temple architecture
temple architecture

The temple is the focus for all phases of usual life in the Hindu community-religious, cultural, institutional, and social. It is also the spot where one can transcend the world of man. However, Hindus suppose that their lives are merely stages in the improvement to ultimate understanding. Also, a place where God may approach and where spiritual knowledge can discover.

All features of the Hindu temple focus on the purpose of understanding and liberation-the beliefs of design and construction, the forms of its architecture and design, and the rituals convoyed. Also, all of these are determined by classical texts called shastras compiled by the priests- the brahmins. In addition, the Vastu shastras were theoretical and idealized depictions of the architectural traditions and conventions to follow. The temple is designed to soften the boundaries between man and the divine. Not only his abode, the temple ‘is’ God. God and therefore by implication the whole universe is identified with the temple’s design and the actual fabric.

Temple Architecture
Temple Architecture

Concept and cosmology of Temple Architecture

Cosmologically sacred sites & structures, which represent physical embodiments of places where gods are believed to dwell. Hindu temple architecture is correspondingly cosmological in both plan, section & elevation. In elevation/section temple represents the cosmic “axis & Mundi” running from the center of earth celestial space above the mountain apex. The temple’s dark interior represents the mystical focal point, a cave-like form represents the womb.

the concept of temple architecture
Temple Architecture
the concept of temple architecture
concept of temple architecture

Also, Read: The History of Indus Valley Civilization


By expanding in complexity this method of proportion could spawn the most complex of forms with their basic unit surviving the square. This was by manipulation of this primary frame that the Indian architect created the most famous temples of the Country.

Besides the ground plan, there are other significant aspects of the temple which combine it with the phenomenal world – its locality concerning shade and water, its upward elevation relating to the mountains, and the most sacred part, the Garbagriha, relating to caves.

Temple Architecture
The evolution of temple architecture
evolution of temple architecture
Temple Architecture
the evolution of temple architecture

The Puranas state that ‘The gods always play where groves are near rivers, mountains, and springs’. Therefore, usually associated with water, shade, and lakes of the Country often considered to sacre and they have healing and purifying powers.  Rivers such as the Ganges are thought to have descended from the heavens, perhaps the  Milky Way, and their sacred water is needed in the temple tank.


The idols have always attracted to hills and they have great hills for the symbolism and appearance of the temple. There was an impulse to form soaring towers that looked like mountain ranges.  

It is tiny and dull and the exteriors of the walls are unadorned and massive.  It is also a place that inspires meditation which is possible only in solitude. Additionally, approaching the shrine is a  movement from open spaces to a  confined small space; from light to darkness, from a profusion of visual form and decoration to the visual simplicity.

The implied action is vertical, to the characteristic mountain peak directly above the image of the god. This step upwards is linked to the idea of wisdom which is identified with the crowning final of the temple – the Amalaka or Sikara.


The materials of the temple are straight related to the classes of Hindu society. Stone or bricks considered suitable for temples dedicated to a male deity.  However, for female deity bricks and wood were considered suitable.  Also, the stone was considered the most sacred construction material for the temples.

It has often called carving on a mass scale rather than true architecture. This is because there was small structural inventiveness or technical ingenuity. No attempts were made to solve the problems of spanning large distances by the use of the arch, vault, or dome, which were by this time common in other parts of the world. Rather than, the Indian mason relied on gravity and mass for his structure to stand, and the piling of large blocks one on top of the other ensured stability without using mortar. 

However, the finished building showed a fine recognition of mass and the value and effects of shadow to a marked degree. Every part of the building was the result of generations of conscious and subconscious knowledge. This has made Indian temples poetry in stone, mute sentinels to the skill of their unnamed contractors.

Also, Read: The hill of the Buddha – Tadao Ando

Elements of Temple Architecture

Elements of Temple Architecture


A stone plate, usually with ridges on the rim, sits atop the temple’s main column. According to one interpretation, the Amalaka represents a lotus, and thus the symbolic seat for the deity below. Another interpretation is that it symbolizes the sun, and is thus the gateway to the heavenly world. The Amalaka, crowned with a Kalasha (finial), from which a temple banner often hung.

Entrance Porch (Ardhamandapa)

The entry porch formed a transitional area within the outside world and the mandapa or hall. Most temple buildings have some sort of transitional space between the central shrine (Garbhagrha) and the outside world, but only the largest, most developed temples will have all of these elements.

Hall (Mandapa) in Temple Architecture

A hall in the temple, forming a transitional space between the Ardha mandapa and maha mandapa. Also, in smaller or less architecturally develop temples.

Inner Sanctum (Garbhagrha)

The temple’s inner sanctum, containing the image of the temple’s main deity. However, the basic purpose of a Hindu temple is to serve as the deity’s dwelling place. The word Garbha can mean either “womb” or “embryo;” both meanings connote potentiality, hiddenness, and a sense of development. The Garbhagrha was located directly below the summit of the highest tower, with the primary deity directly under the highest point. Tiny temples may only have a small shrine room at the back end of the temple but larger temples often also have a processional pathway throughout the central shrine,  via which the devotee can round around the god as a sign of respect and worship.

Secondary Tower (Urushringa)

Tiny towers on the temple’s exterior lead the eye up to the highest point. Their shape often replicates that of the tallest central tower and serves to draw the eye upward toward it.

Base Platform (Adhishsthana) in Temple Architecture

The elevated base on which a temple was built. These are particularly high in the temples at Khajuraho, and their height accentuates these temples’ upward thrust.

Shikhara / Vimana

They are the roof towers of temple architecture. It is the term for the tower above the Garbhagriha or  Sanctum. With respect to the structural development of the style in India  Temple, the two principal varieties (i) the pyramidal shape and (ii) the curvilinear shape are prominent. Both the superstructures have truncated bodies,  which are either straight or curved and terminated by a platform (the neck, skandha), and above it rests the crowning portion whence rises the final.


It’s a great tower at the main gate of a temple. They function as gateways through the walls envelope the temple complex. The  Gopuram of the main entrance is 30 meters high. It is smaller than a vimana.  Though usually in Dravidian architecture, gopurams used to be taller than Vimana.

Also, Read: The Church of Light by Tadao Ando

Examples of Temple Architecture

Temple Architecture
Temple at Sanchi
Temple at Tigwa
Temple Architecture
Durga Temple at Aihole

Three Types of Temple Architecture

  • Nagara / North Indian  style
  • Dravida / South Indian style
  • Vesara/Hybrid/Central India style
types of temple Architecture in map

Nagara style

  • In North India, an entire temple built on a high stone platform.
  • It generally did not have large enclosures and entrances.
  • Initially, the temples had only one peak or shikhara, below which is located Garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum). In later temples, many other peaks were also built along with the main shikhara.
  • The main deity installed in the sanctum sanctorum.
  • The sanctum was always located under the tallest tower.
  • Amalakh or Kalash which is installed on the shikhara of the temple is another feature of this style.
  • Kandariya Mahadev Temple in Madhya Pradesh is a classic example of Nagara style of temple architecture. It was also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986.
Temple Architecture
Sun Temple at Modhera
Sun Temple at Konark
Temple Architecture
Lakshman Temple of Khajuraho

Also, Read Byzantine Architecture

Dravida Style of Temple Architecture

  • Large walls surround the Dravidian temple. There is a huge gate for entry inside which called as Gopuram.
  • The main temple has a geometric shaped pyramid-like tower known as Vimana.
  • There was a large water reservoir within the boundary of the temple.
  • Ancillary temples were also built in it. Ancillary temples either included within the tower of the main temple, or located as small temples next to the main temple.
  • The Brihadishsvara temple at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu is a unique example of Dravidian architecture.
Shore Temple Mahabalipuram
Temple Architecture
Meenakshi Temple

Vesara Style

  • It is a hybridized style that became popular after mid 7th century in the Deccan architecture.
  • The shape of the superstructure over the sanctum is usually pyramidal and is shorter than northern shikara tower.
  • Also, the Hoysaleshvara Temple at Halebid, Karnataka is an example of this type of architecture. The temple is dedicated to Shiva as Nataraja.
Durga Temple at Aihole
Temple Architecture
Virupaksha Temple Pattadakal
Kailash Temple: Ellora

Also, Read The history of architecture – From pre-historic to modernism.

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