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Vihāra

Vihāra (Skt., ‘dwelling’). Originally a Buddhist monastic retreat during the rainy season, later becoming a permanent monastic establishment. The rock-carved vihāras of the Western Ghats, usually associated with a caitya hall, are among the earliest surviving examples of Buddhist architecture, though Jain vihāras (1st and 2nd cents. BCE) are found in Orissa. Of the rock-carved variety, Bhājā, dating from the early Śunga period (2nd cent. BCE) is a good example, consisting of a central rectangular chamber surrounded by individual cells. Later vihāras are simply an elaboration on this basic theme, in which a central courtyard (very often enclosing a railed Bo Tree, shrine room, and ambulatory) is encompassed by monks’ cells, sometimes reaching several storeys with veranda attached.

The vihāra is a fundamental feature of all Buddhist cultures. The Indian state of Bihar is so called because of the large number of vihāras which at one time covered the landscape.

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vihara

vihara. Square or rectangular court surrounded by cells occupied by Buddhist monks: opposite the entrance one cell is usually reserved for a stupa.

Bibliography

Prip-Möller (1937)

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