Professor David Efurd’s collection of nearly 10,000 photographs of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain art and architecture was recently released in the Artstor Digital Library. We were particularly impressed by the variety and complexity of the rock-cut cave temples he photographed, and he was kind enough to answer our questions.
Artstor: What is the importance of caves as the sites of some of these temples, as opposed to more typical, free-standing temples?
David Efurd: Regarding Buddhist caves, monks appear to have lived in natural caves and rock-shelters since the time of the Buddha. In fact, texts describe the Buddha as spending nights in caves at a variety of locations in northeastern India. Over time, simple shelters were enlarged by cutting away stone, and masonry walls may have been added to the front to make them more architectural.
In western India, these Buddhist sites are a bit later, perhaps dating from the second century BC at the earliest. Unlike the caves the Buddha lived in, they do not appear to be natural caves that were enlarged. Rather, they were carved deeply into outcroppings of stone or cliffs and tend to be architectonic, meaning that they resemble the interior spaces of architecture, despite being hewn into stone. Few free-standing buildings and monasteries from this period survive, so these caves provide crucial insight into a tradition of architecture that has all but disappeared. Rock-cut or cave architecture from this period draws upon both this early tradition of living in natural caves and the later monastic complexes consisting of residential buildings and places for instruction and worship.