Vastu-shastra (5): Temple Architecture

by D. N. Shukla | 1960 | 69,139 words | ISBN-10: 8121506115 | ISBN-13: 9788121506113

This page describes Denotation of the term ‘prasada’—the hindu temple which is chapter 1 of the study on Vastu-Shastra (Indian architecture) fifth part (Temple architecture). This part deals with This book deals with an outline history of Hindu Temple (the place of worship). It furtherr details on various religious buildings in India such as: shrines, temples, chapels, monasteries, pavilions, mandapas, jagatis, prakaras etc. etc.

Chapter 1 - Denotation of the term ‘prāsāda’—the hindu temple

[Full title: The Denotation and the Connotation of the term ‘prāsāda’—the Hindu temple].

Words denoting devotional places:

The words denoting devotional places arc numerous and abound in literature. The words for temple which are more current and are generally employed are:—

  1. Devagṛha,
  2. Devāgāra,
  3. Devatāyatana,
  4. Devālaya,
  5. Devakula,
  6. Devatāgāra,
  7. Mandira,
  8. Bhavana,
  9. Sthāna,
  10. Veśma,
  11. Kīrtana,
  12. Harmya,
  13. Vihāra,
  14. Caitya,
  15. Kṣetra.

The references to which in the particular works or inscriptions have been ably worked out by Dr. Kramrisch, in her Hindu Temple (page 138), Perhaps this list has got a hoary tradition behind it, and the tradition must not die. It is perhaps with this outlook of Indian culture that the author of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra, though denoting temple, the house of God only by a single term Prāsāda and Prāsāda alone, has in its 18th Chapter, “On the Nagarādi-Saṃjñā”—glossary on the towns and houses, etc, has kept this tradition afloat and says:—

devadhiṣṇya-surasthānam caityamarcā gṛham ca tat
devatāyatanam prāhurvibudhāgārmityapi” (18-57).

These names with the exception of Arcāgṛha and Caitya designate a seat, an establishment, a residence and a house of God; whereas Arcāgṛha is the house of the consecrated image, and Caitya is a sacred monument which is piled up like the Vedic Agni (etymologically Caitya is derived from Citi (citeridaṃ caityam). These synonyms, as I will show later on (vide Chapter on the origin of the Prāsāda), throw some light on the multiple origin of the Hindu Temple. The names denoting a devotional place are ancient names and practically all the manuals on architecture have kept up this tradition of old.

The interesting lists of Mayamata and Mānasāra, the more popular ancient treatises on the Vāstuśāstra together with a list as given in the Samarāṅgaṇa of the names denoting residence in general, would not be out of place here, as most of the names enumerated in the above list for the residence of God are common to the names found in the following list:—

(XIX. 10-12)
(XIX. 108-12)
(XVIII. 8-9).
1. Vimāna Vimāna Āvāsa
2. Bhavana Samalaya Sadana
3. Harmya Harmya Sadma
4. Saūdha [Saudha?] Ālaya Niketa
5. Dhāma Ādhiṣṇyaka Mandira
6. Niketana Prāsāda Saṃsthāna
7. Prāsāda Bhavana Nidhāna
8. Sadana Kṣetra Dhiṣṇya
9. Sadma Mandira Bhavana
10. Geha Āyatana Vasati
11. Avāsaka Veśma Kṣaya
12. Gṛha Gṛha Āgāra
13. Ālaya Āvāsa Saṃśraya
14. Nilaya Kṣaya Nīḍa
15. Vāsa Dhāma Geha
16. Āspada Vāsa Śaraṇa
17. Vāstu Geha Ālaya
18. Vāstuka Āgāra Nilaya
19. Kṣetra Sadana Layana
20. Āyatana Vasita Veśma
21. Veśma Nilaya Gṛha
22. Mandira Tala Oka
23. Dhiṣṇyaka Koṣṭha Pratiśraya
24. Pada Sthāna  
25. Laya    
26. Kṣaya    
27. Āgāra    
28. Udavasita    
29. Sthāna.    

It may be noted here that but for ‘Tala’ and ‘Koṣṭha’ the twenty four synonyms of the Mānasāra are common to those of the Mayamata. The names of residence such as ‘Saṃśraya’, ‘Nidhāna’; ‘Nīḍa’, ‘Śāraṇa’, ‘Oka’, and ‘Pratiśraya’ are found in Samarāṅgaṇa only. Again as I have already indicated elsewhere (Part III) that these synonyms of house, especially those given in the list of the Samarāṅgaṇa (cf. Nīḍa, Śaraṇa etc., and Bhavan, Mandira, etc-, together with Nilaya etc J may be taken as suggestive of the progress of the human civilisation in relation to its habitation from structures like bird’s nests to the ostentatious houses like Mandira, a stone mansion together with its spiritual advancement from Naturalism to the Meditation-life of cave-living (cf. Nilaya or Layana type of cave-temple, Part V).


Thus this is the story of these general names having wide currency in the literature, for a house of man and that of God, a temple or shrine. But when we come to the technical names as given to the dwelling of God from an architectural point of view, the common word denoting the temple is Vimāna in practically all the manuals on architecture e.g. in the Mānasāra buildings of one to twelve storeys are called Vimānas (cf. Ch. XVIII). A more frequent name for a high edifice in the EpicsRāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, is Vimāna and their commentaries on the authority of Nighaṇṭu, and Medinī (N. 121) the ancient lexicons, describe it as seven-storeyed mansion. Abhidhānacintāmaṇi (89, 190; 3, 417), Halāyudha (1,83 etc.) the lexicons of repute are also unanimous on this denotation of the word Vimāna. But my own view is that the word Vimāna is only one of the two most generally accepted names which designate a temple. The other word is Prāsāda, a critical exposition and estimation of which will follow soon in the latter part of this chapter. First let us see what is the implication attached to the word, Vimāna There is a great metaphysical or more correctly a cosmological truth embedded in this word.

The Vāyu-purāṇa (IV. 30-31) says:—“To measure (mā) is to make a thing by giving shape to it and existence”. The denotation and connotation of the word Māyā and the principle underlying it expound the same truth. “Māyā or manifestation means division of the hitherto undivided principle; on itself it performs this operation and as Puruṣa it henceforth thinks of itself as composed of parts.” And according to Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (III.19). and Viṣṇu Purāṇa (Ch. 1. 1, 2) Puruṣa who is the first form of the supreme Brahman, thus bears the measuring rod. He is the great architect of the Universe and in this capacity his name is Viśvakarmaru The Mānasāra and the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra have hinted at this truth in their respective ways (Mānasāra II, 2-5; Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra the very first verse). Vimāna, therefore, measured in its parts, is the form of God, which is this Universe, the macrocosm, and the temple the microcosm.

To measure, as the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra has aptly said (“yacca yena bhaved dravyaṃ meyaṃ vadapi kīrtyate”—6.28[?]), is to create—there is an identity between the measure and the object. Whatever is produced is called Meya. Dr. Kramrisch has very beautifully brought out the significance of the word denoting and connoting temple both in its architectural and spiritual implications—“The temple as Vimāna, proportionately measured throughout, is the house and body of God. By temple is understood the main shrine only in which is contained the Garbhagṛha, the womb and house of the Embryo, the small, innermost sanctuary with its generally square plan. All other buildings within the sacred precinct, are accessory and subservient to it: the hall, Maṇḍapa, in front of the entrance, is itself, as in Orissa, a semi-separate structure to which may be added several more such buildings preparing the devotee for the entry into the temple. These accessory buildings conform in each case with the proportionate measure of the temple, the Vimāna; the Maṇdapa generally coalesces with the Vimāna”.


Now in regard to Prāsād, the first thing to note is that the Vimānas were the precursors of Prāsādas, and this fact, has been very well brought out though mythologically, by the following lines of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra (vide 49. 2. 6):

“In the hoary past, Brahmā, the great Creator, created five Vimānas for gods. They were for travelling in the air, beautiful to look at, colossal in shape, made of gold and studded with gems. Their names were Vairāja, Kailāśa, Puṣpaka, Maṇika and Triviṣṭapa. They were to be used by Brahmā himself, the trident-holder Śiva, the god of wealth, Kubera, the noose-holder Varuṇa and the god of gods, the lord Viṣṇu respectively. Like these he created so many other Vimānas meant for the use of other gods such as Sūrya, etc.—having of course the shapes etc. in the likeness with those of the deities using them. It is from the self-same five shapes of Vimānas that later on, Brahmā created the Prāsādas. They are to be built in towns and are made of stone or burnt bricks.”

Vimāna, as we shall see just now is the prototype of the the Prāsāda, according to the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra.

The popular etymology for the meaning of the word Prāsāda is accepted by the author of the Śilparatna (cf. XVI. I) and he says:—

“Prāsādas please by their beauty, the minds of gods and men”.

Its more recondite but essential meaning, I shall explain in the end on the basis of I.P. For the present a bird’s eye view of the antiquity of this word would be interesting. Prāsāda as a sacred monument or sacred building is referred to in ancient texts and inscriptons. Ś.Ś.S. mentions Prāsādas on all sides of Āhavanīya Fire (XVI.18.13-17); Patañjali’s Mahābhāṣya also mentions Prāsādas of Dhanapati, Rāma and Keśava, This latter testimony dates as far back as 3rd Centry B.C. The use of Prāsāda in Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata is very frequent and the reader is referred to Dr P. K. Acharya’s Dictonary of Hindu Architecture For the further references to Prāsāda as found in the inscriptions the reader is referred to Encyclopaedia of Hindu Architecture (See under Prāsāda).

Apart from these references, a very interesting reference to the denotation of the word Prāsāda is to be found in Mayamata (vide II. 6-7) which enumerates the following buildings as Prāsādas:—

Sabhā, Śālā, Prapā, Raṅgamaṇḍapa and Mandira. They are parts of the whole establishment of a south-Indian Temple. The denotation of the Prāsāda is extended here from the temple itself to the various halls and sheds attached to it.

Now resuming our lost thread, it can be said that the temple is the seat and dwelling of God. The name Prasāda has the widest application.

The word is unique in this respect that it does not mean a house or something that is built like Devāgāra or Vimāna respectively.

“It denotes a settling down (pra-sad) and a seat made of that which has settled down and acquired concrete form, the form of a dwelling, a residence, the seat of God” (vide H. T. p. 135-36).

The word “Prāsāda” has been used to denote temple throughout the work. This word “Prāsāda” if we just take into our account the different literary, epigraphic and other sources, we find, has been used in different senses. The reader is referred to Dr. Acharya’s monumental Encyclopaedia of Hindu Architecture. There the learned Doctor has gathered a large number of quotations and references in which this word has been used, denoting different species of architecture from the platform to the palace.

Going through the representative texts like the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra and the Īśānaśivagurudeva-paddhati, belonging to the Nāgara and Drāvida [Drāviḍa?] schools respectively, it may be remarked that the term ‘Prāsāda’ had acquired a definite denotation to denote and connote the Hindu Temple.

By the tenth and eleventh century A./D. the time of the Īśāna. and the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra, there was not only a definite denotation of the word ‘Prāsāda’, but also a very high conception of the ‘Prāsāda’ having also a corresponding architectural development as is evident from so many accessory structures like the Maṇḍapas and the Jagatīs round the central shrine, the Prāsāda.

Thus our Śilpa-śāstras do not consider Prāsāda, the Hindu Temple as a congregational structure alone, but the house of the Spirit. Temple is the house of God. God is the Spirit immanent in the Universe and the temple is His abode.

The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra has put this very truth in its own way having the symbolism of the Liṅga and the Pīṭhikā:—

prāsādaṃ liṅgamityāhustrigallayanādyataḥ |
tatastadādhāratayā jagatī pīṭhikā matā || 68.3b-4a

The Īśāna, too expounds the same truth:—

prāsādaṃ yacchivaśaktyātmakaṃ tacchaktyantaiḥ syād vasudhādyaistu tatvaiḥ |
śaivī mūrtiḥ khalu devālayākhyetyasmād dhyeyā prathamaṃ cābhipūjyā ||

Organic Theory:

Moreover God and His temple correspond to soul and human body. The temple building ceremonials and rituals are akin to our jātaka-saṃskāras.

Thus, Prāsāda, the Hindu Temple from this Brahmanic conception is the visible outer casement (body) of the Invisible Brahma (gods and goddesses only an emblem of this Supreme Being), It is according to this fundamental conception that in temple architecture, the various parts of a temple are designated by names which correspond to the names of the various parts of the human body, e.g.

  1. Pādukā,
  2. Pada,
  3. Caraṇa,
  4. Aṅghṛ,
  5. Jaṅghā,
  6. Ūru,
  7. Kaṭi,
  8. Kukṣi,
  9. Parva,
  10. Gala,
  11. Grīvā,
  12. Kandhara,
  13. Kaṇṭha,
  14. Śikhara,
  15. Śiras,
  16. Śīrṣa,
  17. Mūrdhan,
  18. Mastaka,
  19. Mukha,
  20. Vaktra,
  21. Kūṭa,
  22. Karṇa,
  23. Nāsikā,
  24. Śikhā etc.

N.B.—We may take up any temple type described in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra and we find the usage of these terms as manifold parts of the temple-structure and super-structure both.

It may be remarked that these terms should not be viewed objectively, they are used in a subjective sense to suggest the organic unity in architecture and to make temple breath life at every point. The architectural canons like the Chandas (the Rythm) and the avoidance of Marma-vedha etc. so much emphasised in the texts, also point to the same truth.

Again lavish display of decoration and ornamentation on the outer parts of the body of the temple and their conspicuous absence in its interior, the Garbhagṛha, also corrobarate the same fact. This connotation of the word Prāsāda is very beautifully brought out in the contents of Agnipurāna (61.19.27) and Hayaśīrṣa Pañcarātra in the following lines corroborating the Organic Theory propounded above:—

[Agnipurāṇa 61. 19-27]:—

prāsādaṃ vāsudevasya mūrtibhedaṃ nibodha me |
dhāraṇāddharaṇīṃ viddhi ākāśaṃ śuṣirātmakaṃ ||
tejastatpāvakaṃ viddhi vāyuṃ sparśagataṃ tathā |
pāṣāṇādiṣveva jalaṃ pārthivaṃ pṛthivīguṇaṃ ||
pratiśabdodbhavaṃ śabdaṃ sparśaṃ syātkarkaśādikaṃ |
śuklādikaṃ bhavedrūpaṃ rasamannādidarśanaṃ ||
dhūpādigandhaṃ gandhantu vāgbheryādiṣu saṃsthitā |
śukanāśāśritā nāsā bāhū tadrathakau smṛtau ||
śirastvaṇḍaṃ nigaditaṃ kalaśaṃ mūrdhajaṃ smṛtaṃ |
kaṇṭhaṃ kaṇṭhamiti jñeyaṃ skandhaṃ vedī nigadyete ||
pāyūpasthe praṇāle tu tvaksudhā parikīrtitā |
mukhaṃ dvāraṃ bhavedasya pratimā jīva ucyate ||
tacchaktiṃ piṇḍikāṃ viddhi prakṛtiṃ ca tadākṛtiṃ |
niścalatvañca garbhosyā adhiṣṭhātā tu keśavaḥ ||
evameva hariḥ sākṣātprāsādatvena saṃsthitaḥ |
jaṅghā tvasya śivo jñeyaḥ skandhe dhātā vyavasthitaḥ ||
ūrdhvabhāge sthito viṣṇurevaṃ tasya sthitasya hi ||

[Hayaśīrṣa Pañcarātra 39]:—

sarvatatvamayī yasmāt prāsādo bhāskarī tanuḥ |
tad yathāvasthitaṃ kathayāmi nibodhat |
pāyūpasthau praṇālau dvau netrau jñeyo [?gavākṣakau?] |
sudha bhugna (?...) pinījñeyā sa (va) [?kṣo?] mañjarokor???taḥ ||
ja??? ja??? tu vijñeyā varaṇḍī vasanā matā |
śukādhrātu bhavennāsā sūtrāṇi viśeṣataḥ ||
garbhaḥ sthirasve vijñeyo mukhaṃ dvāraṃ prakī[r?]titaṃ |
kapāṭau ṣṭapupuṭau jñeyau pratimā jīvamucyate ||
skandhastu vedī gaditā kaṇṭhaṃ kaṇṭhamihocyate |
śiromālāsthitaṃ jñeyaṃ [?...] cūna saṃsthitaṃ |
evameṣa raviḥ sākṣāt prāsādsthena saṃsthitaḥ |
jagatī piṇḍikā jñeyā prāsādo bhāskarasmṛtaḥ |

Similarly the Śilparatna also supports this sagarious truth:—

[Śilparatna XVI.121-123]:—

“prasādaṃ puruṣaṃ satvā pūjayenmantravittamaḥ”
“prapadaṃ pādakaṃ [vidyācchisvā?] stupīti kathyate |
lohakīlakapatrādi sarvaṃ dantanakhādikam ||
sudhā śulkaṃ tviṣṭakaudhamasthi majjā ca pītaruk |
medaḥ śyāmarucistadvad raktaṃ raktaruci?tathā ||
māṃsaṃ mecaka?ṇaṃ syāccarma[?] nīlaṃ na saṃśayaḥ |
tvak kṛṣṇavarṇamityāhu prāsāde saptadhātavaḥ ||

Finally I may point out that this connotation of the word Prāsāda, also throws a sufficient light on the origin of the temple architecture as the basis of human organism, ably brought out by Dr. N. V. Mallaya (vide Studies on S. Texts on Temple Arch see Intro.) refuting so many conjectural origins like ‘Mound & Grave Theory’; the Theory of the ‘Evolution of Stūpa’ and the ‘Umbrella Theory.’

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