Temple Architecture and Different Styles | UPSC Art & Culture Notes

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Temple Architecture UPSC

The Indian subcontinent has a rich tradition of cultures and traditions, and this heritage is best reflected in its temple architecture. They are not just places of worship, but proof of the deep-rooted faith of the Indian people. Today, we will try to explore the prominent styles of Indian temple architecture from the perspective of Art & Culture syllabus: temple architecture UPSC. We will also focus on their unique characteristics and significance for UPSC aspirants.

Temple Architecture UPSC: Common Elements

While regional variations exist, most Indian temples share some core elements:

  • Garbhagriha (Sanctum Sanctorum): The innermost chamber, considered the most sacred space, houses the main deity.
  • Shikhara/Vimana (Tower): The towering structure above the Garbhagriha, symbolizing the mountain abode of the deity.
  • Mandapa (Hall): A pillared hall leading to the Garbhagriha, used for congregational gatherings and rituals.
  • Gopuram (Gateway): An ornately decorated entrance tower, often found in South Indian temples.
  • Sculpture and Reliefs: Depictions of deities, mythological stories, and intricate floral patterns adorn the temple walls and pillars.
Temple Architecture UPSC

The Two Pillars: Nagara and Dravidian Styles

Temple Architecture UPSC can be broadly categorized into two main styles:

  • Nagara Style (North Indian): Predominant in North, Central, and West India. Key features include:
    • Shikhara: Curvilinear spires with a smooth, rounded appearance, often topped with an amalaka (disc-like ornament).
    • Rekha-Prasada: The most common type of shikhara, with a square base tapering to a point.
    • Lower Enclosure: Unlike Dravidian temples, Nagara temples typically have a lower enclosure with smaller gateways.
    • Examples: Khajuraho Temples (Madhya Pradesh), Lingaraj Temple (Odisha), Brihadisvara Temple (Tamil Nadu – built by a North Indian dynasty)
  • Dravidian Style (South Indian): Predominant in South India. Characterized by:
    • Vimana: Multi-storeyed pyramidal tower with a distinct horizontal division.
    • Gopuram: Monumental gateway towers, richly decorated with sculptures and mythological scenes.
    • High Enclosure: Temples are often enclosed by high walls with multiple entrances.
    • Examples: Meenakshi Temple (Madurai), Brihadeshwara Temple (Thanjavur), Virupaksha Temple (Hampi)

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Exploring Other Styles of Temple Architecture

The rich culture of Indian temple architecture extends beyond the Nagara and Dravidian styles. Let’s understand some unique regional variations:

  • Vesara Style (Deccan Region): A mix of Nagara and Dravidian elements, seen in temples like the ones at Belur and Halebid (Karnataka).
  • Kalinga Style (Odisha): Characterized by curvilinear towers with a vault roof, evident in the Konark Sun Temple.
  • Maru-Gurjara Style (Rajasthan): Known for intricately carved pillars, balconies, and gateways, as seen in the Dilwara Temples (Mount Abu).
  • Hemadpanthi Style (Western India): Developed by the Yadava dynasty, these temples showcase black stone and intricate sculptural details (e.g., the Simhasana Temple, Shani Shingnapur).

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Temple Architecture UPSC: Significance

Understanding temple architecture goes beyond aesthetics. Here’s why it holds significance with respect to art & culture syllabus of temple Architecture UPSC:

  • Every element, from the layout to the sculptures, has symbolic meaning, reflecting the underlying religious beliefs and philosophies.
  • Temples offer a window into the social, political, and economic conditions of the era they were built in.
  • The engineering and craftsmanship displayed in these structures are very inspiring.
  • Temples are living expressions of India’s rich cultural heritage, creating a sense of community and belonging.

North Indian Temple Architecture

This section provides a chronological overview of North Indian temple architecture, highlighting important periods, example sites, and significant architectural features characteristic of each era.

PeriodExample SitesArchitectural Features
Post Mauryan
Bairat, VidishaStructural temples
Early GuptaSanchi, Baigram, Bhumra, Nachana Kuthar
Garbhagriha and mandapa structure supported by pillars, flat roof
Later GuptaDeogarh, BhitargaonMahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya, Rekha shikhara, cruciform plan, Panchayatan style (square sanctum with pillared portico)
Post GuptaLaxman Temple in Sirpur, Chattisgarh
Further development with richer ornamentation
Early MedievalOdisha, Khajuraho, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Kashmir
Zenith of North Indian temple architecture, intricate ornamentation
Late MedievalKashmir, Ahom, VallabhiMinor regional styles emerged

South Indian Temple Architecture

This section provides a chronological overview of South Indian temple architecture, highlighting important dynasties, example sites, and significant architectural features characteristic of each era.

DynastyExample SitesArchitectural Features
PallavasMahabalipuram (Mandapas, Rathas)Early rock-cut mandapas, emergence of Dravida elements in Rathas
CholasChidambaram (Nataraja Temple), Thanjavur (Brihadeeswara Temple)Temples as administrative centers, rich ornamentation
PandyasMadurai (Meenakshi Temple)Zenith of rock-cut architecture
KakatiyaWarangal (Ramappa Temple)Unique architectural style, Ramappa Temple known for intricate sculptures
VijayanagarHampi (Virupaksha Temple, Vitthala Temple)Fusion of Dravida and Islamic styles, cultural and artistic richness
NayaksSrirangam (Ranganatha Swamy Temple), Madurai (Meenakshi Temple)Garuda shrine at Vitthala Temple, continuation of Dravida style
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What are the different styles of temple architecture?

Styles include Nagara, Dravida, Vesara, and Gopuram, reflecting regional variations in India’s temple architecture.

What is the basic architecture of a temple?

Typically includes a sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha), a hall (mandapa), and a tower (shikhara) atop the sanctum.

What is a temple style?

It defines the distinctive regional or cultural characteristics in design and construction of religious structures.

What are the 3 types of temple architecture in Odisha?

Kalinga, Rekha Deula, and Pidha Deula are prominent styles, known for their unique designs and architectural details.

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