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Mahadeva Temple at Itagi, Koppal district in Karnataka, also called Devalaya Chakravarti,[1][2][3] 1112 CE, an example of dravida articulation with a nagara superstructure
Angkor Wat, a World Heritage Site and the world's largest Hindu building[4] and is present on Cambodia's national flag
Shiva temple, the main shrine of Prambanan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia.
The cross section of Shiva temple, one of the largest Hindu temples in south-east Asia, Central Java

India's Hindu temple architecture is developed from the creativity of Sthapathis and Shilpis, both of whom belong to the larger community of craftsmen and artisans called Vishwakarma (caste). A small Hindu temple consists of an inner sanctum, the garbha graha or womb-chamber, in which the idol or deity is housed, often called circumambulation, a congregation hall, and sometimes an antechamber and porch. The garbhagriha is crowned by a tower-like shikara.

All the Hindu temples in India follows the architecture defined in Shilpa Shastras. However, there are artistic variations in terms of construction of shikara depending on regional culture.


Main article: Vastu Shastra


The temple is a representation of the macrocosm (the universe) as well as the microcosm (the inner space).

The Magadha empire rose with the Shishunaga dynasty in around 650 BCE. The Ashtadhyayi of Panini, the great grammarian of the 5th century BCE speaks of images that were used in Hindu temple worship. The ordinary images were called pratikriti and the images for worship were called archa (see As. 5.3.96–100). Patanjali, the 2nd-century BCE author of the Mahabhashya commentary on the Ashtadhyayi, tells us more about the images.

Deity images for sale were called Shivaka etc., but an archa of Shiva was just called Shiva. Patanjali mentions Shiva and Skanda deities. There is also mention of the worship of Vasudeva (Krishna). We are also told that some images could be moved and some were immoveable. Panini also says that an archa was not to be sold and that there were people (priests) who obtained their livelihood by taking care of it.

Panini and Patanjali mention temples which were called prasadas.

The earlier Shatapatha Brahmana of the period of the Vedas, informs us of an image in the shape of Purusha which was placed within the altar. The Vedic books describe the plan of the temple to be square. This plan is divided into 64 or 81 smaller squares, where each of these represent a specific divinity.

Historical Chronology

Early temples in approximate chronological order:[5]


An article related to
  • Hinduism portal

In design/plan of a temple, several parts of Temple architecture are considered, most common amongst these are:


Jagati is a term used to refer a raised surface, platform or terrace upon which the temple is placed.[6]


Antarala is a small antichamber or foyer between the garbhagriha/ garbha graha (shrine) and the mandapa, more typical of north Indian temples.[7][8]


Mandapa (or Mandapam) (मंडप in Hindi/Sanskrit, also spelled mantapa or mandapam) is a term to refer to pillared outdoor hall or pavilion for public rituals.[9]

  • Ardha Mandapam — intermediary space between the temple exterior and the garba griha (sanctum sanctorum) or the other mandapas of the temple
  • Asthana Mandapam — assembly hall
  • Kalyana Mandapam — dedicated to ritual marriage celebration of the Lord with Goddess
  • Maha Mandapam — (Maha=big) When there are several mandapas in the temple, it is the biggest and the tallest. It is used for conducting religious discourses.
  • Nandi Mandapam (or Nandi mandir) - In the Shiva temples, pavilion with a statue of the sacred bull Nandi, looking at the statue or the lingam of Shiva.

Sreekovil or Garbhagriha

Sreekovil or Garbhagriha the part in which the idol of the deity in a Hindu temple is installed i.e.Sanctum sanctorum. The area around is referred as to the Chuttapalam, which generally includes other deities and the main boundary wall of the temple. Typically there is also a Pradikshna area in the Sreekovil and one outside, where devotees can take Pradakshinas.[8]

Śikhara or Vimanam

Śikhara or vimanam literally means "mountain peak", refer to the rising tower over the sanctum sanctorum where the presiding deity is enshrined is the most prominent and visible part of a Hindu temples.


An amalaka is a stone disk, often with ridges, that sits on a temple's main tower (Sikhara).[8]


Gopuras (or Gopurams) are the elaborate gateway-towers of south Indian temples, not to be confused with Shikharas.


An urushringa is a subsidiary Sikhara, lower and narrower, tied against the main sikhara.[8]

Different styles of architecture

Nagara architecture

Nagara temples have two distinct features :

  • In plan, the temple is a square with a number of graduated projections in the middle of each side giving a cruciform shape with a number of re-entrant angles on each side.
  • In elevation, a Sikhara, i.e., tower gradually inclines inwards in a convex curve.

The projections in the plan are also carried upwards to the top of the Sikhara and, thus, there is strong emphasis on vertical lines in elevation. The Nagara style is widely distributed over a greater part of India, exhibiting distinct varieties and ramifications in lines of evolution and elaboration according to each locality. An example of Nagara architecture is the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple.

Dravidian architecture

Dravidian style temples consist almost invariably of the four following parts, differing only according to the age in which they were executed:[10]

  1. The principal part, the temple itself, is called the Vimana (or Vimanam). It is always square in plan and surmounted by a pyramidal roof of one or more stories; it contains the cell where the image of the god or his emblem is placed.
  2. The porches or Mandapas (or Mantapams), which always cover and precede the door leading to the cell.
  3. Gate-pyramids, Gopurams, which are the principal features in the quadrangular enclosures that surround the more notable temples.
  4. Pillared halls or Chaultris—properly Chawadis -- used for various purposes, and which are the invariable accompaniments of these temples.

Besides these, a temple always contains temple tanks or wells for water (used for sacred purposes or the convenience of the priests), dwellings for all grades of the priesthood are attached to it, and other buildings for state or convenience.[10]

Badami Chalukya architecture

The Badami Chalukya Architecture|Chalukya style originated during 450 CE in Aihole and perfected in Pattadakal and Badami.[11]

The period of Badami Chalukyas was a glorious era in the history of Indian architecture. The capital of the Chalukyas, Vatapi (Badami, in Bagalkot district, North Karnataka in Karnataka) is situated at the mouth of a ravine between two rocky hills. Between 500 and 757 CE, Badami Chalukyas established the foundations of cave temple architecture, on the banks of the Malaprabha River. Those styles mainly include Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami. The sites were built out of sandstone cut into enormous blocks from the outcrops in the chains of the Kaladgi hills.

At Badami, Chalukyas carved some of the finest cave temples. Mahakuta, the large trees under which the shrine nestles.

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 Ravalphadi cave temple celebrates the many forms of Shiva. Other temples include the Konthi temple complex and the Meguti Jain temple.

Pattadakal is a (World Heritage Site), where one finds the Virupaksha temple; it is the biggest temple, having carved scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Other temples at Pattadakal are Mallikarjuna, Kashivishwanatha, Galaganatha and Papanath.

Badami Chalukya Architecture of temples at Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal

Bhutanatha temple complex at Badami, 7th century, with the open hall (11th century) extending to the lake
The Virupaksha temple (or Lokesvara temple) at Pattadakal, built by queen Lokamahadevi (queen of Badami Chalukya King Vikramaditya II) around 740 CE, now a World Heritage Site

Gadag Architecture style

The Gadag style of architecture is also called Western Chalukya architecture.[12] The style flourished for 150 years (1050 to 1200 CE); in this period, about 50 temples were built. Some examples are the Saraswati temple in the Trikuteshwara temple complex at Gadag, the Doddabasappa Temple at Dambal, the Kasivisvesvara Temple at Lakkundi, and the Amriteshwara temple at Annigeri. which is marked by ornate pillars with intricate sculpture.[13] This style originated during the period of the Kalyani Chalukyas (also known as Western Chalukya) Someswara I.

Kalinga architecture style

The design which flourished in eastern Indian state of Odisha and Northern Andhra Pradesh are called Kalinga style of architecture. The style consists of three distinct type of temples namely Rekha Deula, Pidha Deula and Khakhara Deula. Deula means "temple" in the local language. The former two are associated with Vishnu, Surya and Shiva temple while the third is mainly with Chamunda and Durga temples.The Rekha deula and Khakhara deula houses the sanctum sanctorum while the Pidha Deula constitutes outer dancing and offering halls.

The prominent examples of Rekha Deula are Lingaraj Temple of Bhubaneswar and Jagannath Temple of Puri. One of the prominent example of Khakhara Deula is Vaital Deula. The Konark Sun Temple is a living example of Pidha Deula.

The three types of Deulas

Rekha Deula of the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar.
Pidha Deula of the Konark Sun Temple .
Khakhara Deula of the Vaital Deula.

Māru-Gurjara temple architecture

Māru-Gurjara temple architecture originated somewhere in 6th century in and around areas of Rajasthan. Māru-Gurjara architecture show the deep understanding of structures and refined skills of Rajasthani craftmen of bygone era. Māru-Gurjara architecture has two prominent styles: Maha-Maru and Maru-Gurjara. According to M. A. Dhaky, Maha-Maru style developed primarily in Marudesa, Sapadalaksa, Surasena and parts of Uparamala whereas Maru-Gurjara originated in Medapata, Gurjaradesa-Arbuda, Gurjaradesa-Anarta and some areas of Gujarat.[14] Scholars such as George Michell, M.A. Dhaky, Michael W. Meister and U.S. Moorti believe that Māru-Gurjara temple architecture is entirely Western Indian architecture and is quite different from the North Indian temple architecture.[15]

This further shows the cultural and ethnic separation of Rajasthanis from north Indian culture. There is a connecting link between Māru-Gurjara architecture and Hoysala temple architecture. In both of these styles architecture is treated sculpturally.[16]

Examples of Māru-Gurjara temple architecture

Carved elephants on the walls of Jagdish Temple, Udaipur, 1651 CE, an example of Māru-Gurjara architecture
Chennakesava Temple, a protected heritage site by Archeological Survey of India and amongst the finest examples of Hoysala architecture, Somanathapura

Contemporary architecture

Amongst the foremost interpreters of Indian art and architecture are Dr. V. Ganapati Sthapati, Stella Kramrisch, Vidya Dehija, M.A. Dhaky, Lokesh Chandra, Kapila Vatsyayan, and Dr. Jessie J. Mercay. The greatest living traditional temple architect is Dr. V. Ganapati Sthapati (Chennai), the only living Shilpi Guru. He is followed by his grand nephew Santhanam Krishna Sthapati of Chennai. Both are associated with The American University of Mayonic Science and Technology, which teaches Vaastu Shastras and Sthaptya Veda architecture.

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir & Complex in Newport Design Group Architects in Alpharetta, Georgia served as the project coordinating Architect. The firm has been involved in several other significant Indian religious projects as well.


See also


  • Vastu-Silpa Kosha,Encyclopedia of Hindu Temple architecture and Vastu/S.K.Ramachandara Rao, Delhi, Devine Books, (Lala Murari Lal Chharia Oriental series) ISBN.978-93-81218-51-8 (Set)
  • Dehejia, V. (1997). Indian Art. Phaidon: London. ISBN 0-7148-3496-3.
  • Mitchell, George (1988). The Hindu Temple, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, IL. ISBN 0-226-53230-5
  • Rajan, K.V. Soundara (1998). Rock-Cut Temple Styles. Somaiya Publications: Mumbai. ISBN 81-7039-218-7

External links

  • Space and Cosmology in the Hindu Temple
  • Hindu Javanese Temples

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