Temple Architecture – Devalaya Vastu – Part Nine (9 of 9)

10 Sep

Some norms adopted in the Shipla shastra

I. Determination of cardinal points (Dik nirnaya)

In Sanskrit, the root, ma, stands for that which gives existence to a thing, gives it a reality in our world; and demonstrates the relation between things. The term matir, for mother is derived from that root ma.There is a close relation in the Indian thought, between measurement (maa_na) and creation.Measurement separates and differentiates the elements of the world and provides them an identity or a recognizable standard form. Perhaps the first act of measurement in our universe was the breaking of the barrier between time and timelessness; and, it surely saved our existence from perpetual chaos.

Maana not merely measures the elements of space and time, but also governs the standard of ones conduct in life.

It is said that the ritual of measurement performed at the commencement of the temple building or of a Vedic altar is a re-enactment of creation of the world. The importance accorded to precise orientation and precise measurements in the construction of the temple reveals the symbolism involved in the act. The Sanskrit term, vimana, referred to the temple signifies a ‘well-measured’ or “well-proportioned” structure. The standard texts on temple architecture carry extensive discussions on the systems of proportional measurements and the techniques employed for determining true cardinal points.

The ancient text Shathapatha Brahmana repeatedly refers to the term prachee meaning the correct East-West line. Ascertaining the exact cardinal points and drawing the East-West line (prachee) was one of the primary concerns of the ancients. It was considered essential to align any auspicious structure say, yupa, the sacrificial altar; a mantapa, the pavilion; or a temple, along the prachee.

prācī hi devānāṃ digatho udañcamudīcī hi manuṣyāṇāṃ / dik amaṅgulibhireva yoyupyeranna kāṣṭhairdārubhirvā itaraṃ śavaṃ vyṛṣanti / nettathā karavāma yathetaraṃ śavamiti tasmādaṅgulibhireva yoyupyeranna/ kāṣṭhairyadā hotā sūktavākamāha –, Br. 1.8.3.[18]

The Sulaba Sutras of Bhodayana and Kathyayana too describe methods to determine true cardinal points.

The Yajna altar of the Vedic times, which was reconstructed each year around the time of vernal equinox, carried a rich symbolism. The altar built of five layers, represented the five seasons, five elements and five directions. The altar was surrounded by a wall of 360 bricks representing 360 days of the year. The fired bricks symbolized the elements of fire, earth, and water. The akasha   provided space and air by breathing upon the bricks of the altar and bringing them to life.

The Shilpa Shastra texts, such as Kashyapa Shilpa sutraVastu Vidya; Vishwakarma Vastu Shastra; Shilpa Rathnam; Ishana Shiva Guru Doctrine and Manasara etc   too discuss elaborately the instruments and the methods employed to determine true directions.

The instrument that the texts talk about in this regard is the Sanku Yantra or the gnomon. The gnomon is probably mankind’s oldest astronomical device.  The Sanku in its simplest form is a piece of sharp edged, smooth surfaced  pole made of wood or other material, firmly  erected perpendicular to a leveled ground rendered “as smooth as a mirror“, The method uses the movement of the Sun and the shadows it casts . And, it is often described as the Indian Circle Method.

The Sanku (gnomon) or its variations were used by all ancient civilizations for determining the east-west direction and also for knowing time. The Indian astronomers also used it for the determination of the solstices, the equinoxes and the geographical latitudes. For instance, Brahmagupta described a conical gnomon, the staff (yasti) of which represented the radius of the celestial sphere and was used for determination of the position of heavenly bodies, and also for terrestrial surveying. The Sawai Jai Singh’s Observatories at Ujjain includes a Sanku Yantra. (Please check: )

Sanku Yantra at Ujjain


For the limited purpose of our discussion, let us confine to the Sanku discussed in the texts of Shilpa Shastras and its use for determining the cardinal points. Each text of the Shilpa Shastra  recommends its own set of specifications for the height and girth of the gnomon; the material or the wood to be used for making the gnomon; the mode of embedding the gnomon into the earth; the type of ropes and the pegs to be used; and the measurements to be taken etc. Some of the salient recommendations of only four of Shilpa texts are briefly tabulated under.

Temple Architecture part 9 corrections2

Before drawing the plans and designs for a temple, the orientation of the site has to be established properly. The best way to go about it is to commence the exercise at a time when the sun is in the northern part of the sky, and on a day when there are no sunspots disfiguring its visible surface.

Before erecting the Sanku pole, it is essential that the ground is rendered absolutely clean, smooth and flat. The Mayamata and Manasara describe what is called as “water method” to ensure an even and a flat surfaced ground. The selected ground, in a square shape, is leveled and enclosed by a frame of bricks; and is filled with water. Then, with the aid of a measuring rod the height of water at different points are checked to ensure that the water column is of same height throughout. After it is dried out the uneven surfaces, wrinkles and blotches are corrected and evened out by suitably increasing/decreasing the level at selected points.

The Vastu Vidya Shilpa text suggests an improvement over the above method. After the leveling by water-method has been carried out, it recommends the use of a device called avanatha constructed out of three wodden strips of equal length (25 inches each).An equilateral triangle constructed out of the three wodden strips is placed at different points on the prepared ground. If the pendulum (plumb line) suspended from the apex of the triangle stayserect at all test-points; it means that the pegs stand at equal height. If not, suitale corrections have to be carried out, until it is required. Finally, after the ground has been dried, cleaned and fine-leveled, it again is checked by the avanatha.

The Sanku has to be erected in the mid region of the prepared ground. The ritual of erecting the Sanku is called Sanku_sthapana. The sanku is made of either ivory or the seasoned kadira (hard) wood which does not bend in the heat of the sun. Its surface should be smooth, perfectly circular and without irregularities; and pointed at one end.

The total length of the sanku would normally be 18 inches; of which six inches would be under the ground level. The effective height of sanku, above ground, would normally be 12 inches. The Manasara text however recommends 24 inches as the best (uttama) and 18 inches as next-best (madhyama) height of the Sanku. The girth of the Sanku at its bottom should range between two inches to six inches. Its top-end should be pointed; but it should not be too thin; else it might be difficult to mark its shadow on the ground, especially during the evenings. The diameters at the top and bottom should be proportionate to their length.

The Sanku should be fixed firmly and it should stand perpendicular to the ground. With the base of the Sanku as the centre, a circle should be described around the sanku, having a radius equal to twice the height of the Sanku. It is argued that the radius of that circle should not be too long; nor should it be too short. In either case of extreme, it would be difficult to obtain correct readings, especially during the evenings. Most texts recommend that the radius should be twice the height of the Sanku.

[There is some confusion here. Some texts say the diameter (vyasa) should be twice the height of the Sanku. While some other texts say that the radius (trigya) should be twice the height of the Sanku. But all texts say that the radius should not be less than the height of the Sanku. I have, in the interest of uniformity, adopted here the radius as equal to twice the height of the Sanku.]

The Shilpa texts such as Shilpa DipikaRaja_vallabha and Kunda _siddhi recommend a unique method to ensure that the Sanku is standing perpendicular to the ground. They suggest that in case the height of the Sanku is 12 inches, a circle should be described with the base of Sanku as the centre and with a radius of 16 inches. This in effect forms a right angled triangle , with the radius as the base of the triangle (16 inches), the Sanku as its height (12 inches); and the string(rajju) connecting the top of the Sanku to the point of intersection of the base of the triangle with the circle forming the hypotenuse. If the sanku stands absolutely perpendicular then the string (hypotenuse) should measure exactly 20 inches. This exercise was based on the theory of Brahmagupta (6thcentury AD) otherwise known as the Pythagorean Theorem.

Now, having completed the preliminary work — of leveling and smoothening the ground; erecting the sanku ; and drawing a circle , round its base, with a radius equal to twice  its height — you proceed with the task of  determining the cardinal points with the help of gnomon. It is recommended that the first reading is taken at sunrise during a month when the solar path is towards the north (uttarayana) during a bright fortnight when sunrise is clear, when there are no spots in the solar disc and when the sun is in the asterism of the appropriate fortnight.

As the sun rises in the morning, you keep observing the sanku’s shadow. When the shadow of the top of the Sanku just falls on the circle, mark the point. By evening, when the shadow of the sanku gets longer, you again mark the point where the shadow intersects the circle.Connect the two points with a straight line. This line points directly East-West. This East-West line is called prachee. A line perpendicular to the E-W line is the north-south direction.

In this method, as the sun rises in the east, the shadow points west. Then, as the day advances, the shadow first swings to the north and then to the east, as the sun travels to west.The problem with this method is that the shadows are shorter in the summer than in the winter, because the earth is tilted toward the sun in summer and away from the sun in the winter. Another issue is that the sun moves most rapidly at the equinoxes. And, therefore the points marked on the circle indicate   only approximately correct directions.

An improvement over this method is the drawing of circles with these East and West points as centres. The radius of the circles is the distance between those East and West points. The intersection of these circles creates a fish shaped figure. A line drawn between the points where the two circles intersect indicate the geographic North-South.



In Uttarayana Punyakala or Makara Sankranti, Sun in his entourage, after touching the southernmost tip of his path (23.5 degrees or Circle of Tropic of Capricorn – Makara Sankranti Vritta), he reverses his movement from travelling in southern direction and from that day onwards he starts travelling in the Northern direction for next six months, from Makara up to Mithuna signs, till he reaches northernmost tip of his path (23.5 degrees or Circle of Tropic of Cancer – Karkataka Sankranti Vritta). From that point, which termed as Dakshinayana Punya Kala, again he starts travelling in Southern direction, again for another six months, from Kataka up to Dhanu signs, till he reaches the circle of tropic of Capricorn. Utarayana can also be explained as the progress of the Sun to the north of equator – The Summer solstice. Dakshinayana is the progress of Sun to the south of the equator – The winter half of the year.

In a period of six months as the sun moves from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer his position shifts by 47 degrees. That is, the sun’s position shifts by about 8 degrees in each month. Accordingly, the sun shadow on the ground too shifts gradually during this period. Theoretically, the Indian circle method leads to the error up to 8′ in the time near spring and autumn equinox (March and September). If the East-West line (prachee) has to be fixed accurately, the readings taken earlier need to be fine-tuned. The Shiva Guru Doctrine suggests the following method in this regard.

The shadow points of the Sanku intersecting the circle drawn around it should be marked everyday both in the morning. Over a period of time these markings form a curvaceous line or an arc. Further, when the shadow of the Sanku is within the circle, three points have to be marked three circles should be drawn with these three points as the centre. The points of intersections of these circles should be marked. Let us name these points as A-a; and B-b. When the lines joining A-a  and B-b are joined and extended backwards they converge in the point N, as shown in the following diagram. A line drawn at 90 degrees to the line indicating North would be the East-West line.


As the sun rises and sets at shifting points on the horizon, the vertical gnomon casts its shadow in different directions on different days of the year, while the length of shadow also varies from day to day through the year.

The shadow of the sun will on any given day of the year follow a curved path from west towards east. From spring equinox to autumn equinox the path will curve towards south. From autumn equinox to spring equinox (yellow area above) the curving is northerly.

The amount by which the sun changes its declination during the day decreases as the sun moves away from equinox, and on the days of solstice the change is zero.

Shilpa Shastras caution that the points marked out on the ground based on the shadows cast by the sanku do not therefore indicate the true cardinal points. The readings need to be suitably corrected depending on the movement of the sun.

The texts suggest that the East- West line should be established with adjustments- by reduction- of the following numbers of digits for each ten day period of each month. There, again, is no uniformity in this regard. The corrections suggested by each text are different. Please see the following table for the month -wise corrections suggested by two major texts.

Temple Architecture part 9 corrections

After carrying out the corrections, you plot the readings and draw the lines and arcs. The final drawing will look as under.

The East-West line is named Brahma Sutra; The North-South line is named Yama Sutra; and, the Diagonal lines are named Karna Rekhas. The entire exercise is called Dik parchheda or Prachee sadhana, which is achieving the true cardinal points.

Guided by the stars

The practice of determining the directions, based on the position of stars is rather ancient. TheKathyayaneeya sulba sutra mentions that the true East can be determined with reference to the position of the pairs of stars: Chiita and Swathi;Shravana  and Prathi  shravana;Krutthika and Prathi krutthika; and Pushya and Punarvasu , when they are 86 inches above the horizon. The text however does not detail the method to be employed. There is no description, either, of Prathi Shravana and Prathi Krutthika stars.

The Shilpa texts –Kathyayaneeya sulba sutra, Raja Vallabha and Shilpa deepika– mention that the line connecting the polar star (dhruva) and the two stars of the Ursa Major (Saptha Rishi mandala) , when extended would point to North.


A few points need to be mentioned by way of clarification.

The exercises described were undertaken to find the geographic North Pole which is the pole about which the Earth seems to spin. They were not talking about the Magnetic North Pole.

The Magnetic North Pole is currently wandering at a few kilometers per year through the far north of Canada, while the Geographic North Pole is in the Arctic..

The methods which we discussed so far were being followed by the Shiplis until about the 17thcentury .Thereafter, with the introduction of magnetic compasses, the ancient methods were given up. Now everyone goes by the compass to ascertain the directions. Yet, many feel that determining the geographic north, as the ancient did, is a superior method.

Incidentally, the diagram, based on the Sanku method, for positioning the yupa, the sacrificial altar, looked as shown below.


II. Four Types of Architects

The ancients mention four types of architects – the Sthapati, Sutragrahin, Vardhaki and Takshaka.

The Sthapati is the chief architect or master builderempowered to plan, design and direct the construction from the beginning to the end. He is well-qualified in Shastras and the Vedas. He is pictured as a cultured, decent man free from vices. He has the ability to direct his team. 

The Sutragrahin is the supervisor and is said to be normally the Sthapati’s son or disciple. He is also well-qualified in the Vedas and Sastras. He is an expert draftsman or Rekhagna, who directs the rest of the work force. His job is to see that all building parts are aligned correctly. He should be able to give instructions to the other craftsmen.

The Vardhaki is the painter and has made a special study of it. He is also well-versed in the Vedas. Vardhaki joins together the building elements shaped by Taksaka.

Taksaka is the craftsman who cuts and shapes the building elements. The Takshaka is also the master carpenter who is responsible for all the intricate wood work including doors, windows, pillars etc.

These four classes are considered the representations of Viswakarma, Maya, Manu and Twasta, the sons of Brahma, the creator.

Acharya is the learned preceptor who gives the yajamana (one who sponsors the temple project) the necessary advice and guidance in selecting the proper site, the sthapati and other silpins. The sthapati, yajamana and the ahcarya form the trinity of vastusthapana (construction); they are compared to Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra .


[ Before we move on to the specific types of Building-materials, let me digress for a brief while. 

When you look back over the long periods of temple-construction-history, you will find that the Indian temples were built with all types of materials depending upon the availability from region to region , during each period. The materials, necesserily, play an important role in the overall appearance, construction techniques, durability  and the monumental character of these temple structures.

The earliest structures were fashioned from less durable materials such as timber, bamboo, brick and mortar.  They have mostly disappeared or are detectable only by the most fragmentary remains. 

The most distinctive   feature of the Indian temple-architecture of the period later than the Third Century, is the stone. The highly evolved techniques of excavating and cutting blocks of stone constitute one of the major technical achievements associated with the history of the Indian temples.

The construction of rock cut sanctuaries; and the later temples, with use of stones like granite, marble, soap-stone, sandstone and locally available stones such as marble, mark a very significant phase in the development of Temple-architecture.  The stones were used with most intricate and ornate carvings and sculptors throughout India.

However, in regard to the details of the design, many of the later stone temples were modelled on wood and bamboo architecture of the past. This is apparent from the carvings, roof forms and window shapes.  This usage of timber and bamboo; or designs imitating such material-patterns, govern the form of temples mostly in the Himalayan valleys; and, in the regions of Kerala and Bengal.

Thus, the distinctive architectural styles of Indian temples developed in their own manner, broadly, due to the geographical, climatic, cultural, historical and regional differences between the Northern plains  and  the Southern peninsula  of India. 

However, principally, the stone is considered as the most dependable and enduring building material, for all kinds of temple structures. Even the images of the deities are, generally, carved out of stone. But, in rare cases (as in Sri Jagannath temple at Puri or at Sri Marikamba temple in Sirsi, Karnataka) the principal idol Dhruva-bhera is made of wood.

The temple groups at Aihole and Pattadakal in North Karnataka date back to about 5th century; and, seem to represent the early attempts to experiment with several styles; and, to evolve an acceptable and a standard regional format. Here, temples of the Northern and the Southern styles, carved out of stone, are found next to each other. 

Besides, Badami, the capital of the Early Chalukyas, who ruled much of Karnataka in the 6th to 8th centuries, is known for its ancient cave temples carved out of the sandstone hills above it.

The rock cut structures developed during the 7th -9th century under the rule of Pallavas, led the way of Southern style of temple architecture.  The rock-cut temple-models (of the Ratha type) and the structural temples like those at the shore temple at Mahabalipuram; and the Kailasanatha and Vaikuntha Perumal temples in Kanchipuram (700-800 A.D.) are the best representations of the Pallava style.

During the Pandyas’ rule, the South Indian temples were added with the lofty gateways Gopurams, at the entrance, with the basic temple composition. The Gopurams made the temple visually attractive and also provided the temples with an enclosure.  The Gopurams evolved from a rectangular base with a pyramid crowned with a barrel-vaulted (Valabhi) form.

 In the 11th century the Chola rulers built one of the tallest temples of that time the Brihadeshvara temple, Thanjavur with a height of 60 Mts.

 In the later period, the temples extended; and, became more intricate.

The Hoysalas (1100-1300A.D.), who ruled the Kannada country, improved on the Chalukyan style, by building extremely ornate, finely chiseled, intricately sculptured temples mounted on star shaped pedestals. The Hoysala temples are noted for the delicately carved sculptures in the walls, depressed ceilings, lathe-turned pillars in a variety of fanciful shapes; and fully sculptured vimanas. The exterior is almost totally covered with sculpture, the walls decorated with several bands of ornamental motifs and a narrative relief.


From the early decades of the Twentieth Century, the modern materials such as steel, reinforced concreate, cement, bricks, plasters, mortar, Glass, fiber-glass etc., have come into extensive use. However, attempts are made to adhere to the traditional temple-formats, layouts and designs.


Thus, the building-materials, in the temple construction, have varied over the times. It could be taken as the idiom of the times we live in. It is context sensitive; differing according to the distinctive geographical, regional and cultural variations. And, it is also governed by what is considered as the most efficient, feasible and effective engineering factors – such as: durability, resistance to climatic changes, earthquakes ; as also its being amenable to the current work-practices.]

Varanasi 3

III .Building Materials used in temple architecture

The building materials that are prominently used in temple construction are the stone, the bricks and the wood (apart from earth which we discussed separately in the earlier part of this series). The Shilpa texts describe in detail the nature of these materials and the criteria for their selection, for various purposes. Let us take a quick look at these three materials.



The stones are the major ingredients in temple construction. One cannot think of a temple constructed without using stones. It is therefore natural that the Shilpa texts discuss the stones quite elaborately.

Porch of Parvati's Temple at Chillambram - 1847

The following, in brief, is the summarized observations and recommendations of some shilpa texts.

The stones collected from open source such as mountain or hill are stronger and more durable as compared to those dug out of earth. Similarly, the stones or boulders dug out from the coastal areas are considered weak, as they could be eroded by the chemicals and the salt content of the sea. They are not considered fit to bear heavy loads. The reason for preferring the stones from hills or mountains could be that they are well seasoned by constant exposure to the vagaries of weather; and are unaffected by salts and other chemicals.

Srirangam 1840 James Fergusson

Srirangam 1840 by James Ferguson

Stone should be free from lines, patches, blotches, blots and cracks or other faults. The white lines or patches in a black or other coloured stone are acceptable. But, black lines or black patches in white or other coloured stones are not acceptable at all. The explanation given is, the white lines, the patches of quartz, strengthen the rock structure; while black lines of baser materials weaken the stones. The traces of chlorite or olivine cause green or black patches and weaken the stones; therefore, such stones are not recommended for temple construction. The Vishnu Darmottara Purana talks in great detail about the faults in the rocks and the methods to test the rocks.

Udayagiri Caves of Odisha

Udayagiri Caves of Odisha

Stones such as marble, steatite, khondalite, sandstone, basalt etc are not fit for carving a diety. They are not recommended in load bearing areas, either. They could be used in other areas, if needed.



As regards their colour, the stones are of four basic colours: white, red, yellow and black. Some of them could be tainted with traces of other colours. Stones of white colour are regarded the best for temple construction. The next in the order of preference are the red, yellow and black coloured stones. . It is preferable to use uniformly the stones of the same colour.

The Kashyapa Shilpa mentions seven categories of white stones: white as milk, as the conch, as jasmine, as moon, as pearl, as alum and as the kundapushpa (a variety of jasmine).The white stones with traces of blue or slight brown or bee-like black lines are considered good for temple construction.

The red coloured stones are of five types: Red as red hibiscus flower (japa kusuma), as kinsuka(bright red), as the indragopa insect, as parijatha flower, as the blood of a rabbit, and as pomegranate flower.

The yellow colour of the stones is of two types: yellow as the Banduka flower, and as koranti flower.

The black of the stones comes in ten colours: black as the pupil of the eye, as mascara, blue lotus, as bee, as the neck of peacock, as kapila cow, as urd gram etc.

Cambodia Royal palace

Cambodia Royal Palace


The stones are also classified according to their “age”-: child (baala), youthful (taruna) and the old (vriddha).

If a stone when tapped gives out a faint sound or the sound is as that of mud, or of half burnt brick; such stones are classified as baala– the child; to mean raw or immature. The baala stones are not fit for making idols or for bearing loads.

If a stone when struck produces the sound resembling the ring of a bell and if such sound resonates for quite a while, such a stone is classified as taruna youthful. Such stone should have a cold touch and a soft feel. If the stones emanate fragrance it is much better. The taruna– the youthful – stones are fit for carving images and for crucial areas of temple.

An old, the vriddha, stone does not give out any sound and has a dry appearance.It gives the touch and feel of a frog or a fish. It might have many holes or might be in a state of decay. Such old and spent stones are not fit for making images or for load bearing areas.


Stones are also classified according to their “gender”. Those stones which give bronze sound at the hammer   weight are called “male’. Those which give brass sound are called “female’. And, those that do not produce any sound are called genderless (neuter).

A hollow stone may be taken as pregnant and hence should be discarded. When smeared with a paste, overnight, it changes its colour. Shilpa Ratna describes dozens of such pates Some stones are said to carry poisonous effects. These stones too should be tested by application a paste; and should not be used.

It is suggested that male stones are used for carving male deities; female stones are used for carving female deities; and the neuter stones are used for other constructions. Further it is said, the male stones could also be used for construction of sikhara (tower) and stone walls; the female stone could be used for structures above foundations; and the neuter stones could be used for foundations.

Male stones are big, round or polygonal, are of a singular shape and uniform colour; they are weighty and give out sparks when hammered. When dug out, its apex will be towards north. If the apex is inclined towards north or west facing, the rock is considered inauspicious. Highly compact rocks like dolerites, bronzites, proxenites and peridoties as well as lamprophyres are regarded male rocks.

A female rock is of medium weight , square or octagonal, thick at root and thin near the apex, cold to touch, soft to feel and on being struck gives out sonorous notes like that of a mridanga (drum).

A neuter gender stone is one that doesn’t give any sound on being struck and narrow towards its bottom and triangular on its upper side ; and such stones may be used only for the foundation.


  seventh century temple at Aihole, Karnataka

[ About Chisels and carving – Khanitra-pancakam srestharn -excerpts from Pride of India: A Glimpse Into India’s Scientific Heritage

Five types of chisels are good. The different varieties are lanji (biting), langali (plough like), grdhradanti (like vulture teeth), sucimukha (needle tipped) and vajra (diamond like). All are made up of steel and each one of two types is narrow and broad.

Men beat the chisel on the long mallet, with the short mallet people use for breaking stone. All instruments are sharpened, dipped in cow’s urine and then smeared with ingida (asafetida) oil and whetted in leather.

Bhedastu lafiji, Iangali, grdhradantI, suclmukha, vajra iti, sarve ayasa dvividha bhavanti ksinah prasastasca, musaladharubhe musaladandena khanitrarh ghatayanti prayojayanti silabhedane tat I Sarvastrani tiksnani, gavarnbuputitani I Tatah ingidalepitani carrnasanitani ca I

Sculptors apply a softening mixture. Shell-solvent, Kustharasa, sea salt and the powder of the bark of the ukatsa tree are thus the four fluids for the softening of stones. With this plan, after immersing the chisel for 10 days, sculptors use the chisel in sacrificial rites and also dig with ease.

Silpakarah pralepayanti dravakarasam II Sankhadravakustharasa -saindhavakharpara- ukatsavalkalacurnena sahitarh siladravanartha- mevam rasacatustayarn anena mantrena dasaharnardanante vaitane khanitrarh prayojayanti khananarnacaranti bhadrena sthapakah II]


[ The following are some prescriptions on preparation and mixing of the mortar

There should be 5 parts extract of beans, nine and eight parts molasses (thick treacle that drains from sugar ) and curd or coagulated by acid (respectively). Clarified butter (ghee) 2 parts, 7 parts milk, hide (extract) 6 parts.

Pancamsarn masayusarn syannavastarnsarn gudarn dadhi II Ajyam dvyarnsam tu saptarnsarn kslram carma sadarnsakam 

There should be 10 parts of myrobalan*. Coconut two parts, honey one part. Three parts plantain are desired.

Traiphalarh dasabhagarn syannalikerarn yugarnsakam II Ksaudrame karnsakam  tryarnsarn kadallphalamisyate

In the powder (thus) obtained, 1/10th lime should be added. Larger quantity than others of molasses, curd and milk is best

Labdhe curne dasarnse tu yufijItavyarh subandhanam II Sarvesamadhikarn sastarn gudarn ca dadhi dugdhakam

In two parts of lime, (add) karaka, honey, clarified butter, plantain, coconut and bean. When dry (add) water, milk, curd, myrobalan along with molasses gradually.

Curna dvyarnsam karalarn madhu ghrta kadall narikeram ca masarn Suktestoyarn ca dugdharh dadhigudasahitarn traiphalarh tat krarnena I

Now in the powder (thus) obtained, grow one in hundred parts. It (the compound) is said by leading thinkers who know the technology as rocklike.

Labdhe curne satarnsesmsakamidamadhuna canuvrddhirn prakuryadetad bandharh drsatsadrsamiti kathitarh     tantravidbhirrnunindraih II]

Pillars pillars rajasthan

Coming back to the issue of acoustics in the stones, the Shilpis   displayed a remarkable skill and ingenuity in crafting “musical “pillars, which when struck at right points produce sonorous octaves. One can see such pillars in the Vijaya Vittala temple at Hampi; Meenakshi temple at Madurai; and at Sundarehwara temple at Trichendur. There might be such “musical” in other temples too. Usually such pillars are of granite and charnockites; and of different girths and volumes to produce the right octaves.

[ As regards the assembling Pillars Starnbha-sandhayah ,following are a few excerpts from Pride of India: A Glimpse Into India’s Scientific Heritage

Assembly of Pillars: It is said that there are five types of assemblies suitable for pillars; these are Mesayuddha, Trikhanda, Saubhadra, Ardhapani and Mahavrtta.

Mesayuddharn trikhandam ca saubhadram cardhapanikam I Mahavrttarn ca paficaite stambhanam sandhayah smrtah II

When there is a central tenon* (projection at the end of a piece of wood etc., with a width) a third (that of the pillar) and a length twice or two and half time its width, this is Mesayuddha (mortise – A hole to receive a tenon ,and tenon) assembly

Svavyasakarnamadhyardhadvigunam va tadayatam I Tryarnsaikam madhyarnasikham mesayuddharn prakIrtitam II)

In the Trikhanda assembly, there are three mortises and three tenons arranged as a Swastika, The assembly called Saubhadra comprises four peripheral tenons.

Svastyakararn trikhandarn syat satriciili trikhandakarn I Parsve catuhsikhopetam saubhadramiti sarnjfiitam II

An assembly is called Ardhapani (scarf joint) when half the lower and half the upper pieces are cut to size according to the thickness chosen (for the pillar)

Ardham chitva tu mule Sgre canyonyabhinivesanat I Ardhapaniriti prokto grhitaghanamanatah

When there is a semicircular section tenon at the centre, the assembly is called Mahavrtta, the well advised man employs this for circular section pillars

Ardhavrttasikharn madhye tanmahavrttarnucyate I Vrttakrtisu padesu prayunjita vicaksanah II

The assembling of (the different parts of) a pillar should be done below the middle and any assembling done above will be a source of accident; (however) the assembly which brings together the bell-capital and the abacus gives the certainty of success. When a stone pillar, with its decoration, (is to be assembled) this should be done according to the specific case.

Stambhanam starnbhadairghyardhadadhah sandhanamacaret I Stambhamadhyordhvasandhisced vipadamaspadam sad a II Kumbhamandyadisarnyuktam sandhanam sam pad am padam I Salankare silastarnbhe yathayogam tathacaret II

It should be known that the assembling of the vertical pieces is done according to the disposition of the different parts of the tree; if the bottom is above and the top is below, all chance of success is lost

Sthitasya padapasyangapravrttivasato viduh / Urdhvamulamadhascagram sarvasampadvinasanam II ]

Ramanathaswamy Temple

B.Bricks (Ishtaka)

Bricks have been in use for thousands of years in construction of yupa the sacrificial altars and Chaithyas the early temples of the Vedic ages. Shathapatha Brahmana  as also Shilpa Rathna describes the methods for moulding and burning the bricks. The Sulba sutras and Manasara detail the dimensions of the bricks of various sizes in relation to the sacrificial altars constructed for various purposes. The remnants of the Indus valley civilization too amply demonstrate the extensive use of bricks in construction of buildings and other structures.

During the later ages, the bricks were used in the temple structures mainly for erecting Gopuras the temple towers and Vimanas the domes over the sanctum.

As per the descriptions given in Manasara the bricks were made in various sizes; the size of the bricks varying from 7 inches to 26 or even  to 31 inches in length. The length of the bricks were 1 ¼, 1 ½, 1 ¾ or 2 times the width .The height of the brick was ½ its width or equal to the width. Thus, bricks of different sizes, shapes, and types were made. The composition, shape and baking of a brick depended upon the use to which it was put.

Interestingly, the bricks with straight and linier edges were called male bricks; while those with a broad front side and a narrower back side or those of curved shape were called female bricks. The bricks in concave shape were called neuter bricks. The male bricks could be used in the construction of the prasada, the sanctum. The female bricks were used for the sanctum of female deities. The neuter bricks were generally not used in temple construction; but were used for lining the walls of the well.

According to Shukla Yajurveda Samhita, bricks were made from thoroughly mixed and pulverized earth and other ingredients. The earth was strengthened by mixing goat hair, fine sand, iron flake or filings and powdered stone. Earth was also mixed with ‘raal oil’, etc. and thoroughly beaten and blended in order to increase the strength of the material by enhancing the cohesion of the earth particles. Triphala concoction is said to render the earth, white ants (termite) and microbe proof.

[ Maya-mata and other Shilpa–texts give details about brick-making (Istaka-sangrahanam).  Following are a few excerpts from Pride of India: A Glimpse Into India’s Scientific Heritage

Salty, off-white, black and smooth, red and granulated, these are the four kinds of clay

Usaram pandurarn krsnacikkanarn tarnrapullakarn II Mrdascatasrastasveva grhniyat tamrapullakam I

Clay suitable for making bricks and tiles must be free from gravel, pebbles, roots and bones and must be soft to touch.

Asarkarasmarnulasthilostarn satanuvalukam II Ekavamam sukhasparsamistarn lostestakadisu

Then fill the clods of clay in knee-deep water; then having mixed, pound with the feet forty times repeatedly

Mrt-khandarn purayedagre janudaghne jale tatah u Alodya mardayet padbhyarn catvarirnsat punah punah 

After soaking the clay in the sap of fig, kadamba, mango, abhaya and aksha and also in the water of myrobalan for three months, pound it

Ksiradrumakadarnbamrabhayaksa – tvagjalairapi II Triphalambubhirasiktva mardayenmasamatrakam  

These (bricks) are in four, five, six and eight unit (widths) and twice that in length. Their depth in the middle and in the two ends (is) one fourth or one-third the width. Again these bricks should normally be dried and baked.

Catus-pancas adast abhi rmatrai staddhidvigul)ayatai:lll Vyasardhardhatribhagaikatlvra madhye parespare I Istaka bahusah sosyah samadagdhah punasca tah II

According to the experts, only after one, two, three or four months, again throwing (the baked bricks) in water, and extracting (them) from the water with effort, (will put the brick to use)

Eka –dvi- tri-catur-masarnatitya  -iva vicaksanah I Jale praksipya yatnena jala duddhrtya tat punah II)  ]


Brick lying was done with the aid of molds; and, the bricks were burnt in enclosed kilns. The works like Shilpa Ratna and Vastuvidya explain that the brick moulds were baked for 24 hours in a fire of firewood.

Bricks black in color or half baked or broken or defective otherwise were rejected. The bricks should be well burnt and be of uniform color.

According to Shulba Sutra, bricks measuring 22.8 X 11.4X 5.7 cms were used in construction of walls. The Bodhayana Sulaba sutra specifies the arrangement of bricks, while constructing a wall. The brick should be directed in a dextral and laevo order. The brick ends should not be piled one over the other. The joints of the brick in each third row of brick may fall over the brick of the first row; this is the ‘Malla Lila’ style of fixing the brick, based on the arrangement of the joints of the brick.

The bricks having a smooth surface are not to be set one above the other, but are to be fixed in straight line and the wall should be of an equal thickness all over. The corners of the walls should be on the ratio of 5: 3: 4 and at right angle to each other. According to the Sumrangana Sutradhara, the square of the diagonal of the wall should be equal to the sum total of the square of the width of the wall.

It is said that the altar constructed for major sacrifices, bricks of about 200 types were used, depending upon the size and shape of the altar.

[For the details of the different types of altars and their measurements; the type and the number of bricks needed for each type of altar and their arrangement : please check here for section 5.2.1 and onward  of  the excellent research paper produced by Dr. Sreelatha.]


doors of temple

Wood has limited use in traditional temple structure of medieval times. Its application is mainly for carving doors, erecting Dwajasthamba  the flag posts and for other utilities such as platforms, stands etc. But, in rare cases (as in Sri Jagannath temple at Puri or at Sri Marikamba temple in Sirsi) the principal idol dhruva bhera is made of wood. The most extensive use of the wood is of course in the construction of the Ratha the temple chariot. In rare cases as in Puri a new chariot is created each year.

Shatapatha Brahmana a Vedic text of about 1500 BC or earlier makes repeated references to wood and its applications. During its time the temples and the images were mostly made of wood (kasta shilpa). The text mentions a certain Takshaka as a highly skilled artist who carved wood. It names a number of trees the wood from which was used for various purposes. For instance Shaala (teak) and Kadira a type of hard wood was used for carving images, pillars, gnomon (sanku) and other durables. Certain other trees are also mentioned as being suitable for pillaras, posts etc: Khadi, Shaal, Stambak, Shinshipa, Aajkarni, Kshirani, Dhanvan, Pishit, Dhanwalan, Pindi, Simpa, Rahjadan, and Tinduka.

Trees such as Nibaka (Neem), Panasa (jackfruit), Asana, Sirish, Kaal, Timish, Likuch, Panas, Saptaparni, wood are said to be best for roofing work.

Coconut, Kramuk, Bamboo, Kitki, Oudumbara (silk cotton etc. wood is suited for hut constructions, ribs and rafters etc.

However use of certain trees considered holy or godlike was not recommended in temple construction. The trees such as Ashwattha (Peepal), Vata, Nagrodha (banyan), Chandana (sandalwood), Kadamba, Badari, Shami, Bilva, Parijatha, kinsuka, and Bakula, were   some such sacred and godlike trees.

Chandana, Kadira, Saptaparni, Satwak, etc. were used for engraving and carving artwork.


The southern text Shilpa Rathnam states that the wood from the following is not suited for temple construction.;

Trees from a place of public resort, trees from a village or from the precincts of a temple, trees that have been burnt, trees in which are birds’ nests, trees growing on anthills, trees in which are honeycombs, trees fruiting out of season, trees supporting creepers, trees in which maggots dwell, trees growing close to tanks or wells, trees planted in the earth but reared by constant watering, trees broken by elephants, trees blown down by the wind, trees in burning-grounds, in forsaken places, or in places which had been paraclieris, withered trees, trees in which snakes live, trees in places where there are hobgoblins, devils, or corpses, trees that have fallen down of themselves, – these are all bad trees and to be avoided.


The lifetime of a tree was regarded as 103 years. The trees under the age of 16 were Baala – child trees; and those above 50 years of age were Vriddha– trees in their old age. The trees between the age of 16 and 50 years were regarded most suitable for construction of temple and homes.

Tall trees of uniform girth without knot and holes, in their youth, grown on dense hilly regions   are most suited for construction of pillars. The trees that are white under the bark are in the best category; followed by those having red, yellow and dark interiors; in that order. The juicy or milky trees are preferable.


The trees that are round from the root to its apex, give a gentle fragrance, are deep rooted, are solid and temperate may be taken as masculine trees, yielding male wood.

The feminine trees have slender roots and are thick at apical part, but a much thicker middle part with no fragrance or odor in the wood.

The wood should be straight and without any knot, crevice or cavity. The structure built by joining such male and female wood last for centuries

Neuter Trees

Slender and long in the middle of the trunk and having a thick head, is a genderless tree. While the male trees serve for pillars; female trees for wall-plates, beams, and capitals; the hermaphrodite trees serve for cross-joists, joists, and rafters.

Agastya Samhita has described the wood that is to be used in a chariot, boat or an aircraft. A youthful and healthy tree should be cut and its bark removed, thereafter, it should be cut in squares after which are to be transported to the workshop where these pieces should be stored upon spread out sand in an orderly manner for 3 to 8 months for seasoning. The root and apex sides must be marked because in pillars the root side is to be kept down and apex part up.

As far as possible, only one type of wood may be used for one particular construction. The use of more than tree types of wood in a construction is not recommended.

It is said the ISI standard A-883-1957 regarding a wooden items is based on the specification s mentioned in the ancient Indian Texts

Precautions in the selection of the building materials:

No used building material should be used.

Stolen and renovated material should never be purchased.

Materials confiscated by the King should not be used.

The wood culled from the trees cut down in a cremation ground; temple, ashram or shrine should not be utilized.


IV.Ayaadi Shadvarga

Ayadi _shadvarga is a matrix of architecture and astrological calculations.  According to Samarangana Sutradhara Ayaadi-shadvarga is a set of six criteria: Aaya, Vyaya, Amsha, Nakshatra, Yoni and Vara-tithi, which are applied to certain dimensions of the building and its astrological associations. The purpose of the exercise is to ascertain the longevity of the house as also the suitability to its owner. These norms are applied to temples too.

The term Aaya could be taken to mean increase or plus or profit; Vyaya – decrease or minus or  loss; Nakshatra,- star of the day; Yoni – source or the orientation of the building; Vara- day of the week; and Tithi – the day in lunar calendar for construction of building and performing invocation of Vastu Purusha..

The area of the structure is divided by certain factors assigned to each element of the Aayadi Shadvarga; and the suitability or longevity of the building is ascertained from the reminder so obtained.

For instance, if the plinth area of the house is divided by 8; and the remainder is either 1 or3 or 5, then these are called Garuda garbhaSimha garbha and Rishabha garbha, which are auspicious. Hence the plinth area of the building should be manipulated or altered to arrive at an   auspicious reminder.

The rule is also applied to ascertain the longevity of the building. According to this method the total area should be divided by 100 and if the reminder is more than 45, it is good and if it is more than 60 it is very good. For instance, if the length of the house 11 meters, and the width 5 meters, then its area is 11 X 5 = 55 sq.mts. Multiply the area by 27 (Nakshatra factor) , 55 X 27 = 1485. Divide the product 1485 by 100. The remainder is 85,-which indicates the projected longevity of the house. Since the reminder is more than 60, .it is a very healthy result.

There is another method for arriving at the Aayadi value. The result is categorized in to eight types of Aayas. According to this method, the area (length X breadth) is multiplied by 9; and divided by 8. The reminders 1 to 8 are interpreted as good or bad, as indicated in the following table.








 Good. Brings wealth



Not good. ill heath of the head of the family and spouse.



 Very Good. Victory over enemies; health ,wealth and prosperity.



Bad. Ill health and bad omens.



Good. wealth and fortune.



Very bad. Head of family will turn a vagabond; premature death in family.



Good. Life of head of family and members brightens; improvement in heath and wealth.



Very bad. Sorrow to family; and no peace.

[For more on Ayadi calculations; pleaase check

Ayadi calculations]

Manasara says

When there is more merit than demerit, there is no defect in it; but if the demerit is more than the merit, it would be all defective.”



Vastu Darsha  by Dr. G Gnanananda.

Orienting From the Centre  by Michael S. Schneider…/summer/orienting/index.html

Cosmogony and the Elements… by John McKim Malville

Vastu Interiors


Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Temple Architecture


Tags: ,

26 responses to “Temple Architecture – Devalaya Vastu – Part Nine (9 of 9)

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    i never knew that the amount of
    thought process that has gone into making of a gnomen

    the concept of male and femle rocks is very astonishng and the . care that is taken for the selection of the materials is very astonishing..

    the traetise stabada brahmana seems very interseting…

    i have seen the refernces by many scholars to this treatise . i wonder what it is and how come it is not seen as one of the main stream traetises of sanskrit literature.


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 5:53 pm

      dear shri sampath,

      thank you for the comments and for the recommendation.

      sanku or the gnomon was a very important instrument till about 17th century when the magnetic compass arrived on the scene. now hardly anyone employs sanku. there are however some purists that still find a value in using a sanku, for the reason it helps to determine the true geographic north in the arctic; while the compass points towards the magnetic north which hovers a few kilometers around the upper regions of canada .

      it is amazing how meticulously the ancients went about in determining the true cardinal points and the true east west line. aligning the sacrificial altars, the mantapas, chaitya, temples etc. along the prachee, was of paramount importance to them. that concern motivated developments in geometry, sulabha sutras, engineering and architecture too.

      please let me know what you think of the criteria for selection of materials , as described in the shilpa texts.

      as regards sathapatha brahmana, it is regarded a major textual authority by all scholars .it is frequently quoted too. after the rig-veda, this text is considered the most important work in the entire range of vedic literature.

      the shatapatha brahmana is a prose text associated with the shukla yajur veda. the brahmana perhaps derives its name because it consists of one hundred adhyayas or books. it belongs to the school of yagnasenins because some parts of it are ascribed to the sage yajnavalkya yajnasaneya. it is the biggest brahmana text in volume and is very important one too. it has survived in two versions: kanva and madhyandina. there are no major differences between the two versions.

      it is considered a very ancient text and is dated between 1900 bce to 3000 talks about the events that took place when the mighty saraswathi was in full flow. in its later parts it mentions about the shift in saraswathi towards kosala and videha, which is towards east. that shift, according to geophysicists took place long before 1900 bce.

      the shatapatha brahmana describes the great deluge of manu and the creation and rebirth of the planet earth. in many ways it resembles the biblical story of noah and the arc of mount sinai. it is not clear which legend inspired the other.

      the text describes in great detail the preparation of altars, ceremonial objects, ritual recitations, and the soma libation, along with the symbolic attributes of every aspect of the rituals. it is no wonder the scholars of mythology and comparative religion regard shathapatha brahmana a gold-mine of information.

      please check the following link for english translation of the text by julius eggeling.


  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    Last month we visited India for the first time, and during that tour we also visited several temples. That made us curious about the architecture of and the philosophy behind the temples. thanks to your series of blogs things begin to become a bit clearer, even though we have to learn a lot yet about it. There is a lot more to the Indian temples than we suspected. So thank you for this clear and in-depth series on this subject!


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      Dear SoftSpot, Thank you for reading and letting me know. I am glad you found the series useful. I am aware the Temple Architecture –Devalaya Vastu series has a fairly large readership. Each of the articles in the series has hits running into several thousands. I understand some are using this as a sort of text book.

      I would be more interested in the feedback from the readers. Kindly let me know whether it was too difficult to follow the concepts or the line of presentation; whether you would suggest improvements / modifications of any sort; whether any other issue /subjects needs to be brought into the discussion etc. I shall be grateful for response. Warm Regards

  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    Dear Mr.Sreenivasarao,

    I have read your whole series of blogs on Temple Architecture and found them very well summarized from complex references. I would like to discuss with you further on temple architecture, is there some way I can contact you in person. Also wanted to know more about you Sir. What do you do, are you an Architect?



    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      Dear Mayur, Thank you for digging out a set of old and forgotten blogs . I am glad you found them interesting.Thank you also for providing me a pretext for visiting Sulekha after a very long time . I now rarely visit Sulekha.

      No , I am not an architect . Devalaya Vastu is one of my interests, just as Indian art , literature , music , painting , philosophy etc.

      I prefer you post your comments on Sulekha and discuss the issues. That would be a good opportunity for me too.

      Since the Rivr had distorted the appearance of my blogs ; and since I was not allowed to edit them , I have tried to preserve them in another blog-site : WordPress. Please check the following link for all my blogs in one place :

      You are welcome . Please keep talking, Regards

  4. H.Manjunath.Pai

    July 6, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    I had enquired many people ( pretentiously knowledgeable ) regarding these things. But to no avail.My search of many years and through many libraries has come to an end with this blog. God bless.

    • sreenivasaraos

      July 6, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      Thank you Dear Manjunath,

      I think it would help if the articles are read in their sequence.



    October 15, 2016 at 5:38 am

    Most temples face east, west is next best, even south is permissible but they definitely should not face the north.
    Could you please give sastric pramana (scriptural evidence) to support that temple should not face north?

    • sreenivasaraos

      October 15, 2016 at 6:03 am

      Please see the following

      Most temples face east, because it is believed that the doorway of the sanctum facing east is best (uttamottama – most auspicious); west is next best (uttama); even south is permissible (madhyama); and to the north it is inferior (adhamam), not desirable. (Vimanarchana-kalpa patala 3)

      temple entrance


      • sreenivasaraos

        October 15, 2016 at 6:22 am

        There is also another view:

        According to the Padma-samhita (kriya-pada 2, 33-34) the door of the sanctum facing east is productive of happiness; the door facing the west enhances health and nourishment; the door facing north brings wealth and prosperity; and the sanctum door facing south makes for liberation.

        temple entrance

        The temples dedicated to Sri Dakshinamurthy , the Moksha-karaka- the Adi-Guru who teaches knowledge (jnana-karaka) that liberates (mokshadam) , often face south


  6. Jagannath das

    October 15, 2016 at 5:43 am

    what ceremony is to be done before beginning construction on temple land : Stone laying ceremony or Ananta shesha sthapana? What is the difference between these two?

  7. Krishnan

    January 11, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Hi sir, I practice wood carving. Would like to know if locally found fig tree wood is suitable for carving a deity. Or the best wood for carving a deity .i live in Chennai, tamilnadu..
    – Krishnan…

    • sreenivasaraos

      January 13, 2017 at 1:23 am

      Dear Shri Krishnan

      Thanks for the visit. At the outset, I am not sure whether I am competent to provide a reliable answer your question. An experienced, practicing Shilpi would have been a far better choice.

      I can only speculate based on what little I have learnt from Books.

      Wood is extensively used for crafting beautiful idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, though they are rarely used as worship idols in temples. But, such wood carvings of artistic excellence are very often used for worship at homes; for decoration; and, as gift items.

      The assumption is that such wooden works of art depicting gods and goddesses are not regularly soaked/bathed in liquids like water, milk, curds or honey. And, therefore it is quite safe to use wood for carving deities for other purposes; and, they can last long, provided the wood remains healthy and is well taken care.

      The choice of the wood to be used depends upon the type of carving: in relief raised on the background; piercing to elevate the design; chipping ornamental and decorative work; etching intricate art details; and also on the quality of craftsmanship.

      The softwood and hardwood, each has distinct properties, advantages and disadvantages depending upon the intricacy of carving; the details; the floral or other designs.

      The wood of fig trees (Audumbara – in Sanskrit; Anjura or Atti – in Kannada, Tamil) that you mentioned, usually, is rather soft and juicy (or moist).

      The fig-wood has been in use for several centuries. Satha-patha-Brahmana ( while listing several tree-wood- types used in architecture , mentions Audumbara as being suitable for carving pillars in a performance-hall (Sabha mantapa). And, Shilpa-ratna (56) (a text of the Shilpa shastra) mentions Audumbara as one among the many divine-type (daiva-samana) of trees; and, therefore should not be used for constructing human-dwellings.

      It is also said; in ancient Egypt, Mummy-caskets were made out of Fig-wood.

      Obviously, Fig-wood has several uses; it is easy to manipulate; and, with its smooth grains it finishes very well.

      Therefore, Fig-wood can also be used for carving figures of the deities; provided it suits your requirements, such as: the details of carving, etching, piercing etc; and, it does not split

      But, generally hardwood is recommended for carving figures having intricate details. In this context, woods such as rosewood, Kadam, Seeham and Sandalwood are mentioned as being well suited for depicting designs; and , for recreating shapes and forms.

      I am sure, you already have intimate knowledge of these and other types of woods. And, my telling you about these would be like carrying ice to Eskimos.

      And; yet

      Rosewood, ebony and teak which is dark or tan in colour are well suited for carving ornamental and for elegant inlay work with excellent finish. Traditionally, Madurai is famed for rose wood carving marked by its bold style and very detail works.

      Kadam Wood (Kadamba in Kannada and Tamil) and Sheesham (Kannada: Simpase; Tamil: Sicu, Itti or Piccai) are easy to work, with hand and machine tools, cuts cleanly, gives a very good surface. They are also known for its strength and long life. And, therefore, they are generally used for making decorative objects.

      Sandalwood, of course, is very well known. It has strength, lustre and fragrance; and it is also easy to work with. It is capable of depicting very intricate details and designs.

      The text books mention the following type of woods generally used in India for ornamental and inlay work: walnut (Juglans regia), rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia), ebony (Diospyros spp.), teak (Tectonia grandis), Sal (Shorea Robusta) and sandalwood (Santalum album).

      There is also mention of Oak; Red cedar; Mahogany; Cherry; Paduak , Cottonwood etc which are said to be excellent for carving , holding fine details, great finish and lasting longer.

      But I do not know if any of these woods are locally available in South India.

      Please check the following link. It gives very useful information about various kinds woods.

      I am sorry. I may not have been much help to you. Please do consult a practicing expert.

      Wish you and your family a Happy Pongal.


  8. G Jagadish Chander

    February 3, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    I was searching for knowing details of Yagashala with regard to the dimensions as to length , breadth ,height , no. of pillars etc but was unable to get the same Can u please help me in this regard. We, the Sri Parvati Parameswara Temple Committee want to build one for regular use. Kindly help us out.
    G.Jagadish Chander,
    Chairman — Sri Parvati Parameswara Temple Trust,
    Hayathnagar , Hyderabad , Telanagana.

    • sreenivasaraos

      February 4, 2019 at 5:10 am

      Dear Shri Jagadish Chander,

      Thank you for the visit.

      I am not an expert in the field. I shall try to help to the limited extent of my acquaintance of the subject. Please bear with me.
      Traditionally, Yajnanga Shilpa, which details the construction of Yajna Mantapa and Yajna kundas of various shapes and sizes, is considered as a part of the Shilpa Shastra. These should, ideally, cover the facilities necessary for conduct of a Yajna, such as : Yajna Mantapa; Yajna Kunda; Yupa Sthamba; Bricks; Sruk-sruva; Vessels; instruments etc. But, sadly, many of the texts do not deal with this subject in detail.

      Apart from the traditional texts on Shilpa , there is brief reference to the details of the construction ,in the Bala Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana . Please click at ;

      and see the Verse 1-14-21 , starting with the words नाषडङ्गविदत्रासीन्नाव्रतो
      And again, The Shilpa Text Maya Matam in its Chapter Two at Sthambha Vidanam gives the description of the various types of the pillars to be erected. Please see

      Click to access 07_chapter2.pdf

      But, I reckon, the best source that would be useful to you, to a great extent, is the Sri Kashyapa Shilpa Shastra (Purvardha) – Pratha Samputa authored by the scholar Dr. G Gnananada. It is a very authoritative work. The Book is in Kannada language.

      The book in its pages from 148 to 189 ( about 40 pages) discusses in detail all aspects involved in the construction of the Yajna Mantapa , right from the suitable land; directions; dimensions of the Hall; the type , size and number of pillars, various sizes and types of Yajna Kundas ;the type and sizes of the bricks to be used etc. The book has also provided the sketches/designs of the Yajna-shala , indicating the location of the Homa Kundas ( nine) and the location of the pillars etc.

      If you can get someone to read; and, to translate Kannada, I think, the Book should be very useful to you.

      I am not sure whether the Book would be available in the Book Store.

      I, therefore, suggest you may directly contact its author Dr. G. Gnanananda; and, request for a copy of the Book.

      He may be contacted at his home at : : No.1122 , 5th Main , Gokhale Road, BEML Layout , 3rd Stage , Rajarajeshwari Nagar , Bangalore – 560098 . He can also be contacted on: 080- 2860 4107 or 98863 17368 (M);

      I suggest you may either write or speak to the learned Professor providing full details of your temple-project.


      I am sorry; I have not been of much direct help. But, I am sure that a scholar like DR. G Gnanananda, a well respected authority and author, who has written several texts on temple architecture, would surely help.

      Wish you success in your endeavor
      May the Mother Bless us all


  9. Joyce

    April 23, 2019 at 11:47 am


    Thank you so much for all the articles on agama, temple worship and temple architecture.

    I am currently working on a research project about agama, more specifically how agama related to temples and rituals in South India (Tamil Nadu) . Having read through all your blog post really helped me a lot as I am totally new to Hinduism, its literatures and architectures. As part of the research is about “Jeernodhara” and its related rituals like “Kumbhabhishekam”. Limited information are found so-far. It would be great to know your opinion over the conservation/restoration topic and if you have any valuable resources to share.

    Thank you!


    • sreenivasaraos

      April 25, 2019 at 4:48 am

      Dear Joyce

      Thank you for the visit and for the appreciation.

      I am glad that the articles related to the Agamas and the Temple Architecture was of some use to you.

      As you have noticed, the subject of Jeernoddhara is not usually discussed in the works on Temple Architecture. Nonetheless, it is an essential part of the exercise in order to maintain and protect a temple, especially an ancient temple, its structure, its tradition and its sanctity.

      Restoring the structure of an ancient temple is a very complicated exercise.

      First we have to understand that a Temple is not merely a structure or a congregational hall. A temple is regarded as a living organism. It is a meaningful, living entity that symbolizes a community’s spiritual aspirations. A Temple is Devalaya, the Abode of God. But more than that, a temple is revered as a representation of God, in a visible form. In another manner, if the temple structure is compared to human body, then the Divine spirit living in it is the in-dweller , the Antaryamin or the Soul (Deho devalayah prokto jeevo devah sanatanaha)

      An ancient temple is a living monument of enduring significance; its structure is of architectural, historic and religious importance. Repairing or restoring it is indeed a situation that not only involves historical considerations of art and architecture; but, also equally of religious, ethnic, social and political implications. Therefore one has to be cautious while meddling with the temple-structure.
      As you might have read in the articles I posted on Temple Architecture, the ancient temples in South India are primarily constructed of stones, which are meticulously tested and selected for their suitability as also for their sound and robust material health. One cannot think of a temple constructed without using stones. The perishable materials like mud, bricks and wood are strictly avoided in temple construction.

      Even in the case of stone- structures pillars, arches and domes etc., their parts are composed and aligned in such a manner that they can safely withstand vibrations, severe changes in weather conditions and age-related ailments. For instance; 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.

      Though the Indian temples were constructed predominantly out of stones and strictly avoiding mud brick and wood ; yet over a period of time the structures, especially those with ornate pillars, columns , beams, arches and other supporting functions etc., do sustain and suffer stress , strain and damages for a variety of reasons such as :

      • Errors and imperfections in the original design;
      • Inherent defects in the materials employed in the construction;
      • Materials living beyond their life expectancy; resulting in , normal decay due to environmental conditions such as the variations in weathering , humidity, moisture and heat etc., ;
      • Introduction or abetment of new structures; or, structural alterations ,extensions and partial modifications etc., ; and,
      • Lack of due care over a long period

      The Indian texts mention that a temple needs to purified from time to time (Naimittika) because of certain other reasons as well; such as , the effects it might have suffered on account of an earth quake ; or eclipse ; or appearance of comet ; or damage to the temple tower by lightening or fire or other reason; famine; floods ; disturbance or damage caused to the image in the sanctum ; or occurrence of death within the temple premises ; or forced occupation by the enemy; or defilement caused to the temple in any other manner. (Isvara-samhita 10.1-7; Parameshwara Samhita 19.5-7)
      Therefore, what you call as Jeernoddhara is carried out for a variety of reasons; not merely for repairing or restoring an aging structure that was either not well maintained or was neglected.

      Jeernoddhara essentially means that the physical form of Temple as also the deities within the temple need to be or repaired , renovated , purified , rejuvenated and re-energized , for restoring them to their pristine glory and purity. Such a Jeernoddhara exercises / ritual are normally undertaken once in every 12 years.

      Jeernoddhara, the process of repairing and renovating is explained in Shilpa –texts like Mayamatha, Manasaara, Kasyapa Shilpa; and also some Agama texts.

      Here, four types of Jeernodharana are mentioned, namely: Aavardhana, Anavardhana; Punaravardhana; and, Andharitha.

      Aavardhana means renovating and restoring an abandoned temple; be it not-so- old or a very ancient temple structure. Thereafter, rejuvenate the Temple with Agama rituals and perform Aavardhana Maha-Kumbahbishekam.

      Anavardhana means constructing a new temple based on Agama Shilpa shastra ; and performing Anavardhana or Nuthana Maha-Kumbahbishekam

      Punaravardhana involves repairing and renovating an existing temple, which is in active service. Then perform the Punaravardhana Maha-Kumbahbishekam. This is normally performed once in every 12th year.

      The fourth one Andharitham is meant to rectify and rejuvenate the disturbed spiritual sanctity and ambiance of the Temple, caused by the natural and unnatural happenings. Natural disturbances like flood inside the sanctum sanctorum due to unprecedented rains; attack of lightning and thunder on the temple structure etc. The unnatural disturbances are like entry of burglars, military attacks inside the temple, unexpected death incidents and sometimes entry of animals like dog, pig etc. These are said to be rectified and the spiritual ambiance restored by performing purification rituals , Shanthi homas and so on as prescribed in the Agama texts.

      The entire process of repairing , restoring and re-strengthening of the temple premises ; as also purifying and restoring the sanctity of the Deity within it , is climaxed by a celebration known as Kumbabhishekam (also known as Samprokshanam) extend over several days . It is indeed a very auspicious moment; the grand finale of a laborious and a meticulous procedure. It is a ritual that is believed to homogenize, energizer and enhance the spiritual aura and the powers of the deity. The Kumbha- Kalash symbolizes blessings as also fulfillment.

      Kumbha means the Head; and, it denotes the Shikhara or Crown of the Temple. It is the crowning glory of the temple, set atop the Vimana. Some say it is reminiscent of the life giving Amrita-kalasha that emerged out of the milky ocean when it was churned. The ceremonial consecration of the newly installed Kumbha is the Abhisekham or Samprokshanam. It heralds prosperity not only to the temple, the devotees, but also to the society as a whole.

      The detailed theoretical and practical model of restoring an ancient temple is very well discussed and presented in a UNESCO Report (Serial No. 1222/BMS. RD/CLT Paris, May 1969) titled: Proposals for Restoration Work at Srirangam Temple by G.R.H. Wright. It is one among the best I have come across.

      In case you are seriously interested in the subject, I suggest you study it thoroughly. Please check:

      The introductory portion of the report , among other things, mentions:

      To report on the mise en valeur of the Temple City of Srirangam is not basically to report on the fabric of a complex of buildings. It is to report on a situation. The monument is a living temple; its structure is of architectural and historic importance. It is a situation that not only involves historical considerations of art and architecture; but also equally of religious, ethnic, social and political considerations.

      The circumstances at Srirangam are further complicated by the fact that here the religious sentiment and the artistic sentiment applied are of two different cultural formations.

      A devout philanthropist seeks the moral regeneration of his fellows by reviving traditional religion in its full spiritual development at a great traditional shrine. A community of common men wish to continue their round of devotion in the surroundings and manner familiar to them since birth, Archaeologist scholars and officials are anxious to demonstrate that they are the responsible inheritors of the country’s monuments.
      A. Conservation and restoration of a temple are not something which can be applied out of a tin or a book. A new architectural composition is being created; and, this depends on the harmonious ordering of many separate, individual decisions and solutions. In short, conservation and restoration are a branch of architecture. One which, since its purposes to display to the best advantage what is of historic value in building; demands specialized knowledge of the history of architecture.

      Obviously the first stage in a project of conservation and restoration of an ancient monument is to establish the program. This must be clearly written out, specifying what the operation is designed to produce. There can be no rational building unless it is clear what is to be built – i.e., what is the social function of the proposed building. Similarly with the proposed work on an ancient monument – Is its subject a living building (I.e., a building still performing the social function for which it was designed), or Is it what may be called “a ruin”?(i.e., in essence a museum piece, its significance for society being primarily its historical or aesthetic qualities)

      This distinction is so basic as to condition most of the particular operations on the fabric. Indeed for greater clarity of hypothesis it might be advisable to use different terms in describing operations on the fabric of the two different classes of buildings. For example “conservation and restoration” may be more properly reserved for “ruins” and “maintenance and repairs” might be applied to “living buildings’. With many monuments the two concepts may overlap somewhat, but for any particular portion of the work it should be clear in which of these interests the work is being carried out.

      Please read the rest in the Project Report.

      In case, you have read up to here, without skipping in between, I truly admire your patience and fortitude

      Please let me know if this was of any use to you

      Cheers and regards

      • Joyce

        April 26, 2019 at 12:34 pm


        Thank you for your detailed reply and explanation of restoration in the context of ancient Hindu temples and agamas. Of coz, I didnt skip any of the words, I read everything! The suggested UNESCO report is really useful (I just had a glace of it by now but will definitely further look into it).
        As you said conservation and restoration of temples is not something simple yet important, I will continue the research, looking into two specific agamas – Suprabhedagama and Vaikhanasagama – and study how the agama discuss Jeernoddhara.

        Once again, thank you so much for your reply and your input is highly appreciated 🙂 Wish to read more of your blog post on temple architecture !


      • sreenivasaraos

        April 27, 2019 at 6:58 am

        Dear Joyce
        You are most Welcome

        Regarding the Agamas , please check here for the Tantra and Agama – in general

        For Vaikhanasa Agama , please check here

        though it may not specifically deal with Jeernoddhara

        Cheers and Regards

  10. Warija

    November 23, 2021 at 3:00 am

    Namaste Acharya!!
    What a wonderful research and compilation of information on Vāstu through these 9 blogs. It is a great service to humanity. The quality of research, mapping the data given in texts to the actual models available, clear explanations, the organized way of presenting information, it is awesome. Congratulations to you sir. I hope these chapters are made a book. I am sure it will be a best-seller.

    -Warija Adiga
    A Sanskrit enthusiast

    • sreenivasaraos

      November 23, 2021 at 3:28 am

      Dear Warija

      Thank you Maa for the visit ; and , for the appreciation

      As regards publishing these articles;

      I have neither the resources nor the skill to negotiate with the publishers.

      Further, the ‘Book-reading’ habit is, sadly , on the wane

      Here , at least, about 1200 visitors per-day check into my website.

      It is Okay Maa – for the present

      Lets see what other possibilities present themselves


      You said , you are ‘A Sanskrit enthusiast’

      In that case , you may like to read rather long series on:

      Kavya and Indian poetics

      Meaning of ‘Meaning’

      Yaska and Panini

      Dasarupa of Dhananjaya

      And other articles on Indian Music and Dance traditions

      God Bless you Maa

      Cheers and Regards

  11. Bansi

    March 11, 2022 at 6:45 pm


    Fantastic articles. Very well detailed and informative. Hats off to you.

    I just wondered what your thoughts would be on installing a metal rail on a devalaya on the steps leading to the ardha mandap for health and safety? What do the scriptures state about this?

    I understand that the devalaya represents the ‘body of God’ and therefore have concerns about the installation of a metal rail since it would involves drilling into the stone as well as incorporating metal into a building structure that has used no metal during contruction.

    Many Mandirs have this but I wonder how they justify it? Any thoughts?

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 13, 2022 at 6:19 pm

      Dear Bansi

      Thank you for the visit; and, for the comment.

      Generally, the use of iron is avoided within the temple structure, as iron or other ferrous materials tend to get rusty; and, endanger the stability and the life of the structure.

      In a like manner, wood has limited use in traditional temple structure of medieval times. Its application is limited mainly for carving doors, erecting Dwaja- sthamba , the flag posts and for other utilities such as platforms, stands etc.

      But, when you look back over the long history of temple architecture, you will find that the Indian temples were built with all types of materials depending upon their availability in each region

      The range of material varied from timber , bamboo to mud, plaster, brick and stone during all periods and throughout India.

      Similarly, the layout, the structural designs and configurations of the temples have also not been uniform. The decorations, carvings and the construction materials used also vary from region to region.

      While Southern temples are made of brick with sand-lime mortar or hard stone locally available; the Jain temples mostly use marble stones, for fine interior decorations and carvings.

      In most of the Hindu temples of South India, except Kerala, the ceilings over the hall (Mantapas) or the enclosures around the Garba-griha (sanctum) – Pradakshiana-patha and other halls are made of hard stones, in the form of rectangular slabs over granite beams supported by large ornate granite pillars

      However, the design, lay out and the structure of the Kerala temples are significantly different.

      There you hardly find large temples with many Mantapas (halls). So is the case with the tall towers (Gopura) at the entrance.

      In the Kerala temples, the sloping roofs, with projecting eaves, in the enclosures dominate the outline. They are often arranged in a number of tiers, not more than a few with some exception. The beauty of the Koothambalam made of wooden ceiling is further enhanced by the intricate designs and carvings. However, there is a stone core below a wooden (preferably timber) superstructure.

      Similarly, in Bengal and NE India, such adaptions are necessary, so as to be in tune with the geography, local conditions and heavy monsoon rainfall.

      And, in the Himalayan region also, because of heavy rain and snow conditions; as also because of an abundance of timber, the buildings in the Himalayan region have generally been constructed of wood and covered with sloping roofs. As for roofing, slates of schist have been used like tiles.

      Thus, each region of India developed its distinctive architectural style to suit its geographical and climatic conditions; its traditional and cultural practices; and, the availability of materials.

      The materials play an important role in the overall appearance, construction techniques and monumental character of these temples.

      And, the temples constructed in India and abroad during the last fifty years are essentially built out of cement, mortar, bricks, steel etc., and also with the use of modern materials such as different metal alloys, fiber-glass and such other.

      As regards the layout, the recently constructed temples do not provide for a Ranga-sthala, for performing dance before the Deity.

      And, the management of light and sound conditions have also undergone a drastic change. In the recently constructed temples, you hardly come across Garbha-griha shrouded under semi-darkness.

      All parts of the temple are well lit. And, the flooring in and around the temple complex is smooth and bright.

      At the same time, the construction of temples akin to the structures- chiseled out like the Kailasanatha at Ellora or like the rock cut ones carved during the 7th -9th century under the rule of Pallavas – are totally impossible today.

      As regards the temple-deities, when most of the deities in the temples of India are made of stone or metal, the idol of Sri Jagannatha is made of wood ; and is ceremoniously replaced in every twelve or nineteen years by using designated sacred tree-types. Similarly, Sri Mookambika in Sirsi (Karnataka) is carved out of wood.

      Thus, the temple architecture is a dynamic process, progressively evolving along with the change in conditions and the demands of the times. It is an index of the times we live in.

      Please see the paragraph Building-materials in Part Nine of the Series.

      In the instance you mentioned; the steel railings or supporting rows are not a part of the temple architecture and design per se.

      They are installed for the convenience and the safety of the rows of devotes streaming into the temple.

      They do not seem to harm or endanger the stability and durability of the temple structure. All said and done; it fulfils a certain felt need.

      [ Perhaps, similar objections could be raised for fixing and fitting of lights, fans, cameras etc ., on the walls and ceiling , within the main Hall , the Mantapa , of the temple.]

      Symbolism is definitely a factor.

      So far as my limited understanding goes, I am not sure. It may not be a major issue for concern; provided there are no other debilitating factors.

      In case you come across differing views , kindly let me know. I would be interested Thanks.



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