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Dvarapalas

29 Sep

Dvarapalas 

As I am trying to study Hinduism Could I ask you another question? It is about ‘Dwarapal’.

I know only that they are security guard in Hindu temples, and every Divinity has his/her own Dwarapal. Vishnu, Shiva, Devi and others have those personal Dwarapals. I have seen them, made of stone, in temples in India. But I cannot find any additional information about Dwarapals in Google

Are there any texts about Dwarapals? What kind of beings they are, who they are by nature, what is their role in Hinduism or in worship of Deity? 

Best regards

.

Western Malwa -6th century

 1.1. Dear Atma Raga, Thank you. I am glad you asked the question. It is rather an unusual question, but an interesting one. Let me try.

1.2. Dvarapalas are regular features of a major Hindu or Buddhist temple complex. They are the formidable looking ‘gate-keepers’ and guards in service of the presiding deity of the temple. They are the servants and the protectors of their masters. They are typically envisioned as huge and robust warriors. The pairs of Dvarapalas are most usually placed at the entrance to the temple and also at the door way to sanctum (garbha-griha). As you mentioned, each god or goddess has his or her own set of Dvarapalas.

2.1. Dvarapalas are classified as parivara-devathas, meaning that Dvarapalas are semi-divine beings of a minor class who form the entourage of the main deity they serve. The Shilpa Sastra texts that deal with temple architecture (devalaya-vastu) after describing the temple layout, structure and other aspects  with particular reference to the attributes and disposition of the deity to be installed in the temple , do make a  mention of the nature and appearances of the Dvarapalas to be placed at different locations in the temple complex. There are in addition, numerous Dhyana-slokas, or word-pictures in verse that present graphic details of the form, substance and attribute of the deity and his or her attendants. These verses are meant for contemplation and guidance of the Shilpi, the sculptor. I do not know if there are any texts that deal exclusively with the depiction of the Dvarapalas. They form a detail of the larger picture.

2.2. Since Dvarapalas are parivara-devathas, their appearance, attributes etc have to be in accordance with that of their Master, the principal deity that resides in the sanctum. Therefore their costume, weapons, insignia or emblems are indicative of the powers, virtues and magnificence of the presiding deity. Their appearances and stance herald the nature and disposition of the main deity; and also the affiliation of the temple- such as Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi etc.

3.1. Accordingly, the Dvarapalas in a Vishnu temple are rather placid looking; modestly dressed and ornamented.  They are adorned with the signs and emblems of Vishnu such as the tilaka on their fore heads and urdhvapundra (Nama) on their faces, arms, chest etc.. They carry in their upper hands the conch (shankha) and   discus (chakra); and in the lower hands, the mace (gada) and a noose (pasha, coil of rope). They stand erect, cross-legged leaning on their mace as if they are resting. The gestures of their fingers and the look in their eyes caution one to behave properly in the presence of the divinity. The nature and appearance of the Dvarapalas of Vishnu are described in the Agama texts: Isvara Samhita and Pushkara Samhita.

 

Bhadra                                  Subhadra          

3.2. Similarly, the Dvarapalas in a Shiva temple take after Virabhadra, the ferocious aspect of Shiva. They look fierce with bulging eyes, protruding curved sharp canine teeth, horns (at times); and with their threatening stance and fearsome weapons. They have thick mustaches, bushy eyebrows and  hairy abdomen.  They wear the emblems of Shiva, such as the stripes of ash, animal hides, long flowing unkempt hair etc. They carry a trident, mace, broad-sword and a noose. They look ferocious, gesture ominously and stand planting firmly a foot on the mace. The features of the Dvarapalas of Shiva are described in the latter part (uttarardha) ofKashyapa Shilpa Sastra.

 

3.3. In the Shaktha tradition where the distinctions between the gross and subtle forms are marked and sharp, the Dvarapalas of the female deities who represent the grosser elements of nature are fearsome looking females, modeled after the ferocious aspect of their Mother deity. They carry cutlasses and tridents; wear garlands of skull; and sport wild unkempt hair. Quite often they are portrayed with flashy eyes, long protruding teeth and tongue spread out of the open mouth. The Dvarapalas of the Devi are pictured in Kalika Puranam.’

In the Dakshina-chara School (the right handed method) of Sri Vidya tradition the guarding deities are the physical (sthula) representations of certain symbolic concepts. For instance, the outermost enclosure (avarana) of Sri Chakra, named Bhupura Chakra – the earth stretch, has four gates (dvara). The Eastern gate is the way of the mantras; the Southern gate is the way of devotion or bhakti; the Western gate is for the performance of rites and rituals, or karma-kanda.; and the Northern gate is the way of wisdom, or Jnana. The Mudra devathas, the standard bearers, the approach to the divinities and carrying seals of authority, guard those entrances. They resemble in appearance the auspicious form of the Mother Goddess and carry weapons such as bow, arrows, goad and noose.

4.1. As regards the general features of all Dvarapalas placed in the temples, they are well built, muscular, broad shouldered, very tall and sporting fearsome moustaches. Each is endowed with four arms.  They are elaborately adorned with Kirita (headgear), Bhuja –kirti (shoulder ornaments), karna-kundala (hanging earrings). They are always soldier-like and larger than life; but they can hardly be called very terrifying. The Dvarapala are not provided with halos or garlands. They always carry weapons; and are always depicted as standing guard. Dvarapalas are always in pair or in even numbers. The Agama texts recommend four pairs of Dvarapalas, each pair to guard a cardinal direction.

The Dvarapala images are usually scaled in  saptha  (seven)  tala  or nava (nine) tala measure.   They are made either with two or four arms.

dvarapala brihadisvara bw

4.2. The Dvarapalas, in each case, are in some way associated with their main deity through a legend detailed in a Purana. The Dvarapalas of major deities such as Vishnu or Shiva have recognizable names and specified positions. In the Agamas they are termed Ganeshvara, the chief of the horde.

For instance the four pairs of Dvarapalas of Vishnu are (i) Chanda and Prachanda ;( ii) Dhatru and Vidhatru; (iii) Jaya and Vijaya; and (iv) Bhardra and Subhadra. The first named in each pair stands to the right of the doorway; and the other to the left.

Similarly, the Dvarapalas of Shiva are (i) Nandi and Mahakala (to the East) ;( ii) Herambha and Bhringi (to the South); (iii) Durmukha and Pandura (to the West) and(iv) Sita and Asita (to the North).

The Brahma too is said have four sets of Dvarapalas facing four directions: Satya-Dharma; Priyodbhava – Yajna; Vijaya – Yajnabhadra; and, Sarvakamada – Vibhava.

The Dvarapalas of Skanda are named as Sudeha and Sumukha. They are said to be Brahmin brothers; but , are depicted with four arms.

The four doors of Ganapathi temple are guarded by four sets of Dvarapalas : Avijna – Vijnaraja (East ) ; Suvakthra – Balavan (South ) ; Gajakarna – Gokarna (West ) ; and , Susoumya (Soumya ) – Shubadayaka (Abhaya ) on the North.  They are titled as Ashta-Prathihari (retinue of eight guards). All of them are short statured having cruel looks and carrying fearsome weapons.

Along with the Dvarapalas their subordinates are depicted in minor relief at on the base of the images.

4.3. The pairs of Dvarapalas guarding the temple and placed in its exterior (at the entrances) are larger in size and more ferocious or threatening in appearance , with a “dare not enter” look to their faces and gestures , perhaps to keep away the evil influences. The Dvarapalas flanking the doorway to the sanctum are comparatively modest.

The Dwarapalas in the Hoysala temples are particularly graceful with ornate jewellery to suit the delicately carved interiors; gently holding lotuses as if inviting the devotee to God’s home.

5.1. The historical development in the depictions of Dvarapalas is quite interesting.  The Dvarapalas in the Pallava temples were made fierce. But, the Dvarapalas of the Chola temples are truly awesome intended to strike terror in the hearts of the wicked. They are massive towering up on the walls, snarling you down with sharp oversized fangs, riding on the Yali (mythical beast) making one feel tiny and submissive.   However ,  by the time of Vijayanagar (15-16th century) the Dvarapalas grew a shade smaller but muscular and more ornate; they didn’t appear to lean on a mace or a lance- like weapon but stood tall or cross-legged.

5.2. But the artistic excellence in depicting the Dvarapalas reached its zenith in the Hoysala architecture. Their intricate patterns, adornments are chiselled like a jewel, with extreme care.  They are magnificent works of art in their own right.

6.1. Most of the Dvarapala images are sculpted according to the Agama prescriptions. But the shilpis do tend to improvise and avail artistic liberties. Sometimes, Shilpis the temple architects employed massive Dwarapalas at the entrances to symbolically emphasize the grandeur, majesty and magnificence of the Lord residing in the temple.

For instance, the Dwarapalas at the Brihadeshwara temple of Thanjavur are massive. But, what is more interesting is theme the sculptures devised to drive home the message. The entire Dvarapala panel is basically related to the image of the elephant, the largest land-animal, depicted within its frame; and you have to work back to gain an estimate of the size and power of the Dvarapala.

At the bottom of the panel is the image of an elephant which is being swallowed by a serpent which in turn is coiled around the mace held in the hands of the Dvarapala. The serpent looks quite tiny in comparison to the mace on which the Dvarapala has planted his foot. The mace looks like a toy in the hands of the Dvarapala. You can work-back the size and power of the Dvarapala, staring from the elephant.

The Dvarapalas in turn look modest in comparison to the temple and its tower. The Lord who has in his service such gigantic gatekeepers and who resides in such a magnificent temple must truly be mighty and powerful, true to his name Brihadishwara.

 

**

[A note about Kshetrapalas:

While the Dvarapalas guard the doors of their deities, the Kshetrapala, on the other hand, guards the entire temple –complex. The Kshetrapalas have broader functions; and , in hierarchy placed higher than Dvarapalas.

The Kshetrapala are the protectors of a settlement, a village, a field or a temple. Kshetra literally means a field or specifically a field of activity (In a broader sense the body is the Kshetra the field; and the one who resides in it as the Antaryamin is kshetrajna).

 Kshetrapalas are basically the folk guardian deities who are very popular in village cults.  They are entrusted with the task of safe guarding a Kshetra (a village, a field or a temple) against dangers coming from all the eight spatial directions. In the villages of South India Kshetrapalas are placed in small temples or in open spaces outside of the village..Sometimes in the village open- courtyards blocks of stone are designated and worshipped as Kshetrapala. They are offered worship on occasions of important community celebrations.

In a major temple complex, particularly of Shiva, the Kshetrapala is provided a small shrine on the North-East side within the temple courtyard for safeguarding the temple. Worship is offered to Kshetrapala prior to important rituals, praying for efficient and safe conclusion of that ritual. The Kshetrapala on the other hand have broader functions.

Kshetrapalas are installed and worshipped in Jain and Buddhist traditions also

Buddhist Kshetrapala

The Kshetrapalas are identified with Bhairava the terrible aspect of Shiva; as also with the ferocious looking Veerabhadra the son of Shiva. . According to one legend Siva created Kshetrapala along with others to organize the army of Kali when she went to fight the demon Daruka.

In the Sri Vishvanatha temple at Kasi, the Kshetrapala there also performs the function of Dvarapala, to guard the Lord against impure elements.

When Kshetrapala attends to Mahakala, the Lord of death who resides in the burning Ghats, it is said, Kshetrapala wearing a skull cup, holding a chopper, rides a black bear.

When the Kshetrapala are depicted in images, they are generally:  awe inspiring, terrifying, huge, three eyed, untidy, wielding a number of weapons and usually accompanied by dogs .]

Sources and references

I gratefully acknowledge the line drawings and notes from Brahmiya Chitra Karma Sastram by Dr.G.Gnanananda

The other pictures are courtesy of Internet.

 Gangaikondacholapuram by Dr .R. Nagaswamy

http://tamilartsacademy.com/books/gcpuram/chapter06.html

Indian Temples and Iconography

http://indiatemple.blogspot.com/2005/07/gatekeeper-dvarapalas-in-temple.html

 
11 Comments

Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Temple Architecture

 

Tags: , , ,

11 responses to “Dvarapalas

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 17, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    Dear Kalpita Raj, Thank you for reading and for asking the question. As you mentioned Dvarapalas are the guards at the temple doors.. The Kshetrapala on the other hand have broader functions. They are the protectors of a settlement, a village, a field or a temple. Kshetra literally means a field or specifically a field of activity (In a broader sense the body is the Kshetra the field; and the one who resides in it as the Antaryamin is kshetrajna).

    In the context of the question you asked, Kshetrapals are basically the folk guardian deities who are very popular in village cults. Kshetrapala are entrusted with the task of safe guarding a Kshetra (a village, a field or a temple) against dangers coming from all the eight spatial directions. In the villages of South India Kshetrapalas are placed in small temples or in open spaces outside of the village. They are offered worship on occasions of important community celebrations.

    In a major temple complex, particularly of Shiva, the Kshetrapala is provided a small shrine on the North-East side within the temple courtyard for safeguarding the temple. Worship is offered to Kshetrapala prior important rituals praying for efficient and safe conclusion of that ritual.

    Kshetrapalas are installed and worshipped in Jain and Buddhist traditions also

    The Kshetrapalas are identified with Bhairava the terrible aspect of Shiva; as also with the ferocious looking Veerabhadra the son of Shiva. . According to one legend Siva created Kshetrapala along with others to organize the army of Kali when she went to fight the demon Daruka.

    In the Sri Vishvanatha temple at Kasi, the Kshetrapala there also performs the function of Dvarapala, to guard the Lord against impure elements.

    When Kshetrapala attends to Mahakala, the Lord of death who resides in the burning ghats, it is said, Kshetrapala wearing a skull cup, holding a chopper, rides a black bear.

    When the Kshetrapala are depicted in an images, they are generally : awe inspiring ,terrifying, huge , three eyed, untidy, wielding a number of weapons and usually accompanied by dogs .Sometimes in the village open- courtyards blocks of stone are designated and worshipped as Kshetrapala.

    Regards

    Kshetrapala

    Kshetrapala in open yard

    Buddhist Kshetrapala

     
  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 17, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    DSampath
    lovely let me share with you my experiential reality
    my writing is very tangential and not very linear..
    a dwara is the gap through which the good and the bad enter
    the sacred space..
    body as a temple has also the navadwaras and the saftey of entrance are through the spinchters.which are controlled by
    reacvity…
    reactivity is a protection for the unacceptable to enter the abode
    of a sacred space..
    like the hissing of the snake…
    dwara palikas are symbolic in nature..
    dwara palikas have a geneology of identities
    karuppana sami ….mariatha koils are .. found in all south indian villages are
    the protectors of the village..
    they are larger gods
    iyyanars are for protecting the entrance to a village
    then come the
    larger pantheon of
    the protectors of the existaetial self.. the controllers of orifices or dwaras….
    veerbhadra and bhadra kali…
    then comes the sons of siva
    or the chakra of vishnu..chakrathalwars..or garudlawar or even pavanputhra
    then comes the sons of siva
    ganesha the lord of of the gana forces
    and muruga the leader of forces aginst the evill
    muruga of course and ganesha themselves equate with siva himself..s
    mars itself is also a creative protector though the image the traditional symbolism has given is unfair..he protects against the basic
    instincts of freudian..sexuality..
    thanks for helping me in moving forward in my understanding of my self…

    DSampath

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 17, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      Dear Shri Sampath, You are truly marvelous.

      A dwara is the gap through which the good and the bad enter the sacred space.

      We put thirty spokes to make a wheel: But it is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges. We make a vessel from a lump of clay; But, it is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful. We make doors and windows for a room; But , it is the empty spaces that make the room livable. Thus, while existence has advantages, It is the emptiness that makes it useful.

      Lao Tzu (c.604 – 531 B.C.)

      Kindly keep talking

      Regards

      PS: Please read Karna

       
  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 17, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    Dear Sreenivas Rao Jee,
    Thanks a lot for this great work! It is really helpful.
    And comments are also interesting.
    Thanks to all.

    Atma Raga

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 17, 2015 at 3:26 pm

      Dear Atma-Raga, Wish you a Very Happy Ganesh.

      I visited your page at http://atmaville.org/gallery/main.php

      The pictures are great and you are truly very gifted. It was a pleasure viewing your creations. The photographs too are splendid. Thank you for the invitation.

      I have uploaded some line-drawings of Dasavatara (ten avatars) made by artist – shilpi Shri Thippajappa (1780-1856). The drawings are in the old style and are interesting; sadly, not many know about the gifted artist. He has also drawn what one might call ”trick ’pictures , like a Bull and elephant sharing one head, five women fitted into the body of a horse and ten women in an elephant etc. Such types of drawings are now out of fashion or trend.

      At your leisure, Please check Ganapathi, the lord of the ganas as also its earlier post on the origins of Ganesha worship.

      Wish you again a very happy Ganesh. Please keep talking.

      Regards

       
  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 6:07 am

    Excellent answer. I am extremely happy to know such details about Dwarpala. Many many thanks to you sir.

    Regards,

    Dr. Kaushik Desai

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 6:07 am

      Dear Dr. Desai , thank you for breathing life into an old and a forgotten blog. I am happy you liked it.

      As I recall, ‘Atma Raga’ is a Russian , living in France. She is into painting and also study of Indian Religions.

      Prior to this , she had asked about ‘The Eleven (Ekadasha ) Rudras.

      Please check the link below.

      http://creative.sulekha.com/the-rudras-eleven_398301_blog

      Please also see the comments on both pages .Some of that is interesting.

      Please keep talking.

      Regards

       
  5. Anoop K

    October 6, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Hope this thread is still alive. I have a question. When you mention right and left position of the dwarapalas, do you mean right and left as the worshipper faces the dvara or right and left of the idol as it faces the worshipper ?

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      October 6, 2017 at 11:51 am

      Dear Anoop

      Thanks for the visit

      It is :

      right and left of the idol as it faces the worshiper

      Regards

       
  6. Dr JB Ratti

    November 15, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Dear Sreenivasaraos, I have been reading your blogs and have found them very informative and deeply researched. I have been studying South Indian Temple Architecture which you have covered so well. I have a question for you. What is the significance of “Barrel-vault” design found on so many South Indian temples? Even Kailasha Temple at Ellora has several Ballel- Vaults carved on the sides of Mahamandapam and Vimana. I shall be thankful for full details on this aspect.
    Thanks
    Dr JB Ratti

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      November 17, 2017 at 7:43 pm

        Dear Dr. Ratti, I am delighted you are here. I saw your very impressive and scholarly articles on a variety of subjects. Congratulations. (BTW, I did not, earlier, know about the Titus- Jesus debate. Thank you Sir)

        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.

        Srirangam vimana

        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.

        Pardon me for the length of my response. If you have read up to here I admire your patience.

        Thanks for asking. This has also been a sort of an education for me.

        Please do read the other articles as well ; and let me know.

        Warm Regards

       

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