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

Garbhagriha in a Temple

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  • 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

North and South Temples

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  • 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.