6 Astonishing Stages And Forms Of Hindu Temple Architecture

A temple is a place where people pray to God. However, we forget that temples are much more than that. Apart from the religious aspect, they have a social, economic, and political purpose. In India, we see different kinds of Hindu temples varying from place to place. But it is quite intriguing to know that temple architecture has a long journey by itself.

In the first Urban civilization in India, i.e., the Harappan Civilization, we hardly have any religious structure. Some of the structures like the ‘Great Bath’ are assumed to be used for religious purposes. But after the Vedic Age, we see the importance of Yajya and rituals coming up and so do religious structures.

All basic forms of Hindu temples comprise of –

  1. Garbhagriha, here the principal deity resides.
  2. Mandapa, which is the entrance of the temple.
  3. Shikhara, a mountain like spire.
  4. Vahana, the mount or vehicle of the main deity.

Indian temples are mainly Panchayatan styled, where there are four subsidiary shrines along with the main shrine. At times, and in various regions, we see variations and developments of this basic temple structure.

1. Nagara School

Source: Lakshman temple at Khajuraho

From the 5th century AD onwards, the Nagara style of Hindu temple architecture developed in northern parts of India. This school of temple architecture generally follows the Panchayatana style. Outside the Garbhagriha, images of the river goddesses like Ganga and Yamuna were placed.

There are three sub-schools of this style, namely, Odisha school, Khajuraho school, and Solanki school. Some examples of Nagara temples are Sun temple in Konark, Odisha, Lakshman temple at Khajuraho, Modera sun temple at Gujrat, etc.

2. Dravida School

Source: Brihadeswara temple at Tanjore

This form of Hindu temple architecture is prevalent in South India. The Chola rulers of South India patronized this school. There are two differences between the Nagara and Dravida school of architecture. The Dravida school of architecture includes high boundary walls, which are not seen in the Nagara style. Also, Dravida temples have Gopurams which are basically gateways. For example, Brihadeswara temple at Tanjore, Gaikondacholapuram temple, etc.

3. Nayaka School

Source: Meenakshi Temple in Madurai

The Nayaka school flourished under Nayaka rules in 16th to 18th century AD. It is also known as the Madurai school. It is similar to the Dravidian style, but Islamic influence can be seen for obvious political reasons. An example of the Nayaka school is the Meenakshi temple in Madurai.

4. Vesara School

Source- Virasat-E-Hind Foundation

Also known as the Karnataka school of Hindu temple architecture, the Vesara school combines both Nagara and Dravida schools. That is why it is also known as Hybridised style. It is seen in the central Indian region. Dynasties like Rastrakuta, Chalukya, Hoysala, etc., patronized this style of temple architecture. For example, temples at Badami, Ladkhan temple at Aihole, etc.

5. Vijayanagara School

Hindu Temple
Source- Wikimedia Commons

The rulers of the Vijayanagara empire from 1335 to 1565 AD patronized many structures at Hampi, and most of them are religious in nature. So the temples patronized by them fall under this school of architecture. The main feature of their architectural style was the concept of secular buildings inside the temple premises, where a lot of social work is done. Virupaksha temple at Hampi is an excellent example of Vijayanagara school.

6. Pala And Sena School

Source: Sena school temple

Pala and Sena school of Hindu temple architecture is a style of the Bengal region. It is somewhat similar to Odisha school. As the name suggests, it was patronized by the Pala and Sena dynasty rulers in the 12th century AD. It also shows a mixing with Buddhist temple architecture. Examples of Pala and Sena school temples are the temples around the Vishnupur area.

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