A rock-cut sustainable home for a Buddhist monk in Junagadh in Western India offers a glimpse of what life and architecture were like during the Mauryan Empire (321–185 BCE).
Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan Dynasty
Ashoka was the third emperor of the Mauryan Dynasty. His vast kingdom stretched from India all the way to Greece. Ashoka’s rock edicts united his people and reinforced his influence over his vast empire. The rock edicts in Junagadh in western India describe Ashok’s orders to promote general welfare of people and his adherence to the Buddhist doctrine of life known as Buddhist Dharma. The idea of stepped wells originated from the Ashokan edicts as a way to promote general welfare of people.
Rock Edicts of Ashoka
The rock edicts at Junagadh describe Ashoka’s embrace of Buddhism and his influence over the vast landscape of the Mauryan Empire. He preached Buddhist philosophy through his edicts and spread Buddhist principles of respect for nature, welfare of all human beings regardless of their beliefs and ways to attain happiness. Buddhists believe that all living beings have the same basic wish to be happy, but very few people understand the real causes of unhappiness and suffering.
The Uperkot Fort at Junagadh
Uperkot means High Citadel. As the name suggests, the Uperkot fort at Junagadh is situated along the Girnar mountain ranges. It was an important outpost of the Mauryan Empire under King Ashoka. The outer walls of the fort rise as high as 70 feet from the surrounding area. They provide security against intruders and create a protected sanctuary for the people. The fort was taken over at least 16 times by various rulers over its life span and continues to be a living museum of Indian history and architecture today.
An interior wall with Chaitya Windows and benches 2
Sustainable Home for a Buddhist Monk
One of the fascinating rock-cut caves at the Uperkot fort is that of a home for a Buddhist monk. It was cut into the rock from above and offers a glimpse into the life and architecture of that period. One can get an idea about the geological composition of the soil by viewing the exposed rock faces of the nearby stepped well known as adi kadi ni vav. It appears that a few feet below the upper layers of soil, there is solid rock which can stand on its own without the need for a retaining wall or bracing.
Adi Kadini Vav stepped well 3
A Glimpse into the life and architecture
The home for a Buddhist monk with an interior courtyard, an open entrance court and a stepped water tank has all the elements of a sustainable home. There are two entrances, one of which takes you inside the house by the stepped water tank, while the other allows entry from the opposite side via an entrance court. The first level down has a double height space overlooking the floor below. There are six pillars in the middle on the first level. The walls have recessed areas with benches for sitting. The recessed areas display carvings of arched openings known as Chaitya windows. The lower level has large communal space with smaller storage areas.
This sustainable home for a Buddhist monk celebrates reliance on day lighting, rainwater harvesting, use of local materials and respect for nature. Those are also the essential elements of sustainability. With its two means of egress located remotely from one another, it is also compliant with today’s safety codes. Architecturally, it displays a remarkable understanding of form, space, architectural order and sustainability.
- Title Image: An Interior Courtyard – By Pratikjoshi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21279914
- 2 An interior wall with Chaitya Windows and benches – By Bernard Gagnon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30904831
- 3 Adi Kadini Vav Stepped Well – Gujarat Tourism