The Temple Architecture Of India


In ancient India, temple architecture of high standard developed in almost all regions. The distinct architectural style of temple construction in different parts was a result of geographical, climatic, ethnic, racial, historical and linguistic diversities. Ancient Indian temples are classified in three broad types. This classification is based on different architectural styles, employed in the construction of the temples. Three main style of temple architecture are the Nagara or the Northern style, the Dravida or the Southern style and the Vesara or Mixed style. Initally the temples from North or South were distinguished from their gateways or viman styles, etc but there where some regional styles of bengal, kerala, etc.

In the north Indian temples, the shikhara was the most  prominent component. In South Indian temples were enclosures around the temples and the Gopurams (huge gateways) acted as huge entrances. The Gopurams led the devotees into the sacred courtyard. Some common features in the Northern and the Southern styles included the ground plan, positioning of stone-carved deities on the outside walls and the interior, and the range of decorative elements.

This article gives a brief idea of the vast cultural, historical and architectural treasures India holds with an insight on the planning, construction of Indian temples.

  • Brihadeshwara Temple ,Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu


Brihadeshwara Templeis a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva ,located in Thanjavur in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is also known as RajaRajeswara Temple.It is an example of Dravidian architecture during the Chola period, built by emperor Raja Raja Chola I and completed in 1010 AD. The temple is part of the UNESCOWorld Heritage Site known as the “ Great Living Chola Temples”.

  1. The vimanam(temple tower) is 66 m high and is the tallest in the world.
  2. TheKumbam(the apex or the bulbous structure on the top) of the temple is carved out of a single rock and weighs around 80 tons.
  3. There is a big statue of Nandi(sacred bull), carved out of a single rock measuring about 4.9m long and 4.0 m high at the entrance.
  4. The entire temple structure is made out of granite.
  5. The temple was built per ancient texts called Vaastu Shastras and Agamas. 
  6.  The presiding deity of lingam is 3.7m tall.
  7. The prakaram (outer precincts of the temple) measures 240m by 125m.
  8. The outer wall of the upper storey is carved with 108 dance postures of Bharathanatyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu.

The temple has Chola frescoes on the walls around the sanctum ,portraying Shiva in action, destroying demonic forts, dancing and sending a white elephant to transport a devotee to heaven.

  • PLAN

Plan-brihadeshwara- temple



  • Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, Madurai

Meenakshi -Sundareswarar- Temple

Meenakshi Temple is located on the southern bank of the Vaigai River in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Parvati, known as Meenakshi, and her consort, Sivan, here named Sundareswarar. It is one of the few temples in Tamil Nadu to have four entrances facing four directions.


The Kampathadi Mandapam and Velli Ambalam are situated in the outer corridor. This place is one of the 5 (Pancha Sabhais) sabhas of Nataraja where Siva dances. (The other dance halls are Chidambaram, Tiruvaalankadu, Tirunelveli and Kutralam). There is a unique idol of Nataraja dancing with his right leg raised to the shoulder instead of the left.

The thousand pillared hall is an architectural & engineering marvel, built in the 16th century. The pillars have the Yazhi figure sculpted on them. There are musical granite pillars just outside this mandapam, which when struck yield different musical notes.

  • Kailasa Temple, Ellora, Maharashtra

A remarkable example of Dravidian architecture on account of its striking proportion, elaborate workmanship, architectural content, and sculptural ornamentation of rock-cut architecture. Megalith ; carved out of a single rock. Commissioned and completed between 757-783 CE, when Krishna I ruled the Rashtrakuta dynasty.Designed to recall Mount Kailash, the home of Lord Shiva.


  • Construction Method

The Kailasa Temple is notable for its vertical excavation—carvers started at the top of the original rock, and excavated downward. It is estimated that about 400,000 tons of rocks were scooped out over a period of 20 years to construct this monolithic structure.From the chisel marks on walls of this temple, archaeologists could conclude that three types of chisels were used to carve this temple.


  • Plan

  1. A two-storeyed gateway opens to reveal a U-shaped courtyard. The courtyard is edged by a columned arcade three storeys high.
  2. Within the courtyard are two structures. An image of the sacred bull Nandi fronts the central temple housing the lingam.
  3. The Nandi Mandapa and main Shiva temple are each about 7 metres high, and built on two storeys.

Kailasa- Temple -plan

The base of the temple has been carved to suggest that elephants are holding the structure aloft. There are two Dhwajasthambha (pillars with flagstaff) in the courtyard.


  • Khajuraho Temple


The village of Khajuraho is like a million other villages in India; what sets it apart is its medieval legacy of temples that represent the perfect fusion of architecture and sculpture.The construction of the three thousand year old temples of Khajuraho took over a little two centuries; in terms of architecture, they form the high point of the north Indian ‘NAGARA’ style.Of the 85 temples believed to have been built between the 9th and 12th centuries only around 25 have survived, many in splendid condition, others having given way to the ravages of time and nature.


  • Features


  1. The Open  Spacious High Platform On Which Each Temple Stands Is A Distinguishing Feature Of Khajuraho Temples.
  2.  Built in NAGARA style of architecture
  3.  Unlike Dravidian Style, the SPIRE (shikhara) is CURVILINEAR in it.
  4. They are unified structures consisting of four or five units:sanctum (garbha-griha), a vestibule (antarala), a large hall (mahamandapa),  another hall (mandapa) , a porch (ardhmandapa/mukhamandapa) a torana at the entrance.
  5. most of the khajuraho temples are erected on the EAST-WEST AXIS, and therefore face the direct rays of the rising sun.
  6. khajuraho temples has no enclosure walls, as in the case of south Indian and Orissan temples
  7. One of the most important puranas, the Agni Purana, conceives of the temple as PURUSHA, the humanised Supreme Being. The terminology of the human being is applied to the temple:
    • Base: foot (pada)
    • Wall: thigh (jangha)
    • Spire: head (mastaka/ shikahara)


  • Lingaraj Temple, Bhubaneswar

Temples as freestanding structures came to Orissa after the Gupta period through Dakshina Kosala. The Orissan temple architecture ranging from 7th to 13th century A.D corresponds to an altogether different category for their unique representations called Kalingan style of temple architecture though broadly they came under the Northern style or Nagara style.


  1. Location- Bhubaneswar
  2. Built By- Jayati Keshari
  3. Built In-11th Century
  4. Dedicated To-Lord Shiva
  5. Architectural style- Kalinga Style
  6. Materials-Laterite Stone
  7. Total Area-1049 sq m
  8. Dedicated to Lord Shiva
  9. One of the Oldest Temples -1100 yrs old
  • Structure

The Vimana or the main temple of Orissa is always of Rekha designs with the following special features such as- Pavement or Talapattana , Plintha or Pitha , Curvilinear Tower or Rekha or Rathak,  Neck or the recess below the Amlaka Sila called Beki,  Denticulate blocks of stone called Amlaka Sila. Stone cape resembling an unfolded umbrella or Khapuri – Finial or Kalasha – Trident or Discuss.


  • Architectural Aspects

  1. Orientation- Faces East
  2. Material- Sandstone and Laterite
  3. Entrance- Lion Gate
  4. Elaborate Use of Sculptures
  5. Has 4 basic components-

a. GarbGriha

b. Jagmohana

c. Natamandira

d. Bhogmandira

  • Plan And Elevation


  • Section


  • Rekha Deula

The rekha deula has a 60 m (200 ft) tall pyramidal tower over the sanctum and measures 22 ft (6.7 m)*22 ft (6.7 m) from the inside, 52 ft (16 m)*52 ft (16 m) from the outside over the sanctum.It is covered with decorative design and seated lion projecting from the walls. The sanctum is square in shape from the inside. The tower walls are sculpted with female figures in different poses.


  • Jagmohana

    The jagamohana (assembly hall) measures 35 ft (11 m)*30 ft (9.1 m) from the inside, 55 ft (17 m)*50 ft (15 m) from the outside, entrances from south and north and has a 30 metres (98 ft) tall roof. The hall has a pyramidal roof made of up several horizontal layers arranged in sets of two with intervening platform as in the Hall of offering. The inverted bell above second unit is adorned by kalasa and lions.


  • Natamandira

    The natamandira (festival hall) measures 38 ft (12 m)*38 ft (12 m) from the inside, 50 ft (15 m)*50 ft (15 m) from the outside, has one main entrance and two side entrances. The side walls of the hall has decorative sculptures displaying women and couples. It has a flat roof sloping in stages. There are thick pylons inside the hall.


  • Bhogmandira

The bhogamandapa (Hall of offering) measures 42 ft (13 m)*42 ft (13 m) from the inside, 56.25 ft (17.15 m)*56.25 ft (17.15 m) from the outside and has four doors one on each side. The hall has a pyramidal roof made of up several horizontal layers arranged in sets of two with intervening platform. It bears an inverted bell and a kalasa in the top.


  • Characteristics

  1. An optical effect is produced with the deep cut warped lines that run perpendicularly on the spire. Due to this, the temple looks much larger than what actually it is.
  2. The aesthetic sculptures look at their apex in this architectural exhibition.
  3. On the eastern side of the temple, lies its solitary entrance point, which is commonly known as the ‘Simhadwara’ or the ‘Lions’ Gate’. It has 150 smaller shrines inside its huge courtyard. Along with Lord Shiva, it also enshrines Lord Vishnu, in the form of Saligramam idol. The main gates of the temple have Lord Shiva’s Trishul on one side and Lord Vishnu’s Chakra on the other.
  4. The temple, set in a huge walled compound measuring 520 feet by 465 feet, originally consisted only of the sanctum and the mandap or the entrance hall. The dancing hall and the hall of offerings are later additions. Around the main shrine there are many smaller shrines.
  5. The outer walls of the temple are lavishly decorated with beautiful sculptures which mark a climax of Hindu decorative architecture. Birds, beasts, creepers, flowers, men and women in erotic poses and postures, a host of gods and goddesses all are there in their full majesty and grandeur.
  6. The inner walls of the shrine, containing the phallus symbol of Shiva, are plain and without any embellishment. Just north of this temple is the sacred lake of Bindu Sagar with a tiny island in the center, where there are many lesser shrines.
  • Dilwara Temples, Mount Abu

The Dilwara Temples is one of the popular Jain pilgrimage centre. It is located near Mount Abu in Rajasthan. Dilwara Temple lies at a distance of 2.5 kms from Mount Abu. These temples were built between the 11th and 13th centuries AD by the rulers of Chalukya Dynasty. The mountain has been worshipped by Hindu Shivaites and Jainas since ancient times. The temple has been a popular tourist destination for its magnificent architectural work. In the huge temple complex, there are five shrines that are dedicated to Lord Adinath, Lord RishabhDev, Lord NeminathLord Mahavira and Lord Parshvanatha respectively.

Dilwara- Temples

  • Architectural Style

  1. The temple is built in the MARU-GURJAR style of architecture and is a storehouse of ancient manuscripts and treatise.
  2. Dilwara Temples stand as an example of perfect architecture with intricately carved ceilings, entryways, pillars and panels that reflect the aesthetic appeal of this temple.
  3. Regarded as one of the finest specimen of architectural work, the elaborate sculptural work is a treat to the eyes.
  • PLAN


  1. The Dilwara temples consist of four temples of similar size and one small temple.
  2.  All the temples have symmetrical plan but as a whole there is no axis that runs through group of temples.
  3. There is also proper space surrounding the temples.
  4. The temple is spread across a vast area and most of the temples are single-storied structures.
  5. However, there is a lack of totality in these temples as each temple was added one after another with an interval of a century.
  6. The temples are single-storied and not a tall tower hence it is not visible from a distant place. 
  • Temple Groups

  1. The oldest of Dilwara temples is the VimalVasahi temple built in 1031 A.D. it is dedicated to the first Tirthankara, BhagwanRishabh Dev.
  2. Other important temple in the complex is the Lunvasahi temple is dedicated to Lord Neminatha.
  3. The idol is made of stone.
  4. The interior of both the temples have been made of white marble.
  5. The walls, ceilings and the beams of the temple have been intricately designed with delicate engravings.
  6. There are total 48 pillars in the temples.
  7. These pillars have been elaborately carved with beautiful images of female figures in different dancing postures.
  •  Rangamandapa

Dilwara-Temples- RANGAMANDAPA

  1. The “Rangamandapa” or the domical ceiling is also a treat for the eyes.
  2. The intricately varved design of the Rangamandapa i.e. the open-type hall is a major attraction of the temple.
  3. The mid part of it is drooping like a chandelier made of stalactite.
  4. Sixteen bodies of “Vidyadevi” i.e. goddesses of knowledge made of stone have been engraved on it.
  5. The pillars of the temple have been carved with different designs.
  6. Even all the parts of the ceiling at “bhamati” (cloisters) which surrounds “Vimana” (main shrine) are adorned with carvings such as lotuses, gods, and abstract patterns.
  7.  In each external “deva-kulikas” (small shrines) that face the bhamati, a statue of a Tirthankara (Jina) is carved. 









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