Temple Architecture of India

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

The Hindu temples developed over two thousand years depict excellent architectural evolution which took place within the boundaries of strict models derived from religious considerations.

In Hindu tradition, the Temple architecture is a religious architecture which is connected to astronomy and sacred geometry. Normally, the temple is referred as a place of sanctity representing the macrocosm or the universe and the microcosm or the inner space.

The temple architecture has kept the ancient basic proportions and rigid forms unaltered over centuries.

It is very conservative and a particular form of decorative details persisted for centuries even though the original purpose and the context are lost. Even the architect and the sculptor were given a great deal of freedom in the embellishment and decoration of the prescribed underlying principles and formulae which resulted in an overwhelming wealth of architectural elements, sculptural forms and decorative exuberance.

The common features of a basic Hindu temple include an inner sanctum, the garbha griha or the womb-chamber with space for its circumambulation, a congregation hall, and possibly an antechamber and a porch. The sanctum has a tower-like shikara.

The broad geographical, climatic, cultural, racial, historical and linguistic differences between the northern plains and the southern peninsula of India resulted even in distinct temple architectural styles. The Shastras, or the ancient texts architecture, classify the temple architectural styles into three different categories such as the Nagara or the Northern style, the Dravida or the Southern style, and the Vesara or the Hybrid style.

Nagara or the North Indian Temple Style

Developed around 5th century, the Nagara style is characterized by a beehive shaped tower called a shikhara, in northern terminology made up of layer upon layer of architectural elements such as kapotas and gavaksas, all topped by a large round cushion-like element called an amalaka. Even though the plan is based on a square, the walls are broken up so that the tower offers the impression of being circular. Later developments involved the central shaft being surrounded by many smaller reproductions which created a spectacular visual effect resembling a fountain. The best example for this is the Chandella temples.

Dravida or South Indian Temple Style

Developed around 7th century, the Dravida or the Southern style has a pyramid shaped tower consisting of progressively smaller storey of small pavilions, a narrow throat, and a dome on the top called a shikhara. The horizontal visual thrust is given by the repeated storey.

Less obvious differences between the two main temple types can be seen in the ground plan, the selection and positioning of stone carved deities on the outside walls and the interior, and the range of decorative elements. The northern style dominated the vast areas of India from the Himalayas to the Deccan and varied distinctly from region to region. But the southern style occupying a much smaller geographical area was very consistent in its development and more predictable in architectural features.

The Vesara or the Hybrid or the Deccan Temple Style

The Vesara style existed in the border areas between the two major styles, particularly in the modern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It is characterized by a good deal of stylistic overlap as well as several distinctive architectural features. A typical example is the Hoysala temple with its multiple shrines and remarkable ornate carving.

 

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