Indian Temple Architecture

Indian Temple Architecture

Hindu temple architecture has many varieties of style, though the basic nature of the Hindu temple remains the same, with the essential feature an inner sanctum, the garbha grihaor womb-chamber, where the primary Murtior the image of a deity is housed in a simple bare cell.Almost all Indian art has been religious, and almost all forms of artistic tradition have been deeply conservative. The Hindu temple developed over two thousand years and its architectural evolution took place within the boundaries of strict models derived solely from religious considerations.Hindu temple architecture reflects a synthesis of arts, the ideals of dharma, beliefs, values and the way of life cherished under Hinduism. The temple is a place forTirtha- pilgrimage.All the cosmic elements that create and celebrate life in Hindu pantheon, are present in a Hindu temple – from fire to water, from images of nature to deities, from the feminine to the masculine, from kamato artha , from the fleeting sounds and incense smells to Purusha – the eternal nothingness yet universality – is part of a Hindu temple architecture.A number of architectural texts known as the Shilpashastras were written in early medieval times. These refer to three major styles of temple architecture, Nagara, Dravida, and Vesara. The

  • Nagara style is associated with the land between the Himalayas and Vindhyas.
  • Dravida style with the land between the Krishna and Kaveri rivers,
  • Vesara style is sometimes associated with the area between the Vindhyas and the Krishna river


At the center of the temple, typically below and sometimes above or next to the deity, is mere hollow space with no decoration, symbolically representing Purusa, the Supreme Principle, the sacred Universal, one without form, which is present everywhere, connects everything, and is the essence of everyone. A Hindu temple is meant to encourage reflection, facilitate purification of one’s mind, and trigger the process of inner realization within the devotee. The specific process is left to the devotee’s school of belief. The primary deity of different Hindu temples varies to reflect this spiritual spectrum.The broad geographical, climatic, cultural, racial, historical and linguistic differences between the northern plains and the southern peninsula of India resulted, from early on, in distinct architectural styles. The Shastras, the ancient texts on architecture, classify temples into three different orders; the Nagara or ‘northern’ style, the Dravida or ‘southern ‘ style, and the Vesara or hybrid style which is seen in the Deccan between the other two.

Dravidian Architecture

The Dravida Architectural style is associated with the temples of southern India or Deccan. The earliest traces of Dravida architectural features go back to Gupta period and are not restricted to the far south i.e. in Gupta period these traces occur in northern and central India along with Deccan, like in the Parvati temple at Lad Khan, Kont Gudi and Meguti temples at Aihole.The outstanding and the common characteristics of the Dravida style is the pyramidal elevation of the tower, which consists of a multiplication of storey after storey slightly reduced than the one below, ending in a domical member, technically known as the stupi or stupica.In different temples ‘dedicated pavilions’can be seen like Shiva templeshave dedicated mandapa of ‘nandi’ the bull or Vishnu temples have ‘garuda mandapa’.  Boundary walls in south Indian temples were built in early medieval period where north Indian temples were not walled.  In temples built in the Dravida style, the square inner sanctum is set within a large covered enclosure. The external walls are divided into niches by pilasters.

The two most architecture of Dravidian temple architecture is :
• Temples of this style has more than 4 sides in the sanctum
• Tower or Vimana of these temples are pyramidal.

The Kailasanatha temple is a major example of the Dravida Architecture. The Kailasanatha temple complex is situated at Kanchias a joint venture of Rajasimha or Narasimhavarman II and his son Mahendra III. The main Vimana facing east is four storeyed, and is essentially a square structure up to the giva. This is placed above the sikhara and is usually octagonal. The main sanctum has a large fluted, sixteen-faced, polished,basalt linga with an immense circular linga-pitha occupying almost the entire floor of the sanctum. There is a detached multi pillared oblong mandapa in front. This is longer on its north-south axis and with its containing pilasters Vyala based while in the west these are of the plainer type. The whole is surrounded by a prakara with a gap in the middle of its east side and enclosing an open court all rounds.

Nagara Architecture

The Nagara style has its origin in the structural temples of the Gupta period, especially the Dashavtara temple of Deogarh and the brick temple of Bhitargaon.  Two distinct features of the Nagara style are – planning and other elevation. The plan is square with a number of gradual projections in the middle of each side which Imparts it a cruciform shape. When there is one projection on each side, it is called ‘triratha’, two projections – ‘Pancharatha’, three projections – ‘Saptharatha’and four projections –‘Navaratha’. These projections can occur throughout the height of the structure.  Theprojections in the plan are also carried upwards to the top of the shikhara. The main difference between these two is the shape of the shikhara. In the main shrine, abell shaped structure further adds to the height. In this style, the temples mainly are formed of four chambers, first the ‘Garbhagriha’, then second Jagmohan’, third ‘Natyamandir and fourth chamber the ‘Bhogamandir.

Originally in nagara style there were no pillars. By the eighth century the Nagara style emerges in its characteristic form. The Nagara style exhibits distinct varieties in elaboration. The temple belonging to the Nagara style of architecture may be seen from the Himalaya to the north of Bijapur district in the south, from the Punjab in the west to Bengal to the east. As a result, there are local variations and ramifications in the formal development of the style in the different regions. Such variations are cause by local conditions, by different directions in development as well as assimilation of unrelated trends. However, the cruciform plan and the curvilinear tower are common to every Nagara temple.

The Lingaraja temple, dating from the 11th century, is one of the grandest and is regarded as a gem of Nagara architectural style. This temple consists of the sanctum, a closed hall, a dancing hall and a hall of offerings. The sanctum is Pancharatha on plan. The lower register of the wall is decorated with Khakhara-Mundis and the upper with Pidhamundis. The Khakhara Mundis contains on the corner Rathas figures of eight Regents and on the flanking Rathas miscellaneous friezes. The Pidhamundis are inset with images of  various Brahmanical gods and goddesses. The famous temple of Jagannatha at Puri is roughlycontemporaneous with the Lingaraja. It shows the same mature plan as the latter, but is even loftier and is nearly 56.70 m high.

Versara Architecture :

It emerged during early medieval period.It is a hybrid style that borrowed from the northern and southern styles. So, it is a mixture of both Nagara and Dravida styles of temple architecture. Temples built in the Deccan under the later Chalukyas of Kalyani and Hoysalas are considered examples of this style.Vesara style reduces the height of the temple towers even though the numbers of tiers are retained. This is accomplished by reducing the height of individual tiers. The semi-circular structures of the Buddhist chaityas are also borrowed in this style, as in the Durga temple of Aihole. Many temples in Central India and Deccan have used the Vesara style with regional modifications. The Papanatha temple (680 AD) in particular and someo ther temples to a lesser extent located at Pattadakal demonstrate panache for this stylistic overlap‛.The trend of merging two styles was started by the Chalukyas of Badami (500-735 AD) who built temples in a style that was essentially a mixture of the Nagara and Dravida styles, further refined by the Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta (750-983 AD) in Ellora, Chalukyas of Kalyani (983-1195 AD) in Lakkundi, Dambal, Gadag etc. and epitomized by the Hoysalas (1000-1330 AD). Most of the temples built in Halebid, Belur andSomanathapura are classified under this style.

Meenakshi Temple

Meenakshi Temple, also referred to as Meenakshi Amman or Minakshi-Sundareshwara Temple,is a historic Hindu temple located on the southern bank of the Vaigai Riverin the temple city of MaduraiTamil Nadu,India.The temple is a major pilgrimage destination within the Shaivism tradition, dedicated to Meenakshi Devi and Shiva. However, the temple includes Vishnu in many narratives, sculptures and rituals as he is considered to be Meenakshi’s brother. This has made this temple and Madurai as the “southern Mathura”, one included in Vaishnava texts. The Meenakshi temple also includes Lakshmi, flute playing Krishna, Rukmini, Brahma, Saraswati, other Vedic and Puranic deities, as well as artwork showing narratives from major Hindu texts. The large temple complex is the most prominent landmark in Madurai and attracts tens of thousands visitors a day. The temple attracts over a million pilgrims and visitors during the annual 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival, celebrated with much festivities and a ratha (chariot) procession during the Tamil month of Chittirai.

The temple has 14 gopurams, the tallest of which is southern tower, rises to over 170 ft (52 m) and was rebuilt in late 16th century. The oldest gopuram is the eastern one (I on plan), built by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan during 1216-1238. Each gopuram is a multi-storeyed structure, covered with sculpture painted in bright hues. The outer gopurams are high pyramidal tower serving as a landmark sign for arriving pilgrims, while the inner gopuram are smaller and serve as the entrance gateways to various shrines.


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