The Basic Form of the Hindu Temple

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  • The basic form of the Hindu temple comprises the following: (i) a cave-like sanctum (garbhagrihaliterally ‘womb-house’ ) , which, in the early temples, was a small cubicle with a single entrance and grew into a larger chamber in time.
Garbhagriha in a Temple
  • The garbhagriha is made to house the main icon which is itself the focus of much ritual attention; (ii) the entrance to the temple which may be a portico or colonnaded hall that incorporates space for a large number of worshippers and is known as a mandapa; (iii) from the fifth century CE onwards, freestanding temples tend to have a mountainlike spire, which can take the shape of a curving shikhar in North India and a pyramidal tower, called a vimana, in South India; (iv) the vahan, i.e.. , the mount or vehicle of the temple՚s main deity along with a standard pillar or dhvajis placed axially before the sanctum.
  • Two broad orders of temples in the country are known — Nagarain the north and Dravida the south.
North and South Temples
  • At times, the Vesar style of temples as an independent style created through the selective mixing of the Nagara and Dravida orders is mentioned by some scholars.
  • Elaborate studies are available on the various sub-styles within these orders. We will look into the differences in the forms further on in this chapter.
  • As temples grew more complex, more surfaces were created for sculpture through additive geometry, i.e.. , by adding more and more rhythmically projecting, symmetrical walls and niches, without breaking away from the fundamental plan of the shrine.


  • The study of images of deities falls within a branch of art history called ‘iconography’ , which consists of identification of images based on certain symbols and mythologies associated with them.
  • its specific usage at a spot can be a response to its local or immediate social, political or geographical context.
  • Every region and period produced its own distinct style of images with its regional variations in iconography.
  • The temple is covered with elaborate sculpture and ornament that form a fundamental part of its conception.
  • The placement of an image in a temple is carefully planned: for instance, river goddesses (Ganga and Yamuna) are usually found at the entrance of a garbhagrihain a Nagara temple,

dvarapalas (doorkeepers) are usually found on the gateways or gopuramsof Dravidatemples,

similarly, mithunas (erotic images) , navagrahas (the nine auspicious planets) and yakshasare also placed at entrances to guard them.

  • Various forms or aspects of the main divinity are to be found on the outer walls of the sanctum. The deities of directions, i.e.. , the ashtadikpalasface the eight key directions on the outer walls of the sanctum and/or on the outer walls of a temple.
  • Finally, various elements of ornamentation such as gavaksha, vyala/yali, kalpa-lata, amalaka, kalasha, etc. are used in distinct ways and places in a temple.