Although it is evident from the preceding investigation that these Eastern caves cannot compete—as previously hinted—either in extent or in magnificence, with the rock-cut temples found on the Western side of India, still it results from an examination of their peculiarities, that they are far from being devoid of interest in themselves, and are, in some respects, of almost equal importance for the general history of architecture in India, as their rivals in the West. Notwithstanding their comparative insignificance, the evidence derived from the Behar caves proves more distinctly than anything else that has yet come to light, at what time, and in what manner, caves were first excavated in India for religious purposes. They also afford direct and positive proof, that before Aśoka’s time, in the middle of the third century before Christ, all the caves used by Buddhists were mere natural caverns very slightly, if at all, improved by art. They also tend, by inference, to confirm the postulate, that before Aśoka’s time stone was rarely, if at all, used in India for purely architectural purposes. If what has been said above, is borne out by subsequent investigations, it results that the Pipala cave at Râjgir, and its accompanying Baithak, are not only the oldest buildings known to exist in India, but the most characteristic of the state of architectural art in the pre-Mauryan age. If this is sustained, its importance can hardly be overrated, as affording a firm basis for all further investigations into the origin of stone architecture and cave excavation in India. On the whole from the evidence, on these points, obtained from an examination of the Eastern caves is more complete than any derived from those in the West.
The Orissa caves are not so important in a historical point of view, but they seem to illustrate Buddhist art at a period when such illustrations are most valuable, and they supplement what is found in the Western caves in a manner that is most satisfactory. Taken together, they afford a picture of the arts of architecture and sculpture as they existed in India immediately before and after the Christian era, which is full of interest, but which could hardly be considered as complete without the information to be derived from these Eastern examples.
The greatest interest, however, of these explorations among the Eastern rock-cut temples, arises from the discovery at Mahâvallipur of what may fairly be called a petrified Buddhist village. The great difficulty that has hitherto been experienced in investigating the history of Buddhist architecture in India has arisen from the fact that though we have hundreds on hundreds of caves and rock-cut examples, we have—with the exception of one or two topes—not one single structural example in the length and breadth of the land, and it consequently was most difficult to realise the external appearance of the buildings. By the aid, however, of the Mahâvallipur Raths, and the clumsy attempt to copy a Buddhist vihara in the cave at Undavilli, we are now enabled to understand to a very great extent, not only the appearance but the construction of all the varied forms of Buddhist architectural art. The Raths belong, unfortunately, to a late age, it must be confessed, but still before it had entirely passed away.
Another almost equally important result for the general history of Indian Architecture, is obtained from a knowledge of the forms of the Raths at Mahâvallipur and of the caves at Undavilli. It may now be said with confidence that we know for certain the origin of the Dravidian style of architecture, and the date when it was first introduced in the South, and we can also explain whence its most characteristic features were derived, and why they were adopted. All these points were little known before, and still less understood.
It may be said, with some truth perhaps, that there is very little that is new in all this; but a good deal of it was known only very hazily. The great advantage obtained from these investigations into the Eastern caves is, that we may now feel confident that we know exactly how and when Buddhist architecture was first introduced, and with the assistance of the Western caves can follow its progress step by step till its decline and extinction in the seventh or eighth century, after an existence of nearly 1,000 years. It is something too, to be able to say that we know when and how the Dravidian style arose, though we have not and never had any difficulty in tracing its history from the seventh or eighth century till the present day. It is true we have not yet been able to discover the origin of the curvilinear Śikhara or spire of Indo-Aryan style of the north of India, with its accompanying peculiarities. When, however, so much has been done, we may feel confident that before long, that last remaining obscurity that still clouds the history of Indian Architecture may, too, eventually disappear.