Temple Run: Episode #1: An Introduction

Being an ardent admirer and a fascinated fan of the ancient temple architecture in India, this series of Temple Run is an effort to showcase the treasure house of art that the ancients temples embody! Traditionally constructed as shrines of prayer and worship, the structures themselves are no less than a work of exquisite art. In the prehistoric times, Hinduism did not have the concept of temple worship. Prayers were not limited then to these sanctums and instead were offered in the form of Vedic rituals like the fire sacrifice named Yagna out in the open in the lap of Nature. Then began the age when man became mobile and there developed a concept of Yatra or journey. Movement of civilization being an integral yardstick of development, mankind was introduced to the concept of travel and lead to the creation of conveyance like the chariot or the Rath. Horse drawn carriages were the transport of the rich and the royal. And having graduated from exquisitely carved cave temples, chariots came to be built even for the Almighty, the ultimate Master of all.

If you look closely at the temples of today, they still resemble mighty stone chariots. Whats missing are the horses in the front and the wheels beneath. 🙂 Interestingly the prehistoric remains of the Hindu temples have cart wheels etched in stone along with the edifice, be it in Konark or Hampi, such colosal stone wheels are reminders of the early Chariots of the Gods!

Researching about temple architecture, I realized that I had opened a Pandora’s box. Time and again, I am intrigued by the evidence of the deep rooted knowledge and consciousness of the sheer ‘Existence’ of oneself and the Universe in Hinduism, often manifested in the form of mathematics and even civil engineering. In fact, there is a god named Vishwakarma who is deemed as the God of Engineering and machines. 🙂

A science in itself, the temples, honouring Shilpa Shastras (Scriptures explaining the science of art) and Vastu Shastras (Manuals on the science of architecture), were structured to have a garbha-griha, an ante-chamber that hosts the idol embodying the Supreme Power, a Shikhara or Vimanam – the symmetry driven spire that rises up towards the skies, a Mandapa or porch with exquisitely carved pillars for the devotees to assemble and offer their prayers and finally an ambulatory for Parikrama (or Pradakshina) i.e. circumlocution of the deity – the circular path around the garbha-griha keeping the Almighty in the centre was symbolic of the continuous effort to keep our actions and thoughts revolve around the Almighty so that we conduct ourselves righteously.

Like the moon revolves around the Earth, the earth around the sun, the sun around the probable black hole at the centre of the Milky Way and the Milky way around the gravitational anomaly called the Great Attractor, so do we can revolve around the Supreme Power! Revolution is one of the outcomes of the characteristics of the Universe, namely gravity transforming the space-time garment which results in a smaller being getting attracted and eventually becoming one with the superior being. Man being inferior and the Supreme Almighty being superior; the ultimate destiny of every thing is to go back to the eternal Oneness of the universe. But then that is another topic altogether, isn’t it? 🙂

Its fascinating how a few aspects change across the directions in India – the food, the clothing, the language, and of course the temple architecture, the last can be classified into three broad categories: Nagara or the northern style, Dravida or the southern style, and Vesara or the hybrid style.

In the temples of the northern and the central parts of the country, One comes across harmonious geometric symmetry when viewed from all four directions. Laid on elaborately carved ornate platforms, these temples have soaring pyramidal towers which are often multi-tiered carved squares topped by a cushion like stone disk, each tier rich in carvings of the gods and goddesses and characters from the mythology and grand epics like Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These temples are grandeur personified in stone.


The temples in the Southern India have trapezoidal multi-tiers with intricate carvings on each tier, eventually culminating in a cylindrical cornice at the top. A difference from the Nagara style, Dravidian temple complexes usually have a taller and a more richly ornate entrance tower then the actual shrine. Many temples in Tamil Nadu are even multi- coloured.

The temples in Bengal, on the other hand, have a rustic hut feel to them. “Ma Maati Manush” (Divine Mother, Motherland, Mankind) being the slogan of the present ruling party in Bengal, it would be safe to assume that the temple makers of the yester- years in this part of the country stuck to the rustic and earthy feel for a purpose to be closer to rural Bengal. The explanation lies in the fact that there is lack of suitable stone in the alluvial Gangetic delta and as a consequence, temple makers ditched stone and used burnt brick and terracotta to build and decorate these temples. The rounded roofs and the towering turrets indeed give the temples a unique look.

The temples in Kerala, like Bengal, again have a distinctness about them. They resemble Kerala homes – steep and pointed tiled conical roofs, an amalgam of stone and wood work on the edifice with pillars being their distinct characteristics. The floors are very often red while the pillars are black. The most beautiful part is the square mesh like grid of oil lamps laid across the walls. They make for a vivid sight when the lamps are lit!

And this tryst with the temple architecture took us to Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal, enchanting temples covered in my next episode of the series! Temple Run: Episode #2: The Early Chalukyan Temples

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