Sunday, 8 July 2012

Re- Discovering History : Temples of India.

The word temple originated from the Latin word 'templum', which means  a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities which includes prayer, sacrifices, or corresponding rites. However when we talk about temples the 1st thing that comes to our mind are those temples situated in India. The number of temples in India is innumerable, popularly known as “Mandir”. The word Mandir  means a place of worship. Both “Temple and “Mandir” though synonymous, the word 'Temple' is a bit wider term. Where temple includes all type of worship place in the world irrespective of religion, “Mandir” includes only those places of worship which have “Murti”, an idol worshiped only by Hindus

There is no written record of the establishment of the first temple or mandir. But if we look into the Hindu mythology, we will find that emergence of god and goddesses were due to the fear that dwelled in the people. Every natural calamity that destroyed, caused danger, death was attributed to the god of destruction. Other gods brought prosperity or profit and were worshiped by the people to please the gods.  For example they worshiped “Surya dev” the god of life, “Indra dev” the rain god for fertility, "lakshmi" the goddesses of prosperity and so on. Initially idols were not worshiped, it was later when people started imagining  as to how gods and goddesses might looked, that the ancient people started the art of sculpture and idol worship, however when the idol worship started, people started to feel a need of a shade to prevent these sculpture or idol from destruction  hence building of temples started.   

The earliest temples were made of perishable materials for example clay and timber which were destroyed way back and have no record today. Next was the cave rock cut structure where the dead body was buried and caved the grave with big rocks. The first such cave was created in Rajgir around 500 B.C. it was later that elaborated structural temples with complex architecture and sculpture came into existence. With the adoption of verity of styles, Gupta period marked the beginning of structural temples.  The temples were now built of stones and bricks. And thus an era of building of temple started in India so much so that today one can see a temple at every corner of the road. There is a great difference in the building style of temples of all the regions of India thus theses temples are categorized on the basis of their structure and design.

Thus temples in India are divided into 3 types on the basis of their construction:-

      The North Indian style (Nagra style)
      The western and Deccan style
      The Southern style (Dravida style)

 The North Indian style (Nagara style)

In this style we see projection on the outer side leading to cruciform shape where the temple is a square at the centre.  Each projection has been named, where there is one projection it is known as triratha, two projection, pancharatha, in case of three projections it is called  sapthratha and for four projection it is called navarath. These projections can be found all over the structure of the temple. These temple styles can mostly be found in Gujarat, Orissa and Rajasthan. The temple of Orissa are described as Nagara Style. These are the temples which managed to survive the destruction made in  several invasion in India and are still standing as an unique piece of art. The temple as well as the literature lays down the rules and modes of construction and are very well preserved in Orissa. In this particular style, the structure consists of two “mandaps”. The main shrine is taller and bigger in size while the other adjacent one is smaller and shorter “mandap”. The basic difference between both of them is the  “shikhara”. Temple presenting this particular style are:

The sun temple at Konarak
Jagannath temple at Puri
Rajarani temple
Lingaraja temple
Anantha vasudeva temple
Brahmesvara temple in Bhubaneswar
The Parasurameswara temple at Bhubaneswar .

However the oldest Hindu temple functioning today which has survived all the odds is Mundeshwari Temple situated in Kaimur district of Bihar. It is also the oldest Hindu temple in the world. It’s construction date is ascribed 108 B.C.

Western India and the Deccan Style (vesara style)

western India and Deccan style basically originated from the North Indian style. It is essentially a combination of Nagara and Dravida style. A typical example of vesara is Kajuraho temple. The Svargabrshma temple situated at Alampur in the state of A.P has similar characteristics. The trend of merging styles was started by Chaiukyas of Badami (500-753 A.D) who built temples merging the two different style if the Nagara and the Dravida. Temples built in Halibid , Belur and Somanathpur are classified under this style.

Temples built in Vesara Style are also found in other parts of India, including Baijnath, Sirpur, Baroli and Amarkanatk.
Oldest or Early temples of this style are:
Vaidyanatha Mahadeva temple at Baijnath
Sikara  Mahaseva temple at Baroli
Viratesvara temple at Sohagpur
Lakshmana temple at sirpur
Kesavanarayana temple at Amarkantak

The Prime temples of this style are:
Devi temple
Jawari temple
Adinath temple
Brahama temple 
Laiguan temple 
Lakshmana temple 
Parsvanatha temple
Kandariya temple
Charsath temple
Vamana temple
Matangeshvara temple etc.

Chandellas basically used the coloured sandstone for instance pale yellow, pink, buff colour in the construction of these temples. Temples were also made of Granite stones. Temples of vesara were dedicated to gods Shiva, Vaishnava however the Jain sects did not show great variation in style between one another.

The Southern style (Dravida Style)

Vimana and the Gopurams are distinctive characteristic of the southern style which developed in the Dravida Desam.  Vimana is nothing but a tall pyramid tower consisting of several progressively smaller storeys which stands on a square base, whereas Gopurams are are two storeys separated by horizontal moulding. Parakara (the outer wall) envelops the main place of worship as wall as the other shrines, the tank. 

All the mighty rulers of the south like the Pallavas, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Nayaks, Vijayanagar, contributed a lot to this style of temples.

Pallava Temples: 
The Pallava temples generally have a somaskanda relief panel. Some of the Pallava temples includes Rajasimha temple, Olakkaneshvara temple, shore temple at Mamallapuram, Vaikuntha Perumal temple, Mukundanayanar temple etc.

Chola Temples: 
They erected a lot of temples and also renovated earlier brick structures in stone.
 Earlier Chola temples are Kamparhesvara temple at Triubvanam, Airavateswara temple at Darasuram, Brihadiswara temple at Tanjavur, Gandikonda Cholapuram, Narthamalai Komganatha temple etc.

Pandya Temples:
Pandyas mostly concentrated at the main entrance which they called  Gopurams. Typical Pandya style can be seen in Sundara Pandya Gopuram added to the Jambukesvara temple, east Gopuram, Great temple, Chidambaram.  In this style basic structure and the original style was maintained, but the decorations on the Gopurams and the size characterises the Pandya Gopurams.

Vijayanagar Temples:
The tall massive Gopurams and the multiple mandapas are the main contribution of the Vijyanagar Period. Another major feature of this temple is the carved pillars with the reasing simhas (lions), yalis (lions with elephant trunks). Vijayanagar temple was very different from that of Chola  here the entire temple structure was not unified whole like those in the Chola system. The number of mandaps, pillared halls, shrines to minor deities, tanks, etc was found to be absent in this form of temples, which was very much present in the chola system.  Important temples of vijayanagar period are Vitthala swami temple, Vijayanagar, the pillars of the Ekambaranatha temple.

Nayak Temple:
The main characteristic of temples of this period was the elaborate mandapas of hundred and thousand pillared type, the high Gopurams with stucco statues on the surface and the long corridors. Temples representing this style are The Ranganatha temple is known for the increase in the number of enclosures while the temple of Rameshwaram is known for it’s  long corridors. The Subramanya temple situated Brihadisvara temple court at Tanjavur is known for the fine vimana with arsha and maha mandapas. 

Thus one can actually see the variety of temples present in India each being totally different from the other. The influence of various kings, era and popularity of god and goddesses can be very well perceived in the construction of an assortment of temples of different states.  It must be noted that temples not only mean “Mandirs”, rather it includes all places of worship irrespective of caste, creed, religion or country some of the famous temples of the world are:

Temple of Hephaestus, a Doric Greek Temple in Athens, 449 B.C

Khmer Angko Wat Hindu temple in Cambodia.

Mesopotamian Temple (The Ziggurat of Ur)

    Egyptian Temples (Luxor temple,Egypt)


Greco- Roman temple (Parthenon on Acropolis, Athens)

             Zoroastrian temple ( Fire temple)   

                                               The Golden Temple, Amritsar    

            Hindu temple (Akshardharm temple, New Delhi, India)

Wat Phra Kaew (Buddhist Temple)

Jain temple (Rankapur Temple)


- Kumari Ranjana Bharti

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