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The Elements of Hindu Temple

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It was during the 5th Century AD, that the Gupta Dynasty carrying forward the tradition of religious cave temples built the first permanent free-standing Hindu temple and marked an important epoch in the history of Indian Temple Architecture. In ancient India, temple architecture of high standard developed in almost all regions. It is notable that the temples were not designed only built as a platform for meeting the Gods and Goddesses but also as a ‘Devalaya’, meaning the dwelling place of the deity.

Hindu Temple Architecture evolved gradually over centuries from rock-cut cave shrines to monolithic rathas and finally to hefty and ornate temples.

The Khajuraho Temple complex is a series of beautifully built and decorated buildings in the Chattarpur region of Madhya Pradesh. The temple is famous for the Nagara Style architectural symbolism and the erotic sculptures. The various elements that form the basic structure of the Hindu temples are as follows:

  • JAGATI is a high raised platform upon which the entire Hindu temple stands. It is made of stone bricks with several moldings. Jagati lies on a base called ADHISTHANA that adds to its height. The sides of Adhisthana are often decorated with sculptures. In some smaller temples, Jagati allows for circumambulation or ‘Pradakshina’, an occasional walk around the shrine in a clockwise direction. In some larger temples, the circumambulation is possible inside the temple along a wall around the shrine called PRADAKSHINA PATH.
  • MANDAPA, the entrance to the temple may be a portico having a series of columns placed at regular intervals. This is the space where worshippers perform dances and deliver their prayers and offerings to God. In some temples, multiple mandapas are present in different sizes and according to the sizes they are named as ARDHAMANDAPA (the entrance porch), MANDAPA (the hall) and MAHAMANDAPA (the great hall).
  • GARBHAGRIHA, meaning womb-house, is a cave-like sanctum made to house the main icon or the main deity. In earlier temples, Garbhagriha was a small cubical structure with a single entrance which later on grew into a larger complex.
  • ANTARALA, or Vestibule, is the transition area between Garbhagriha and Mandapa.
  • SHIKHARA or VIMANA is the spire of the free-standing temple. The curve shaped Shikhara is found in the North Indian Temples, whereas the Vimana, having a pyramid-like structure, is found in South Indian Temples.
  • AMALAKA is a stone disc-like structure at the top of the temple. It is usually found in the North Indian Temples and is believed to represent the deity of the temple.
  • KALASHA, commonly found in North Indian Temples, is the topmost point of the temple.
  • And the VAHANA, the vehicle of the temple’s main deity along with a standard pillar or ‘Dhvaj’, is placed axially before the sanctum.

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