The temples in India have always taken an important place in their cultural and spiritual life of its people, from the early times and till nowadays. In fact the whole cultural and spiritual life of Indian people is built around the temple. The overall purpose of the Hindu temple can be presented in such a way: like the Himalayas, the temple points to the heavens, the abode of the gods. The Hindu temple, “step by step, shape-by-shape” reverses this primeval descent and places man back on the path toward heaven.
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Temples were usually built in places marked by special holiness. The legends associated them with the acts of Vishnu, Shiva, Durga and other gods. In the 4-5 centuries, when Hinduism during the reign of Gupta dynasty, became the state religion, the main structural elements of the temples were plinth, sanctuary and superstructure. The stone base of a Hindu temple symbolized the altar, on which the temple itself was sacrificed to a deity. With the modular characteristics of the proportions of the temple measure cap not taken into account. The temple was conceived as a structural unit, resting on the altar. In some early temples the wall of the sanctuary served as main walls of the building, in others – the sanctuary was surrounded by a second ring of walls, which created a special gallery to circumvent. In any case, the churches were dark inside.
Module for Hindu temples and their center was a sculpture of a deity – his idol. Temple priests were called “guardians of the idol and the servants of God, whose dwelling was in the temple. Modern scientific analysis of a temple shows that temple-space is surcharged with great positive energy and the visitors can feel physical welfare and mental well-being. This fact rises a lot of questions: how could a structure built of stone or of brick have that kind of energy? What makes the temple so powerful?
There is a scientific view that a temple is “not a home of God but it is the form of God” that means that the temple structure itself is worthy of worship . (Michell , p. 68.)
The temple architecture is a scientific phenomenon. The basic concept that determines worthiness of the structure and form of temple is “The layout adopted for temple form is synonymous with the layout of the Cosmos”. The plan of the layout of a temple is technically called Mandala or Vaastu Pada with a grid of 8x 8 =64 spaces or 9x 9 = 81 spaces of equal dimensions. In modern architectural terminology this can be addressed as energy-grid. Those two layouts are the geometrical formulae to replicate the subtle substance of the universe into visual material form. (Volwahsen, p 44)
The important aspect of Hindu temple is that it serves as a cosmic intersection of man, God, and the Universe. But it also is the Universe, reflected in its repeating architectural forms. The careful mathematical measurements that lie in the basic construction of a Hindu temple express the structure of the Universe. For example, in order for the temple to face east, its width must be a perfect multiple of the fraction three-eighths. The outer dimensions of the temple must also satisfy five other equations relating to stars, planets and the passage of time. (Kramrisch, p.132)
Another important analogy is between the temple and the mountain that can help to understand the divine purpose of the temple-to serve as a meeting place between man and the gods. It means that the gods could descend to be in the presence of man, like human souls rising up to meet the gods. (Rao, p. 126)
The piece of land upon which the temple stands is itself a sacred location – a tirtha, a Sanskrit word literally meaning “crossing place” is a site favored by the gods where water, shade and seclusion are plentiful. Temples must be built on tirthas in order to serve their true purpose as crossing places, and this site selection is only the first step in building a temple.
Another important aspect is the vastu-purusa-mandala , that is a rough architectural blueprint for the foundation of the temple, that serves both a practical and a highly symbolic purpose, becoming the architectural and spiritual foundation of the Hindu temple. (Rao, p. 135.)
As suggested earlier, the temple is also a microcosm of the Universe, the mandala reflects this aspect of the temple as well: the center square of the mandala stands for the mythical mountain of Meru, the geographic center of the cosmos. Around Mount Meru is arranged a symbolic pantheon of gods, and each god occupies its own square and is ranked in importance by its proximity to the center. (Rao, p. 135.)
The next part of this essay analyzes separate elements of the temple, both interior and exterior, and places these elements within the context of the temple’s divine purpose: to serve as a cosmic meeting place for devotee and deity.
The garbhagrha, the sanctum sanctorum of the Hindu temple, presents itself as a point of departure: if the temple is a mountain, the garbhagrha is the cave inside the mountain. The garbhagrha is dark, and its walls are largely undecorated, that contrasts the exterior of the temple, which is often highly ornate and replete with thousands of sculpted images. The simple darkness of the sanctum reflects its function as a “womb house,” one of the meanings of garbhagrha. (Kramrisch, p. 169)
Analysis of Hindu temples in Nagara and Dravida styles
The two temples described here, one at Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh), the other at Angkor Wat, give the best possible idea of how the contrasting Nagara and Dravida styles had developed by the 11 century and present aesthetic achievements of the Hindu architectural tradition.
Style Nagara, which developed during the 5h century, is characterized by a tower-type hive (called “shikhara”) made up of several words of architectural elements, such as kapotas and gavaksas, culminating in a large round cushion like element, named “amalaka”, and parlance “Drum”. The plan of the temple is based on the square, but the walls are often broken down decorative elements in creating the impression that the tower is round. In more recent temples the central mandapa was surrounded by several small temple buildings, creating a visual effect of a fountain.
From the 7th century Dravida , or southern style, has formed a pyramidal tower consisting of progressively diminishing tiers, bottleneck, and the dome on top, also called shikhara (in the southern terminology). Repeated horizontal tiers visually impart the southern temples squat.
Less obvious differences between the two main temple types Nagara and Dravida include the plan area, the selection and arrangement of stone, from which the cut shapes on the external walls and the interior, the range of decorative elements.
In spite of their obvious stylistic differences, the temples at Khajuraho and Angkor Wat have basic principles connected with Hindu beliefs and practices.
Kandariya Mahadeva temple, Khajuraho
This temple was built in the middle of the 11th century by one of the kings of the Chandella dynasty, this great Shiva temple represents the Nagara style ad is one of the best achievements.
Kandariya Mahadeva temple is the tallest monument at Khajuraho, its spire rising more than 30.5 metres above the plinth on which the temple is elevated. The temple has 30.5 metres in length and 20 metres in width. Like other fully developed Chandella temples at
Khajuraho, it consists of a linear east-west sequence of access steps, entrance porch, columned hall with side balconies, and linga shrine with encircling passageway, off which open three additional balconies, that bring porches. The porches serve as balconies with high seating, bringing ventilation and light to the interior.
What distinguishes the Kandariya Mahadeva temple from the other monuments a Khajuraho is its grand scale and elaboration of design and ornamentation. Undoubtedly, the glory of the temple is its lofty curving tower, crowned by an amalaka ( ribbed circular motif).
Very significant in the temple is the sculptural treatment of its outer walls, which are covered with images of the god Shiva, to whom the monument is dedicated, with consorts, attendants and lesser divinities. Important among the images here are the aspect of the god, including those who subdues the blind demon, the cosmic dancer, and the destroyer of the triple demon cities. The sculptures are arranged in three tiers on the outside, amounting to no less than 646 figures in all, not counting the 226 figures of the interior.
The temple is well known for its erotic groups which are placed on the juncture of the walls of the mandapa and the passageway surrounding the sanctuary, marking one of the most ritually vulnerable parts of the monument. Among the other images are those of female
deities, such as the seven mothers, let alone the countless apsaras, or heavenly maidens that attend on the gods, and who are shown in alluring postures that reveal the mastery of
the Khajuraho artists in rendering female contours with conscious sophistication and exuberant grace.
Angkor Wat in Cambodia, is the second Hindu temple described in the paper, that refers to the Dravida style. This temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, the preserver of the world. Angkor Wat is a gigantic threeâ€step pyramid adorned by nine slender towers of enormous height, the steps of the pyramid are capped by galleries. Framed by an enclosure wall and a majestic moat, the temple covers 2.5 square kilometres.
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The pyramid is raised on a vast terrace of 2 m high, and surrounded by naga balustrades. It opens to the cardinal points by entrance pavilions and stairways. The steps are crowned by surrounding galleries: the first step, containing the gallery of the basreliefs, is 203 m large and 3 m high. Pavilions mark the corners, at the corners of the second tier are four towers, their superstructure is partly missing. The outer gallery of the pyramid, including the
western corner pavilions, shelters the most precious treasures of Angkor Wat, reliefs in a total length of more than 600 m. They depict narrative scenes from mythology and history. Reliefs do not simply embellish a temple; they make it a sacred space. In the images which depict the gods and their deeds, the gods themselves are present, and figures and parts of the body are either shown frontally or in profile. Reliefs were always carved in situ, after the walls had been finished; they were cut into the stone.
It is important to mention twelve stairways rise to the third level of the pyramid. All five towers open to the cardinal directions, giving open views along the galleries, and the overall picture was a wide and airy hall, full of light. The third level, where are the finest reliefs of Devata, was the throne room of God Vishnu.
As for the symbolism of the temple, Angkor Wat is an unsurpassed image of the Mount Meru, the abode of the Gods in the centre of the world. Corresponding to the five peaks of this mountain, at Angkor Wat five towers were visible from every cardinal direction. The enclosure wall symbolizes the mountains surrounding and hiding the Mount Meru; the moat symbolizes the cosmic ocean. The temple complex is a microcosm, an image of a perfect world, stable and in geometrical harmony.
We can see that Angkor Wat, as well as Kandariya Mahadeva temple, as all Hindu temples serves as a cosmic intersection of man, God, and the Universe, and also the Universe is reflected in its repeating architectural forms.
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