Types of Temple Architecture in India

‘India,’ the mere utterance of this word flashes a picture of the Tricolor in front of our very eyes, some imagine huge mountains covered with snow, while for some it is about the far-stretched deserts, others picture the beautiful and relaxing beaches, yet some consider it as a land of rain and forest. But, the beauty of India does not merely lie in its physiological divisions; rather, it lies in its glorious history, in the stories of its huge forts, ancient monuments, various types of temple architecture in India; and other religious sites of great religious significance add cherry onto the beauty of the cake named, India. But, if one is to explore deep into the history, the significance and various types of temple architecture in India, they will be awestruck to find out the mysteries these symbols of faith have to offer.

“India has two million gods and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.”–Mark Twain,

Types of Temple Architecture in India since Vedic times: –

Since Pre-Vedic time temples and idol worship in India have been of utmost importance to its people and have seeked the help of God for every tiny bit of the utterances that occur in their lives . But have you ever wondered as to why people seek temples and idol worship to find peace? What is the role of a temple in making people believe in the power of God?

The earliest and the most basic types of temple architecture in India were carved out of rock-cut caves or monolithic rathasA Hindu Temple, also known as a ‘Mandir or Devasthana,’ is a metaphorical dwelling, seat, and body of God. It is a structure that uses symbolism to portray the concept of Hinduism and its beliefs, bringing humans and Gods together. A temple symbolically represents dharma, kama, artha, moksa, and karma by incorporating all components of Hindu cosmos. It also includes the elements of a Hindu sense of cyclic time and the essence of life—presenting dharma, kama, artha, moksa, and karma.

A type of Temple Architecture in India may consist of:-

Garbhagriha: – Garbhagriha or the womb-house of the temple made in the form of a small cubical with a single entrance. It is the house the main icon (main deity) which is the focus of much ritual attention.

Mandapa: – Commonly known as The entrance to a temple. A Mandapa is a hall or a portico to accumulate a large group of worshippers. This part of the temple also accommodates dance performances and other forms of entertainment.

Shikhara or Viman: – These peaks resemble a free-standing temple’s spire. North Indian temples have Shikhara, while South Indian temples have Vimana. Shikhara is a curved building, whereas Vimana is a pyramidal construction.

Antrala: – Also known as the vestibule, Antrala is a transition area between the Garbhagriha and the temple’s main hall (mandapa).

Vahana: – It is the principal deity’s mount or vehicle, as well as a standard pillar or Dhvaj, which stands axially before the sanctum.

Geographical factors, the time period, along with the King in power have also greatly impacted the type of temple architecture in various parts of the country. During the Gupta period The Shikhara on the top of shrines was a new element in the temples; for example, the Shikhara is the most prominent feature of the Dasvathara Temple at Deogarh, and the sculptures on its portico complement the temple’s splendour. Temples from the Chalukya period, such as the Lad Khan temple in Aihole, were mostly constructed with stone blocks usually embellished with sculptures or other little pieces of art on the wall. This Shiva temple is comprised of enormous and flat stone blocks placed on top of each other, leaving no room for a Shikhara to be built.

Development of Temple Architecture during the reign of various Kings: –

The temples of Kalinga and Maru-Gujara styles in Odisha and Rajasthan, respectively, demonstrate the differences in types of temple architecture in India. The Kalinga architecture style flourished with three distinct styles of temples, i.e. Pidha Deula, Rekha Deula, and Khakhara Deula with the first two associated with Shiva, Surya, and Vishnu, and the last with Goddesses Durga and Chamunda.The Maru-Gujarat temples originated in Rajasthan during the 6th century, which is said to have a different style of architecture as compared to other North-Indian temples. It is regarded to share some characteristics with Hoysala temple architecture, as both forms have sculpturally rich construction. This style is shown by the Nagda temple in Rajasthan.

Designs of some temples are found unfulfilled despite the of a “perfect temple” included in it. Papanath temple, Pattadakal reveals a lack in the placement of important part of the temple. For a low building, Antaral of the temple is too big, along with the short size of the Shikhara. Apart from that there is no Nandi-mandapa but an ornate image of Nandi is in the eastern-half of Sabha-Mandapa.

Types of Architecture in Indian Temples: Their Legacy and Significance: –

Idol worship or even abstract worship has been an intrinsic part of our lives for ages. People follow the tradition and customs and there is an attachment to it unaware of the beautiful history it possesses in its foundation for such a prolonged period.

The Legacy of Temples in India: –

The history of this type of temple architecture in India has its peculiarities. The first documented references to temples are considered to be from 300 to 400 CE. Originally, the temple was not a Vedic place of worship. It all started with the emergence of ‘Pooja,’ a form of idol worship based on agamas and tantras that diverged from Vedic sacrifice-based worship. The architectural principles of Hindu temples in India are documented in the Shilpa Shastra, which distinguishes three basic styles of temple architecture: Nagara (Northern style), Dravida (Southern style), and Vesara (Mixed style). A Hindu temple’s shape and meanings of architectural features are meant to act as a link between man and the divine, supporting him on his path to spiritual awareness and truth, which is known as moksha.

Though with time a lot of changes were visible in the type of architecture in most of the Indian Hindu temples, there were certain rituals as well that revolutionized and emerged out as important to the people going to temples. While the original idea behind the construction of any type of temple architecture in India was to pray to the deity, these temples soon emerged out as place of significant social, economic and intellectual gatherings such as temple schools, public kitchens, hospitals, etc.

Increase in Significance of Temples across India: –

As the temples across India adopted a social prestige, their significance also increased due to the way in which these temples regulated themselves. For example, the construction of the ‘Temple Towers’ was to the extent where they were taller than any other structures in town. Thre was a purpose behind this, so that people with disabilities, the elderly, or those who are ill might worship from the comfort of their own homes. In addition, no one was allowed to enter a shrine wearing sandals or shoes. The availability of water tank near the temple area and the voluntary contributions towards the public welfare and temple expenses made them an important part of the city’s socio-economic and cultural activities.

To add up cherry on the cake, temples and types of temple architecture found in various regions of India got immense support from the local rulers and those in power. Construction of temples like the Virupaksha temple, the Mallikarjuna temple, the famous Jagannath Temple of Puri and Lingaraj Temple of Bhubaneswar, Brihadesshwara temple are some prominent examples of temples by the rulers of the particular region. The building of halls of worship allowed rulers to declare their close relationship with God, which was especially significant in an era of constant political transition.

North Indian style of Temples/ Nagara Style of Temple Architecture in India: –

The Nagara Temples associate with the land between the Himalayas and Vindhyas. Temples of this style are often built from a single rock only. The walls or gateways however are not much elaborate. The Nagara style of temples initially had one shikara,. Also, the Garbhagriha of these types of temples is located under the longest tower.

The division of Nagara Temple is into three sections based on the type of Shikhara installed: –

Latina Architecture: This is the most common Shikhara that has a square base and curved walls that lead to a single point at the top. The later phase of temple construction contains more intricate buildings and multiple smaller towers instead of a single main tower. This architecture is also the Rekha-Prasad architecture.

Phamsana type Shikhar Temple Architecture: These temples are short and wide in size. The construction of roof is from several slabs that ascend to a point in the centre of the structure. The mandapa is from Phamsana type of architecture.

Valabhi type shikhara Temple Architecture: Valabhi Temples have a rectangular structure with a ceiling that rises to the vaulted chamber. This vaulted chamber has circular edges, similar to a waggon made of wood or bamboo.

Central Indian Style of Temples/ Vesara style of Temple Architecture in India: –

Temples in the region of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh share similar characteristics in terms of the type of architecture. These temples are known as the Vesara style of temple architecture that used sandstone for their construction. Each shrine has four pillars supporting a small mandapa, giving the temples a modern appearance. This adds mandapa to the Garbhagriha, a small room for keeping the deity.

The Vesara style of temple architecture has three sub-divisions which are as follows: –

Chalukyas Temple Architecture: Some of the famous temples of Chalukya style of architecture are Ravan Phadi cave, Aihole, Karnataka; Durga Temple at Aihole, Karnataka; Temples at Pattadakal, Karnataka.

Hoyasalas Temple Architecture: Hoysaleswara temple, temples at Belur, Halebid, and Somnathpur are some examples of Hoyasalas temple architecture.

Vijayanagara Temple Architecture: Temples such as Hazara Rama Temple, Hampi, Shravanabelagola Temple are part of this type of architecture.

South Indian Temple Architecture/ Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture in India: –

In the Dravidian Style of Architecture, a wall encloses the compound. The ‘Gopuram’ is the name of the entrance gate. The temple’s main tower is the ‘Vimana,’ in the shape of a stepped pyramid. It rises geometrically rather than curving inwards like Shikara. The little ‘stupika’ at the top of the temple is ‘Shikara’ in South India.

The division of South Indian or Dravidian style of architecture is: –

Pallavas Temple Architecture: It is one of the best-known dynasties of the Andhra region. While most of the temples they constructed were Shaivaites, many Vaishnava temples can also from this period.

Cholas Temple Architecture: Theconstruction of finest temple buildings was under the reign of the Cholas. Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola were two of the most famous kings who loved to build temples. On the summit of the temples are Vimanas, which are multi-storey pyramids, on the top of which are monolithic shikara.

Other types of Temple Architecture in India: –

  • Western Indian Temple Architecture: –

Along with the construction of temples in a variety of sizes and styles, the formation of temples in the western part of India are mostly from stones. The sculptures in this temple date from the 10th to the 12th centuries A.D. While sandstone is the most frequent, the making of temples from the 10th to 12th centuries are of grey to black basalt. Some of the most historically significant sites are in Gujarat’s Shamlaji region. Sun Temple, Modhera, Gujarat; Ranakpur Temple, Rajasthan; Eklingji temple, Udaipur are some of the famous examples.

  • Eastern Indian Temple Architecture:  –

The Eastern Indian architecture of temples comprise of the Temples constructed in Assam, Bengal, and regions of Odisha . The temple architecture in these places demonstrates that terracotta was a common building material.

The division of various type of temple architecture found in Eastern Indian temple is as follows:

Assam Temple Architecture: One of the popular Temples is Kamakhya Temple.

Bengal Temple Architecture: Popular Temples are Siddheswara Mahadeva temple, W.B, Temples in Telkupi in Purulia district, W.B

Odisha – Kalinga Architecture: There are some subdivisions within Kalinga Architecture. These are as follows: 1. Rekhapida/Rekhadeula or Rathaka Deula Temples, 2. Pidadeula Temples, 3. Khakradeula Temples.

  • Hill Temple Architecture: –

This is a distinct architectural style that has evolved in the highlands of Kashmir, Garhwal, Kumaon, and Himachal Pradesh, among others. Construction of these temples was on highlands with a mix of both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Although the main garbhagriha and shikhara were in the Rekha-prasad style, the mandapa was only wooden. Pandrethan, Lakhsna-Devi Mandir, Jageshwar in Almora, Chambavat near Pithoragarh are some of the popular temples.

The diversity that India offers to the world is beyond one’s experience. The history related to each style of temple architecture brings about a new colour to the knowledge of seekers. It also provides them with an insight into the country’s rituals and traditions followed for hundereds of years. The increased significance of idol worship in temples led to a large level of construction of various types of temple architecture and the stories they contain will continue to mesmerize the upcoming generations.



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