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Srishti Dokras

B.Arch (IDEAS, India), Architect, BASE 4, Nagpur, India


This paper addresses interconnections between temple topography and architecture, ritual practice, and cosmic symbolism. There is a substantial body of literature devoted to this topic, from archaeological, textual, and theoretical perspectives in various different ancient cultures, which suggests an excellent opportunity for interdisciplinary and cross-cultural analysis. The importance of this topic is paramount not only to scholars of the ancient world, but also to the study of religion, particularly the understanding and interpretation of ritual and sacred architecture Recent work illustrates the significance of this subject just as it illuminates the value of historical and comparative perspectives. The arena can bring together archaeologists, art historians, and philologists working all across the ancient world (Mesoamerica, Greece, Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran, South Asia, and China) to facilitate communication between scholars of different fields in order to share questions and methods which might provide new avenues of research or enable the use of comparative data There has been a lot of research into Hindu temple architecture, still many aspects of this subject are still unexplored. This study attempts to collate some of the existing research that has been undertaken in this field, and potentially contribute to the existing body of knowledge through a structural analysis of Hindu Temple architecture. Contents Referred under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license (CC-BY-SA)

A temple (from the Latin word templum) is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual rituals and activities such as prayer and sacrifice. It is typically used for such buildings belonging to all faiths where a more specific term such as church, mosque or synagogue is not generally used in English. These include Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism among religions with many modern followers, as well as other ancient religions such as Ancient Egyptian religion. The temple, it is needless to say, is not an Indian invention.1A

The form and function of temples is thus very variable, though they are often considered by believers to be in some sense the "house" of one or more deities. Typically offerings of some sort are made to the deity, and other rituals enacted, and a special group of clergy maintain, and operate the temple. The degree to which the whole population of believers can access the building varies significantly; often parts or even the whole main building can only be accessed by the clergy. Temples typically have a main building and a larger precinct, which may contain many other buildings, or may be a dome shaped structure, much like an igloo.

The word comes from Ancient Rome, where a temple constituted a sacred precinct as defined by a priest, or augur. It has the same root as the word "template" a plan in preparation of the building that was marked out on the ground by the augur.Templa also became associated with the dwelling places of a god or gods. Despite the specific set of meanings associated with the word, it has now become widely used to describe a house of worship for any number of religions and is even used for time periods prior to the Romans. Hindu temples, however, are known by many different names, varying on region and language, including Aiayam, Mandir, Mandira, Gudi, Kavu, Koli, Kovil Déul, Raul, Devasthana, Degul, Deva Mandiraya and Devalaya.

A Hindu temple is a symbolic house, the seat and dwelling of Hindu gods. It is a structure designed to bring human beings and gods together according to Hindu faith. Inside its Garbhagriha innermost sanctum, a Hindu temple contains a Murti or Hindu god's image. Hindu temples are large and magnificent with a rich history. There is evidence of use of sacred ground as far back as the Bronze Age and later during the Indus Valley Civilization. Outside of the Indian subcontinent

(India, Bangladesh and Nepal), Hindu temples have been built in various countries around the world. Either following the historic diffusion of Hinduism across Asia (e.g. ancient stone temples of Cambodia and Indonesia), or following the migration of the Indian Hindus' Diaspora; to Western Europe (esp. Great Britain), North America (the United States and Canada), as well as Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, Mauritius and South Africa.

Individual rather than communal _____________________________________________________________________ Hindu worship is primarily an individual act rather than a communal one, as it involves making personal offerings to the deity. Worshippers repeat the names of their favorite gods and goddesses, and repeat mantras. Water, fruit, flowers and incense are offered to god. Unlike other organized religions, in Hinduism, it is not mandatory for a person to visit a temple. Since all Hindu home usually has a small shrine or ‘puja room’ for daily prayers, Hindus generally go to temples only on auspicious occasions or during religious festivals. Hindu temples also do not play a crucial role in marriages and funerals, but it is often the meeting place for religious discourses as well as ‘bhajans’ and ‘kirtans’ (devotional songs and chants).


Hindu worship, or puja, involves images (murtis), prayers (mantras) and diagrams of the universe (yantras).Central to Hindu worship is the image, or icon, which can be worshipped either at home or in the temple.

Worship at home

The majority of Hindu homes have a shrine where offerings are made and prayers are said. A shrine can be anything: a room, a small altar or simply pictures or statues of the deity. Family members often worship together. Rituals should strictly speaking be performed three times a day. Some Hindus, but not all, worship wearing the sacred thread (over the left shoulder and hanging to the right hip). This is cotton for the Brahmin (priest), hemp for the Kshatriya (ruler) and wool for the vaishya (merchants).

Temple worship

At a Hindu temple, different parts of the building have a different spiritual or symbolic meaning.

• The central shrine is the heart of the worshipper

• The tower represents the flight of the spirit to heaven

• A priest may read, or more usually recite, the Vedas to the assembled worshippers, but any "twice-born" Hindu can perform the reading of prayers and mantras Religious rites

Hindu religious rites are classified into three categories:


Nitya rituals are performed daily and consist in offerings made at the home shrine or performing puja to the family deities.


Naimittika rituals are important but only occur at certain times during the year, such as celebrations of the festivals, thanksgiving and so on.


Kamya are rituals which are "optional" but highly desirable. Pilgrimage is one such.

Worship and pilgrimage

Pilgrimage is an important aspect of Hinduism. It's an undertaking to see and be seen by the deity. Popular pilgrimage places are rivers, but temples, mountains, and other sacred sites in India are also destinations for pilgrimages, as sites where the gods may have appeared or become manifest in the world.

History of Temples

In the Vedic period, there were no temples. The main object of worship was the fire that stood for God. This holy fire was lit on a platform in the open air under the sky, and oblations were offered to the fire. It is not certain when exactly the Indo-Aryans first started building temples for worship. The scheme of building temples was perhaps a concomitant of the idea of idol worship.

Locations of Temples

As the race progressed, temples became important because they served as a sacred meeting place for the community to congregate and revitalize their spiritual energies. Large temples were usually built at picturesque places, especially on river banks, on top of hills, and on the seashore. Smaller temples or open-air shrines can crop up just about anywhere - by the roadside or even under the tree.

Holy places in India are famous for its temples. Indian towns — from Amaranth to Ayodhya, Brindavan to Banaras, and Kanchipuram to Kanya Kumari— are all known for their wonderful temples.

Temple Architecture

The architecture of Hindu temples evolved over a period of more than 2,000 years and there

is a great variety in this architecture. Hindu temples are of different shapes and sizes — rectangular, octagonal, and semi-circular — with different types of domes and gates. Temples in southern India have a different style than those in northern India. Although the architecture of Hindu temples is varied, they mainly have many things in common. The temples of ancient India have also received substantial treatment with regard to their cosmic meaning, but the interpretation of sacred architecture in India has been influenced by the significant body of ritual and architectural texts (sacute;ãstras), which provide detailed rules and conventions for all aspects of planning and construction and ritual practice. The use of these texts has not only supplemented understanding of the symbolism of temple architecture, but encouraged research into the meaning of plans, proportions, and architecture as science. The question of the interrelationship between cosmos and architecture has also been investigated in ancient Greece, where the use of proportion and geometry is considered vital to this topic. The question of whether similar constraints existed in other cultures, such as the example of Mesopotamia, also arises, with the possibility that they were perhaps articulated in the form of metrological texts.1

The 6 Parts of a Hindu Temple

1. The Dome and Steeple: The steeple of the dome is called ‘shikhara’ (summit) that represents the mythologicalMeru’ or the highest mountain peak. The shape of the dome varies from region to region and the steeple is often in the form of the trident of Shiva.

2. The Inner Chamber: The inner chamber of the temple called ‘garbhagriha’ or ‘wombchamber’ is where the image or idol of the deity (‘murti’) is placed. In most temples, the visitors cannot enter the garbhagriha, and only the temple priests are allowed inside.

3. The Temple Hall: Most large temples have a hall meant for the audience to sit. This is also called the ‘nata-mandira’ (hall for temple-dancing) where, in days of yore, women dancers or ‘devadasis’ used to perform dance rituals. Devotees use the hall to sit, meditate, pray, chant or watch the priests perform the rituals. The hall is usually decorated with paintings of gods and goddesses.

4. The Front Porch: This area of the temples usually has a big metallic bell that hangs from the ceiling. Devotees entering and leaving the porch ring this bell to declare their arrival and departure.

5. The Reservoir: If the temple is not in the vicinity of a natural water body, a reservoir of fresh water is built on the temple premises. The water is used for rituals as well as to keep the temple floor clean or even for a ritual bath before entering the holy abode.

6. The Walkway: Most temples have a walkway around the walls of the inner chamber for circum-ambulation by devotees around the deity as a mark of respect to the temples god or goddess.

Hindu temple is a symbolic house, seat and body of god. It is a structure designed to bring human beings and gods together, using symbolism to express the ideas and beliefs of Hinduism. The symbolism and structure of a Hindu temple are rooted in Vedic traditions, deploying circles and squares.[3] It also represents recursion and equivalence of the macrocosm and the microcosm by astronomical numbers, and by "specific alignments related to the geography of the place and the presumed linkages of the deity and the patron". A temple incorporates all elements of Hindu cosmos—presenting the good, the evil and the human, as well as the elements of Hindu sense of cyclic time and the essence of life—symbolically presenting dharma, kama, artha, moksa, and karma.

The spiritual principles symbolically represented in Hindu temples are given in the ancient Sanskrit texts of India (for example, Vedas and Upanishads), while their structural rules are described in various ancient Sanskrit treatises on architecture (Brhat Samhita, Vastu Sastras). The layout, the motifs, the plan and the building process recite ancient rituals, geometric symbolisms, and reflect beliefs and values innate within various schools of Hinduism. A Hindu temple is a spiritual destination for many Hindus, as well as landmarks around which ancient arts, community celebrations and economy have flourished.

Hindu temples come in many styles, are situated in diverse locations, deploy different construction methods and are adapted to different deities and regional beliefs, yet almost all of them share certain core ideas, symbolism and themes. They are found in South Asia particularly India and Nepal, in southeast Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, and islands of Indonesia and Malaysia, and countries such as Canada, the Caribbean, Fiji, France, Guyana, Kenya, Mauritius,

the Netherlands, South Africa, Suriname, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States, and countries with a significant Hindu community. The current state and outer appearance of Hindu temples reflect arts, materials and designs as they evolved over two millennia; they also reflect the effect of conflicts between Hinduism and Islamsince the 12th century. The Swaminarayanan Akshardham in Robbinsville, New Jersey, United States, between the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, was inaugurated in 2014 as one of the world's largest Hindu temples.

Significance and meaning of a Hindu temple

A Hindu temple reflects a synthesis of arts, the ideals of dharma, beliefs, values, and the way of life cherished under Hinduism. It is a link between man, deities, and the Universal Purusa in a sacred space. It represents the triple-knowledge (trayi-vidya) of the Vedic vision by mapping the relationships between the cosmos (brahmanda) and the cell (pinda) by a unique plan that is based on astronomical numbers. Subhash Kak sees the temple form and its iconography to be a natural expansion of Vedic ideology related to recursion, change and equivalence.

The 9x9 (81) grid ‘’Parama Sayika’’ layout plan (above) found in large ceremonial Hindu Temples. It is one of many grids used to build Hindu temples. In this structure of symmetry, each concentric layer has significance. The outermost layers, Paisachika padas, signify aspects of Asuras and evil; while inner Devika padas signify aspects of Devas and good. In between the good and evil is the concentric layer of Manusha padas signifying human life; All these layers surround Brahma padas, which signifies creative energy and the site for temple’s primary idol for darsana. Finally at the very center of Brahma padas is Grabhgriya (Purusa Space), signifying Universal Principle present in everything and everyone.

In ancient Indian texts, a temple is a place for Tirthapilgrimage. It is a sacred site whose ambience and design attempts to symbolically condense the ideal tenets of Hindu way of life. All the cosmic elements that create and sustain life are present in a Hindu temple – from fire to water, from images of nature to deities, from the feminine to the masculine, from the fleeting sounds and incense smells to the eternal nothingness yet universality at the core of the temple. Susan Lewandowski states that the underlying principle in a Hindu temple is built around the belief that all things are one, everything is connected. The pilgrim is welcomed through 64-grid or 81-grid mathematically structured spaces, a network of art, pillars with carvings and statues that display and celebrate

the four important and necessary principles of human life – the pursuit of artha (prosperity, wealth), the pursuit of kama (pleasure, sex), the pursuit of dharma (virtues, ethical life) and the pursuit of moksha (release, self-knowledge). At the center of the temple, typically below and sometimes above or next to the deity, is mere hollow space with no decoration, symbolically representing Purusa, the Supreme Principle, the sacred Universal, one without form, which is present everywhere, connects everything, and is the essence of everyone. A Hindu temple is meant to encourage reflection, facilitate purification of one’s mind, and trigger the process of inner realization within the devotee. The specific process is left to the devotee’s school of belief. The primary deity of different Hindu temples varies to reflect this spiritual spectrum.

In Hindu tradition, there is no dividing line between the secular and the sacred.[9] In the same spirit, Hindu temples are not just sacred spaces, they are also secular spaces. Their meaning and purpose have extended beyond spiritual life to social rituals and daily life, offering thus a social meaning. Some temples have served as a venue to mark festivals, to celebrate arts through dance and music, to get married or commemorate marriages, commemorate the birth of a child, other significant life events, or mark the death of a loved one. In political and economic life, Hindu temples have served as a venue for the succession within dynasties and landmarks around which economic activity thrived. Forms and designs of Hindu temples

Almost all Hindu temples take two forms: a house or a palace. A house-themed temple is a simple shelter which serves as a deity’s home. The temple is a place where the devotee visits, just like he or she would visit a friend or relative. The use of moveable and immoveable images is mentioned by Pāṇini. In Bhakti school of Hinduism, temples are venues for puja, which is a hospitality ritual, where the deity is honored, and where devotee calls upon, attends to and connects with the deity. In other schools of Hinduism, the person may simply perform jap, or meditation, or yoga, or introspection in his or her temple. Palace-themed temples often incorporate more elaborate and monumental architecture.

The major and distinct features between the north Indian temple and the south Indian temple are their superstructures. In the north the beehive shaped tower is the most distinguished element called as the sikhara. The gateways are in the north and they are plain, simple and small. The plans of the north Indian temples are based on square but the walls are sometimes broken at so many places that it gives an impression of temple being circular in plan. The tower is made up of miniature sikhara creating an amazing visual effect resembling mountain.

In the south, the distinct features are the vimana and the gopurams. The vimana is a tall pyramidal tower consisting of several progressively smaller storeys, the peak of the vimana is called as sikhara in the south Indian temples. This stands on a square base. The temple complex consisting of the main shrine and other smaller shrines are enclosed by the outer wall called as the prakara. Along these outer walls are the intricate and marvelous gateways called as gopurams. These gopurams became taller and taller overpowering the main shrine and its superstructure and dominating the whole temple complex. Site

The appropriate site for a temple, suggest ancient Sanskrit texts, is near water and gardens, where lotus and flowers bloom, where swans, ducks and other birds are heard, where animals rest without fear of injury or harm. These harmonious places were recommended in these texts with the explanation that such are the places where gods play, and thus the best site for Hindu temples.

The gods always play where lakes are,

where the sun’s rays are warded off by umbrellas of lotus leaf clusters,

and where clear water paths are made by swans whose breasts toss the white lotus hither and thither, where swans, ducks, curleys and paddy birds are heard, and animals rest nearby in the shade of Nicula trees on the river banks.

The gods always play where rivers have for their bracelets the sound of curleys and the voice of swans for their speech, water as their garment, carps for their zone, the flowering trees on their banks as earrings, the confluence of rivers as their hips, raised sand banks as breasts and plumage of swans their mantle.

The gods always play where groves are near, rivers, mountains and springs, and in towns with pleasure gardens.

— Brhat Samhita 1.60.4-8, 6th Century AD

While major Hindu temples are recommended at confluence of rivers ( or sangams), river banks, lakes and seashore, Brhat Samhita and Puranas suggest temples may also be built where a natural source of water is not present. Here too, they recommend that a pond be built preferably in front or to the left of the temple with water gardens. If water is neither present naturally nor by design, water is symbolically present at the consecration of temple or the deity. Temples may also be built, suggests Visnudharmottara in Part III of Chapter 93, inside caves and carved stones, on hill tops affording peaceful views, mountain slopes overlooking beautiful valleys, inside forests and hermitages, next to gardens, or at the head of a town street.

Manuals ______________________________________________________________________ Ancient builders of Hindu temples created manuals of architecture, called VastuSastra (literally "science" of dwelling; vas-tu is a composite Sanskrit word; vas means "reside", tumeans "you"); these contain Vastu-Vidya (literally, knowledge of dwelling). There exist many Vastu-Sastras on the art of building temples, such as one by Thakkura Pheru, describing where and how temples should be built. By the 6th century AD, Sanskrit manuals for in India. Vastu-Sastra manuals included chapters on home construction, town planning, and how efficient villages, towns and kingdoms integrated temples, water bodies and gardens within them to achieve harmony with nature.[34][35] While it is unclear, states Barnett, as to whether these temple and town planning texts were theoretical studies and if or when they were properly implemented in practice, the manuals suggest that town planning and Hindu temples were conceived as ideals of art and integral part of Hindu social and spiritual life.

Ancient India produced many Sanskrit manuals for Hindu temple design and construction, covering arrangement of spaces (above) to every aspect of its completion. Yet, the Silpins were given wide latitude to experiment and express their creativity. The Silpa Prakasa of Odisha, authored by Ramacandra Bhattaraka Kaulacara in the ninth or tenth centuries AD, is another Sanskrit treatise on Temple Architecture. Silpa Prakasa describes the geometric principles in every aspect of the temple and symbolism such as 16 emotions of human beings carved as 16 types of female figures. These styles were perfected in Hindu temples prevalent in eastern states of India. Other ancient texts found expand these architectural principles, suggesting that different parts of India developed, invented and added their own interpretations. For example, in Saurastra tradition of temple building found in western states of India, the feminine form, expressions and emotions are depicted in 32 types of Nataka-stri compared to 16 types described in Silpa Prakasa. Silpa Prakasa provides brief introduction to 12 types of Hindu temples. Other texts, such as Pancaratra Prasada Prasadhana compiled by Daniel Smith and Silpa Ratnakara compiled by Narmada Sankara[40] provide a more extensive list of Hindu temple types.

Ancient Sanskrit manuals for temple construction discovered in Rajasthan, in northwestern region of India, include Sutradhara Mandana’s Prasadamandana (literally, manual for planning and building a temple). Manasara, a text of South Indian origin, estimated to be in circulation by the 7th century AD, is a guidebook on South Indian temple design and construction. Isanasivagurudeva paddhati is another Sanskrit text from the 9th century describing the art of temple building in India in south and central India. In north India, Brihat-samhita by Varāhamihira is the widely cited ancient Sanskrit manual from 6th century describing the design and construction of Nagara style of Hindu temples.

The plan

Elements of a Hindu temple in Kalinga style. There are many Hindu temple styles, but they almost universally share common geometric principles, symbolism of ideas, and expression of core beliefs.

The 8x8 (64) grid Manduka Hindu Temple Floor Plan, according to vastupurusamandala. The 64 grid is the most sacred and common Hindu temple template. The bright saffron center, where diagonals intersect above, represents the Purusha of Hindu philosophy. A Hindu temple design follows a geometrical design called vastu-purusha-mandala. The name is a composite Sanskrit word with three of the most important components of the plan. Mandala means circle, Purusha is universal essence at the core of Hindu tradition, while Vastu means the dwelling structure. Vastupurushamandala is a yantra. The design lays out a Hindu temple in a symmetrical, self-repeating structure derived from central beliefs, myths, cardinality and mathematical principles.

The four cardinal directions help create the axis of a Hindu temple, around which is formed a perfect square in the space available. The circle of mandala circumscribes the square. The square is considered divine for its perfection and as a symbolic product of knowledge and human thought, while circle is considered earthly, human and observed in everyday life (moon, sun, horizon, water drop, rainbow). Each supports the other. The square is divided into perfect 64 (or in some cases 81) sub-squares called padas. Each pada is conceptually assigned to a symbolic element, sometimes in the form of a deity. The central square(s) of the 64 or 81 grid is dedicated to the Brahman (not to be confused with Brahmin), and are called Brahma padas.

The 49 grid design is called Sthandila and of great importance in creative expressions of Hindu temples in South India, particularly in ‘‘Prakaras’’. The symmetric Vastupurusa-mandala grids are sometimes combined to form a temple superstructure with two or more attached squares. The temples face sunrise, and the entrance for the devotee is typically this east side. The mandala pada facing sunrise is dedicated to Surya deity (Sun). The Surya pada is flanked by the padas of Satya (Truth) deity on one side and Indra (king of gods) deity on other. The east and north faces of most temples feature a mix of gods and demi-gods; while west and south feature demons and demi-gods related to the underworld. This vastu purusha mandala plan and symbolism is systematically seen in ancient Hindu temples on Indian subcontinent as well as those in Southeast Asia, with regional creativity and variations.

Beneath the Mandela’s central square(s) is the space for the formless shapeless all pervasive all connecting Universal Spirit, the highest reality, the purusha. This space is sometimes referred to as garbha-griya (literally womb house) – a small, perfect square, windowless, enclosed space without ornamentation that represents universal essence. In or near this space is typically a murti (idol). This is the main deity idol, and this varies with each temple. Often it is this idol that gives the temple a local name, such as Visnu temple, Krishna temple, Rama temple, Narayana temple, Siva temple, Lakshm i temple, Ganesha temple, Durga temple, Hanuman temple, Surya temple, and others. It is this garbha-griyawhich devotees seek for ‘‘darsana’’ (literally, a sight of knowledge, or vision

Above the vastu-purusha-mandala is a superstructure with a dome called Shikhara in north India, and Vimana in south India, that stretches towards the sky. Sometimes, in makeshift temples, the dome may be replaced with symbolic bamboo with few leaves at the top. The vertical dimension's cupola or dome is designed as a pyramid, conical or other mountain-like shape, once again using principle of concentric circles and squares (see below). Scholars suggest that this shape is inspired by cosmic mountain of Meru or Himalayan Kailasa, the abode of gods according to Vedic mythology.

A Hindu temple has a Shikhara (Vimana or Spire) that rises symmetrically above the central core of the temple. These spires come in many designs and shapes, but they all have mathematical precision and geometric symbolism. One of the common principles found in Hindu temple spires is circles and turning-squares theme (left), and a concentric layering design (right) that flows from one to the other as it rises towards the sky. In larger temples, the central space typically is surrounded by an ambulatory for the devotee to walk around and ritually circumambulate the Purusa, the universal essence. Often this space is visually decorated with carvings, paintings or images meant to inspire the devotee. In some temples, these images may be stories from Hindu Epics, in others they may be Vedic tales about right and wrong or virtues and vice, in some they may be idols of minor or regional deities. The pillars, walls and ceilings typically also have highly ornate carvings or images of the four just and necessary pursuits of lifekama, artha, dharma and moksa. This walk around is called pradakshina.

Large temples also have pillared halls called mandapa. One on the east side, serves as the waiting room for pilgrims and devotees. The mandapa may be a separate structure in older temples, but in newer temples this space is integrated into the temple superstructure. Mega temple sites have a main temple surrounded by smaller temples and shrines, but these are still arranged by principles of symmetry, grids and mathematical precision. An important principle found in the layout of Hindu temples is mirroring and repeating fractal-like design structure, each unique yet also repeating the central common principle, one which Susan Lewandowski refers to as "an organism of repeating cells".

An illustration of Hindu temple Spires (Shikhara, Vimana) built using concentric circle and rotating-squares principle. The left is from Vijayanagar in Karnataka, the right is from Pushkar in Rajasthan.

The ancient texts on Hindu temple design, the Vastupurusamandala and Vastu Sastras, do not limit themselves to the design of a Hindu temple. They describe the temple as a holistic part of its community, and lay out various principles and a diversity of alternate designs for home, village and city layout along with the temple, gardens, water bodies and nature.

Exceptions to the square grid principle ______________________________________________________________________

Predominant number of Hindu temples exhibit the perfect square grid principle. However, there are some exceptions. For example, the Teli-ka-mandir in Gwalior, built in the 8th century AD is not a square but is a rectangle in 2:3 proportion. Further, the temple explores a number of structures and shrines in 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, 2:5, 3:5 and 4:5 ratios. These ratios are exact, suggesting the architect intended to use these harmonic ratios, and the rectangle pattern was not a mistake, nor an arbitrary approximation. Other examples of non-square harmonic ratios are found at Naresar temple site of Madhya Pradesh and Nakti-Mata temple near Jaipur, Rajasthan. Michael Meistersuggests that these exceptions mean the ancient Sanskrit manuals for temple building were guidelines, and Hinduism permitted its artisans flexibility in expression and aesthetic independence.

The symbolism ____________________________________________________________________

A Hindu temple is a symbolic reconstruction of the universe and universal principles that make everything in it function. The temples reflect Hindu philosophy and its diverse views on cosmos and Truths.

Hinduism has no traditional ecclesiastical order, no centralized religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book; Hindus can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, monistic, or atheistic. Within this diffuse and open structure, spirituality in Hindu philosophy is an individual experience, and referred to as kṣaitrajña (Sanskrit: ैत्र). It defines spiritual practice as one’s journey towards moksha, awareness of self, the discovery of higher truths, true nature of reality, and a consciousness that is liberated and content. A Hindu temple reflects these core beliefs. The central core of almost all Hindu temples is not a large communal space; the temple is designed for the individual, a couple or a family – a small, private space where he or she experiences darsana.

Darsana is itself a symbolic word. In ancient Hindu scripts, darsana is the name of six methods or alternate viewpoints of understanding Truth. These are Nyaya, Vaisesika, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta – each of which flowered into their own schools of Hinduism, each of which are considered valid, alternate paths to understanding Truth and realizing Self in the Hindu way of life.

Kāma is celebrated in some Hindu temples, such as Khajuraho and the Konark Temple (above). From names to forms, from images to stories carved into the walls of a temple, symbolism is everywhere in a Hindu temple. Life principles such as the pursuit of joy, sex, connection and emotional pleasure (kama) are fused into mystical, erotic and architectural forms in Hindu temples. These motifs and principles of human life are part of the sacred texts of Hindu, such as its Upanishads; the temples express these same principles in a different form, through art and spaces. For example, Brihadaranyaka Upanisad at 4.3.21 recites:

In the embrace of his beloved a man forgets the whole world, everything both within and without; in the same way, he who embraces the Self knows neither within nor without.

— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 7th Century BC

The architecture of Hindu temples is also symbolic. The whole structure fuses the daily life and it surroundings with the divine concepts, through a structure that is open yet raised on a terrace, transitioning from the secular towards the sacred, [70] inviting the visitor inwards towards the Brahma pada and temple’s central core, as well as lifting him upwards into a symbolic space marked by its spire (shikhara, vimana). The ancient temples had grand intricately carved entrances but no doors, and lacked a boundary wall. In most cultures, boundary and gateway separates the secular and the sacred, and this gateway door is grand. In Hindu tradition, this is discarded in favor of an open and diffusive architecture, where the secular world was not separated from the sacred, but

transitioned and flowed into the sacred. The Hindu temple has structural walls, which were patterned usually within the 64 grid, or other geometric layouts. Yet the layout was open on all sides, except for the core space which had just one opening for darsana. The temple space is laid out in a series of courts (mandappas). The outermost regions may incorporate the negative and suffering side of life with symbolism of evil, asuras and rakshashas (demons); but in small temples this layer is dispensed with. When present, this outer region diffuse into the next inner layer that bridges as human space, followed by another inner Devika padas space and symbolic arts incorporating the positive and joyful side of life about the good and the gods. This divine space then concentrically diffuses inwards and lifts the guest to the core of the temple, where resides the main idol as well as the space for the Purusa and ideas held to be most sacred principles in Hindu tradition. The symbolism in the arts and temples of Hinduism, suggests Edmund Leach, is similar to those in Christianity and other major religions of the world.


Hindu temples are found in diverse locations each incorporating different methods of construction and styles:

• Mountain temples such as Masrur

Cave temples such as Chandrabhaga, Chalukya and Ellora

• Step well temple compounds such as the Mata Bhavani, Ankol Mata and Huccimallugudi.

Forest temples such as Kasaun and Kusama • River bank and sea shore temples such as Somnath.

Hindu deities, stepwell style.

Step well temples _____________________________________________________________________

In arid western parts of India, such as Rajasthan and Gujarat, Hindu communities built large walk in wells that served as the only source of water in dry months but also served as social meeting places and carried religious significance. These monuments went down into earth towards subterranean water, up to seven storey, and were part of a temple complex. These vav (literally, stepwells) had intricate art reliefs on the walls, with numerous idols and images of Hindu deities, water spirits and erotic symbolism. The step wells were named after Hindu deities; for example, Mata Bhavani's Stepwell, Ankol Mata Vav, Sikotari Vav and others. The temple ranged from being small single pada (cell) structure to large nearby complexes. These stepwells and their temple compounds have been variously dated from late 1st millennium BC through 11th century AD. Of these, Rani ki vav, with hundreds of art reliefs including many of Vishnu deity avatars, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cave Temples ___________________________________________________________________

The Indian rock-cut architecture evolved in Maharashtrian temple style in the 1st millennium AD. The temples are carved from a single piece of rock as a complete temple or carved in a cave to look like the interior of a temple. Ellora Temple is an example of the former, while The Elephanta Caves are representative of the latter style. The Elephanta Caves consist of two groups of caves—the first is a large group of five Hindu caves and the second is a smaller group of two Buddhist caves. The Hindu caves contain rock-cut stone sculptures, representing the Shaiva Hindu sect, dedicated to the god Shiva. The teams that built Hindu temples ____________________________________________________________________

__ The 6th-century Brihat samhita is a Sanskrit encyclopedia. Its chapters 57-60 discuss different styles and design of Hindu temples. Above: the text and commentary in Nepalaksara, Devanagari and Tamil Grantha scripts.

Indian texts call the craftsmen and builders of temples as ‘‘Silpin’’ (Sanskrit: शिल्पन्), derived from ‘‘Silpa’’. One of earliest mentions of Sanskrit word Silpa is in Atharvaveda, from about 1000 BC, which scholars have translated as any work of art. Other scholars suggest that the word Silpa has no direct one word translation in English, nor does the word ‘‘Silpin’’. Silpa, explains Stella Kramrisch, is a multicolored word and incorporates art, skill, craft, ingenuity, imagination, form, expression and inventiveness of any art or craft. Similarly a Shilpin, notes Kramrisch, is a complex Sanskrit word, describing any person who embodies art, science, culture, skill, rhythm and employs creative principles to produce any divine form of expression. Silpins who built Hindu temples, as well as the art works and sculpture within them, were considered by the ancient Sanskrit texts to deploy arts whose number are unlimited, Kala (techniques) that were 64 in number, and Vidya (science) that were of 32 types.

The Hindu manuals of temple construction describe the education, characteristics of good artists and architects. The general education of a Hindu Shilpin in ancient India included Lekha or Lipi (alphabet, reading and writing), Rupa (drawing and geometry), Ganana (arithmetic). These were imparted from age 5 to 12. The advanced students would continue in higher stages of Shilpa Sastra studies till the age of 25. Apart from specialist technical competence, the manuals suggest that best Silpins for building a Hindu temple are those who know the essence of Vedas and Agamas, consider themselves as students, keep well verse with principles of traditional sciences and mathematics, painting and geography. Further they are kind, free from jealousy, righteous, have their sense under control, of happy disposition, and ardent in everything they do.

According to Silparatna, a Hindu temple project would start with a Yajamana (patron), and include a Sthapaka (guru, spiritual guide and architect-priest), a Sthapati (architect) who would design the building, a Sutragrahin (surveyor), and many Vardhakins (workers, masons, painters, plasterers, overseers) and Taksakas (sculptors). While the temple is under construction, all those working on the temple were revered and considered sacerdotal by the patron as well as others witnessing the construction. Further, it was a tradition that all tools and materials used in temple building and all creative work had the sanction of

a sacrament. For example, if a carpenter or sculptor needed to fell a tree or cut a rock from a hill, he would propitiate the tree or rock with prayers, seeking forgiveness for cutting it from its surroundings, and explaining his intent and purpose. The axe used to cut the tree would be anointed with butter to minimize the hurt to the tree. Even in modern times, in some parts of India such as Odisha, Visvakarma Puja is a ritual festival every year where the craftsmen and artists worship their arts, tools and materials.

Social functions of Hindu temples

Hindu temples served as nuclei of important social, economic, artistic and intellectual functions in ancient and medieval India.Burton Stein states that South Indian temples managed regional development function, such as irrigation projects, land reclamation, post-disaster relief and recovery. These activities were paid for by the donations (melvarum) they collected from devotees.According to James Heitzman, these donations came from a wide spectrum of the Indian society, ranging from kings, queens, officials in the kingdom to merchants, priests and shepherds Temples also managed lands endowed to it by its devotees upon their

death. They would provide employment to the poorest. Some temples had large treasury, with gold and silver coins, and these temples served as banks. Hindu temples over time became wealthy from grants and donations from royal patrons as well as private individuals. Major temples became employers and patrons of economic activity. They sponsored land reclamation and infrastructure improvements, states Michell, including building facilities such as water tanks, irrigation canals and new roads. A very detailed early record from 1101 lists over 600 employees (excluding the priests) of the Brihadisvara Temple, Thanjavur,

still one of the largest temples in Tamil Nadu. Most worked part-time and received the use of temple farmland as reward. For those thus employed by the temple, according to Michell, "some gratuitous services were usually considered obligatory, such as dragging the temple chariots on festival occasions and helping when a large building project was undertaken". Temples also acted as refuge during times of political unrest and danger. In contemporary times, the process of building a Hindu temple by emigrants and diasporas from South Asia has also served as a process of building a community, a social venue to network, reduce prejudice and seek civil rights together.

Library of manuscript ______________________________________________________________________

Cave temple

Forest temple

Mountain temple

Seashore temple

John Guy and Jorrit Britschgi state Hindu temples served as centers where ancient manuscripts were routinely used for learning and where the texts were copied when they wore out. In South India, temples and associated mutts served custodial functions, and a large number of manuscripts on Hindu philosophy, poetry, grammar and other subjects were written, multiplied and preserved inside the temples. Archaeological and epigraphical evidence indicates existence of libraries called Sarasvati-bhandara, dated possibly to early 12th-century and employing librarians, attached to Hindu temples. Palm-leaf manuscripts called lontar in dedicated stone libraries have been discovered by archaeologists at Hindu temples in Bali Indonesia and in 10th century Cambodian temples such as Angkor Wat and Banteay Srei.

Temple schools _____________________________________________________________________

Inscriptions from the 4th century AD suggest the existence of schools around Hindu temples, called Ghatikas or Mathas, where the Vedas were studied. In south India, 9th century Vedic schools attached to Hindu temples were called Calai or Salai, and these provided free boarding and lodging to students and scholars. The temples linked to Bhakti movementin the early 2nd millennium, were dominated by nonBrahmins. These assumed many educational functions, including the exposition, recitation and public discourses of Sanskrit and Vedic texts. Some temple schools offered wide range of studies, ranging from Hindu scriptures to Buddhist texts, grammar, philosophy, martial arts, music and painting. By the 8th century, Hindu temples also served as the social venue for tests, debates, team competition and Vedic recitals called Anyonyam.

Hospitals, community kitchen, monasteries ______________________________________________________________________

According to Kenneth G. Zysk – a professor specializing in Indology and ancient medicine, Hindu mathas and temples had by the 10th-century attached medical care along with their religious and educational roles. This is evidenced by various inscriptions found in Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere. An inscription dated to about AD 930 states the provision of a physician to two math to care for the sick and destitute. Another inscription dated to 1069 at a Vishnu temple in Tamil Nadu describes a hospital attached to the temple, listing the nurses, physicians, medicines and beds for patients. Similarly, a stone inscription in Andhra Pradesh dated to about 1262 mentions the provision of a prasutishala (maternity house), vaidya (physician), an arogyashala (health house) and a viprasattra (hospice, kitchen) with the religious center where people from all social backgrounds could be fed and cared for. According to Zysk, both Buddhist monasteries and Hindu religious centers provided facilities to care for the sick and needy in the 1st millennium, but with the destruction of Buddhist centers after the 12th century, the Hindu religious institutions assumed these social responsibilities. According to George Michell, Hindu temples in South India were active charity centers and they provided free meal for wayfarers, pilgrims and devotees, as well as boarding facilities for students and hospitals for the sick.

The 15th and 16th century Hindu temples at Hampi featured storage spaces (temple granary, kottara), water tanks and kitchens. Many major pilgrimage sites have featured dharmashalas since early times. These were attached to Hindu temples, particularly in South India, providing a bed and meal to pilgrims. They relied on any voluntary donation the visitor may leave and to land grants from local rulers. Some temples have operated their kitchens on daily basis to serve the visitor and the needy, while others during major community gatherings or festivals. Examples include the major kitchens run by Hindu temples in Udupi (Karnataka), Puri (Odisha) and Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh). The tradition of sharing food in smaller temple is typically called prasada. Ancient Hindu temple has a profusion of arts – from paintings to sculpture, from symbolic icons to engravings, from thoughtful layout of space to fusion of mathematical principles with Hindu sense of time and cardinality.

Ancient Sanskrit texts classify idols and images in number of ways. For example, one method of classification is the dimensionality of completion

Chitra – images that are 3-dimensional and completely formed,

• Chitrardha – images that are engraved in half relief,

• Chitrabhasa – images that are 2-dimensional such as paintings on walls and cloths.

Images and idols inside Hindu temples vary widely in their expression. Raudra or ugra images express destruction, fear and violence, such as Kali image on left. Shanta or saumya images express joy, knowledge and harmony, such as Saraswati image on right. Saumya images are most common in Hindu temples. Another way of classification is by the expressive state of the image:

Raudra or ugra – are images that were meant to terrify, induce fear. These typically have wide, circular eyes, carry weapons, and have skulls and bones as adornment. These idols were worshiped by soldiers before going to war, or by people in times of distress or terrors. Raudra deity temples were not set up inside villages or towns, but invariably outside and in remote areas of a kingdom.[110]

• Shanta and saumya – are images that were pacific, peaceful and expressive of love, compassion, kindness and other virtues in Hindu pantheon. These images would carry symbolic icons of peace, knowledge, music, wealth, flowers, sensuality among other things. In ancient India, these temples were predominant inside villages and towns.

A Hindu temple may or may not include an idol or images, but larger temples usually do. Personal Hindu temples at home or a hermitage may have a pada for yoga or meditation, but be devoid of anthropomorphic representations of god. Nature or others arts may surround him or her. To a Hindu yogin, states Gopinath Rao, one who has realised self and the Universal Principle within himself, there is no need for any temple or divine image for worship. However, for those who have yet to reach this height of realization, various symbolic manifestations through images, idols and icons as well as mental modes of worship are offered as one of the spiritual paths in the Hindu way of life. This belief is repeated in ancient Hindu scriptures. For example, the Jabaladarshana Upanishad states:

शवमात्मन पश्यिन्त प्रतमासु न योगनः | अानं भावनाथार्य प्रतमाः परकिल्पताः || ५९ || - जाबालदशर्नोपनषत्

A yogin perceives god (Siva) within himself,

images are for those who have not reached this knowledge. (Verse 59) — Jabaladarsana Upanishad,

Historical development and destruction

How and when the first temple took its birth is to anybody’s guess. Temples did not seem to exist during Vedic period. The main object of worship was fire that stood for God. This holy fire was lit on a platform in the open air under the sky, and oblations were offered to the fire. It is not certain when exactly the Indo Aryans first started building temples for worship. The scheme of building temples was perhaps a concomitant idea of idol worship. God can be malevolent as well as benevolent in nature. It is important that the temple sight symbolize is one that will exhilarate him. The Puranas state the “The God always play near the rivers and mountains and springs”. Sacred sites in India therefore, are usually associated with water. Shades of trees and lakes of India are often considered to be sacred and they have heeling and purifying powers.2

Evolution of Temples In the early ages temples were not constructed but only huts were provided which later on got evolution till it become a solid structure. During the inclination towards Brahmanism, the Hindu Gods needed a place for exhibition. They thus provided simple solid structure to shelter the sacred place for worship. During Gupta time the solid stone blocks were used to construct the temple. After this stage the rituals became more complex. Hence it required more deities and sculptures because of which the temple became larger in size with more elements. Evolution of Temples in Tamil Nadu The primitive Tamil was a believer in totems. Ancestral worship and totemic worship were insepararable and worship of the dead hero was the phase of ancestorworship. But these belong to a period very much anterior to the Sangam period. Later the ideas of Godhead and modes of worship had reached a mature stage with most of the Tamils. The aborigines believed in Gods who were supposed to reside in the hollow of trees. The snake which resided in such hollows was a special object of worship. The Kantu, a piece of planted log of wood was an object of worship. It served as God and it was preferably stationed in the shade of the Banyan tree. The trees themselves, being totems developed into religious institutions and particular trees came to be associated with particular gods and their temples, became local trees later.

The Sangam cult centers like Kottam, Koyil and Nagar had no institutional character and even in the transitional phase they are described as centers which people are advised to visit for the worship of a particular deity. The references in the late and post Sangam works to Brahmanical forms, in which bloody sacrifices of animals and birds were made and belong to the transitional stage. The universalization of the Tinai (Land Division) deities and the institutionalization of the cult centre as a temple with Brahmanical forms of worship as the chief focus achieved its fruition in the early medieval period that is, in a totally transformed socio-political context.

Bhakti was a crucial element in the evolution and spread of Puranic religion, which emerged by the Sixth Century A.D., as a universal and formal system in the Indian subcontinent as a whole. Bhakti Movement in the Tamil region the expansion of Vedic religion was intrinsically linked with local and popular traditions and their interaction with Brahmanical religion is a two way process. It was a synchronic and at times, diachronic evolution. It would be too simplistic or facile to explain it as an interaction between the ‘Great’ and ‘Little’ traditions. The major impact of Bhatia ideology was more significant and it led to the expansion of the role of the temple in restructuring society and economy. The temple based Bhatia was capable of developing into a transcendental norm. 3

The societal change visible from the Sixth Century A.D., was the establishment of the varna hierarchy, in which the Kshatriya status was assigned to the new ruling families and the traditional ruling families, by the fabrication of impressive genealogies in the prasastis which were composed by the Brahmanas in return for royal patronage and land grants, with the kshatriya and the Brahman at the apex of the power structure. The rest of society was places at the lower levels of the stratified order, with a ritual ranking around the temple. The temple was not only the major institutional base for mobilizing and redistributing

economic resources, but also an integrative force and orbit for social organization and the ranking of all the other occupational groups’ tribal and ethnic groups of forests and hills. The land distribution and control through such institutions represented by brahmadeyas and temple-nucleated settlements, to oust the so called heterodox faiths. Brahmanical religions achieved this change through a process of acculturation by incorporating popular and folk elements in worship and ritual, and by assimilating tribal and ethnic groups into the social order through the temple. The practices and traditions of temples exist not only in history but also in present time which greatly influence the socio-cultural life of its people and gives continuity to traditional Indian values. The evolution of Indian temple architecture is marked by a strict adherence to the original ancient models that were derived from religious consideration- and that continued over many centuries.4Temples built today also adhere to ancient principles.The fact is it will continue on this course for times to come.


1. A. Temple Architecture, a Brief Overview and Its Symbolism, Purushottama Bilimoria,

1. Heaven on Earth: Temples, Ritual, & Cosmic Symbolism in the Ancient World, Conference- Organizer, Deena Ragavan, the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, 1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, March 2-3, 2012

2. Concept of Temple 2 1. Saradhamani, M., Historical Sites and Monuments along the River Noyyal (South India) Megalithic Period to Medieval Age- A Study, Ph.D. Thesis, Bharathiar University, Coimbatore, 2013,p.86 See also2. Kanakasabhai, V., The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago, Reprint, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 1979, p 232. 32

3. Burton Stein, South Indian Temples An analytical Reconsideration, New Delhi, 1978, pp.11-46.

4. Building Science of Indian Temple Architecture, Master’s Thesis- Structural Analysis of Monuments and Historical Constructions, University of Minho, Portugal, July 2008