to say, the pointed arch in Lycia did not originate from the 'true arch' which is made of piled stones or bricks, but was attained by heightening the ridge and curving the slopes of wooden triangular gables.

Facade of Lomas Rishi Cave at Barabar (India)

The history of Lycia is almost clear as the ancient epigraphs are deciphered owing to the inscriptions on monuments written together in three languages, Greek, Lycian and Aramaic. According to the inscriptions, the majority of cave tombs and sarcophagi in Lycia were made in the 4th century B.C.E. It is quite probable these forms and techniques were brought to India after the eastern expedition of Alexander the Great late in that century, and influenced the Lomas Rishi Cave at Barabar Hill that is the first cave temple with an ornamented facade in India.

Though there remains no inscription on the Lomas Rishi cave, the plan and interior space suggest that King Ashoka had it made in the middle of the 3rd century B.C.E. together with the adjacent Sudama cave that has an inscription by Ashoka. The technique of excavating rock caves itself might have been brought from Persia to India, not from Lycia.
Only the Lomas Rishi Cave has an ornamentally carved facade in the group at Barabar, but there is no similar carving inside. As its design is related directly to the facades of Baja and later caves, it is appropriate to consider that the facade of Lomas Rishi was carried out as a 'trial' for those of later Chaitya caves, perhaps in the 2nd century B.C.E.

This facade has been regarded as an accurate replica of wooden architecture at that time. However this is impossible, as it is too strange to be a wooden building form. As already stated, it is irrational from the structural point of view; its fundamental attitude is forcible manipulation to make the gable shape a 'pointed arch' by the improbable bending of rafters, which should naturally have been a triangular gabled roof. If a house is built like that, its eaves, which should protect the wall from rain, would instead drain rain water directly onto the wall.
It means that there is an intention to materialize the image of 'pointed arch' even against the natural formation of a building. Let us search further for the origin of the unnatural wooden form as this in the cave tombs of Lycia.


Cave Tomb with a facade of pointed arch, Pinara

At the facade of the Buddhist Chaitya caves in India, the extrados of the arch is cusped with a horn on top like the Lycian sarcophagi, while its intrados is semicircular, except for a few examples such as the Barabar cave. A semicircular shape necessarily reminds us of a 'true arch' made of piled stones or bricks. However in fact, the inside of the arch is carved as a complete wooden structure with rafters and purlins.

It must be the result of the architect's intention to build an arch form, which was brought from Persia, by means of wood, imitating only the shape of a 'true arch'. As the true arches of stone remain in the Buddhist stupa at Guldara in Afghanistan, it is evident that the arch structure had been already introduced into India. However, in India that belonged to the wooden culture zone at that time, it was not necessary to adopt the technique of arch structure, so they imported the semicircular shape only.
However, it was hardly possible to actually construct such wooden buildings. It was impossible to bend a timber piece into a semicircular arch shape as a main structural member, unless they could utilize the modern technology of wooden assembly. In spite of that, the facades of the Chaitya caves were carved in the shape of wooden-like cusped arches. In asking why, I have to say that it is because they adopted the method of the Lycian sarcophagi and rock caves.

Left : Upper part of the facade of the cave, Pinara
Right : Upper part of the Chaitya cave, Baja ( India )

There are not a few pointed arch-type cave tombs in Lycian towns. Among them, the best example showing clearly the construction method of wooden architecture that must have been their prototype, is the cave tomb on the hilltop in Pinara.
Although the central lower pillar was demolished, the upper gable part is well preserved. It is composed of a large girder, small posts, a small beam, a pair of curved rafters, a row of purlins, and roof boards, in that order, expressing a perfect wooden structure on the rock. The roof is firmly supported by the three posts that are tied with a small beam. We can see this beam divides rafters on either side into two parts, above and below.
And thus a pair of rafters consist of four members, each of which is almost straight, so one can easily get such gentle-curved rafters by planing timber. That is to say, the pointed arch-type wooden construction in Lycia was a rational structure beyond all question.

On the contrary, in the process of its introdution to India, Indians neglected the girder and small posts, emphasizing only the rafters and purlins that compose the outer semblance. As a result, the Chaitya caves were carved as if they were of sheer rafter structure.

The Chaitya cave at Baja that belongs to the earliest stage of Indian cave architecture shows definitely the strangeness of semicircular rafters lacking beams and posts. Conversely speaking, the interior space of an Indian cave temple enshrining a stupa should have been designed as a space with an apsidal plan and a vault-like ceiling, without exposing beams and posts, in order to match the hemispherical shape of the stupa.
In the case of a freestanding wooden building, in contrast to the rock caves, such a structure is impossible for an actual construction. Therefore, it is proper to consider that people built the large square box-type Chaitya temples, and made vault-like ceilings inside as a mere interior design to effectively enshrine a stupa. The hypothesis, that this was mere interior design, is illustrated by the plans of some Chaitya caves, such as Cave 9 at Ajanta of an earlier phase, Cave 4 at Aurangabad, and smaller Chaitya caves at Junnar, all of which are made on rectangular plans, not on the apsidal, in spite of enshrining stupas.

Left : Plan of Cave 9 ( rectangular Chaitya cave), Ajanta (India)
Right : Facade of Cave 26 (Bhuta Lena cave), Junnar (India )

As for the exterior of freestanding Chaitya temples, the facade of the Bhuta Lena cave in Junnar shows a good example. Whether the facade was made of wood or stone, large pillars and a large girder compose a square frame, and a Chaitya window is set in a back wall in the porch, and the inside is a chapel covered with a wooden barrel-shaped ceiling as an interior design.
Looking carefully the facade of Chaitya caves at Ajanta, Karli and others, we can notice that they are also carved in the manner of a large square frame surrounded by large pillars and girders.

The rock cave was produced throughout the world. The ancient rock caves in the Middle East, including Egypt, were almost all tombs, while rock cave Christian churches began to be made only after the 5th century when the Roman Empire was divided into the East and the West, as in Cappadocia.
On the other hand, Indians did not produce rock caves as tombs but as monasteries and chapels. This is because there was no custom of erecting tombs in India, due to the idea of 'Samsara' (transmigration) which explains that all living beings will transmigrate into another life after death.

This raises a question. Since Buddhist stupas are tumuli built over Buddha's remains, divided into small portions after his death, they are, in a sense, the tombs of Buddha. As the stupa became regarded as a typical Chaitya (object or place of worship), a Chaitya cave became a space to enshrine a stupa. In short, a Chaitya cave was a kind of a cave tomb. Why in India, where there is no custom to build tombs, were the cave tombs called Chaitya caves made in such a large number and in such a magnificent form?
Stupas were worshiped not only in Buddhism, but also in Jainism (although there is no record that stupas were the tombs of Mahavira). The rock caves first produced in India by King Ashoka were prepared for the Ajivikas. The hemispheric spaces of their rear chambers may also suggest a relation to stupas.

There may be a possibility that, because of the transmission of the form of cave tombs in the Middle East, Indians might have begun to construct stupas as tombs and chaitya caves to enshrine them. As opposed to the Middle East, where interment was dominant for funerals, sarcophagi were not necessary in India where cremation was. Consequently, only the rock cave tombs were inherited to enshrine stupas where the Buddha's remains were embeded, and they might have come to be used as chapels as well.
If so, the two rock beds in each monastic cell in the vihara caves in India seem very similar to the two benches to lie corpse on in the chambers of rock cave tombs in Anatolia. However, at this stage, I cannot yet declare more about the above-mentioned view.

Whether they are tombs or chapels, among the rock caves in the world, those with a pointed arch on the facade, moreover carved as if they were a wooden structure, exist only in Lycia and India. Indian Chaitya caves, influenced by the method of Lycian cave tombs and sarcophagi, developed on a larger scale, and created an imposing barrel-shaped interior space, setting semicircular rafters, even in true timber in certain cases, as if it was a sheer 'rafter structure', so as to match the hemispherical shape of a stupa.
The rational wooden structure in ancient Lycia transformed into the fanciful wooden-like cave temple in India that cannot exist as an actual wooden building. James Fergusson pointed out that Indian art is extremely 'wild in human faith or warm in human feeling' as opposed to the more 'intellectual' arts. Surely the same comment could be applied to the case of ancient cave temples.


in the chapter of 'Ribba Gompa and Chitkur Village'
in the site of "Travel to Himachal Pradesh"

© Takeo Kamiya
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