Ancient Indian Architecture – Part IV – Temple Architecture

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Temple Architecture

Temple architecture of high standard developed in almost all regions of ancient India.

The distinct architectural style of temple construction in different parts was a result of geographical, climatic, ethnic, racial, historical and linguistic diversities.

Ancient Indian temples are classified into three broad types. This classification is based on different architectural styles, employed in the construction of the temples.

Three major technique of temple architecture is the Nagara or the Northern style, the Dravida or the Southern style and the Vesara or Mixed style.

But there are also some regional styles such as Badami Chalukya Architecture and Gadag architecture in Karnataka, Kalinga architecture in Odisha, Maru-Gurjara temple architecture in Rajasthan.

In the initial stages of its evolution, the temples of North and South India were distinguished on the basis of some specific features like Shikhara and Gopurams which are gateways

In the north Indian temples, the Shikhara remained the most prominent component while the gateway was generally unassuming.

The most prominent features of South Indian temples were enclosures around the temples and the Gopurams (huge gateways).


The very essence of a Hindu temple is believed to have developed from the ideology that all things are one and everything is associated.

The four essential and significant principles which are also the principle of human life according to Indian philosophy are the quests for artha – wealth and prosperity; Kama – pleasure; dharma – moral life and virtues; and moksha – self-knowledge and realization.

The mathematically structured spaces, intricate artworks, decorated and carved pillars and statues of Hindu deities illustrates and values such philosophies.

A hollow space without any embellishments situated at the center of the temple, usually below the deity, may also be at the side or above the deity symbolizes the complex concept of Purusha or Purusa meaning the Universal principle, Consciousness, the cosmic man or self without any form, however, omnipresent and associates all things.

The Hindu temples suggest contemplations, encouragement and further purification of mind and prompt the process of self-realization in devotees; however, the preferred process is left to the convention of individual devotees.


Hindu temples are suggested near natural water bodies like a confluence of rivers, river banks, seashores, and lakes. According to the ‘Puranas’ and ‘Bharat Samhita’, Mandirs can even be constructed in sites devoid of natural water bodies.

However, such suggestions include building up of a pond with water gardens in front of the ‘Mandir’ or towards left.

In the absence of both natural and man-made water bodies, water remains typically present during the consecration of the deity or the Mandir.

Part III of Chapter 93 of the Hindu text Vishnudharmottara Purana also recommends the building of temples within caves, chiseled out stones, atop hills, within hermitages, forests, gardens, and at the upper end of a street of a town.


The basic elements that comprise a Hindu Temple are given below:

Garbhagriha: which Literally means womb-house. is a cave-like sanctum which houses the main icon of the temple. In earlier times, it was a small cubicle with one entrance. In later periods, it grew into a larger chamber.

Mandapa: is The entrance to the temple. It could be a portico or a colonnaded hall where worshippers stand.

Shikhara/Vimana: it is from the 5th century CE. It is a mountain-like structure on top. In north Indian Nagara style, it is called Shikhara and is curved in shape whereas, In the south Indian Dravida style, it is like a pyramidal tower which is called Vimana.

Amalaka: Stone-like disc seen at the top of the temple. Mostly in north Indian temples.

Kalasha: It is the topmost part of the temple. Mainly seen in north Indian styles.

Antarala: It is a vestibule between the Garbhagriha and the Mandapa.

Jagati: This is common in north Indian temples and is a raised platform where devotees can sit and pray.

Vahana: It is the vehicle of the main deity which along with the standard pillar or Dhvaj are placed axially

Different Styles


The Nagara style that is observed in different parts of India with varied elaborations in different localities has two particular features.

a facet or vertical offset projection on the plan of the sanctum and shikhara above, or other structure. It is generally carried up from the bottom of the temple to the superstructure.

the tower above the sanctum is Shikhara which gradually curves inwards and is capped by a spheroid slab with ribs round the edge give the elevation.

The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple in Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh is a fine example of this style.


Dravidian temple architecture evolved in South India, predominantly comprises of temples built of sandstone, soapstone or granite and is characterized by its pyramidal tower.

Unlike the nagara temple, the Dravida temple is enclosed within a compound wall.

The vimana is like a stepped pyramid that rises up geometrically rather than the curving shikhara of north India.

The Mandapas/Mandapams or porches are built in such a way that these precede and cover the door that leads to the cell.

The Gopurams/Gopuras or elaborate gateway-towers or gate-pyramids encloses the temples.

The Charteris or pillared halls employed for different purposes forms one of the principals and constant features of this style. It also has Temple tanks, wells, abodes of priests etc.

The famous Thanjavur temple of Tamil Nadu is a beautiful example of this style.


The foundation of cave temple architecture on the banks of Malaprabha River originated in Karnataka during 500 and 757 CE.

In Aihole, known as the “Cradle of Indian architecture,” there are over 150 temples scattered around the village.

The Lad Khan Temple is the oldest. The Durga Temple is notable for its semi-circular apse, elevated plinth and the gallery that encircles the sanctum sanctorum.

A sculpture of Vishnu sitting atop a large cobra is at Hutchimali Temple. The Ravan phadi cave temple celebrates the many forms of Shiva. Other temples include the Konthi temple complex and the Meguti Jain temple.

Kalyani Chalukya

The Western Chalukya architecture or Kalyani Chalukya style of architecture is a specific style of decorative architecture that originated from the old Dravida style and defines the Karnata Dravida tradition.

Evolved during the 11th century it prospered for around 150 years till 1200 CE during the reign of Western Chalukya Empire in the Tungabhadra region of Karnataka and saw the construction of around 50 temples.

A distinct feature of this style was articulation. Kasivisvesvara Temple at Lakkundi and Saraswati temple in the temple complex of Trikuteshwara at Gadag are some of the temples that illustrate this style.

Kalinga Temple Architecture

This style has three specific types of temples prospered in Odisha and Northern Andhra Pradesh.

The three styles are Pidha Deula, Rekha Deula and Khakhara Deula with the first two linked with Shiva, Surya and Vishnu and the latter is predominantly associated with Goddesses Durga and Chamunda.

Again the first (Pidha Deula) type comprises of outer halls for offerings and dancing while the latter two (Rekha and Khakhara Deula) comprise of the sanctum sanctorum.

The word Deula means temple. The famous Jagannath Temple of Puri and Lingaraj Temple of Bhubaneswar portray Rekha Deula style while Vaital Deula of Bhubaneswar typifies Khakhara Deula and the Sun Temple at Konark remains a prominent example of Pidha Deula.




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