Vastu-shastra (5): Temple Architecture

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

This page describes The Development of the Prasada-vastu which is chapter 3 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 3 - The Development of the Prāsāda-vāstu

In the previous chapter an attempt has been made to trace the origin of the temple as an institution of worship as well as an architectural edifice. Here in this chapter an attempt is to be made to trace its development. We know that the chief development of the Indian Architecture centres round the Hindu Temple, distributed all over this vast land as specimens of different styles more particularly the Northern and Dravidian ones is the two principal parts of this country—the Āryāvarta, the North and the Dakṣiṇāpatha the Deccan. Scholars have amply investigated this subject in their monumental works. Savants like Havell, Fergusson, Brown and Coomarswamy and Stella Kramrisch, to mention only a few of them, have in their respective volumes, investigated into this branch of architectural studies in relation to the monuments, as they arc preserved to us.

Naturally all these volumes are an attempt to evaluate the development of the Temple, the most fascinating architectural activity of the Indian architects and their patrons—the ruling dynasties of both the ancient and medieval IndiaChālukyas, Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas, rulers of Vijayanagara [Vijayanagaram] and Hoysalas, all belonging to the southern India, their northern counterparts being those belonging to Orissa, Khajuraho, Rajputana, Central India, Gwalior and a host of others. Religious fervour was at the root of this architectural renaissance both in India and the West. Jainism and Buddhism and Brahmanism, all three religious currents have contributed to the marvel of architecture, of which we can be proud. I have expounded the thesis more than once that the Indian architecture got impetus for its evolution and development from religion and under the patronage of the kings, it made singular strides of development. Not one, not two, but dozens of temples, both rock-cut cave-temples and religious edifices of Prāsādas and Vimānas are stupendous in their craftsmanship and marvelous in the designs and supernatural in the accomplishment This great achievement may fittingly be termed as the architectural renaissance of our land. The saying that literature is the mirror of society, if it has got any truth behind, the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra, the standard compendium of the medieval architecture has portrayed this mass activity of mankind in India when “as if the whole population had to a man been apprenticed to the stone mason” otherwise how can we explain that in India every hamlet has its cluster of shrines and in every town the tall spires rose of temples singly or in groups.

Mr. P. Brown is very apt when he says,

“It should be realised that in all works of art, and particularly in the temple architecture of the country, in the mind of the Indian people, the religious, philosophical and meta-physical qualities of the production takes first place, the artistic character being regarded as secondary. The intellect of the age, absorbed largely in divine contemplation, is reflected in the temple ideal, where the spiritual dominated the material” (vide Indian Arch.),

This is, in very brief, only a hint at the colossal works of art that the artisans have achieved to the glory of gods, having added glory to themselves betokening the glorious past. Naturally, therefore, in a work like the present one, in which a study of a manual of architecture is the main concern, the kind of investigation as has been done by the iridologists mentioned above, is out of place. Here I am concerned to see, on the basis of the material available in the texts, how far this work mirrors the development of temple building in India in relation to the different norms prescribed by the Texts of the Vāstu-śāstra and more especially the text under review, the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra.

I have already said before, that Temples have formed special fascination of the king, who as a great devotee himself has written with devotion on the devotional architecture devoting more than half of the work to the un-paralleled delineation of the Prāsāda Vāstu. I, therefore, without any detailed introduction or digression therefrom, must point out the basic point of view, of the analysis of this topic. As a matter of fact, the greater part of this Part is an analysis of the same topic—the development of the Temple Architecture. But the parts may be distinct so that the whole becomes integrated, not a mere jumble. For example, the development in the categories (i.e. Jātis) and varieties, the divisions and classifications of numerous temples as has been done in the work will form a separate chapter. The development of the temple from the point of view of styles—Nāgara and Drāviḍa together with an additional list of several others—a special contribution of this work, will form a separate chapter. The development of the temple architecture in relation to sculpture and ornamentation—the decorative art has formed a subheading of another chapter. This is an outline of the development in relation to the matter. The transcendental, or more correctly the metaphysical and spiritual development forming the true genius of the Hindu Temple as a great institution, must also be spoken of somewhere and this forms a part of another chapter under the planning of the Prāsāda. Therefore, the delimitation of the topic is a natural consequence. Here, in this chapter, I have to view the structural development—the development of the body of Prāsāda, the nucleus of which has already been found out in the different origins of the Prāsāda,, the Vedic altar, the Citi, the Saḍ, the shed of initiation, the dolmen, the Tabernacle and the image of the mountain. Herein I shall have to occupy myself with the two principal types of structural development of the temple—the pyramidal shape and the superstructure thereof and the curvilinear shape, the Śikhara and the superstructure thereof.

The text of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra is full of prescriptions and the illustrations thereof in the different categories of the temples enumerated therein. I may also point out here that as the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra belongs to the eleventh century, the medieval period of Indian history, many a new type of temple had arisen in consonance with the rise of the temple as a sacred institution itself, a notice of which has already been taken in a previous chapter of this part.

Again, these introductory remarks in connection with this topic of the development of Prāsāda-vāstu would remain incomplete, if I do not touch upon another essential element in the development, namely the materials, the different categories of which will form a subheading of another chapter. These are some of the broad currents which had risen from the different sources culminating in the Prāsāda mystically as deep as ocean and as high as the mountain.

Now coining to the subject proper, I have already indicated that this topic has got two angles, namely the development of the Prāsāda-vāstu as:

  1. The pyramidal super-structure and
  2. The curvilinear super-structure.

Let us first take the first angle and see how far the Samarāṅgaṇa epitomises the different ramifications of the pyramidal super-structure which has given birth to some of the stupendous specimens in the monuments, the examples of which have survived to us in temples like Bṛhadīśvara Temple at Tanjore.

Both in the pyramidal super-structure and the curvilinear one, the development of the Prāsāda-vāstu is intimately concerned with the philosophical background or transcendental aspect forming an architectural content in consonance thereof.

Dr. Kramrisch is very apt in her remarks when she says:

“Works of architecture serve a purpose; the Hindu Temple as much as a Gothic cathedral exceed their function of being a house or seat of divinity. While their orientation and expansion are in the four regions of space, their main direction, in the vertical, is towards God, the supreme principle, which is beyond form and above His seat or house of manifestation. From all these regions of space, from its walls in the four directions and their corners in the intermediate directions, the Prāsāda, rises bodily towards its High point, tier on tier, until diminished in its bulk, it forms the High Altar (vedī) on which is placed the crowning High Temple or the Āmalaka with its finial that ends in a point.” (H. T. 179).

This fundamental conception of the Prāsāda viewed in the light of the architectural form can not have a proto-type in the residential houses either of men or kings. The Hindu Temple, the Prāsāda having its own characteristic of divine evolution and development, can not be mistaken for, or derived from a palace or any dwelling of man and the Samarāṅgaṇa has fully realised this fact as would be evident in further delineation,

According to the early manuals of the Vāstuśāstra and the Samarāṅgaṇa which keeps up to that tradition, though it has added to their list, the super-structure is comprised of the following principal parts:—

1. If it is a curvilinear and truncated body:

  1. Kaṇṭha (a neck), gala or grīvā;
  2. Āmalaka (crowning part) or

2. If it is a pyramidal truncated body:

A small High Temple (call it Vimāna or Harmya) whose walls form the neck (kaṇṭha, gala, grīva) of its massive dome-shape as the crowning part.

N.B.—Śikhara in the present context is used to denote this whole super-structure including the crown and upto the finial.

Again it may be pointed out here that in the South Indian Texts (cf. Īśānaśivagurudeva-paddhanti, Part IV. Ch. XXXII) the pyramidal super-structure is designated by the number of its storeys (Bhūmis), whereas Śikhara is the name of the dome-shaped massive roof of the small crowning miniature temple only. This Śikhara or massive dome-shaped roof is described as square or circular or six-sided or eight-sided.

Again I entirely agree with the learned authoress of Hindu Temple when she says, (Page 182),

“Śikhara thus particularly denotes a shape curvilinear in the vertical section whether it is used to designate the whole super-structure of North Indian Prāsādas or the cupola of the High Temple only which is placed on top of the super-structure of South Indian Prāsādas. This two-fold use of the term Śikhara in Indian Vāstu-śāstra has led to wrong interpretations. Its square or round etc. horizontal section on South Indian Temple (Śiraśchanda; Mayamata, XVIII-1) has mistakenly been considered by modern scholars a criterion of the entire super-structure of a Hindu Temple”.

Again it may be pointed out that various kinds of high roofs of the Prāsādas exist and are prescribed in the texts and more particularly in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra the 49th (double and triple together with so many other super-impositions). These Prāsādas of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra are the examples of roofs having this variety of super-structure.

Again some of these types of Prāsādas have:—

(a) Barrel roof (aspidal [apsidal?] temple). It is an adaptation of the Buddhist Caitya hall—cf. Kapoteśvara temple.

(b) Vaulted roof having a ridge (rectangular sanctuary)—cf. the Rathas at Mammallapura [Mammallapuram].

(c) Keel-vaulted—typical of the top of the gate-towers of the temples in South India.

(d) Domes—belonging especially to huts of hermits, to chapels and temples where round domes arc more frequent. These various dome-shapes were transmuted, as extant examples show, from their leaf covered proto-type (Parṇa-kuṭī or Parṇa-śālā with bamboo frame), into brick and stone. They form the solid shape of the small—High temples which crown the South Indian Prasādas with its pyramidal super-structure.

Thus both the two main types of the super-structures of the fully evolved Hindu Temple, have truncated bodies, their sides which are cither straight or curved, are terminated by a platform (Skandha—the shoulder course). Above rests the crowning portion (a miniature Vimāna or an Amalaka) whence rises the finial.

This super-structure has several components and is illustrated in several types of the monumental temple-buildings, a detailed notice of which has been taken by Prof. Stella Kramrisch. For the sake of completeness, however, they may be briefly noticed.

The first type of the pyramidal super-structure is one formed of slabs. This is represented in the dolmen type shrines scattered in South India and the Himalayas. It is a pristine type of the pyramidal super-structure surmounted by an Amalaka.

The second type consists of the straight trunk with round edged slabs. Though this type had its proto-type in the first, the slabs in diminishing size are placed on the flat roof to bring out an enormous size both in the super-structure and the projections thereof. Roofs super-imposed on roofs—double-roofed, triple-roofed, Dvichādya and Trichādya—is the subject matter of the 49th Chapter of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra

Thirdly, the pyramidal super-structure composed of storeys or Bhūmis has three varieties:—

  1. The stepped trunk of the Pyramid formed by single storey,
  2. The High Temple (Kṣudra-Alpa-Vimāna) and
  3. The enclosure of chapels.

N.B.—See H.T. for details and also the chapter XI of the Study—“The Correspondence of the Prāsādas of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra into monuments”.

With this account of the development of the super-structure of the temple as has been very ably done by Prof. Stella Kramrisch, we are better equipped to take into account the different specimens of the development of the Prāsāda-vāstu as expounded in the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra which I have said at many places in this Study, mirrors allround development of the temple architecture and the temple types developed and evolved by this time.

In accordance with the text, the principal types of temples, embodying this growth of super-structure may be broadly classified in the following two varieties:—

1. Pillared hall temples:

Pillared hall temples having double and triple roofs with the Various super-structure, as illustrated in the 49th Chapter ‘Rucakādi Prāsādas’, the initial chapter on the Prāsāda dedicated to the different deities. This, in my opinion, is the initial stage of the development when the Vimāna type of ostentatious buildings, a characteristic of the Dravidian architecture served the model for the temples to be typified in their prototypes. These were derived from the five shapes of the Vimānas, and were enjoined tobe constructed in the towns for their beauty and grandeur. They were to take all the principal shapes—square, oval, etc. etc. (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 49.1-10). We know that, Indian Architecture in the beginning of its evolution was a wooden architecture, naturally, therefore, in the construction of these temples, the direction

regarding the material to be used is given for the employment of wood, and again the simplicity of the buildings—namely pre-dominence of the pillars, the most ancient building model and the application of the ancient wooden beams and logs (cf. Ṣaḍdāruka), on the line of Śālā houses is also surmised to support their initial evolution (cf. Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra Chapter 49 last verse):—

iti surabhavanānāṃ saptatirdāravāṇāmiha sadanacatuṣkeṇānviteyaṃ pradiṣṭā |
janamayamavakośānandaśubhrāṃśulekhā bhavati suviditaiṣā śilpināṃ kāmadhenuḥ ||

Here the words of special significance are—“dārava [dāravāṇām]” and ‘Surabhavanānam’ giving the genesis of the early wooden architecture and its adoption in the temples being replicas of the popular Śālā houses, as the second word of this verse indicates.

2. Śikharottama Prāsādas:

In number and wealth and distinction, these temples having the curvilinear super-structure, are examples of wider development and of higher connotation of the temple as an institution of Pūjā Vāstu. They are spread in the four-fifth of India. They have manifold types and innumerable varieties forming a great galaxy of the temple-constellation in the firmament of Indian Architecture. Naturally, therefore, the treatment of these Prāsādas has occupied the greater space of the manual in a grand and eloquent style, characteristic only of a king, who is a god among men, Nṛdeva, and when helped by the gods on the earth, the Bhūdevas, it is simply marvelous. The Prāsādas as described in Chapters 55, 56, 57, 59, 60 and 63 fall under this head and it is to be noted that they are the different varieties of this broad heading having its manifold evolutions as per the different styles and the regional traits together with the geographical influences and the broad religious beliefs. All this has been examined in a separate chapter entitled ‘The Style of the Prāsādas’.

We know that the curvilinear Śikhara is a characteristic of the Nāgara style and this Nāgara style by the eleventh century, the time of the Samarāṅgaṇa, had given rise to many sub-styles like Lāṭa or Latina, Vāvaṭa (Vairāṭa), Bhūmija etc. These were the sub-styles from the geographical point of view. Lāṭa, the ancient name of Gujarat, is the style which rose and culminated in the temples of Gujarata. The Samarāṅgaṇa is the chief exponent of this style. The author of this work living in the vicinity of this part of the country, naturally, must influence and be influenced by, this region. Some of the temple types (they may be called styles also) arose out of the local characteristics of the craftsmanship and the religious beliefs. Hence the excessive display of ornamentation on some of the temples of Gujarat, has given rise to a particular sub-style known as Lalita Prāsāda, as described in this book under the 56th Chapter, 25 of them are examples of this variety. Similarly, as influenced by the sacredness of the temple institution and the tradition of Pradakṣiṇā, its corresponding evolution in the temple architecture gave rise to the Sāndhāra Prāsādas, the temples having a circumambulatory passage allround, meant for the devotees to pay their homage not only to the deity enshrined in the temple, but to the temple itself, the body and the concrete manifestation of God, who is formless. Similarly, there are several other varieties which will be deatth with in three subsequent chapters—the classifications and the styles.

Here we have to take into our account the broad elements of the development of the Prāsāda in regards to its curvilinear super-structure, the most common characteristic especially of the North Indian temples, dedicated to Lord Śiva—the God whose abode is the highest peak of the world—-the Kailāśa.

We see that when the buttresses make their appearance on the otherwise plain wall of a temple, its roof too is no longer a flat one, it carries the super-structure, the Śikhara. This is first stage of the development. Later on, according to the complicated architectural tradition, many complex and intricate processes were the result. In works like H. P. XIII and Agni-Purāṇa XI which preceded the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra by centuries, the construction of the curvilinear Śikhara is prescribed by means of a division in geometrical progression by four-fold division (caturguṇasūtra). This is the underlying principle of the buttressment of the curvilinear super-structure. By the time of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra, however, this process became more developed. We have indicated that the Agni Purāṇa speaks of the four Sūtras which are to be separately drawn from the base of the Śikhara upto the other end—the Skandha. In the Samarāṅgaṇa Sutradhāra, on the other hand (cf. the 57th Chapter) it is made clear that this shoulder course of the Śikhara generally assumes 6 parts in width, the base of the Śikhara, measuring 10 parts.

Again the following lines of Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra are worth quoting, in which it is prescribed that the height of the trunk of the Śikhara being given, it should be divided by geometrical progression into a certain number of parts, three, four, five or six:

“caturguṇaiḥ pṛthak sūtraiḥ padmakośaṃ samālikhet” || 137/1 a0 56

“pṛthak sūtraistriguṇitairveṇukośaṃ samālikhet” || 275/2 a0 56

“sīnnaḥ pañcaguṇaṃ sūtraṃ rekhāntaṃ tatra vartayet” || 817/1 a0 57

“ṣaḍguṇenaiva sūtreṇa madhyarekhāṃ samālikhet” || 674/2 a0 57

N.B.—The diagrammatic representation in the appendix will make it clear how Padmakośa or Veṇukośa can be formed with these geometrical progressions three to four. (Triguṇa and Caturguṇa).

The Prāsādas as described in the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra under the heading:

“Mervādi Viṃśikā” (though under this heading a variety of fifty other Utkṛṣṭa—superior types of Prāsādas are also described) with their curvilinear superstructures are “the most particularly Indian amongst the monumental shapes of the temple. While cube, prism, and pyramid belong to sacred architecture not only in India, the monumental shape of the ‘Tabernacle’, originally of branches etc. curving towards one point, is the pre-eminent shape of the Hindu Temple. Rich in possibility, they have been elaborated and massed around the central dominant theme, accompanying its direction towards the highest point (H. T. p. 209-10).”

This super-structure of the curvilinear type has got three main varieties, namely.

  1. As the cluster of the Śikharas,
  2. The Śikhara enmeshed in Gavākṣas and
  3. The composite Śikhara.

These varieties will be developed in subsequent chapters (vide chapter XI—The Correspondence of the Prāsādas of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra in the monuments and the ‘concluding’ chapter—An outline history etc.)

Now, while concluding this treatment of the development of the Prāsāda-vāstu into the super-structure of various types and manifold designs, a word on the underlying idea of the general form or shape of the super-structure and its allied function is called for to bring home to the readers the implication of the material super-structure in relation to its transcendental background.

Dr. Kramrisch has very ably brought out this point (H. T. p. 220)

“The shapes of sacred architecture absorbed by the super-structure itself or subsumed to it are many. With them the image of the Mountain was given an indefinite number of variations. The purpose of the superstructure is always one and the same. It is to lead from a broad base to a single point whcṛe all lines converge. In it are gathered the multifarious movements, the figures and symbols which are their carriers, in the successive strata of the ascending pyramidal or curvilinear form of the superstructure Integrated in its body they partake each in its proper place in the ascent which reduces their numbers and leads their diversity to the unity of the point.”

The Prāsāda, the Hindu Temple has three parts:—

  1. The solid base or socle, its altar,
  2. The sanctuary with its vertical wall and
  3. The crowning part—the highest part, the Āmalaka or the High Temple.

“By its form the Prāsāda leads from the square at the base to the point above; by its exaulted [exalted?] position and by its form, which leads to the peak, the super-structure is the Mountain; its mass is the vesture (koṣa) in which is clad the Axis of the temple. This emerges, in its top-most portion only, as section of a mighty pillar, as the ‘neck’ (grīvā)of the temple, above the shoulder (Skandha) of the super-structure. The symbol of the Pillar of the Universe inheres in the picture of the World-mountain”.

The fundamental form of the super-structure is in keeping with its purpose which is always one and the same. It is in a way the journey of the man to the man through the vicissitudes of life, symbolic of ups and downs till—a vision is realised—the destination is reached.

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