Early Buddhist Artisans and their Architectural Vocabulary


The early Buddhist architectural vocabulary, being the first of its kind, maintained its monopoly for about half a millennium, beginning from the third century BCE. To begin with, it was oral, not written. The Jain, Hindu, and other Indian sectarian builders later developed their vocabulary on this foundation, though not identically. An attempt is made here to understand this vocabulary and the artisans who first made use of it.

In the epigraphic ledger, the first reference to the mythical creator of the universe, the Visvakarma (Visakama), is made on the thupas at Sanchi and Kanaganahalli; the earliest excavators of cave temples, comprising five specialists – selavdhaki, nayikamisa, kadhicaka, mahakataka and mithaka –  as well as a team of master-architects and supervisors, called the navakamis, appear at Kanheri. Besides these, there were also others called avesanis, atevasinas, acaryas, and upajjhayas all over the Buddhist world. The list does not end with these, because there were yet others called vadhakis (carpenters), seli-vadhakis (stonecutters), sela-rupakas (stone sculptors), mithakas (polishers), and so on. All these artisans who have recorded their life stories on the stone surface are identified, and their professional contributions evaluated here for the first time.


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