Chaityas are massive temple complexes, constructed as worship places for the pilgrims and currently beautiful sights for the tourists. These colossal monuments are assembling halls which house miniature stupas, Buddhist reliquaries. They are enclosed areas large enough to accommodate a big amount of devotees during pujas, religious ceremonies, in unfavorable weather conditions. The cave temples are designed either in Hinayana (Theravada) or Mahayana style. While the first school worships relics, the second one venerates images. Thus, temples with iconography, that is, the images of the Buddha and other holy men are characteristic of Mahayana style.
The chaityas consist of a big rectangular hall surrounded by 2 column rows against each other and a vaulted ceiling. This distribution respectively creates the nave and double aisles in the area. The walls and pillars are usually adorned with delicate carvings of an educational character.
The uniqueness of these architectural sites is that chaityas are, in fact, built on solid mountainsides, sculpted out of cliff stone, cut into the living rock itself in a subtractive method – starting from the top of the cliff selection to its bottom. It is known that the builders used simple tools such as a chisel, hammer and timber pegs for construction.While the hall measurements differ in size (some are 10m h x 20m l, others are 20m h x 50m l), the pillars usually vary from 3-5 meters to 8-10 meters. These numbers speak about big effort and a considerable amount of time spent on constructions. One chaitya might have been constructed in 50-60 years.
According to estimates, there are around 1200 cave temples in India alone.