Temple Architecture - Different Styles - I
The history of Indian Sculpture and Architecture is more than two thousand years old. Many ancient texts describe architectural designs for temples. Three distinct architectural styles are identifiable – Nagara, Dravida and Vesara -
i. Nagara, which predominantly have a square design and are typical of temples in North India.
ii. Dravida, which predominantly have an octagonal design, and are typical of temples of South India.
iii. Vesara, which predominantly have a circular design and are typical of temples in Central India.
Early temples were carved out of caves and rocks (Ajanta, Ellora, Elephanta). Then there was a shift to using stones to create temples. In structural temple architecture, these three styles developed around 6th and 7th centuries. In the next thousand years, there was an explosion in innovative design in temple building. Initially, the South Indian Temples were more elaborate in design. Some of them started to be built based on the design of a ‘Ratha’ – chariot (i.e. Mahabalipuram, Konark, Hampi). During 10th and 11th centuries, as the experience of the architects increased, more elaborate shrines and towers were created, leading to the formation of some of the most grand temples such as the temples at Minakshi Temple at Madurai, Sri Rangam at Trichy, and Arunachaleswara at Tiruannamalai.
Nagara or Northern Style
The Nagara style, which developed in the 5th century, is characterized by the tower that is shaped like a beehive, called the shikhara, which is topped by a large round cushion-like structure called amalaka. The plan is based on a square, but the walls are sometimes so broken up that the tower often gives the impression of being circular.
Typical temples which had Nagara architectural style are Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneswar, Jagannath Temple at Puri, the Sun Temples at Konark (13th century) and Modhera. All these temples have a typical square structure to the main shrine. There are also two typical main structures, the main shrine (deula) which is taller, and the adjacent smaller structure (jagamohana), wherein the devotees can see the Lord. They were subsequently supplemented by bhoga-mandapa, where naivedya is offered to the Lord, and natya-mandapa, where dancers used to dance before the Lord. Only Lingaraj Temple and Jagannath Temple are complete with these four structures, whereas Parasurameswara Temple (7th century) has only the basic two structures.
Dravida or Southern Style
The Dravida style of temples are the most varied, and most fantastic to behold. Typically having an octagonal design, they consist of several progressive smaller storeys. These temples are massive in size, and are intricate in architectural design, using a variety of shapes and colours. Examples of temples of this style are Madurai, Sri Rangam and Rameswaram.
The Dravida or Southern style developed from 7th century. Typically, it has a pyramid shaped tower consisting of progressively smaller storeys of small pavilions, a narrow throat, and a dome on the top called shikhara. The repeated storeys give a horizontal visual thrust to the Southern style.
With each dynasty (Pallava - 600-900 CE, Chola – 900-1150 CE, Hoysala – 1100-1350 CE, Chalukya 600-1200 CE, Chandela 500-1300 CE, Vijayanagara – 1350-1565 CE) the architecture style underwent transformations. Sometimes with each individual king also the style became unique as in Tanjavur, Gangaikonda-cholapuram, and Darasuram) under Raja Raja Chola I. As per the scriptures, while building a temple, or renovating it, or making alterations, the existing structures are not be destroyed. However, since each king wanted to leave his own distinct stamp in the temple architecture, temple construction evolved.
Initially, a temple had only a garbhagrha – sanctum sanctorum and the antarala. Subsequently, the mukha-mandapa (jagamohana), then agra-mandapa (bhoga-mandapa), and still later nrtya-mandapa were added. When fortification began, gopuram construction started. The present day temple therefore, is an amalgamation of numerous techniques that grew and changed with ages, while following the diktats of the Agama Sastras. Besides this, the vastness of India, and its diversity also provided regional variations.
Vesara or Mixed style
The Vesara style of architecture is a mixture of North Indian and South Indian style that are found in the State of Karnataka, namely Aihole, Pattadakkal, Vatapi and other temple towns. In Vasara style, the development was not in the size of the temple, but of the intricate designs on the ceilings and walls.
Temples of Vesara style are typically made of sandstone or granite. These tend to give a circular structure to the main shrine. These temples are very similar, and show very little architectural differences from region to region. Examples of Vesara style are the Adinath Temple, Brahma Temple, Vamana Temple, and Parswanath Temple.