Our sacred Places – How much do we know them?

“The magnetic needle always points to the north, and hence it is that sailing vessel does not lose her direction. So long as the heart of man is directed towards God, he cannot be lost in the ocean of worldliness.” -Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa

-Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa rightly said, “So long as the heart of man is directed towards God, he cannot be lost in the ocean of worldliness” and sacred Indian temples does that job beautifully by directing everybody of us towards the God. They are medium to know the God, attain peace and are power houses to preserve great Indian culture, art, literature, ethics and spirituality. Due to change in lifestyle choices influenced by the Management style of education in India, present youth is obsessed with globalisation and fashion trends that has taken brought lot of materialism into the life of youth. Visiting temple is “age old” fashion and is meant for “old age” people is the impression they carry and even mock their friends who visit temples. What big deal in it? What did we lose by not visiting our temples? The answer is “We are at the verge of losing something that is even hard to extrapolate – Our Civilization”. Our temples are not just the sacred places or homes of Gods, they are symbols of great ancient Indian civilization, the pinnacle of our civilization, hard work, dedication, expertise, art, can be found in our temples. Visiting temples brings awareness and appreciation in us towards the great heritage our ancestors have created thereby enhancing our “Heritage Preservation Efforts”.

The temple is reflection of “Hindu Philosophy”. It is symbolic representation of the universe explaining us how life emerges and ends. The Kumbha (Pot) at the base of temple pillar is representation of water – the source of life. The Kalasha (Pot) at the finial/top of the temple is also the representation of water – the dissolution of life. This way there are numerous ways to interpret Indian temples in our own Hindu way. Temples are central religious places dedicated to gods; people visit them to have “Darshana” of God. Temples remind the “Bhakti Marga” enabling us to use temple as representation of “Spiritual journey” to be carried with in ourselves.


Temples are called “Devalaya” meaning “House of the God”. Devalayas are constructed in different styles in different regions of India based on geography and available material. Due to there are three important styles of temple construction in India namely Nagara, Dravida and Vesara. The Temples are constructed by “Shilpi” or “Sthapathis” under the royal patronage. Indian temple construction is the finest example of highest education, artistic and architectural expertise our ancestors possessed. There are numerous treatises in Sanskrit in different regions of the country dealing with the temple construction techniques and the treatment of sculpture on the temple walls. Though “Agamas” discuss the subject in detail books like “Brihat Samhita” by Varahamihira, “Samarangana Sutradara” by Raja Bhoja, “Manasara” from South India and “Silpa Prakasa” by Ramachandra Bhattaraka are few treatises that talks in detail about Temple construction and sculptural treatment.

The temple construction under royal patronage saw massive encouragement along with specific development in the techniques and styles. The advancement

  1. Nagara Style (Nagara Shaili) of Temple Architecture:

Nagara Architecture during Guptas and other north Indian Dynasties

Nagara is one of the three styles of Indian Temple Architecture. It is quadrangular in shape, the other two Vesara and Dravida being round and octagonal respectively. These features are generally noticed at the upper part of building. Nagara style of Temple Architecture is popular in North and Central India.

Two distinct features of this style are:

  1. Plan/ basement: Square basement with graduated projections called “Rathas” in middle of each side gives cruciform shape.
  2. Elevation: A vertical Shikhara that bends inverts as it grows in convex curve using layers of squares and circles.

There are two main types of Nagar Temples:

  1. Sandhara: The Garbha Griha enclosed by Stambhas (Pillars) for Pradakshina path (circumambulation = Walking around something in a circle). Like in Kandariya Mahadev Temple, Khajuraho.
  2. Nirandhara: Do not have provision of Pradakshina path. Like in Devi Jagadamba Temple, Khajuraho. 

Nagara Architecture during Guptas

Nagara Architecture has seen Golden Period during the time of Guptas. The evolution of Nagara Architecture happened in Three Stages during the same period.

Stage 1: Kankali Devi Temple of Tigwa, Madhya Pradesh can be considered as the initial stage of Nagar Architecture with flat roof and low platform.

Stage 2: Nachnakutara Parvati Temple, Panna, Madhya Pradesh is built on a raised platform which later is famously called Jagati.

Stage 3: Dasavatara Temple, Deogarh, Lalitpur District, Uttar Pradesh is built on a raised platform with entrances on four sides and a Shikhara on the top of Garbha Griha, ruins of which are remaining.

Nagara Architecture under Chandelas:

Nagara Architecture under Chandelas has seen its zenith. Khajuraho Group of Temples are the best preserving Nagara Style of Temples.  These temples are not large but compact yet grand and built on high platform called Jagati. “Jagati” provides open ambulatory and elevation from environs. The five essential elements of these temples are: Ardhamandapa – Entrance Porch, Maha Mandapa – Hall, Antarala – Vestibule/ intermediate space between Mandapa and Garbha Griha, Garbha Griha – Sanctum Sanctorum, Shikhara – Tower. All are connected internally

Text Box: Figure 1 "Panchayatana Style"

The Mandapas have two windows on either side towards the veranda (Vedi= Balcony) for ventilation. Pradakshinapath (Inner ambulatory) has windows towards balcony. Some Nagara temples have subsidiary shrines on four corners. This Four plus One arrangement is called Pancha+ Ayatana style. Temple is erected on a lofty platform above Jagati called Pitha with series of ornamental bands. On this base is wall of temple called Jangha. Above Jangha is the roof of the temple

from where the Shikhara starts with series of graded peaks like a mountain Kailash or Meru. The Shikhara style is called Mairu (Meru Shaili). Unlike Garbha Griha, Mandapa and Maha Mandapa are of pyramid shape. The pyramidal roof of Manadapa or Maha Mandapa roof is called Samvarana roof. Entrance porch is Torana.

Elements like Skandha – Shoulder, Griva -Neck, Amalaka – Head, Kalasa – Topknot form Parts of Shikhara.

Figure 2 “Parts of a Nagara Temple

Figure 3 Parts of Nagara Temple Shikhara

  1. Dravidian style (Dravida Shaili) of Temple Architecture

Dravidian Architecture during Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas, Vijayanagara

This style of Temple Architecture evolved and prevailed in Dravida Region. Generally Dravida Region refers to South India or to the Geographical region that falls south of River Godavari. The elements of Dravidian Temple are: Adishtana – Seat, Bhitti – Wall, Prastara – Extension or spreading out (Chajja), Griva – Neck, Vimana – Tower, Stupi – Finial. These six components together are called shadvarga.

Evolution of Dravidian Architecture:

Early phase temples: Simple Plan, small temple with Sanctum and porch with small Vimana called Alpavimana. They are either single storeys or double storeys.If they are built by ruling family the temples have pradakshinapath.Preference is given to square or octagonal Vimana. No Kuta projections at corners of temple (Essential in Dravida Vimana) like in Upper Shivalaya of Badami, Karnataka.

Later Phase Temples:  Antarala (Vestibule) introduced between Sanctum and Mandapa. Well defined storeys with square, octagonal or circular Vimana with compound or Prakara are built. Temples with large complexes had Nandi Mandapa and Parivara Devata Shrines. In earlier phase the temples had larger Vimana and smaller entrances called Gopuram. In later phases the temples has smaller Vimana and larger entrances or Gopuram. Incorporation of Nagara Style components like Sukanasa (face/ nose of Shikhara, superstructure over Antarala), Kakashasana (Sofa kind of seating area in the Mandapa). The number Sanctums increased in number. If there are three Sanctums the temple is called Trikuta+ Alaya. The number of compounds and gopuram increased in number. The number of storeys increased in number called Talas. Tripled storey temple is called Tritala. The temples also had broad entrance gateway called Pratholi.

  1. Vesara Style (Vesara Shaili) of Temple Architecture

Vesara Architecture in Maharashtra and Karnataka Region

Vesara style of Architecture is a combination of features from Nagara and Dravidian temple styles along with its own original elements.  This style is found in Karnataka and Maharashtra regions. The term Vesara is given due to its hybrid nature of style. In Vesara the tower is usually pyramidal in shape and shorter than northern Shikhara. One common element found in Vesara Temple is Miniature Shikharas of Bhumija Shikhara type which is North Indian. Like Dravidian Vimana the Vesara Temple Vimana is divided into different stories. This style of Architecture developed during the time of Badami Chalukyas was further refined by the Rashtrakutas in Ellora. The Hoyasala temples are best examples of Vesara Architecture. One of the chief features of Vesara Temples is the Mandapa is generally larger than the Sanctum and its Vimana. Such temples are usually with Dwaras to the mandapam from three sides.

The details discussed here are three different architectural styles prominent in India, there are different other temple construction styles that arise from these three like “Kalinga Style” of Temple construction which is a Nagara style variant. All this discussion is without Sculptural treatment of the temples. Just imagine the magnitude of the treatment if “Muri Kala” (Sculptural Treatment) is included.

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