Measures and proportions
The structural harmony, the rhythm and a fine sense of proportion is the hall mark of Indian temple architecture. It not merely resolves the contradictions but also expresses harmony by encompassing all contradictions, transforming into pure and uncompromised details of structure. The aim of a proportional system, meaning not merely symmetry, is to manifest a sense of coherence and harmony among the elements of the temple and it’s whole. The proportional harmonization of design, therefore, is of utmost importance in the construction of a temple. It is believed that the power and purity of the structure radiates from its exact proportions and measures as specified in the texts. It is also believed that a meticulously well constructed temple radiates peace and joy; and ensures the welfare of the world and its people.
Without harmony, symmetry and proportion there can be no principles in the design of any temple. This is analogues to the precise relation between the features and organs of a well proportioned, good-looking person.
The ancient texts, therefore, insist on a high degree of precision in their measurements. The standard text Mayamata mentions “Only if the temple is constructed correctly according to a mathematical system can it be expected to function in harmony with the universe. Only if the measurement of the temple is in every way perfect, there will be perfection in the universe as well.”
The Hindu temple is a feast of a variety of visual aspects, and wherever one engages one of them, entering a doorway, circumambulating or approaching the inner sanctuary or worshipping there– one is accessing an aspect of the whole.
The rules of Vastu-shastra render beauty, structural stability and quality of spaces by virtue of light, sound and volume management. They also evoke in the devotee an attuning of his person to its structure and ambience.
The lighting of spaces inside a temple is orchestrated such that the mukha mantapa (i.e. entrance porch) is semi-open with maximum light. If the directions and measurements are followed correctly the sun rays should fall into the mantapa for at least six hours (from 9.00am to 3.00pm, if the sun rise is at 6.00am). The Sabha Mantapa (for worshippers) has moderate light with few openings. Garbhagirha with a single opening in front of deity allows light only on deity; and, is illumined by natural oil lamps, placed on either side of the deity. The net effect of this arrangement is that it projects the images against the dark wall. Further, the surroundings of the Garbhagriha are modest in sculptural details. These help the worshippers to keep away the distractions and to focus their attention on the deity.
Echoes are avoided by a clever manipulation of open spaces, elevations and designs in the structured areas. Absolute quiet is ensured in the Sanctum vicinity. The Shilpis, in some cases (Meenkshi temple, Madurai; Sundareshwara temple Tirchendur; and the Vijaya Vittala temple of Hampi- Vijayanagar) displayed remarkable ingenuity in sculpting “musical” pillars, which when struck at precise parts, produce the seven swaras (octaves).
As regards the volumes, every part of the temple is rigorously controlled by a precise proportional system of interrelated measurements, maintaining the fundamental unity of the architecture and sculpture.
The ancient shilpis used a great degree of precision in their measurements. Much of this system is followed by the present shilpis too. An interesting feature of these systems is the standard unit of measurement; the smallest unit mentioned is the anu or the particle, which is hardly perceptible. The anu measure was employed for extremely delicate or intricate or the most vital aspects of a sculpture; for instance, the eyes and facial features of the image of presiding deity; or in the amaziningly delicate and minute carvings of the Hoyasla images. The norms and measures specified in the Southern texts, it is said, are still in use. These measures are in two categories; one for delicate and intricate work and the other for normal structures.
Look at the table of measurements for minute and delicate carvings.
Eight anus (particles) = one nulu (breadth of a fine cotton or silk fiber),
Eight nulu = one hair (breadth of horse hair),
Eight hairs = one grain of sand,
Eight grains of sand = one mustard seed,
Eight mustard-seeds = one bamboo seed,
Eight bamboo-seeds = one angula.
The angula (1.875 cms) and the hasta (cubit, 45 cms) are the units that are normally used for deriving the dimensions, proportions, the height and other details of a sculpture. The Danda (four cubits) used for measuring less-delicate or lengthier structure is equivalent to 180 cms.
One Hastha = one cubit= 45 cms;
Four Hasthas = one Danda= 96 angulas = 180 cms.
One Hastha =24 angulas = 45 cms.
Thus one angula = 1.875 cms.
The old Sanskrit texts too mention a set of measurements. According to them Anu or paramanu, the particle, was the smallest measure.
8 anus = one ratha renu (grain of dust);
8 ratha renu = one valagrasa (hair end);
8 valagrasa =One grain of yava;
4 yavas = one angula;
12 angulas = one vitasta or Tala (span)
2 Vitasta or Tala = Hastha (cubit) = 24 angulas
26 angulas= Dhanurbhagha (handle of a bow).
4 hatas = One Danda;
8 Dandas = One Rajju (rope)
1000 Rajju = One Yojana
The Brhat-Samhita of Varaha Mihira (Ca. Sixth Century CE), under the Chapter 58 – Prathima Lakshana Adhyaya – gives another version of the Iconometric measurements :
1.The fine particles moving in the rays of the sun coming into a room through the window opening are known as atoms.
2. Eight atoms make a hair’s end; eight hair’s ends make a nit; eight nits make a louse; eight lice make a barley seed; eight barley seeds make an inch, which is known as a unit of measure
8 atoms=1 dust particle ; 8 dust particles=1 tip of hair; 8 tips of hair=1 nit; 8 nits=1 louse; 8 lice = 1 barley grain;8 barley grains =1 digit
The proportions of the head-trunk-arms-legs of images; and also their finer specifications like nose, nail, ears and their shapes are specified in the texts. Generally: it is dasatala (ten talas) for the height of image of male deity, navatala (nine talas) for his consort and astatala (eight talas) for bhakta. These are not absolute measurements; but are meant as guidelines to maintain proper proportions.(We shall discuss more about these aspects in the part dealing with Temple Iconography.)
Further, the Vastu believes that every unit of time vibration produces a corresponding unit of space measure; and derives that the time is equal to space. This rhythm of time and space vibrations is quantified in terms of eight and as multiples of eight. According to the Vastu, at the subtle level the human form is a structure of eight spatial units apart from elements like the hair, kneecap and toe nails, each of which measures one-quarter of the basic measure of the body and, when added on to the body’s eight units, increases the height of the total form to nine units. Traditionally, these nine units are applied in making sculptures of gods.
Similarly, the lengths, the breadths the heights of various elements of the temple too are related to each other by certain ratios. These lend esthetic appeal and stability to the temple structure. For instance, it is said, by restricting the height of the tower, Shikhara, to twice its width at the base, the weight of the tower is contained within itself. Further, as the size of the pada (bay, distance between two pillars) increases, the cross section of pillars also increases in size and width of beam has to be exactly same as that of the pillar.
Rám Ráz in his Essay on the Architecture of the Hindús describes seven kinds of Pillars (Sthamba) in relation to the thickness of the walls, the strength and breadth of the base, and the number of floors in the building. According to Rám Ráz :
When the base is taken as a reference point for the length of a pillar, than it may be 1¼, 1½, 1¾ or 2 times the height of the base. In total there are 12 varieties of the height of a pillar. For the pilaster (in other words a wall-pillar) it is 3, 4, 5 or 6 angulas. The diameter of a pillar is 2, 3 or 4 times the width of the pilaster.
The pillar has a constructive character. It must be able to withstand the forces in the building. When the amount of floors in a building is taken as a reference points for determining the height of the pillars, then the ground floor pillars of a twelve storey building are 8½ cubits in height. By subtracting one span for each storey a height of 3 cubits is obtained for the pillars of the top storey. The diameter of the ground floor pillars of a twelve storey building is 28 digits. By subtracting two digits for each storey 6 digits are obtained for the diameter of the pillars of the top-storey.
The proportions of the Adhisthána or base must be related to those of the building. In response to that, the rest of the pillar relates to the base of the pillar. (The Mánasára uses the base to define the pillars. The Mayamatam uses the amount of floors in a building to define the height of the pillars.)
As regards the form or shape of the pillars, Rám Ráz states :
There are 6 forms of pillars, namely: square, pentagonal (5 sides), hexagonal (6 sides), octagonal (8 sides), 16 sided and circular. These shapes are uniform from bottom to top, but the base and top may be square.
The top of a pillar consists of 7 elements : The bracket capital, the dye (featuring a human figure), the abacus, the bell capital, the support, the lotus and the band ornamented with garlands.
It is the distance between two pillars. For the intercolumniation, two different approaches can be used.
The first one is relative to the rest of the building: “The intercolumniation may be either two, three, four, or five diameters; it is measured in three ways, first from the inner extremity of the base of the pillar to that of another; secondly from the center of the two pillars, and, thirdly from the outer extremities of the pillars including the two bases.”
The second approach to intercolumniation is not relative to the building. In this approach the intercolumniation consists of 9 different possibilities. These are defined by 2 or 4 cubits, where each time 6 digits can be added. The architect can chose all of the 9 possibilities. Here it doesn’t matter what its type is, but the disposition of the pillars has to be regular, because otherwise it is believed to bring destruction upon the building and upon its site.
The size of the structure will also determine the various kinds of building materials to be used at different stages of the construction. They also help to control the proportions of the dimensions of the temple. These norms carry shades of religious intentions too; the set of six formulae or Ayadivarga viz., the Aaya, Vyaya, Yoni, Tithi, Vaara and Nakshatra are applied by the Acharya to derive the proper orientation and dimensions of the structure. (More of Ayadivarga in the final part.)
The Vastu Purusha Mandala of the temple projects the temple in two main sections: the ground plan and the vertical alignment. The square, the rectangle, the octagon and the pentagon patterns drawn in the Mandala relate to the horizontal section or the ground plan. The subdivisions of the ground plan detail the Brahmasthana (the main shrine and smaller shrines) and the Mantapas (pavilions). The vertical alignment consisting the pyramid, the circle and the curve are meant for designing the Gopura (entrance ways), the Vimana (the structure above the main shrine) and the prakara (the walls).
How these designs of certain measurements and proportions are translated into three dimensional constructions, is really interesting.
Hindu temple construction is strictly based on a complex system of measurements and proportions. These proportions control every aspect of a temple’s design, from its width and height to the size of its doorways and moldings. There are a number of prescribed methods. Let us look at just two of them.
A. This relates to the construction of the Garbhagriha (sanctum) and the Vimana or Prasada on top of it.
In this method, the square of 4 (16) and the square of 8(64) are considered auspicious. All the main horizontal as well as vertical proportions are with reference to either of these numbers (mulasutra).The area of the Vimana (the prasada or the tower above the sanctum) is divided into 16 squares (maha-pitha) or 64 squares (manduka), as the case may be; in which case the width would be 4 or 8 units.
If the width of the Vimana is 4, then the width of the sanctum would be 2 units; the height of the Vimana would also be 4; and the base of the Vimana would be a cube. The Sikhara on top this cube would be twice its height (that is, 4×2).The cube and the Sikhara would together rise to a height of 12 units. This proportion builds a relationship between the vertical and horizontal extents of the other parts of the temple.
In case the width of the sanctum is 8 units, The total height of the sanctum with Sikhara would be three times the width of the sanctum(8×3), of which the height of the Sikhara would be 2/3 the total height.
B. In this method, the size of the sanctum and the Dwajasthamba is determined by the height of the image of main deity in the sanctum. The size of a temple is always a fixed multiple of the height of image of main deity.
The normal height of a man is taken as six feet; and the sanctum would be in the shape of a square of its inner length and width, of six feet. The width of the sanctum walls would be two feet. The outer measurement of the sanctum would be 10 feet on each side.
A mantapa, in front of the sanctum, would have certain special features. The inner length and breadth of a mantapa should be twice that of the sanctum. For instance, in this case, the outer side of the sanctum is ten feet; and therefore the inner side of the Mantapa should be 20 feet, in width. This is achieved by extending the face (door) side of the sanctum on either side to form the inner dimension (20’) of the Mantapa.
If the directions and measurements are correctly followed the sun rays should fall into the mantapa for six hours (from 9.00am to 3.00pm, if the sun rise is at 6.00am).
For a sanctum of this size, the idol, in standing position, should be six feet tall. If the idol is less than six feet tall, its pedestal should be raised to obtain the required height. The idol should be installed exactly at the mid-point of the chosen direction (usually facing east).
The Dwaja –sthamba should be perpendicular and placed directly opposite to the idol.
A line drawn at an angle of 22 ½ degrees from the mid-point between the brows of the idol should cut the top of the Dwajasthamba. The height of the Dwajasthamba thus is related to the to the height of the image. Some scholars say, this perhaps is relates to the axis of the earth which makes an angle of 22 ½ degrees with the sun.
Sometimes, a hole is made in the roof of the mantapa, at the point where the imaginary line drawn from the idol emerges out of the roof of the mantapa, on its way to reach the top of the Dwajasthamba. Thus, it is ensured that the mid point between the brows of the idol, the hole in the roof and the top of Dwaja sthamba are all aligned along one straight line.
The line when extended further from the top of the Dwaja sthamba should touch the Kalasha on top of the Gopura.
Thus, the distance and the height of the Gopuram get related to the height of the idol and the Dwajasthamba.
Mention is also made of other methods for determining the size of the Dhruva-bhera (the main idol) and its position/placement in the Garbhagriha . According to this method, the icon is considered to be made of three parts.; the con proper being two parts ; and, the pedestal making up the third part.
The whole length of the Icon including pedestal should be 7/ 8th s of the height of the doorway. (i.e. height + 7 x 8 = doorway). If the Icon is made 2 meters in height then the following measurements are calculated;
doorway = 2 .28 mtrs high x 1.14 mtrs in width.
Sanctum = 4.57 mtrs square
Vimana = 9.14 mtrs high
Mandapa = 9.14 mtrs wide
Plinth = 3 mtrs high
As regards the position of the Dhruva-bhera within the Garbhagriha :
The Garbhagriha is divided into two halves. One half should again be sub-divided into 10 parts.
The following is generally followed for positioning of the deity :
Shiva Linga in the 10th part i.e. center
Brahma is placed in the 9th part.
Vishnu is placed in the 8th part.
Shanmuga is placed in the 7th part.
Sarasvati in the 6th.
Surya in the 5th.
Ganesha in the 4th.
Bhairava in the 3rd
Shakti in the 2nd place from the rear wall.
[ The Bruhat-samhita of Varaha Mihira (Ca.6th century) mentions :
53. The height of the Linga shall be equal to the length of the circumference; the lower one-third of the Linga shall be four-sided, the central third shall be eight-sided; and the upper third shall be round.
54. The lower part of the Linga shall be planted into the ground; the middle part shall be made to fit the hole in the pedestal. The breadth of the pedestal all-round the hole shall be of the length of the portion of the Linga above]
The actual construction process of a temple can be divided into three steps. The first is the planning of the temple by architect, second is the carving of different parts and the third is assembling the parts.
In the first stage, the architect prepares a list of all the parts that go into the details of the temple; like the figures, pillars, beams, and brackets etc. These parts are usually composed of several elements. For example, a pillar is made of at least five parts, while the dome is made of several units. This is one of the reasons, it is said, why the temples do not normally collapse in case of earthquakes or cyclones; as its parts are not joined rigidly (say by materials like cement) but can vibrate within the surrounding structured space.
In the second stage, the teams of assistants of the Shilpi carve the parts and segments according to the temple Acharya’s and Shilpi’s drawings, designs, specifications and guidelines. The parts thus got ready are transported to the site. And, at times the transportation to the site, itself, becomes a huge task. For instance, it is said that a four km long ramp was constructed to transport and place in position the dome of the Brihadishwara temple in Tanjore.
The stability of the temple structure is attributed to its principles of unity, harmony, balance and distribution of weight. It is said, if one member of this family breaks, the unity, peace and stability of the family is sure to crumble. . Hence, no member moves from its place, and holds the structure together even in the face of destruction all around. These aspects are ensured during the third stage.
The third stage is the assembling of the readied parts i.e. the actual construction of temple. The various elements and parts of temples are interlocked to hold in position. All the parts have mortise and tenon joint for ensuring strength; and a hole or slot is cut into each piece of readied part, for a projecting part tenon of the adjacent part to be inserted into the next. These mortise and tenons not only hold the parts their positions securely but also allow space for the stones to expand in heat or even to vibrate modestly.
The third stage and the second stage have to be well coordinated in order to take care of precise alignments and possible corrections. Though this stage, inevitably, means the slowing down of the construction pace, it is said, the Sthaphti or Sthalapahi, the one who supervises the actual construction process on site, takes extra care to ensure precise positioning and alignment of each part and segment; and to meticulously follow the overall proportion, stability and visual appeal, as specified and envisaged in the Vastu mandala and the construction plans.
The size and the nature of the structure will determine the various kinds of building materials to be employed at different stages of its construction. Generally the use of iron, considered the crudest of metals, is strictly avoided within the temple structure, as iron tends to get rusty and endangers the stability and the life of the structure. The stone which has a far longer life and is less corrosive, is the major building material employed in temple construction. (There are elaborate methods for testing and grading the stones; and more about that in the final part) The main structure and the dome are invariably constructed of tested stone.
The Building materials like stone, brick, mortar, wood, etc., are selected for the main body of the temple, whereas elements like gold and silver are be used for final ornamentation. Marble is not used in Southern structures. Materials like simulated marble, plastic and asbestos, strictly, are not acceptable building materials. Only organic materials are used in temple architecture. The traditional Indian temples of stone, it is said, are designed to last for 800 years unlike RCC structures which are guaranteed for 80 years. Incidentally, the Ayadi aspects are worked out to ensure longevity of the temple.
Indian architecture is a logical and an intellectual approach to how the vision of the architect, governed by the prescriptions of the texts, should be realised. It has clear rules on how a building should be constructed. It starts with defining the cardinal directions of North, East, South and West. These directions form the basis for designing the building; as also in erecting the walls of the temple.
The temple is based on the faith that it is a reflection of the Universe, which follows cyclic processes of creations and destructions. Therefore, the temple has also to project that cyclical notion. For that reason, its design grows from unity to multiplicity; simultaneously, tending back to unity through a process of dissolution and fusion. In this way, a temple is to be rendered cyclical, in its nature. These cycles can occur at different times, at different rates, and in different parts of a temple. In order to achieve such effects, several architectural tools are employed.
Some of the tools that could help the Indian architect to design a temple; and, for achieving the pattern of its growth and of movement, as detailed by Adam Hardy in his Indian Temple Architecture: Form and Transformation (page 26) , include :
– Increasing aedicularity (principle of articulating the temple exterior as a matrix of inter connected shrines)
– Aedicular density, meaning to move shrine images to get closer together
– Proliferation and fragmentation, meaning the repetition of a given type of designs and patterns culminating in a grand architectural composition. And , fragmentation is the breaking up the whole into minor individual designs.
– Central emphasis: the cardinal axes of the Vimana as also those of the Mantapa become increasingly dominant, at various levels
– Using an increased sense of movement through various patterns which convey a sense of emergence and expansion
– Staggering, where the forms become progressively more staggered creating certain visual architectural effects; say, from Vimana or Mantapa as a whole, through pillars to the moulding of the pilasters.
– Continuity and alignment. This ensures horizontal continuity with the vertical structure; say, with each Tala (or the phase or the level) of the Vimana rising one over the other
– Abstraction. Here the shrine-imagery, particularly in the shapes of moulding, develops away from the depiction of timber and thatch construction. The temple-structure is transported from the non-essentials towards its idealized form.
– Assimilation. The elements or details, which, are at first scattered are systematically composed and assimilated with each other into a framework that finally defines the temple architecture
Thus, the temple-construction, which generally follows an evolutionary process combines in itself the stages of differentiation and fusion; creation and dissolution; and, emergence and mergence or blending . Although such dynamic processes are at once conflicting and complimentary, they all are harmonized in a meaningful composition to achieve the final and the idealized image of the temple. The process is also analogous to the emergence from the unity of the the seed to the diversity of the tree with many branches.
Some essential aspects of Temple Structure
A typical South Indian temple has a certain fairly well defined features and a generally accepted layout. The most important structure of a temple is the garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum which houses the idol of the presiding deity.
The Garbagriha is followed by four types of mantapas or pavilions. Mantapa means any roofed, open or enclosed pavilion (hall) resting on pillars, standing independently or connected to the sanctum of the temple.
The first of the mantapas is the antarala (sometimes called sukanas or sukanasi or ardhamantapa), a narrow pavilion connecting the gharbhagriha and the navaranga. It usually will have niches in the north and south walls, occupied by a deity, with attendant divinities in secondary niches flanking the central niche. In a few temples the antarala serves as the navaranga too.
The next mantapa is nrttamantapa or navaranga, is a big hall used for congregational services like singing, dancing, recitation of mythological texts, religious discourses and so on. The navaranga will usually be on a raised platform and will have nine anganas (openings) and sixteen pillars.
This is followed by Sanapana mantapa, a hall used for ceremonial purposes. This leads to mukha mantapa the opening pavilion.
The Dwajasthamba (flag post) in front of either the garbhagrha or antarala or the mantapa is another common feature. It represents the flag post of the ‘King of kings’. The lanchana (insignia) made of copper or brass fixed like a flag to the top of the post varies according to the deity in the temple and his/her nature.
The Balipitha (pedestal of sacrificial offerings) with a lotus or the footprints of the deity is fixed near the Dwajasthamba, but nearer to the deity. Red-colored offerings like rice mixed with vermillion powder, are kept on this at appropriate stages of rituals for feeding the parivara_devatas and panchabhuthas or the elements.
A Dipastambha (lamp post) is situated either in front of the Balipitha or outside the main gate. The top of this post has a bud shaped chamber to receive the lamp.
The whole temple is surrounded by a high wall (prakara) with one main and three subsidiary gates, opening in the cardinal directions. A gopura (high tower,) adorns these gateways.
These were of course later developments; and in due course became characteristic features of South Indian temple architecture. It is said, the Agama texts provide for as many as 32 prakaras, the concentric – enclosing walls. But, they recommend five to seven as advisable, in case more than one enclosure is needed. In many cases, the main area of the temple, plus the halls, tanks, and gardens are surrounded by a single wall (prakara) or enclosure. But many major temples do have a series of enclosures. As mentioned earlier the Sri Rangam temple has seven enclosing walls, enveloping the whole township.
The Agama texts prescribe that each enclosure must have door-ways in all four directions. But, very few temples followed this rule, perhaps with the exception of the great temple at Tiruvannamalai. In most cases, the doorways lead from one courtyard to the next, finally leading to the sanctum. And, it became customary, since 10th century, to erect towers (gopuras) over such gateways, though a gopura was not an essential feature of the temple per se. It is needless to mention that the prakara contributes to the security and beauty of the temple
With the growth and development of the temples , their structures and details became increasingly complicated .The structural arrangements of the major temples became more elaborate. The prakara in its many layers provides for a number of minor temples or shrines for the deities, connected with the presiding deity of the temple. Apart from these, the temple precincts include a yagasala, (a hall for occasional yajna or yagas), kalyana-mantapa, marriage or a general purpose hall; asthana-mantapa, where the processional deity holds court; Vahana mantapa , to store the various “vehicles” used to mount the processional deity during festivals and processions; alankara-mantapa, where the processional deity is dressed before being taken on procession; vasanta-mantapa, a hall in the middle of the temple tank used for festivals; and utsava mantapa, hall used on festive occasions. Temples will also usually have a treasury, a kitchen (paka-sala), a store room (ugrana), and a dining hall. A well or a puskarini (tank), flower garden and Ratha (the temple chariot) and its shed are the other essentials associated the temple.
The garbha-griha is encircled by the first prakara, called antara-mandala. This is a passageway, often narrow, permitting the devotees to circumambulate the sanctum in a customary act of devotion. The flight of stairs that connects the first prakara with the sanctum sanctorum is called the sopana. In front of the sopana is the main mantapa.
Around the main mantapa and antara-mandala is the second prakara (antahara). This forms a broad verandah with doorways on all four sides. The antahara leads out into an enclosure containing the main bali-pitha.
The next enclosure is called madhyahara. Beyond this and just outside the main bali-pitha is the flagstaff (dhvaja-stambha).
The fourth enclosure is called bhayahara. The fifth prakara (enclosure) is the maryada (limit), or last wall.
Let us briefly go over the broad features of some of the essential aspects of the temple.
The most important part of a temple, its very heart as it were, is the garbhagrha or the sanctum sanctorum, the cave-like cube-shaped “womb room,” located within the Brahmasthana of the Vastu Purusha Mandala, directly above the gold box, placed earlier in the earth during the garbhadhana ceremony. Here on the altar, the deity in the Dhruva Bheru (immovable) form is installed.
According to the nature and placement of the Duruva Bheru, the presiding deity, the entrance will be determined either to North or to East of Garbagriha. The placement of other deities will also be determined accordingly.
Garbhagriha usually is a cube with a low roof and with no doors or windows except for the front opening. The image of the deity is stationed in the geometrical centre, facing the midpoint of the chosen direction. The whole place completely dark, except for the light that comes through the front opening. The name garbhagriha perhaps has reference to the devotee finding his way to this secret inner place and being reborn from it, emerging later, transformed, by grace.
The sixth century text, Vishnu dharmottama purna, indicates certain specifications of the sanctum. It says the idol should preferably face east; and the placement of the other deities in the temple should be in relation to the main idol.
“It is commendable to place the central door of the temple in one of the cardinal points. The height of the door should be made double its width, o king. [One should make] the image together with the pedestal on 1/8 lower than the height of the door. The image [should be] two parts [of the whole] and the pedestal a third part. It is commendable to make the width of the door equal to 1/4 of [the width of] the shrine
“The height of the door should be [that of] the deities increased by 1/8. One should make the height of the door double [its] width”.
To illustrate, if the total height of the idol is 6’.0”; the pedestal would then be 2’.0” high and the image would be 4’.0” high. The height of the sanctum door would be 6’.9”; and its width, would be 3.’4 ½ “. The width of the sanctum would be (four times the width of the door) 13’.6”. The sanctum would be in the shape of a square.
As regards the thickness of the sanctum walls (bhitti), the text seems to suggests that the walls should be 1/8 the width of the sanctum. Applying this norm to our illustration , the walls of the sanctum would be about three feet thick. (It is a bit confusing, here. I am not sure, if the portion relating to the sanctum walls sounds reasonable.)
Next, the text seems to suggest that the width of the sanctum should be 8/15 of the length of the enclosure surrounding it. If we apply this to our illustration, it seems to suggest that the passage around the sanctum would be about 3 ½ feet in width. (I am not certain.)
The sculpture and carvings at the doors and the vicinity of the Garbagriha are modest and not so exuberant as to distract the attention of the devotee. Absolute quiet is ensured in the vicinity of the sanctum. Further, the only light entering into that part of the temple falls on the deity. The oil lamps that illumine the deity enhance the ambiance of serenity and peace.
Garbagriha is the very purpose of the temple. Its enclosures are supplementary in nature.
Some texts therefore argue that that the temple, per se, comprises only the sanctum and the tower on the top of it; and these two are the only essential parts of a shrine.
Some texts say that the shrine extends up to the front porch leading to the Balipeeta, the ‘dispensing pedastal’ ; and , no further.
In some temples, a pradaksinapatha (a circumambulatory passage) is provided just round the garbhagrha, to enable the devotees to go round the deity. The vesara temples do not have this passage.
The walls of the sanctum raise above a series of moldings, constituting the socle (adhisthana), a base that sticks out from under the bottom wall. The adistana should be strong and massive, as it carries the entire weight of the Garbha griha, the mantapa and the path for circumblation pradakshina; and also of the weight of the super structures, such as the Vimana and its details.
The adhisthana consists of several mouldings (from bottom up); Upana or upatala (the base), Padma (a layer of lotus motif), Jagathi (straight and mnodestly decorated), Kumuda (round and ribbed), Kanta (neck) and Kapolapalika (double layer of lotus petals)
In the Hoysala or the Vesara architecture, particularly from the late 10th century onward, this arrangement of the superstructure is loaded with decoration.
While on the subject, the sanctum of the most celebrated temple in India that of Sri Venkateshwara in Tirumala is a square of twelve feet and nine inches. The sanctum is considered so holy that it is addressed as Koil Alwar meaning the divinity in the form of temple. The three sides of the sanctum (other than the one with the opening to view the deity) are enclosed by another set of wall/s. The total thickness of the walls surrounding the sanctum is about seven feet and two inches. Perhaps this is the most secure sanctum wall one can find. The pleasing Ananda Nilaya Vimana stands on these sets of walls. It is surmised that the outer wall might have been erected sometime around 1260AD.
The term Vimana has acquired various interpretations. Sometimes the term Vimana stands for the temple. Often, Vimana means the tower shikara, raised to its final height above the sanctum .
But, some say that the term Vimana should, strictly, refer to the rotund structure above the series of elevations (tala) which stand on kapota (the flat roof over the sanctum).
In other words, the term vimana, it is said, should refer to the structure between the final Tala and the stupi, the end. The Vimana rests or is surrounded by the Kanta (neck).
Another interpretation is that Sikhara meaning mountain peak, refers to the rising tower of a temple constructed as per the architecture of North India; and is it’s most prominent and visible feature. While the Northern texts identify the Sikhara as Prasada; the Southern texts call them Vimana. The Vimana is pyramid like; and Prasada is curvilinear in its outline. We may for the present go with the last mentioned interpretation.
Among the several styles of Sikharas that obtain in temple architecture, the three most common ones are: the Dravida prevalent in south India; the Nagara the most common style; and the third born from the synthesis of the other two called the Vesara, seen mostly in Hoysala and later Chalukya temples of Karnataka.
The Dravida style is highly ornate; the Nagara style is simpler and consists of a curvilinear dome. In the Vesara style, the dome is highly ornate and emerges from the Sukanasi or from the richly carved outer walls of the temple. In every style of Sikhara/Vimanam, the structure culminates with a Kalashaat its peak.
The early vimanas, in south, were circular until they ended in a point of the finial (stupi); like the vimanam of Kadambar koil.
In some cases , the flat-roof (kapota) of the sanctum on which the tower rest and rises is overlaid by a single square stone slab known in the text as “the stone denoting the upper passage of life” (brahma-ranhra-sila). In certain structures, slab after slab is placed in a diminishing order with the final slab crowned by a perforated stone ring (amalaka) giving the structure a pyramid shape.
During the later times, the body of the Vimana tended to be more complex and multi layered rising up in several stages (tala). Each stage of the sikhara contained within itself several layers of mouldings depicting traditional motifs. The layers in a Tala are called Varga; and the sadvarga (six modules) is regarded the classic version. The southern texts describe the temples as sadvarga Devalaya. The sadvargas of a Vimana are Adistana, Pada, Prastara, Kanta, Sikhara and stupi. The vertical expansion of the sadvarga developed into Vimanas of Dvitala (in two stages) and tritala (in three stages) structures.
The most celebrated Dvitala Vimana is the Ananda Nilaya Vimana atop the sanctum of the Sri Venkateshwara shrine on the hills of Tirumala. It is not clear when it was constructed and who caused it to be constructed. The earliest reference to the Ananda Nilaya Vimana was in the inscription of Virasinga Deva Yadava who ruled the Tondamandala region, around 1250 AD. It is said; he performed Tula-bhara and donated gold, equitant of his weight, for covering the Vimana. The Vimana was renovated in the year 1417 by the Kings of Chandragiri. The most famous patron, in the later years, was, of course, Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar Empire, who, in the year 1517, donated 30,000 pieces of gold for covering the Ananda Nilaya Vimana with gold polish.(please also see para below)
Before we go further we may talk a little more about Vimana.
The Vimana in the South Indian temple history had an interesting career. For instance, the most magnificent Vimana of the Raja-rajeshwara temple at Tanjavur (1009 AD) rises to an imposing height of 58 meters. Another temple of the same period at Gangaikonda-chola-puram (1025 AD) rises to a height of 48 meters. Thereafter, in the subsequent periods, the Vimanas tended to grow shorter. But the Gopuras, the towers that stand over the gate-ways (dwara-gopura) became increasingly ornate, complicated and huge.
The sanctity of Vimanas was not in any manner affected by its diminished size. While the sculptures on the outer Gopuras could house secular and even erotic themes, the Vimana had to be austere and carry only the prescribed divinities associated with the mula-bhera in the sanctum. The Vimana is verily the representation or the outer visible form of the murthi that resides within it; and is revered as such. It represents the glory (vaibhava) of the deity the antaryamin who resides within it. The Gopura on the other hand does not usually command an equal status.
[ While on the subject of the relation between the Vimana and the Gopura , please see the following extract from the response I posted to the comment made by Dr.Ratti:
The ‘Barrel-vault’ also known as a tunnel vault or a wagon vault is an architectural design looking like an oblong wagon-top or a vault or resembling a boat placed up-side down, is rather an old feature of the Indian temple architecture. Its curvy shape lends the structure a semi-cylindrical appearance. Such a design is assigned with many names, depending on the architectural school that it was involved with. The various parts of the temple are given different names in different parts of India.
For instance, in the Nagara tradition, which was practiced in the Northern, Western and Eastern parts of India, a barrel vaulted, rectangular superstructure that runs at right-angle to the entrance of the Gargha-griha is termed as Valabhi Prasada. The Valabhi turret is an ornamental structure on a flat roof. Usually, the sloping Valabhi resting on a flat roof is capped with multiple amlakas and finales, Shikhara.
I am given to understand that there are two explanations for derivation of the term Valabhi. The first one says; Valabhi is derived from the root Vala (enclosure) suggesting a turret or an upper room or a curved rafter. And, it might mean a kind of enclosure that would support a tunnel or barrel roof. And, therefore, Valabhi indicates a ‘mono-pitched roof.’
The other explanation suggests that the term Valabhi could relate to the name of an ancient city located in the Saurashtra region of Western India. It was the seat of the Maitraka dynasty who ruled the peninsula and parts of southern Rajasthan (from fifth to the eighth century). The City of Valabhi was also a celebrated centre of learning, with numerous Buddhist monasteries. It might be that such architectural type was the main characteristic of the Valabhi region, where there were numbers of Buddhist Chityas.
In the earlier periods, the temples and Stupas, which were successors to the huts, were constructed out of brick and timber. These were generally either elliptical (Kuta) or rectangular huts with gable roofs (Sala) made of bamboos. Therefore, the early temples, having vaulted domical and gabled (Sala) roof, resembled, in shape, a Chaitya hall (which itself was a successor to the Vedic stupa). It is also said; the palace architecture was developed form the Sala concept or design. And, since the palace was called Prasada, the God’s Palace (Devalaya) also came to be known as Prasada.
The Valabhi Prasada, generally, follows a rectangular plan; its length being thrice its width (ayata); with a barrel roofed superstructure running at right angle (tiryak) to the direction of entry to the Garbha-griha. Its slopes are either on all its four sides (hipped roof) or only on two sides. On its ridge, are placed three Amalasarkas. And, Dormer windows (Chandrasala) that projects vertically from a sloping roof are located on either side of the ridge.
In case the entrance to the shrine is located under the broader side of the ridge, such a Valabhi Prasada is classified as Bhadra; and, where the entrance is on the narrow, it is known as Dvarapala.
Because of its barrel vault roof, perhaps inspired by the early Chaitya architecture, the Valabhi is much wider than the Prasāda that you normally find in the Nagara temples. I believe, there are such ancient temples in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Uttarakhand (Nava-Devi temple in Yagesvar, Almora District) regions, too. Most of the Valabhi temples are dedicated to Devi, the Supreme Goddess.
As is well known, the earliest surviving example of Valabhi-Prasada is that of the Teli-ka-mandir (Ca.750 CE) of Gwalior, dedicated to Vishnu. And, though the temple stands on a Nagara base, its Valabhi Prasada resembles the Southern Gopura at the entrance of the temple complex. The later Jain temples of Western India (e.g., the fifteenth-century temple of Adinatha at Ranakpur) adopted similar designs, with slight modifications.
In Orissa, the same Valabhi mode is known as Khakhara (wagon roof or a bottle). The instances of such temples in Orissa are many. For example: the Baitala or Vaital Deul (8th-century) at Bhubaneswar; the Durga temple at Rameswar; the Varahi temple at Chaurasi, the Gopali and Savitri temple both in Bhuvanesvar and so on.
The Devi temple in Sibsagar (Assam); Terracotta temple at Vishnupur; and Siddheshvara Mahadeva temple in Barakar (Bengal) are also some of the many such Valabhi temples in Eastern India.
And, in the Southern tradition, a shrine of oblong plan with barrel vaulted roof or hut roof, topped by a series of stupi is named as Sala Vimana or Kosta or Sabha Vimana. It resembles a boat placed upside over a rectangular structure. A slightly modified Vimana of the Sala type where the hind part of the barrel-shaped roof is rounded, resembling the back of an elephant is called Gaja or Hasti prishta. This variety of Shikharas is also termed as Panjara or Nidha.
There are many instances of barrel vaulted Eka-tala Gaja-prishta Vimanas, in South India, principally at Aihole (Durga temple) and at Pattadakal.
And, there is the Bhima-ratha, one of the five Rathas or architectural models, at Mahabalipuram. Like the other four Rathas, the Bhima–ratha is also a stone-version or a model of a wooden structure. It is said to replicate the Chaiyta-model. The Bhima-ratha is an Ektala or single tiered oblong structure, with a barrel-vaulted roof (Sala Vimana) like a tilted boat, and ornate columns.
These were the forerunners of the architecture that flourished in the later centuries. For instance: Sri Kapoteswara Temple, Chejerla (AP) which dates back to third or fourth century A.D; Mahadeva swami Cave Temple, Malaiyadikurichi; Mukkoodal Appan Venkatesa Perumal Temple ; and so on . The Vimana atop the famed shrine in Srirangam (earlier to sixth century) has a curvy or a rotund shape at one end.
But, in the later periods, in the architectural designs of the temples, in North and East, the vaulted- roof Valabhi gave place to Prasadas having a large circular wheel shaped capstone block in the shape of a ribbed Amlaka ( myrobelan) . And in the South, the Vimanas rising in tiers (Tala), successively diminishing in circumference and ending in a point (stupi) over the cupola came into being, increasingly. This, over a period, gave rise to pyramidal or curvilinear form that we are familiar with.
[Before we move on to Vimanas of the South, lets briefly talk about the symbolism of the vaulted- roof Valabhi that you mentioned, as also of the Vimanas. At the outset, let me mention, there are countless symbolisms associated with the Vimana and the temple.
The temple, ideally, is regarded as an image (Bimba) of the Universe. It appears as though the inverted bowl of space under the wide Valabhi Prasada was imagined to be the vault of heaven, the starry region alive with the presence of dynamic light-deities (Adityas) and celestial beings such as the sun and moon, stars and such other sky gods.
The insides of the earlier vaulted roofs were, thus, imagined to be Akasha. The foundation of the temple is said to represent Earth (Prithvi); the walls of the sanctum, the Water (Apah); the tower over it, the Fire (Agni); the finale of the tower, the Air (Vayu); and, above it is the formless Space (Akasha). The sanctum is thus a constellation of the five elements that are basic to the Universe.
In the case of the Vimana, rising above the sanctum, it is said to symbolize the inverted tree with its roots above in the air; and, the branches spreading downwards (urdva mula; adah shakam).
The inverted tree, again, symbolizes the phenomenal world of matter and also the spirit having its roots the utmost subtle Absolute. The Man’s roots and energies are hidden in the abstract ‘thousand petalled lotus ‘(Sahasra), the invisible point just above the head, outside of the physical frame. That is his essence.
The Yoga texts speak of different psychic centres in the body, pictured as lotuses with their petals bent downward. The Yogi attempts to activate the vital currents within him to give the petals an upward stand.
While the Stupi, the point at the apex of the Vimana is considered as the root, the main mass of the Vimana represents the spreading branches.
Starting from the pointed copula, the Vimana is sculptured as an inverted lotus, with its petals spreading out and drooping down (Kumuda-vari). The Lotus is a symbol of life and consciousness.
The petals of the lotus turn up when the sun shines on it. The divine grace is the sun (Aditya). That analogy is carried into the temple concept also.
The pointed finial of the Vimana symbolizes the dual act of gathering the essence from the from-less cosmos and letting it flown into the mass of the main tower. That essence descends into the icon placed at the centre of the sanctum, from where the divine grace flows into the Man. His effort is the ascent towards the spirit.
The shrine, thus, demonstrates the culmination of the human and the divine energies. The matter moves up evolving into higher state of consciousness; and, the grace, blessings flow down. ]
In the south, the earlier temples had taller Vimanas (say, as in Brihadisvara of Tanjore-58 meters; Gangaikonda-chola-puram – 48 meters). But the in the temples of later centuries, the Vimana tended to grow comparatively shorter. Over a period, the Vimanas assumed pyramidal or curvilinear form that we are familiar with. But the Gopura at the entrance (dvara) grew increasingly ornate, complicated, huge and monumental in size.
Thus, the Vimanas over the sanctum grew shorter or modest; and , in the process , lost their wide vaulted- roof- the Valabhi. In contrast to that, by about the twelfth century, the Gopura (gate-house) at the entrance grew amazingly massive, towering in pyramidal structures, as tall as up to sixteen stories, elaborately adorned and covered with brightly coloured plethora of sculpture of and guardian deities; and, capped at the top by an apsidal, eight-sided, or oblong, barrel vault shaped Sala (roof) pinnacle by a series of Stupi, the temple Kalashas.
Thus, the ‘Barrel-vault’, the Valabhi, did not entirely disappear. It transformed, moved up and sat on the top of a magnificent Gopura.]
While the temple complex is designed as a Mandala with the sanctum at its heart (Brahma –sthana); the sanctum along with the Vimana atop is itself regarded a Mandala. The image is located in the mid-point of the sanctum which is designed as a square; that is, where its diagonals intersect each other. This point is elevated, in a three dimensional projection, and rendered as the sthupi or the central point of the Vimana. The Kalasha is installed at this point.
In order to appreciate the Mandala configuration of the Vimana, one could take its top-elevation; that is, take an aerial view from directly above the Vimana. The entire structure of the Vimana resting on a square base, projecting into the air in successive diminishing tiers and concluding into a needle (bindu) is a Mandala resembling the Chakra. The sanctum with its Vimana, thus, represents the worshipful (archa) form of the divinity. The different deities associated with the mula-bhera are aligned along the four sides of the Vimana (Mandala), according to their importance, starting with the grosser ones on the outer periphery of the Vimana (outermost layer of the Mandala).The sthupi , the central point , the needle of the Vimana being the bindu of its Mandala configuration.
Ananda Nilaya Vimana is of Vesara architecture; and the Vimana is in Dvitala, meaning that structure above the Kapotha slab has risen in two stages; and on the top of the second tala is the Vimana, per se, in a rotund shape. Its total height from its base to the top of the Kalasha is 32’08” .Both the Talas are square in shape. The lower Tala depicts, in its four sides, the icons of the Vaikhanasa School: Purusha, Sathya, Achtuta and Aniruddha. The upper tala depicts about fifty-nine images including those of Hanuman, Garuda and several Rishis. The most famous Sri Vimana Venkateshwara is on the North face of the upper Tala.
The Kanta (neck), at the end of each Tala , is circular in shape. The rotund Vimana, atop the second Tala and enclosed by the circular Kanta (neck) is adorned with lotus motif.
In the later stages of South Indian architecture, the Vimanas grew more complex and muti-sided. The six-sided and eight-sided Vimans became quite common. It is said there are a few temples with their Vimana having as many as sixteen sides. The temple in Madurai is reputed to have as many as 65 sides!.
The basic shape of the Vimana is pyramid like. The imagery associated with its shape is that of an inverted tree with its branches spreading downwards. This has reference to the ancient imagery of the universe.
Sri Vaikuntha Perumal temple at Kanchipuram i (mid-8th century) has a unique and an interesting arrangement of three sanctums, one above the other, encased within the body of the superstructure.
Some of the best examples of the Vimans come from the massive temples erected by the Chola kings. The Brhadisvara or Rajarajesvara, temple, built at the Chola capital of Thanjavur is a fine example of the grandeur and majesty of the temples of this period. The temple construction begun around 1003 and was completed about seven years later. The main walls are raised in two stories, above which the superstructure rises to a height of 190 feet. It has 16 stories, each of which consists of a wall with a parapet of shrines carved in relatively low relief.
The crowning glory of the Brihadeeswara temple is the staggering cupola of the Vimana comprising two huge, sculpted, granite blocks weighing 40 tonnes each. The engineering skills and the expertise that made the mounting of these huge stones atop a structure that is nearly 200 feet high must have been way ahead of their times. Legend says that the stone was brought from Sarapallam (scaffold-hollow), four miles north-east of the city, using a specially designed ramp.
Vertically the vimana is organized by pilasters that break up the facade of the base, creating spaces for niches and windows in between. However, the temple departs from southern Indian convention in one significant way: the vimana is taller than the gopura (gateways) of the temple’s walls. Normally the gopuras are taller than the vimana.
The Vimana rises to a height of abut 216 feet, a tower of fourteen storeys. The basement of the structure which supports the tower is 96 feet square. The gilded Kalasa over it is 12.5 feet high. It is believed the sikhara and the stupi does not throw on the ground. The dome rests on a single block of granite, 25.5 feet square.
The architects and engineers attribute the stability of the massive temple to its pyramidal structure. They say it is more robust than its counterparts from north India with their complex curvilinear profiles.
Another fine example of the Chola temple architecture is the temple in Gangaikondacholapuram, which succeeded Tanjore as the capital of the Chola Empire. The Vimanam of this temple, in contrast to the rigid pyramidal structure of the Brihadeeswara temple, rises up in a concave manner with fluid lines. (For more information, please visit http://www.thanjavur.com/bragathe.htm)
The tallest Sikhara of a Hindu temple, it is said, is under construction at Mayapur in west Bengal. The temple when completed (say by 2014) will be 35 stories tall and almost as high as the great pyramid in Giza.
The crowning glory of the Vimana is its Kalasha, the vase. Some say it is reminiscent of the life giving Amrita-kalasha that emerged out of the milky ocean when it was churned. Kalash symbolizes blessings and well-being.
In the development of the Indian temple this feature appears to have arrived rather late. The early kalashas were perhaps made of stone blocks, round or ribbed. They might have been in the nature of cap-stones that structurally held the tall and tapering vimana, as in the North Indian temples. The copper and brass vases seem to have been the later innovations; and the agama books favor use of copper vases.
Kalasha has several members, such as “the foot-hold” (padagrahi) which is its foothold, the egg (anda) or the belly, the neck (griva), the lotus-band (padma-pashika), the rim (karnika) and the bud (bija-pura). The shape of this unit could resemble the bell, the flower bud, the lump, coconut, alter or pot. all these shapes symbolize the potential and the possibilities of life.
Interestingly, the Kalasa placed on top of the Vimana, it is said, is not imbedded into the structure by packing it with mortar or cement. It is, in fact, placed in position by a hollow rod that juts out of the centre of the tower and runs through the vase, the Kalasha. It is through this tube that the lanchana‘tokens’ (cereals and precious stones) are introduced. One of the explanations is the hallow tube represents the central channel of energy the Shushumna that connects to the Sahasra, the seat of consciousness, through the Brahma randra. This is completes the analogy of the temple to the purusha ot to the human form.
I have heard of inserting a “golden person “inside the Kalasha; but have not come across much discussion about it. It appears, the Kalasha, the pot, has an important hidden component, the golden person (suvarna purusha) who is regarded the personification of the temple-spirit. The belly of the Kalasha contains a tiny cot made of silver, copper or sandal; over which is laid a soft feather mattress. A tiny golden icon holding a lotus flower and a triple flag rests on that cot. Four tiny pots made of gold, silver or copper containing consecrated water are placed on the four sides of the cot. There is also a tiny pot of ghee near the cot. This entire procedure of introducing the “golden-person “into the Kalasha is known as hrudaya-varnaka-vidhi.
Another kalasha is deposited under the sanctum. And, like the one on top of the Vimana, this Kalasha also contain tokens of growth and prosperity, viz., cereals with subtle seeds (such as millet) and nine types of precious stones. The womb, the icon and the sthupi the finial run along the same axis.
There are a few other symbolisms associated with the Kalasha. The structure of the Kalasha resembles an inverted tree; and is almost a replica of the “womb” buried under the sanctum. Both are described as roots. The one at the bottom urges upward growth; while the one atop is the root of the inverted tree.
[ Before we get into specifics, lets look at the general features of Mantapa, an important architectural component of the South Indian temples.
A Mantapa, in its simplest form, is a free-standing four-pillared structure. It could either have a flat roof, with stone slabs laid horizontally, spanning from one supporting beam or wall to another; or, it could also have a structured ceiling, with an arrangement of one stone course over laying the other to produce designs of diminishing squares.
A Mantapa could be extended to any size or pattern with increasing number of pillars (say, 4, 16, 32, 64 and even up to 1000 as in the Srirangam Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple). Its member-stone may be connected to each other through a tenon-mortise joint, with or without lime mortar at the interface. In South Indian architecture, the stone members merely rest against each other with no interlocking mechanism. The roof of the Mantapa is made up of stone slabs spanning between beams, packed with lime mortar. Typical pillar spacing varies from 2 m to 3 m, with the height of each pillar being 3 m and 7 m in height.
Important temples usually have a number of Mantapas, each intended for a different function, such as conduct of rituals, performing arts, resting spot for devotees, etc. The types of the Mantapas could be:
: – Antarala / Ardha-mantapa – narrow pavilion between the temple exterior and the Garba–griha (sanctum) or connecting to other Mantapa within the main temple; ;
: – Navaranga / Nritta-mantapa / Ranga- Mantapa – spacious hall for singing and dancing etc;
: – Sanapana mantapa – hall for ceremonial purpose;
: – Kalyana Mantapa – dedicated to ritual marriage celebration of the presiding Lord with the Goddess;
: – Maha Mantapa / Asthana Mantapa – a big assembly hall for conducting religious discourses;
: – Nandi Mantapa– in Shiva temples for housing the image of the sacred Bull , the Nandi; And,
: – Mukha- mantapa – opening pavilion, a porch-like structure.]
The Pillars of the Mantapa of the Hoysala and Vijayanagar period tended to be highly ornate.]
In the temples of South India, the Garbagriha , generally, is followed by four types of Mantapas or pavilions. Mantapa means any roofed, open or enclosed pavilion (hall) resting on pillars, standing independently or connected to the sanctum of the temple.
The first of the Mantapas is the Antarala (sometimes called sukanas or sukanasi or Ardha-mantapa), a narrow pavilion connecting the Garbha-griha and the Navaranga. It usually will have niches in the north and south walls, occupied by a deity, with attendant divinities in secondary niches flanking the central niche. In a few temples the Antarala serves as the navaranga too.
The next Mantapa is Nrtta-mantapa or Navaranga, which is a big hall used for congregational services like singing, dancing, recitation of mythological texts, religious discourses and so on. The Navaranga will usually be on a raised platform and will have nine anganas (openings) and sixteen pillars.
This is followed by Sanapana mantapa, a hall used for ceremonial purposes. This leads to Mukha mantapa the opening pavilion.
Bali_pitha is an indispensable associate of the sanctum. It is an altar or the dispensing seat of the deity. It is a small but stylized stone seat that is installed directly in front of the icon and very near the sanctum. It is the seat on which offerings to deity are placed.
The chief (pradhana) Bali_pitha will be directly in front of the icon and often near the Dwajasthamba. It is usually made of hard granite and will be highly stylized, ornate, and majestic, with several limbs such as the base, cornices, wall-surface with door-lets or niches. Most texts suggest that the size of the altar should be 1/8, 1/7 or 1/5 of the dimension of the sanctum. Depending on their sizes and shapes, the altars are classified into several types such as Sri-bandha, Sri-bhadra, and Sarvato-bhadra and so on.
The Pradhana Bali-pitha will often be covered metal sheets .The more affluent temples as the one at Tirumala, give the Pradana Bali-pitha a metal covering with gold polish.
It is on this Bali_pitha that the food offerings, in the form of vermilion colored rice, and rice mixed with pepper are offered to the attendant divinities and the guardian goblins. These offerings are placed only after the main food offering to the presiding deity, in the sanctum, is completed.
While the main (pradhana), Bali_pitha will be directly in front of the icon; there will be several such other altars, located in the prakara, positioned in eight directions, around the sanctum. Their positions are determined in accordance with the prescriptions of the canonical texts that the temple follows.
Some suggest that the yupastambha (Sacrificial post) and the balipitha (sacrificial pedestal) of the Vedic age have metamorphosed into the dhvajastambha and the balipitha of the present day.
A dipastambha (lamp post) is situated either in front of the balipitha. The top of this post has a bud shaped chamber to receive the lamp
The dhvajastambha (flag post) in front of either the garbhagrha or antarala or the mantapa is another common feature of the temples. It should be perpendicular and directly opposite to the idol. It will be located very close to the Bali pitha; and the Bali pitha will be between the sanctum and the Dwajasthamba. It represents the flag post of the ‘King of kings’. The lanchana (insignia) made of copper or brass fixed like a flag to the top of the post varies according to the deity in the temple. The figure on the lanchana is invariably that of the vahana (carrier vehicle) of the deity. For instance, in Siva temples it contains Nandi. In Devi temples it is the lion that finds its place. In Vishnu temples the Garuda gets that honour.
The practice of erecting tall columns of fifty to eighty feet in height appears to be of recent origin. In the early stages, these flag posts were perhaps meant to indicate the position of the sanctum. Even today, the temples in North India fly long flowing banners and flags from the tower atop the sanctum.
The old texts favoured wooden or bamboo poles, with odd- number of joints, up to twenty-five. And, the flag-staff was not intended to be a permanent structure. The ceremony of flying the temple flag marked the inauguration of a major Uthsava at the temple. The flag also served as signal to indicate to the people of the town and the visitors that a Uthsava is on. The old customs required that no major domestic auspicious functions be held in the village while the temple flag is hoisted. This was perhaps to suggest that the celebrations at the temple took precedence over those at homes; and that everyone in the village should participate in the temple celebrations.
In course of time the permanently fixed flag-staff became a common feature in temple architecture. The older temples had flagstaffs made of stone. That gave place to the practice of erecting a stone pillar or wooden pole covered with copper, brass, or even silver plates gilded and installed on a raised stone platform, often square in shape,located in front of the sanctum. The top portion of this tall mast will have three horizontal perches (symbolizing righteousness, reputation and prosperity, or the three divinities Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Siva the destroyer), pointing towards the sanctum.
The pedestal or the seat of the flag-staff as well as the mast with perches became highly stylized in South India during the days of the Chola and Pallaya rulers, for the flag-staff was uniquely a royal insignia.
In the case of major temples, the entire temple area is surrounded by a series of conectric protective walls, the prakaras. The lofty towers erected over the entrance gateways of these walls are the Gopuras. These rectangular, pyramidal towers, often fifty metres high dominate the city skyline. And, adorned with intricate and brightly painted sculptures of gods, demons, humans, and animals, have become the hallmark of southern architecture; though, strictly, they are not the essential aspect of a temple layout or its structure. The Gopura emphasizes the importance of the temple within the city.
The Gopura is a unique feature of the Dravidian architecture. It had its origin and development in South; and the other schools of architecture do not have equivalent features.
It is said in the older texts that the concept of Gopura originated from extensive cow-stalls (Go-griha) which was virtually a gate-house at the doorways of a huge building , monastery , temple or even a town (Pura-dvaram tu gopuram I Dvara-matre tu gopuram I ). The Gopura, therefore, technically, denoted gate-houses of palaces, cities and residential buildings of various descriptions; and that they did not necessarily belong to temples alone.
The advent of Gopura in Dravidian architecture was rather late. The practice of erecting a Gopura at the entrance gateway to the temple seems to have come into being during the mid-12th century. And, with the decline of the mighty Cholas and with the increasing threat from invading armies, the temple cities (prominently Madurai and Sri Rangam) found it expedient to erect a series of protective walls to safeguard and defend their temples, palaces and cities. The Gopuras constructed on the gateways leading from one enclosure to the next, initially, served as watch and defensive towers.
By about the tenth century, the temples in South India, generally, came to be surrounded (perhaps as a defence-measure) with high walls (Prakara) with one main and three subsidiary gates, opening in the cardinal directions. A Gopura (high tower,) adorned these gateways. And in due course the Gopura became a characteristic feature of South Indian temple architecture. Many major temples have a series of enclosures (Prakara). For instance; the Sri Rangam temple has seven enclosing walls, enveloping the whole township; and, the entrance to each Prakara is adorned with a Gopura.
The later Agama texts mention that each enclosure must have door-ways in all four directions. But, very few temples followed this rule, perhaps with the exception of the great temple at Tiruvannamalai.
In most cases, the doorways lead from one courtyard to the next, finally leading to the sanctum. And, it became customary, since 10th century, to erect towers (Gopuras) over such gateways, though a Gopura was not an essential feature of the temple per se. It is needless to mention that the Prakara contributes to the security and beauty of the temple.
The whole temple is surrounded by a high wall (prakara) with one main and three subsidiary gates, opening in the cardinal directions. A Gopura (high tower,) adorns these gateways.
These were of course later developments; and in due course became characteristic features of South Indian temple architecture. It is said, the later Agama texts provide for as many as 32 prakaras, the concentric – enclosing walls. But, they recommend five to seven as advisable, in case more than one enclosure is needed. In many cases, the main area of the temple, plus the halls, tanks, and gardens are surrounded by a single wall (prakara) or enclosure. But many major temples do have a series of enclosures. As mentioned earlier the Sri Rangam temple has seven enclosing walls, enveloping the whole township.
With the growth and development of the temples, the structures and details of the Prakara-s and Gopura became increasingly elaborate and complicated. The main entrance, somehow, popularly came to be known as Raja-Gopura.
There is mention of Gopura-s with sixteen storey’s, divided into ten classes. These ten classes were made having in view the number of its architectural members designated as Shikara (cupola), Stupika (dome), Gala-kuta (side-tower or neck portion) and Kshudra-nasi (minor vestibules or nose). A Gopura is thus, technically, a Shiro-bagha (caput or head) having a Shikha (tuft or spire) resembling a Shala (arrow-head) . The Gopuara usually has a circular surrounding dome and is furnished with a side-tower, four small vestibules and eight large vestibules.
The fifteen kinds of Gopuras are mentioned having one to sixteen or seventeen storeys. But the details of only five storeys are given; the others being left to the discretion of the architects. These give the descriptions of the ornaments and moldings of each storey; the central or main hall as well as all other rooms, together with different parts such as pillars, entablatures, walls, roofs, floors, and windows, etc.
[ But, the traditional view according to ancient texts on Shilpa-shastra , the most important part of a temple, it’s very heart as it were, is the Garbhagrha or the sanctum sanctorum, the cave-like cube-shaped “womb room,” located within the Brahmasthana of the Vastu Purusha Mandala. Sometimes the Garbagriha with its Vimana alone is defined as temple per se. But, generally, its extended by an Ardh-Mandapa, a Mandapa or a large hall up to the Bali-pita.
All that is to suggest the Raja-Gopura is not an essential part of the temple; and its structure is left to the discretion of the architect.]
What started as a defensive structure rapidly developed into a prominent and an architectural extravaganza with great visual appeal. The Gopuras grew in size from the mid-12th century and came to be greatly emphasized, until the colossal ones rose to dominate the temple complex, surpassing the main sanctum .Some of them are extremely large and elaborately decorated with sculpture,; and quite dominating the architectural ensemble.
Among the finest examples are the Sundara Pandya Gopura (13th century) of the Jambukesvara temple at Tiruchchirappalli and the Gopuras of the great Siva temple at Chidambaram, built largely in the 12th–13th century.
The Gopuras of the Meenakshi temple at Madurai are of course the most magnificent array of temple towers.There are twelve impressive Gopuras soaring over the three tier Prakara walls. The outer four towers dominating the city landscape are truly huge in size and magnificence.
The nine -storied towers came up between 13-16th centuries during the reign of Madurai Nayaks. The edifice of the Gopuras measure 174 ft. from north to south, and 107 ft. in depth.The gateway is 21 ft. 9 in. wide; and the gatepost is 6o ft high, made of blocks of granite, carved with the most exquisite scroll patterns of elaborate foliage. The heights of the Gopuras range from 161 feet to 170 feet.
Chidambaram temple by Francis S Ward 1772
The Gopuras appear to have influenced revision in the temple design and layout. Such was the emphasis placed on the eminence of Gopuras that as time went by; the Southern temples came to be designed as a series of courtyards, as if to justify the Gopuras. The spaces around the shrine became hierarchical; the further the space was from the main shrine, the lesser was its eminence. The outermost ring had buildings of a more utilitarian or a secular nature – shops, dormitories, sheds, workshops etc., thus transforming the temple from a purely place of worship to the hub of a vibrant living city. A particularly interesting example of this is the Sri Ranganatha temple at Sri Rangam, which has seven enclosure walls and as many as twenty-one Gopuras, halls, other temples and township constructed over several centuries. The seventh, the outer most, enclosure is 3072 feet in length and 2521 feet in breadth; enclosing an area of about six hundred acres.
The grand Meenakshi temple in Madurai is another great illustration of this development which was initiated by the Pandya kings. It was during this period that the building of a temple became the nucleus of a town-planning exercise, which we discussed in the earlier parts of this article.
Though the evolution of the Dravidian temple architecture stalled briefly after the demise of the Pandyan Empire, the architectural expression scaled new heights during the reign of the Vijayanagara kings (15th and 16th centuries). Although the later temples were not huge in size, they often were of very fine workmanship. For instance, the Subrahmanya temple of the 17th century, built in the
Brhadisvara temple complex at Thanjavur, indicates the vitality of architectural traditions even at that late date.
The Raja-Gopuram of Sri Rangam temple, completed during the year 1987, is perhaps the tallest in South India. The Gopura with 13 stories is 243 feet high; and with twelve Kalashas adorning its peak.
In the meantime a 249 feet tall gopura, said to be the tallest gopura in Asia, has come up in the Shiva temple at Murudeshwar in the coastal district Uttara Kannada, in Karnataka. The twenty-one story high gopura measures 249 feet high and is taller than the 243 Raja Gopura at Sri Rangam and 239 feet tall gopura of Brihadeshwara. The gopura is fitted with elevator services and the temple plans to have museums and art galleries on all the 21 floors of the gopura.
A Gopura is generally constructed with a massive stone base and a superstructure of brick and pilaster. It is rectangular in plan and topped by a barrel-vault roof crowned with a row of finials. It differs from the Vimanam in that it need not necessarily be square-based. Above that rectangular base a pyramidal structure covered with brightly coloured plethora of sculpture is raised to a great height. A Gopura has to be towering and massive.
In the ancient times, the cities all over South India could be discerned from afar by the distinctive shape of their Gopuras dominating the skyline.
When viewed from top, the Gopura too resembles a Mandala; With the Goblins, Yalis, mythical animals and other beings located in the outer enclosure, as if supporting the weight of the mandala. The humans and the divine beings are in the inner enclosures. The peak of the Gopura, the Kalasha is at the centre of the Mandala
Symbolically, the Gopura and the entrance to the temple represent the feet of the deity. A devotes bows at the at the entrance, the feet of the Lord, as he steps into the temple and proceeds towards the sanctum, leaving behind the world of contradictions.
In the Sri Rangam temple the seven concentric prakara walls are said to represent the seven layers of matter-earth, water, fire, air, either, mind and intelligence-that envelop the consciousness of the living entities in the material world. The gopuras, or gateways through the prakaras, are symbolic of being liberated from the bondage of matter as one enters the temple and proceeds toward the central shrine.
CONTINUED in the next part->
A. Maps of Madurai and Sri Rangam
B.Other pictures from Internet.
C. Devalaya Vastu by Prof. SKR Rao
D. Vastu – Astrology and Architecture
E. Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple,
ALL PICTURE ARE FROM INTERNET