Types of stone architecture
There are two types of stone architecture:
Rock climbing. Rock architecture is made by carving natural rock. Usually carved in the direction of mountain ranges, rock structures are made by excavations of rocks until the desired shape is reached.
The stone is built. This section of this guide, Stone Architecture, on the other hand, provides for the assembly of carved stone pieces that create a whole.
Buddhism gets the ball rolling
The first stone architecture in India was carved and executed by Buddhist monks; to these buildings all architecture was wooden. The most striking examples were the rock religious sanctuaries excavated directly from the basalt mountains lining the western edge of the Deccan Plateau, a lofty, v-shaped landmass consisting of much of the Indian Peninsula. The caves at Ajanta – as well as the nearby Beds, Bhaja, Karla, Kondan, Nashik and Pitalhora – were part of this initial wave of excavations.
Inspiration for stone architecture of India
Early Buddhist architecture was most likely indirectly inspired by Egyptian architecture. The Egyptians were probably the first civilizations in the world to build stone architecture; they began with the stone pyramids in the 27th century BC. (Pyramid of Djozer in Shaqka) and continued with stone tombs in the 16th century BC. (Valley of the Kings in Luxor).
At the same time in Mesopotamia (modern Iran and Iraq) similar stone pyramids, called ziggurats, are being rebuilt nearby; the earliest probably date from the late part of the early dynastic period of Sumeria (2900-2350 BC). The design of the ziggurat pyramid has never been transformed from stepped to smooth edges as it was in Egypt.
Egyptian and Mesopotamian forms and building practices were borrowed by the Persians, who adopted rock architecture. In fact, the royal tombs of Darius (522 BC to 486 BC) and the rest of the ancient Persian (Achaemenid) empire were excavated; they are located near the ancient city of Persepolis in modern Iran. Most likely, the first stone architects of India began to build stone architecture in the III-II centuries BC. These architects adapted Persian forms – giving them the benefits of local design stemming from existing wood-based architecture, and introducing entirely new possibilities according to their unique religious practice – to create stone caves with a whole new aesthetic.
Why did Buddhists first build a stone?
It seems that Buddhists simply provided support to rulers and wealthy merchants during the critical period when Persian architectural practices began to seep into the subcontinent. Keep in mind, although the Buddhist faith was founded in India in the 6th century BC, it did not gain widespread recognition until it received imperial sponsorship from the powerful Moorish Emperor Ashoka, who converted to Buddhism and ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from 269 -232 BC Faith gained momentum when the growth of the merchant class was drawn to Buddhism.