Some of the most famous early Buddhist and Hindu sites were not temples, but caves hewn from the rock and shaped into pillared halls, chambers for sacred images, and cells for monastic or mendicant habitation. Early constructions created in more ephemeral materials have not survived, although rock cut constructions do reveal some details about building in wood and other materials. Gradually, from about the Gupta Period on (300–500 CE), free-standing stone structures began to replace the earlier rock-cut forms. Nevertheless, the cave-like aspect of the central chamber within a temple persisted, with vertical superstructures rising above them.
Devotees entered the temple proper through a pavilion or hall area directly in front. All parts of the temple correspond with axial lines of cosmic significance. Rock-cut temple architecture also continued to evolve, both in the Hindu and Buddhist contexts, producing some of the most spectacular, ambitious, and arduously created monuments in the world.