Hindu Temple: 5 definitions


Hindu Temple means something in Hinduism, Sanskrit, the history of ancient India. If you want to know the exact meaning, history, etymology or English translation of this term then check out the descriptions on this page. Add your comment or reference to a book if you want to contribute to this summary article.

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In Hinduism

Shilpashastra (iconography)

Source: Shodhganga: The significance of the mūla-beras (śilpa)

The Hindu temple is called devagṛha in Sanskrit and kōyil in Tamil, which means the house of god. The practice of preparing images of the deities mentioned in the Vedic mantras slowly disappeared by the end of the Vedic Period. The yāgaśālās (places where the sacrificial rites were performed) of the Vedic Period got metamorphosed into temples by the Epic Period owing to the influence of cultic practice. The early temples were built with perishable materials like timber and clay. Later came the cave temples and temples carved out of stone or built with bricks. Heavy stone structures with ornate architecture and sculpture belong to a still later period. The building of a temple has a set pattern with a basic philosophy of the temple, its meaning and significance.

The Hindu temple displays sculptures on the outer surface, the maṇḍapas (the various columned halls) and the prāsāda (a three-storeyed palace, a complete solid mass, on whose multi-buttressed walls the images are displayed), in which the innermost sanctuary or the garbhagṛha is located. The garbhagṛha or the womb cell is a small, dark, cubical chamber even in the largest temples. The divine symbol or the deity, invariably carved out of stone, is installed in the garbhagṛha. The door of this cell usually faces the east. In front of the doorway is the rectangular chamber which is called the antarāla or vestibule. The vestibule is the intermediate chamber between the garbhagṛha and the pillared hall called the maṇḍapa. Entrance to the maṇḍapa is by a porch called the ardha maṇḍapa (the hall leading to the inner sanctum sanctorum).

On the whole, a temple is a structure of figure sculptures. T. A. Gopinath Rao points out the specificities of each temple by saying that each temple is filled with numerous images of gods, goddesses, parivāra-devatas (gods related in a family), devas (attendants to the gods), śālagrāmās (cakra–an ammonite shell), bānaliṅgās (egg-shaped pebbles), yantras (mystic and magical diagrams engraved upon metallic plates), navagrahas (the nine planetary divinities), certain divine animals and birds, certain holy rivers, tanks, trees and sepulchers of saints.

Shilpashastra book cover
context information

Shilpashastra (शिल्पशास्त्र, śilpaśāstra) represents the ancient Indian science (shastra) of creative arts (shilpa) such as sculpture, iconography and painting. Closely related to Vastushastra (architecture), they often share the same literature.

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Vastushastra (architecture)

[«previous next»] — Hindu Temple in Vastushastra glossary
Source: Shodhganga: The significance of the mūla-beras (vastu)

The Hindu temple is a micro-model of a macro-cosmos. The architectural design of the temple with the ground and the elevation plan replicates the form of puruṣa, the cosmic man. The principal elements in the construction of the Hindu temple comprise (i) the square cell named garbhagṛha, also known as the nucleus, the germ cell, the womb, or the house of image; (ii) the interchamber connecting the garbhagṛha and the body of the temple; and (iii) the pyramidal spire or roof. The basic elements in the temples and the worship in them derived mostly from Vedic and Purāṇic sources, and, in the course of centuries, they assumed different styles and patterns during their diffusion over wide areas.

The temple is regarded as the body of god in his cosmic form, with the various worlds located on different parts of his body. The bhūloka (earth) forms the feet of God, the satyaloka (the abode of Brahmā) forms His head, with the other lokas (bhuvarloka, janaloka, svarloka, maharloka, tapoloka) forming appropriate parts of his body. With respect to the temple, the ground represents the janaloka/bhūloka (earth), the base slab represents the bhuvarloka (underworld), the pillars and the entablature represent the svarloka (sky), the superstructure over the garbhagṛha represents the maharloka (abode of celestial beings), the top knot or finial represents the tapoloka (the abode of the Ṛṣis).

Vastushastra book cover
context information

Vastushastra (वास्तुशास्त्र, vāstuśāstra) refers to the ancient Indian science (shastra) of architecture (vastu), dealing with topics such architecture, sculpture, town-building, fort building and various other constructions. Vastu also deals with the philosophy of the architectural relation with the cosmic universe.

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General definition (in Hinduism)

[«previous next»] — Hindu Temple in Hinduism glossary
Source: Shodhganga: Elements of Art and Architecture in the Trtiyakhanda of the Visnudharmottarapurana (h)

The Hindu Temple consists of all the cosmic elements from fire to water, images of nature to deities, Gods remain feminine to masculine, kāma to artha, fleeting sounds and incense smells etc. by which one can celebrate life. Stella Kramrisch, the author of The Hindu Temple also keeps her view point in the same spirit. The Hindu Temples are designed for the purpose of making connection between man and the divine and to help the people to develop their spiritual knowledge and truth. From almost all accounts, it comes up that the origin of Hindu temples goes far back to those fire altars, which were used for conveying the offerings to the deities through fire, sacredly energized by chanting the holy mantras of the Vedic time. The structures of Hindu temples were rooted in some specific circles and squares in the Vedic time. Those circular and square shaped surfaces were nothing but the yajñavedīs i.e., the place to hold the sacrifices.

Source: Shodhganga: The significance of the mūla-beras

A Hindu temple refers to a “places of worship” and helps one to attain mokṣa (release). The Hindu temple is a monument with elaborate sculptures and wide circumnutating passages, with other deities placed around the chief deity.—Temples served as places of worship, divine experience, entertainment, aesthetic relish, social togetherness, as well as home for artistes in the fields of sculpture, painting, music, dance and philosophy.

India history and geography

Source: archive.org: South Indian Festivities

The Hindu temples are intended to show by concrete physical designs the constitution of man both in his higher and lower aspects. The various prakaras stand for the various protective coverings, the deity in the sanctum sanctorum or the innermost sabha or hall of the temple standing for the human spirit.

India history book cover
context information

The history of India traces the identification of countries, villages, towns and other regions of India, as well as mythology, zoology, royal dynasties, rulers, tribes, local festivities and traditions and regional languages. Ancient India enjoyed religious freedom and encourages the path of Dharma, a concept common to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.

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