The Satvahanas – Architecture & Literature

The Satvahanas – Architecture & Literature

The Satvahanas – Architecture

In the Satavahana phase, many chaityas ( sacred shrines ) and monasteries were cut out of the solid rock in the north-western Deccan or Maharashtra with great skill and patience. In fact, the process had started about a century earlier in about 200 BC.

The two common religious constructions were the Buddhist temple which was called chaitya and the monastery which was called vihara . The ahatiya was a large hall with a number of columns and the vihara consisted of a central hall entered by a doorway from a verandah in front. The most famous chaitya is that of Karle in the western Deccan. It is about 40 meters long, 15 meters wide and 15 meters high. It is a most impressive specimen of massive rock architecture.

The viharas or monasteries were excavated near the chaityas for the residence of monks in the rainy season. At Nasik there are three viharas . Since they carry the inscriptions of Nahapana and Gautamiputra, it seems that they belong to the first-second centuries AD.

Rock-cut architecture is also to be found in Andhra in the Krishna-Godavari region, but the region is really famous for independent Buddhist structures, mostly in the form of stupas. The most famous of them are Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. The stupa was a large round structure erected over some relic of the Buddha.

The Amaravati stupa began in about 200 BC. but was completely reconstructed in the second half of the second century AD. Its dome measured 53 meters across the base and it seems to have been 33 meters in height. The Amaravati stupa is full of sculptures that depict the various scenes from the life of the Buddha.

Nagarjunakonda prosperous most in the second third centuries under the patronage of the Ikshvakus, the successors of the Satavahanas. It contains not only Buddhist monuments but also the earliest Brahmanical brick temples. Nearly two dozen monasteries can be counted here. Together with its stupas and Mahachaityas, it appears to be the richest in structure in the early centuries of the Christian era.

The Satvahanas – Literature

The official language of the Satavahans was Prakrit. All inscriptions were composed in this language and written in the Brahmi script, as was the case in Ashokan times.

Some Satavahana kings may have composed Prakrit books. One Prakrit text called Gathasattasai or the Gathasptasati is attributed to a Satavahana king called Hala. It consisted of 700 verses, all written in Prakrit, but it seems to have been finally re-touched much later, possibly after the sixth century AD.

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