India, a country so rich in culture and tradition, is home to around 2 million temples spread across its 28 states. The history of temples in India is heavily influenced by religion and they are deeply embedded in the cultural heritage of India. The art, architecture and legends behind these magnificent structures are unparalleled.
One of the oldest functioning temples in the country, the Mundeshwari Devi Temple located in the Kaimur district in the state of Bihar, dates back to 3-4 B.C. The studies on the complex and intricate designs and sculptures of these houses of worship are never-ending. Though for this blog’s sake, we will go through the very basics of their architectural styles and elements.
The Nagara style of temple architecture is most prominent in the structures of North India. Some of the oldest structures belonging to this style are from the period of the Gupta Empire. The entire temple stands on a single square platform and contains steps leading to it. Graduated projections are found on each face. The structure roughly takes the shape of a beehive and is marked by its numerous layers and towers. Temples of this architectural style usually do not have elaborate boundary walls or gateways. They contain one or more Shikharas or towers of varying heights. The Garbhagriha or womb chamber is located directly beneath the tallest Shikhara.
The Konark Sun Temple in Odisha is an example of Nagara style architecture.
The majority of temples in South India are of the Dravidian architecture style. The Dravidian style of temple architecture of South India was established by the Pallavas who ruled in the south. These temples are enclosed by a compound wall. They contain single or multiple Gopuras or gatehouses. There is also a temple reservoir within the compounds. The Garbhagriha is usually located in the smallest and oldest tower. Meenakshi Temple of Madurai is an example of Dravidian architecture. Other examples include the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Tiruchirappalli which has 7 concentric compound walls.
The Vesara style of architecture is a hybrid of the Nagara style and the Dravidian style – that is, a mix of South Indian and North Indian temple architecture. It usually contains a Dravidian floor plan and Nagara elevation. The roots of the Vesara style originate from the Chalukya rulers of Badami from 500-757 B.C. This style of architecture flourished in the Deccan regions of India.
The structures emphasize their Vimanas and Mandapas. A unique feature is their open ambulatory passageway. They are also found to have unraised platforms and intricately carved pillars, ceilings and doorways.Sri Virupaksha Temple in Hampi and Kailasanath Temple at Ellora Caves are examples of the Vesara style of architecture.The structures emphasize on their Vimanas and Mandapas. A unique feature is their open ambulatory passageway. They are also found to have unraised platforms and intricately carved pillars, ceilings and doorways.
Sri Virupaksha Temple in Hampi and Kailasanath Temple at Ellora Caves are examples of Vesara style of architecture.
Although there are numerous styles of Indian Temple architecture, the basic structural elements of the buildings are mostly the same
Temples are a source of peace and harmony. It is a place where one seeks union with the Supreme Being. For the positive energy and environment within a temple, Vaastu Shastra must be followed. A general set of Vaastu Shastra rules are followed for all temples. A few of them are as follows:
The central importance of temples in the lives of common India and its people is immense. The architectural evolution of Indian temples has a history of over 2000 years, and they still remain the face of Indian culture to this day.