Vastu-shastra (5): Temple Architecture

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

This page describes Pre-Samarangana Classification of Temples which is chapter 5 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 5 - Pre-Samarāṅgana Classification of Temples

This subject of classification has received an expert treatment in works like Dr. Acharva’s Encyclopaedia, Dr. Kramrisch’s Hindu Temple and Dr. Bhattacharya’s Canons of Indian Architecture. The last two scholars have also utilised the contents of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra in their respective ways. This chapter on the classification of temples as given in the pre-Samarāṅgaṇa works is like an epilogue to the classification of the Prāsādas as we find in this text of the Samarāṅgaṇa to be taken up in the next chapter. This comparative account can help us in determining the development of the Temple Architecture by the time of the Samarāṅgaṇa.

But the literature on this subject being very vast, we have to choose only representative works from amongst the four classes of literature:—

  1. Vāstu texts,
  2. Purāṇas,
  3. Āgamas and
  4. The Pratiṣṭhā and the Jyotiṣa works.

Again, according to our conclusions, that all the styles, schools and orders of Indian Architecture can be resolved into only two broad divisions of Nāgara and Drāviḍa, the others being only the respective ramifications of these two, we will have to assign different works to their respective schools. This has already been done in the first Part of this Study (vide Schools of Architecture).

For the sake of brevity and concentration the following representative works of these two schools are being taken:

[Northern school]:
A. Śilpa Śāstra
B. Purāṇas.
  (1) Matsya and
  (2) Agni.

[Southern school]:
C. Āgamas.
D. Pratiṣṭhā-granthas,

Selection of only these works from amongst manifold treatises on the subject needs clarification. Works like Mānasāra and Mayamata which are assigned to the southern school of Vāstu-vidyā (vide Part 1, Chapter V) in my opinion (also vide Part III classification of buildings), do not give exclusive classifications of temples. The classifications of buildings as given in these texts apply to all kinds of buildings—religious, residential and military (vide H. A. I. A. page 186). Hence I have left them out from my purview of the subject. Again works like Śilparatna have also been left out for the simple reason that they are not pre-Samarāṅgaṇa works. They are post-Samarāṅgaṇa ones. Āgama works like Kāmika and Vaikhānasa together with the Atri-Saṃhitā have also been left out for the reason that these contain confused classifications. There is no clear cut temple-classification in them. Like Mānasāra and Mayamata they too do not draw a line of demarcation between the two sets of quite distinct and different buildings, namely temples and residential houses. Suprabhedāgama however, in my opinion, may be deemed to have preserved the primary norms of the temple classification in the southern part of the country. Īśānaśivagurudeva-paddhati, being the contemporary of the Samarāṅgaṇa is a bit more helpful in this respect. Hence it has been included in this list of the representative works of the southern school of Vāstu-vidyā. It may be noted, however, that it too like Atri-saṃhitā and others of the class gives an impression of being unmethodical, but never the less it has some of the development of the South Indian Temples, as I shall presently show.

As regards the Northern School, the Nāgara school, the accounts of Garuḍa and Agni Purāṇas being similar, only one has been chosen, and Agni in this respect is more helpful as we shall presently sec. Similarly the accounts of Matsya and Bhaviṣya, as well as that of that famous semi-Purāṇa, Bṛhat-saṃhitā, to all intents and purposes are identical and hence only one of them is chosen, i. e. the Matsya-purāṇa, the pioneering Purāṇa to provide the Prāsādas an honoured place in the cultural history of this sacred land. The temples as they are classified in Viśvakarma-prakāśa, though they are identical with those of the Matsya, this work has been included in the list for the sake of the accredited place of the author in the Nāgara school of Vāstu-vidyā to which the Samarāṅgaṇa belongs, and also for the early nature of the work.

Now before proceeding with a critical estimate of the individual and other allied topics on classification of these works, let us first tabulate the temple types of the various classifications found in these representative works.


A.1 Suprabhedāgama:

  1. Meru,
  2. Mandara,
  3. Kailāśa,
  4. Nandyāvarta,
  5. Nalina,
  6. Pralīna,
  7. Parvata,
  8. Himavān,
  9. Śrīkara,
  10. Mahendra,
  11. Śrīvarta,
  12. Nīla,
  13. Niṣadha,

A.2 Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati (1st):

  1. Meru,
  2. Mandara,
  3. Kailāśa,
  4. Śrīkara,
  5. Mahendra,
  6. Nīla,
  7. Niṣadha,
  8. Vṛṣacchanda,
  9. Kumbha,
  10. Padmakānta,
  11. Garuḍacchanda,
  12. Haṃsacchanda,
  13. Merukūṭa,
  14. Kailāśakānta,
  15. Jayāṅga,
  16. Vimala,
  17. Padmabhadra,
  18. Rudrakānta,
  19. Skandakānta,
  20. Yogabhadra,
  21. Maṅgala,
  22. Vindhyacchanda,
  23. Vimalāṅga,
  24. Bhogichanda,
  25. Saumukhya,
  26. Śrīmaṇḍana,
  27. Lalitakānta,
  28. Śrīviśāla,
  29. Vijaya,
  30. Sudarśana,
  31. Jayamaṅgala,
  32. Citrakūṭa.

A.2 Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati (2nd):

  1. Nalina,
  2. Pralīna,
  3. Parvatākṛti,
  4. Kailāśacchanda,
  5. Rudracchanda,
  6. Lalitabhadra,
  7. Sarvatobhadra,
  8. Caturmukha,
  9. Viṣṇucchanda,
  10. Hastipṛṣṭha,
  11. Śivabhadra,
  12. Śivacchanda,
  13. Vṛttabhadra,
  14. Aṣṭāṅga,
  15. Śrīpratiṣṭhita,
  16. Śrīkānta,
  17. Śrīcchanda,
  18. Saubhadra,
  19. Svastika,
  20. Samujjvala.


B.1: Matsya and Viśvakarma-Prakāśa

  1. Meru,
  2. Mandara,
  3. Kailāśa,
  4. Vimānacchanda,
  5. Nandivardhana,
  6. Nandana,
  7. Sarvatobhadra,
  8. Vṛṣa,
  9. Siṃha,
  10. Gaja,
  11. Kumbha,
  12. Samudraka,
  13. Padma (Padmaka—V.P.),
  14. Garuḍa (Suparṇa—*V.P.),
  15. Haṃsa,
  16. Vartula,
  17. Caturaśra,
  18. Aṣṭāśra,
  19. Soḍaśāśra,
  20. Mṛga (Mṛgarāja—V.P.),

B.2: Agni-Purāṇa: Group A (Vairāja) (Square)

  1. Meru,
  2. Mandara,
  3. Vimāna,
  4. Nandivardhana,
  5. Nandana,
  6. Sarvatobhadra,
  7. Bhadra,
  8. Rucaka,
  9. Śrīvatsa,

B.2: Agni-Purāṇa: Group B (Puṣpaka) (Rectangular).

  1. Valabhī,
  2. Gṛharāja,
  3. Mandira,
  4. Brahma-mandira,
  5. Bhuvana,
  6. Prabhava,
  7. Śivikā,
  8. Śālā,
  9. Viśāla.

B.2: Agni-Purāṇa: Group C. (Kailāśa) (Circular)

  1. Valaya,
  2. Dundubhi,
  3. Padma,
  4. Mahāpadma,
  5. Vardhanī,
  6. Uṣṇīṣa,
  7. Śaṅkha,
  8. Kalaśa,
  9. Śrīvṛkṣa.

B.2 Agni-Purāṇa: Group D (Māṇika) (Oval)

  1. Gaja,
  2. Vṛṣabha,
  3. Haṃsa,
  4. Garuḍa,
  5. Ṛkṣanāyaka,
  6. Bhūṣaṇa,
  7. Bhūdhara,
  8. Śrījaya,
  9. Pṛthivīdhara.

B.2 Agni-Purāṇa: Group E (Triviṣṭapa) (Octagonal).

  1. Vajara,
  2. Cakra,
  3. Svastika,
  4. Vajrasvastika,
  5. Cakrasvastika,
  6. Khaḍga,
  7. Gadā,
  8. Śrīkaṇṭha,
  9. Vijaya.

Suprabhedāgama’s classification, in my opinion represents the earliest form of the classification of temples in the South Indian Vāstu-śāstras. In respect of brevity, explicitness, and precision, the Suprabhedāgama, which contains the smallest number of types, surpasses all; and it happens that smaller the types, better the description (vide H. A. I. & A—Dr. Acharya). Again it may be remarked that this Āgarna also knew such a kind of classification of storeys which indicates the time when both the schools of Vāstu-vidyā were coming nearer to each other and the traditions of both, though different in the initial stage, were getting reconciled to evolve a composite style of Indian architecture. Dr. Bhattacharya surmises that this period lay between the 6th Century and the 10th Century A. D. (the time of the Samarāṅgaṇa). ‘The Dravidian architecture was growing and the South Indian Vāstu-vidyā was also assuming a new form, different from the original texts of Maya, Nagnajit, Nārada and Parāśara etc., the natures of which are still unknown to us (cf. C. I. A. 146)’—and I fully agree with this remark of Dr. Bhattacharya for it corroborates my thesis that originally the building as described in the earlier works did not take into account the two classes of buildings—religious, (the temples) and residential (the houses). The ostentatious buildings called Vimānas served the model for the Prāsādas, the temples of gods

Īśānaśivagurudeva-paddhati’s classification is more important as it is representative of three phases of temple-development in the South. It has described two groups of classifications—thirty-two types and twenty types. The Prāsādas like Meru, Mandara, Kailāśa, etc. (cf. Tabulation) in the former type of 32 represent the earlier classification, as some of them are identical with those described in the Suprabhedāgama which I have taken as the earliest classification of two Drāviḍa temples.

The latter type of twenty Prāsādas (Nalinādi group) represents the latest phase of development before the time of the Samarāṅgaṇa and the third type (see Group C, as tabulated by Dr. Bhattacharya (—vide C. I. A.—339)—the last group, in my opinion, represents the confused tradition of the South when writers on the Vāstu-vidyā overlooked the two distinct and different classes of buildings—templebuildings and the residential houses. In this respect it simply follows the tradition of Mayamata, Mānasāra and Atri-saṃhitā, the works belonging to Drāviḍa Vāstu-vidyā in which the buildings in general are classified.

Now before making any estimate of the classifications of the temples as we have seen in these two representative works of the Southern Vāstuvidyā, let us first give our thoughts to the two representatives of the Northern Vāstu-vidyā, the Matsya and the Agni Purāṇas. Among these works the Matsya is an earlier authority. The classification of Twenty Temples found in it (and also in B. S. and V. P.) represent the earliest classification of North Indian Vāstu-vidyā. The accounts of the temple architecture as these temples portray it, are indicative of high developments with super-structure of clusters of Śikharas together with the abundance of storeys and cupolas (Bhūmikās and the Śṛṅgas). Meru has 100 cupolas and 18 storeys. This characteristic of temple buildings in such an early age as first to sixth century A D (the time of Purāṇas like Matsya) is reminiscent of the ostentatious palaces as elaborately and profoundly described in the Epics more specially in the Rāmāyaṇa which are pre-Christian. These twenty temples described in earlier works of the Northern Vāstu-vidyā form the nucleus of a development of each variety and its ramifications into so many temple varieties as we will see in the next chapter (vide classifications of temples in the S.S,).

I agree with Dr. Kramrisch’s statement:

“The twenty temples represent a liberal assortment of architectural shapes. A selection was made and five basic shapes were to ramify in several schools of medieval architecture, in forty-five variations and also in different sets of sixty-four shapes each”—H. T. p. 276.

Of the two variations hinted at in the previous quotation from Dr. Kramrisch, of these basic types of twenty temples, the former leads us to the classification of forty-five temples of the Agnipurāṇa (also see the similar list in Garuḍa-purāṇa). These temples represent a later development of the classification which reached its zenith in the eleventh century A.D. in the most representative work of the period, the Samarāṅgana Sūtradhāra (cf. the next chapter). According to Agni-purāṇa (CIV. II. b-21), Vairāja, Puṣpaka, Kailāśa, Māṇika, and Triviṣṭapa, are the Primary shapes of the temple. The first is square, the second rectangular, the third is round, the fourth eliptical [elliptical?] and the fifth is octagonal. Each of them has 9 sub-varieties. So there are altogether forty-five varieties. These Prāsādas as we have seen (vide Styles, chapter V of this Part) are the examples of the Lāṭa-style of architecture—a side development in the parent home of the primary style, the Nāgara.

From these different classifications as found in these representative works of both the schools of Indian architecture, we can form some tentative conclusions as to the indebtness [indebtedness?] of one to another. I have already propounded a thesis that Prāsāda Architecture owes its origin to the Vimāna class of buildings, most characteristic of the Drāviḍa Architecture. From the study of these classifications, besides the criterion of the storeys from one to twelve or sixteen storeys, the most predominant characteristic criterion of the classification of Dravidian temples, (which was a later tradition), there were certain other earlier methods of classification in which the names of temples and their number are more similar to those found in the northern works than to those in the other southern treatises (like Mayamata, Mānasāra etc.). The suprabhedāgama mentions twelve varieties of temples beginning with Meru, Mandara and Kailāśa etc.—the names mostly given after the the names of the mountains belonging to both the parts of the country—the North and the South. Meru is also the foremost among the twenty temples (cf. Matsya-Purāṇa). It is also the foremost of the thirty two types of Jātītar temples of the Southern school as represented in Īśānaśivagurudeva-paddhati. Again here, besides Meru, some of the twelve names of the Prāsādas as described in the Suprabhedāgama are also included in this list of 32 Prāsādas of I. G. P. Again as already mentioned, there is another class of temples, the twenty temples described in I. G. P. (vide Tabulation II), in which some of the names are similar to those of the Suprabhedāgama and some types are akin to those of the North Indian Temples as described in Matsya and Agni.

Thus says Bhattacharya,

“These works having three lists of South Indian Temples not only contain many names of North Indian Temples, but in the process of nomenclature also follow the north Indian method”.

As regards the dissimilar varieties and their nomenclature, they also (vide I. G. P. (c) and also those found in Atri Saṃhitā, Mānasāra and others of the group) indicate the later feature of the development of the Dravidian Temples.

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