Hindu Architecture.

HINDU architecture is not only unfamiliar but uncongenial to Western tastes; and as it has exercised no direct influence upon the later styles of Europe, it will be noticed in far less detail than the magnitude and importance of many Indian buildings which have been examined and measured during the last few years would otherwise claim, although the exuberant wealth of ornament exhibited in these buildings denotes an artistic genius of very high order, if somewhat uncultured and barbaric. As by far the largest number of Hindu buildings are of a date much later than the commencement of our era, a strict adherence to chronological sequence would scarcely allow the introduction of this style so early in the present volume; but we know that several centuries before Christ powerful kingdoms and wealthy cities existed in India; and as it seems clear also that in architecture and art, as well as in [65] manners and customs, hardly any change[6] has occurred from remote antiquity, it appeared allowable, as well as convenient, that the short description we have to offer should precede rather than follow that of the classical styles properly so called. Here, as always when we attempt to penetrate farther back than a certain date, all is obscure and mythical. We find lists of kings and dynasties going back thousands of years before our era, but nothing at all to enable us to judge how much of this may be taken as solid fact. Mr. Fergusson believes he has discovered in one date, viz. 3101 B.C., the first Aryan settlement; but be this as it may, it is useless to look for any architectural remains until after the death of Gotama Buddha in 543 B.C.; in fact, it is very doubtful whether remains can be authenticated until the reign of King Asoka (B.C. 272 to B.C. 236), when Buddhism had spread over almost the whole of the country, where it remained the predominant cult until Brahmanism again asserted its supremacy in the 14th century A.D.

The earliest, or among the earliest, architectural remains are the inscribed pillars called Lâts, which are found in numerous localities, but have been almost always overthrown. Many of these were erected by the above-named Asoka: they were ornamented with bands and mouldings separating the inscriptions, and crowned by a sort of capital, which was generally in the form of an animal. One very curious feature in these pillars is the [66] constant occurrence of a precise imitation of the well-known honeysuckle ornament of the Greeks; this was probably derived from the same source whence the Greeks obtained it, namely Assyria. It is most probable that these pillars served to ornament the approaches to some kind of sacred enclosure or temple, of which, however, no remains have been found.

Showing steps leading up to dome with pinnacle

Fig. 39.—Dagoba from Ceylon.

Extremely early in date are some of the tumuli or topes which exist in large numbers in various parts of India. These are of two kinds,—the topes or stupas proper, which were erected to commemorate some striking event or to mark a sacred spot; and the dagobas, which were built to cover the relics of Buddha himself or some Buddhist saint. These topes consist of a slightly stilted hemispherical dome surmounting a substructure, circular in plan, which forms a sort of terrace, access to which is obtained by steps. The domical shape was, however, [67] external only, as on the inside the masonry was almost solid, a few small cavities only being left for the protection of various jewels, &c. The dome was probably surmounted by a pinnacle, as shown in Fig. 39. In the neighbourhood of Bhilsa, in Central India, there are a large number of these topes, of which the largest, that of Sanchi, measures 121 ft. in diameter and 55 ft. in height; it was erected by King Asoka.

Two kinds of edifices which are not tombs remain, the chaityas (temples or halls of assembly) and viharas or monasteries, which were generally attached to the chaityas. These erections were either detached or cut in the rock, and it is only the rock-cut ones of which remains exist of an earlier date than the commencement of the Christian era. The earliest specimen of a rock-cut chaitya is in the Nigope cave, near Behar, constructed about 200 B.C. This consists of two compartments, an outer rectangular one 32 ft. 9 in. by 19 ft. 1 in., and an inner circular one 19 ft. in diameter. The Lomas Rishi cave is of a slightly later date: both of these rock-cut temples exhibit in every detail a reproduction of wooden forms. In the doorway the stone piers slope inwards, just like raking wooden struts, and the upper part represents the ends of longitudinal rafters supporting a roof. Later on the builders emancipated themselves to a certain extent from this servile adhesion to older forms, and Fig. 40 gives a plan and section of a later chaitya at Karli, near Poona. This bears a striking resemblance to a Christian basilica:[7] there is first the forecourt; then a rectangular space divided by columns into nave and aisles, and terminated by a semicircular apse. [68] The nave is 25 ft. 7 in. wide, and the aisles 10 ft. each, the total length is 126 ft. Fifteen columns separate the nave from the aisles, and these have bases, octagonal shafts, and rich capitals. Round the apse the columns are replaced by piers. The side aisles have flat roofs, and the central nave a stilted semicircular one, practically a vault, which at the apse becomes a semicircular dome, under which is the dagoba, the symbol of Buddhism. The screen separating the forecourt from the temple itself is richly ornamented with sculpture.

Showing section and plan of the chaitya

Fig. 40.—Chaitya near Poona.

The older viharas or monasteries were also cut in the rock (Figs. 41, 42), and were divided into cells or chambers; [69] they were several storeys in height, and it is probable that the cells were used by devout Buddhists as habitations for the purposes of meditation.

Showing a number of decorated buildings and a free-standing ornate column

Fig. 41.—The Kylas at Ellora. A Rock-cut Monument.

Fig. 42.—Plan of the Kylas at Ellora. A Rock-cut Monument.

Among the most remarkable, and in fact almost unique features of Hindu Architecture are the so-called rails which form enclosures sometimes round the topes and sometimes round sacred trees. Occasionally they are found standing alone, though when this is the case it is [70] probably on account of the object which was the cause of their erection having perished. They are built of stone, carved so as to represent a succession of perpendicular and horizontal bands or rails, separated by a sort of pierced panels. The carving is of the most elaborate description, both human and animal forms being depicted with great fidelity, and representations occur of various forms of tree worship which have been of the greatest use in elucidating the history of this phase of religious belief. Occasionally the junctions of the rails are carved into a series of discs, separated by elaborate scroll-work. These rails are [71] frequently of very large dimensions, that at Bharhut—which is one of the most recently discovered—measuring 275 ft. in circumference, with a height of 22 ft. 6 in. The date of these erections is frequently very difficult to determine, but the chief authorities generally concur in the opinion that none are found dating earlier than about 250 B.C., nor later than 500 A.D., so that it is pretty certain they must have been appropriated to some form of Buddhist worship.

Showing an edifice of several storeys

Fig. 43.—Vimana from Manasara.

All the buildings that we have mentioned were devoted [72] to the worship of Buddha, but the Jain schism, Brahmanism, and other cults had their representative temples and buildings, a full description of which would require a volume many times larger than the present one. Many of the late detached buildings display rich ornamentation and elaborate workmanship. They are generally of a pyramidal shape, several storeys in height, covered with intricately cut mouldings and other fantastic embellishments.

Columns are of all shapes and sizes, brackets frequently take the place of capitals, and where capitals exist almost every variety of fantastic form is found. It has been stated that no fixed laws govern the plan or details of Indian buildings, but there exists an essay on Indian Architecture by Ram Raz—himself a Hindoo—which tends to show that such a statement is erroneous, as he quotes original works of considerable antiquity which lay down stringent rules as to the planning of buildings, their height, and the details of the columns. It is probable that a more extended acquaintance with Hindu literature will throw further light on these rules.

Of the various invasions which have occurred some have left traces in the architecture of India. None of these are more interesting than certain semi-Greek forms which are met with in the Northern Provinces, and which without doubt are referable to the influence of the invasion under Alexander the Great. A far more conspicuous and widespread series of changes followed in the wake of the Mohammedan invasions. We shall have an opportunity later on of recurring to this subject,[8] but it is one to which attention should be called at this early stage, lest it should be thought that a large and splendid part of Indian architecture had been overlooked.


Showing two curved brackets branching out from the capital

Fig. 44.—Bracket Capital.

Showing a decorative column

Fig. 45.—Column from Ajunta.

Showing a short decorative column

Fig. 46.—Column from Ellora.

Showing a plain column with curving capital

Fig. 47.—Column from Ajunta.


Chinese and Japanese Architecture.

Although the Chinese have existed as a nation, continuously for between two and three thousand years, if not longer, and at a very early period had arrived at a high state of artistic and scientific cultivation, yet none of their buildings with which we are acquainted has any claim on our attention because of its antiquity. Several reasons may be assigned for this, the principal being that the Chinese seem to be as a race singularly unsusceptible to all emotions. Although they reverence their dead ancestors, yet this reverence never led them, as did that of the Egyptians, Etruscans, and other nations, to a lavish expenditure of labour or materials, to render their tombs almost as enduring as the everlasting hills. Though waves of religious zeal must have flowed over the country when Confucius inculcated his simple and practical morality and gained an influential following, and again when Buddhism was introduced and speedily became the religion of the greater portion of the people, their religious emotion never led them, as it did the Greeks and the Medićval builders, to erect grand and lasting monuments of sacred art. When most of the Western nations were still barbarians, the Chinese had attained a settled system of government, and were acquainted with numerous scientific truths which we have prided ourselves on rediscovering within the last two centuries; but no thought ever seems to have occurred to them, as it did to the Romans, of commemorating any event connected with their life as a nation, or of handing down to posterity a record of their great achievements. Peaceful and prosperous, they have pursued the even tenor of their way at a high level of civilisation certainly, but at a most monotonous one.

[75] The Buddhist temples of China have a strong affinity to those of India. The largest is that at Honan, the southern suburb of Canton. This is 306 ft. long by 174 ft. wide, and consists of a series of courts surrounded by colonnades and cells for the bonzes or priests. In the centre of the courtyard is a series of pavilions or temples connected by passages, and devoted to the worship of the idols contained in them. On each side of the main court, against the outer wall, is another court, with buildings round it, consisting of kitchen and refectories on the one side, and hospital wards on the other. It is almost certain that this is a reproduction of the earlier forms of chaityas and viharas which existed in India, and have been already referred to. The temple of Honan is two storeys in height, the building itself being of stone, but the colonnade surrounding it is of wood on marble bases. On the second storey the columns are placed on two sides only, and not all round. The columns have no capitals, but have projecting brackets. The roof of each storey projects over the columns, and has a curved section, which is, in fact, peculiar to Chinese roofs, and it is enriched at the corners with carved beasts and foliage. This is a very common form of temple throughout China.

The Taas or Pagodas are the buildings of China best known to Europeans. These are nearly always octagonal in plan, and consist generally of nine storeys, diminishing both in height and breadth as they approach the top. Each storey has a cornice composed of a fillet and large hollow moulding, supporting a roof which is turned up at every corner and ornamented with leaves and bells. On the top of all is a long pole, forming a sort of spire, surrounded by iron hoops, and supported by eight chains attached to the summit and to each angle of the roof of the topmost storey. The best known pagoda is that of [76] Nankin, which is 40 ft. in diameter at its base, and is faced inside and outside with white glazed porcelain slabs keyed into the brick core. The roof tiles are also of porcelain, in bands of green and yellow, and at each angle is a moulding of larger tiles, red and green alternately. The effect of the whole is wonderfully brilliant and dazzling. Apart from the coloured porcelain, nearly every portion of a Chinese temple or pagoda is painted, colour forming the chief means of producing effect; but as nearly everything is constructed of wood, there was and is no durability in these edifices.

A pagoda of three levels, built on a platform

Fig. 48.—A Small Pagoda.

In public works of utility, such as roads, canals—one of which is nearly 700 miles in length—and boldly designed bridges, the Chinese seem to have shown a more enlightened mind; and the Great Wall, which was [77] built to protect the northern boundary of the kingdom, about 200 B.C., is a wonderful example of engineering skill. This wall, which varies from 15 to 30 ft. in height, is about 25 ft. thick at the base, and slopes off to 20 ft. at the top. It is defended by bastions placed at stated intervals, which are 40 ft. square at the base, and about the same in height; the wall is carried altogether through a course of about 1400 miles, following all the sinuosities of the ground over which it passes. It is a most remarkable fact that a nation should have existed 2000 years ago capable of originating and completing so great a work; but it is still more remarkable that such a nation, possessing moreover, as it does, a great faculty in decorative art applied to small articles of use and fancy, should be still leading a populous and prosperous existence, and yet should have so little to show in the way of architecture, properly so termed, at the present time.

Japan, like China, possesses an architecture, but one exclusively of wood; for although the use of stone for bridges, walls, &c., had been general, all houses and temples were invariably built of wood until the recent employment of foreigners led to the erection of brick and stone buildings. The consequence has been that nearly all the old temples have been burnt down and rebuilt several times; and though it is probable that the older forms were adhered to when the buildings were re-erected, it is only by inference that we can form an idea of the ancient architecture of the country. The heavy curved roofs which are so characteristic of Chinese buildings are found also in Japan, but only in the Buddhist temples, and this makes it probable that this form of roof is not of native origin, but was introduced with the Buddhist cult. The earlier Shinto temples have a different form of roof, which is without the upward curve, but which has nearly as much projection at the [78] eaves as the curved roofs. Where the buildings are more than one storey in height the upper one is always set somewhat back, as we saw was the case in the Chinese pagodas, and considerable and pleasing variety is obtained by treating the two storeys differently. Very great skill in carving is shown, all the posts, brackets, beams, and projecting rafters being formed into elaborate representations of animals and plants, or quaintly conceived grotesques; and the flat surfaces have frequently a shallow incised arabesque pattern intertwined with foliage. The roofs are always covered with tiles, and a curious effect is produced by enriching the hips and ridges with several courses of tiles in cement, thus making them rise considerably above the other portions of the roof. A peculiar feature of Japanese houses is that the walls, whether external or internal, are not filled in with plaster, but are constructed of movable screens which slide in grooves formed in the framing of the partitions. Thus all the rooms can easily be thrown together or laid open to the outer air in hot weather. All travellers in Japan remark upon the impossibility of obtaining privacy in the hotels in consequence of this.

The Shinto temples are approached through what might be termed an archway, only that the arch does not enter into its composition. This erection is called a Torii, and is thus described by Professor Conder:[9]—“It is composed of two upright posts of great thickness, each consisting of the whole trunk of a tree rounded, about 15 ft. high, and placed 12 ft. apart. Across the top of these is placed a wooden lintel, projecting considerably and curving upwards at the ends. Some few feet below this another horizontal piece is tenoned into the uprights, having a [79] little post in the centre helping to support the upper lintel.” These erections occasionally occur in front of a Buddhist temple, when they are built of stone, exactly imitating, however, the wooden originals. This is interesting, as offering another proof, were one needed, that the curious forms of masonry exhibited in much of the work of the early nations, some of which has been described, is the result of an imitation of earlier wooden forms.

The chief effect in the buildings of the Japanese is intended to be produced by colour, which is profusely used; and they have attained to a height of perfection in the preparation of varnishes and lacquers that has never been equalled. Their lacquer is used all over their buildings, besides forming their chief means of decorating small objects. It is, however, beginning to be questioned whether the old art of lacquering is not becoming lost by the Japanese themselves, as the modern work appears by no means equal to the old. One curious form of decoration, of which the Japanese are much enamoured, consists in forming miniature representations of country scenes and landscapes; waterfalls, bridges, &c., being reproduced on the most diminutive scale. It is much to be feared that our small stock of knowledge of ancient Japanese art will never be greatly increased, as the whole country and the people are becoming modernised and Europeanised to such an extent that it appears probable there will soon be little indigenous art left in the country.

It has not been thought necessary to append to this chapter analyses of the Eastern styles similar to those which are given in the case of the great divisions of Western Architecture. The notice of these styles must unavoidably be condensed into very small space.


[6] It is not intended to imply that Hindustan has been without change in her ruling dynasties. These have been continually changing; but the remarkable fact is that, numerous as have been the nations that have poured across the Indus attracted by “the wealth of Ind,” there has been no reflux, as it were: the various peoples, with their arts, religions, and manners, have been swallowed up and assimilated, leaving but here and there slight traces of their origin.

[7] See Chap. XI. for an illustration of a Christian Basilica.

[8] See chapter on Saracenic Architecture.

[9] Paper communicated to the Royal Institute of Architects.


Repeated pattern, alternately reversed, forming a linear design

Fig. 49.—Greek Honeysuckle Ornament.