The Nagara or North Indian Temple Style Indian Art and Culture

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The style of temple architecture that became popular in northern India is known as nagara.

North Indian Temple Style

In North India it is common for an entire temple to be built on a stone platform with steps leading up to it.

In South India it does not usually have elaborate boundary walls or gateways.

While the earliest temples had just one tower, or shikhara, later temples had several.

The garbhagriha is always located directly under the tallest tower.

There are many subdivisions of nagara temples depending on the shape of the shikhara.

There are different names for the various parts of the temple in different parts of India; however, the most common name for the simpleshikhara which is square at the base and whose walls curve or slope inward to a point on top is called the ‘latina’ or the rekha-prasada type of shikara.

The second major type of architectural form in the nagara order is the phamsana.

Phamsana buildings tend to be broader and shorter than latina ones.

Their roofs are composed of several slabs that gently rise to a single point over the centre of the building, unlike the latina ones which look like sharply rising tall towers.

Phamsana roofs do not curve inward, instead they slope upwards on a straight incline.

In many North Indian temples, you will notice that the phamsana design is used for the mandapas while the main garbhagriha is housed in a latina building.

Later on, the latina buildings grew complex, and instead of appearing like a single tall tower, the temple began to support many smaller towers, which were clustered together like rising mountainpeaks with the tallest one being in the centre, and this was the one which was always above the garbhagriha.

The third main sub-type of the nagara building is what is generally called the valabhi type.

These are rectangular buildings with a roof that rises into a vaulted chamber. The edge of this vaulted chamber is rounded, like the bamboo or wooden wagons that would have been drawn by bullocks in ancient times.

They are usually called ‘wagon vaulted buildings’ .

  • The valabhi type of building was one of them.
  • the ground-plan of many of the Buddhist rock-cut chaitya caves, you will notice that they are shaped as long halls which end in a curved back.
  • From the inside, the roof of this portion also looks like a wagon-vaulted roof.
  • Central India Ancient temples of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan share many traits.
  • The most visible is that they are made of sandstone.
  • Some of the oldest surviving structural temples from the Gupta Period are in Madhya Pradesh.
  • These are relatively modest-looking shrines each having four pillars that support a small mandapa which looks like a simple square porch-like extension before an equally small room that served as the garbhagriha.
  • Importantly, of the two such temples that survive, one is at Udaigiri, which is on the outskirts of Vidisha and is part of a larger Hindu complex of cave shrines, while the other one is at Sanchi, which was a Buddhist site.
  • This means that similar developments were being incorporated in the architecture of temples of both the religions.
  • The patrons and donors of the temple at Deogarh (in Lalitpur District, Uttar Pradesh) are unknown; however, on the basis of both architecture and imagery, it is established that this temple was built in the early sixth century CE.
  • That is, about a hundred years or so after the small temples we just learnt about in Sanchi and Udaigiri.
  • This makes it a classic example of a late Gupta Period type of temple.
  • This temple is in the panchayatanastyle of architecture where the main shrine is built on a rectangular plinth with four smaller subsidiary shrines at the four corners (making it a total number of five shrines, hence the name, panchayatana) .
  • The tall and curvilinear shikhara also corroborates this date.
  • The presence of this curving latina or rekha-prasada type of shikhara also makes it clear that this is an early example of a classic nagarastyle of temple.
  • west-facing temple has a grand doorway with standing sculptures of female figures representing the Ganga on the left side and the Yamuna on the right side.
  • The temple depicts Vishnu in various forms, due to which it was assumed that the four subsidiary shrines must also have housed Vishnu՚s avatarsand the temple was mistaken for a dasavatara temple.
  • Not actually known to whom the four subsidiary shrines were originally dedicated.
  • There are three main reliefs of Vishnu on the temple walls: Sheshashayana on the south, NaraNarayan on the east and Gajendramoksha on the west.
  • The temple is west-facing, which is less common, as most temples are east- or north-facing. Numerous temples of smaller dimensions have been constructed over a period of time.
  • By contrast, if we study the temples of Khajuraho made in the tenth century, i.e.. , about four hundred years after the temple at Deogarh, we can see how dramatically the shape and style of the nagara temple architecture had developed.
  • The Lakshmana temple dedicated to Vishnu is the grandest temple of Khajuraho, built in 954 by the Chandela king, Dhanga.
Nagara Temple
  • A nagara temple, it is placed on a high platform accessed by stairs.
  • There are four smaller temples in the corners, and all the towers or shikharasrise high, upward in a curved pyramidal fashion, emphasising the temples՚ vertical thrust ending in a horizontal fluted disc called an amalaktopped with a kalashor vase.
  • The crowning elements: amalakand kalash, are to be found on all nagara temples of this period.
  • The temple also has projecting balconies and verandahs, thus very different from Deogarh. Khajuraho՚s temples are also known for their extensive erotic sculptures; the erotic expression is given equal importance in human experience as spiritual pursuit, and it is seen as part of a larger cosmic whole.
  • Many Hindu temples therefore feature mithun (embracing couple) sculptures, considered auspicious.
  • Usually, they are placed at the entrance of the temple or on an exterior wall or they may also be placed on the walls between the mandapa and the main shrine.
  • Khajuraho՚s sculptures are highly stylised with typical features: they are in almost full relief, cut away from the surrounding stone, with sharp noses, prominent chins, long slanting eyes and eyebrows.
  • The other notable example at Khajuraho is Kandariya Mahadeo temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
  • There are many temples at Khajuraho, most of them devoted to Hindu gods.
  • There are some Jain temples as well as a Chausanth Yogini temple, which is of interest.
  • Predating the tenth century, this is a temple of small, square shrines of roughly-hewn granite blocks, each dedicated to esoteric devisor goddesses associated with the rise of Tantricworship after the seventh century.
  • Several such temples were dedicated to the cult of the yoginisacross Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and even as far south as Tamil Nadu.
  • They were built between the seventh and tenth centuries, but few have survived.