Hindu Temple Architecture
Garbhagriha, Shikhar, Mandap Are Common Temple Features
Apr 19, 2008
From ancient time the construction of Hindu temples has followed a set pattern. What differs is the complexity and the detailing.
The core of the Hindu temple is the garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum. The deity is placed here. The room is small and, as its name suggests, it is womb like. In certain temples the devotees are allowed to enter the garbhagriha for worship. This is especially true of Shiva lingas, where the rituals involve ablutions with milk and water. In other temples the darshana is done from the entrance of the garbhagriha. Darshana entails seeing the Supreme God and receiving His blessings through the medium of the idol. After the darshana it is customary to give the pradakshina. Devotees circumambulate the garbhagriha. Usually this is done from outside the garbhagriha. Therefore statues and paintings adorn the outside walls so that the devotees get a sense of God while performing the pradakshina.
The Horizontal Axis
The horizontal axis of the temples lies from the garbhagriha to the main gate. The temple is usually symmetric about this axis. Several important features lie along this axis.
Next to the garbhagriha is the mandap. This is a hall supported by columns. This can serve several purposes. It is where the devotees queue up for the darshana. It is also used as an assembly hall for singing of bhajans or other religious purposes. The mandap is usually open from three sides. The larger temples may have two mandaps. In some parts of India it is customary to construct an enclosed area for the mandap. This is known as the jagmohan.
The door of the temple complex is very important. Notwithstanding that God does not need any protection, the temple gate is so adorned as to keep evil spirits out. The gate has a dwarpala or doorkeeper on each side. The dwarpala is depicted as a fierce weapons-bearing personality who, if required, will fight with the demons to keep them out. The dwarpalas are accompanied by surasundaris or heavenly beauties. They will charm the evil spirits away in case the dwarpalas fail to do the needful. Some temples have fierce mythical beasts known as vyalas at the gate. These beasts are depicted with terrifying eyes and horns or tusks. In many temples the vyalas are actually shown crushing other animals or demons.
In south Indian temples the gate is a grand affair. It has an intricately sculpted tower, which is topped by a barrel vault roof known as a shala. The entire structure is known as a gopuram.
The Vertical Axis
The vertical axis extending above the garbhagriha is equally important. The tower of the temple known as the shikhar is directly above the garbhagriha. The profile of the shikhar has varied through the ages and is different in different parts of the countries. The outside surface of the shikhar is covered with a lattice-like adornment known as gavaksha. This tower is the highest point of the temple.
There are certain features that are common to the top of the shikhar. First comes the amalaka. This is a flattish disc shaped structure that is ribbed on the outside. Above the amalaka comes the kalash or pot. In the more popular temples the kalash is made of gold. Finally on the steeple above the kalash many temples have a dhwaj or flag.