Vastu-shastra (5): Temple Architecture

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

This page describes Vimana-Vastu which is chapter 10 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 10 - Vimāna-Vāstu

Something has already been said of Vimāna—vide ‘Denotation and Connotation of Prāsāda’—chapter I. Here for the sake of completeness some remarks on ‘Vimāna-Vāstu’ need be made to complete, however meagrely, the fullest of the scope of temple-architecture, the subject of this concluding part. The Hindu Temple, as already expounded, has developed into two main styles, the northern or Nāgara and the southern or Drāviḍa. The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra is a north-Indian text book on Hindu Science of Architecture. This study, being primarily based on the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra is naturally limited in its scope of the treatment of the temple-architecture taking primarily the northern evolutions of temple-architecture; hence in its counter part, the southern evolution as is found in such south-Indian Vāstu-texts as Mayamata, Mānasāra, Śilparatna, Kāśyapa-śilpa, Tantra-samuccaya, Īśānaśivagurudeva-paddhati etc., etc., remains meagrely treated. Hence only a very brief exposition in this direction is called for. Further, temple-evolution in India did not confine to the main shrine. Its accessory buildings, fortified structures including the towering Gopuras and manifold Prākāras and Hundred-pillared or Thousand-pillared Halls or maṇḍapas assumed such an enormous and outstretching side-development that the central shrine was relegated to the background and these accessory buildings came into more prominence. This is more characteristically true of South Indian Temples, the Vimānas. In north India, Prāsāda, the main temple kept its position quite intact. Accordingly let us dwell a little at these ramifications.


Dr. Mallaya has reviewed practically all the important theories on ‘Vimāna’ as advanced by contemporary writers on Indian architecture—vide his dessertation—p. 273-274, Dr. Ananda Coomarswamy’s view, however, may be taken to represent the correct position of our Vāstu-texts. He applies the term ‘Vimāna’ to refer to Dravidian temples, as in view of the authors of the Śilpa-śāstras the term ‘Vimāna’ denotes the whole structure from the basement to the finial. It refers to the central shrine in which is enshrined the image. Thus Vimāna and Prāsāda both are complete structures both representing the two streams of temple-architecture of our land The Prāsāda is a temple inclusive of all its main parts beginning with the basement and ending with the finial, Gurudeva supports this interpretation (cf Paṭala XXVIĪI st. 2): “nānāmānavidhānatvād vimānaṃ śāstrataḥ kṛtam”. The special characteristic of Vimāna is the variety of its measures——vide its ethnology ‘vi’ and ‘māna’.

The other special characteristics of ‘Vimāna’ have already been hinted at—vide the Origin and Development of Prāsāda-vāstu. Dr, Kramrisch has elucidated its significance and it may not be repeated here. But a special point in this connection is the ‘Car Theory’ in regard to the evolution of Vimāna-architecture, It is ably propounded by Dr. Coomarswamy and Mallaya doubts its tenability. The readers may make an interesting study of this discussion in Mallaya’s book, p. 276-7. My view, however is, that ‘Car Theory’ can not be rejected so easily. We have already seen the implication of the origin of Prāsādas from the celestial Vimānas. The celestial Vimānas were cars as such. Many a temple in India like Rathas of Mammalapura [Mammalapuram] and the temples like Konark are a pointer. ‘Car Theory’ may not be confused with the temple-ritual—the festive processions. Indians have never conceived in little terms. They have always talked in sublimest of terms and noblest and highest of symbolism. Temples, the Prāsādas are the mountains and the Vimānas are macrocosm and microcosm in one. This is the significance of Māyā which pervades the world, the Creation and is pervaded by Brahmā, the Īśvara, the Creator. Savants like Havell rejecting the ‘Car Theory’ are more guided by medieval monuments—a historical bias. What about the cultural contents of so many institutions which though propounded in the hoary past, came to the surface only in the historical periods of Christian era.

Prākāras and Gopuras:

Vimānas and Gopuras are intimately related to each other. The towering Gopuras are the crowning achievement of the south Indian temple-architecture. These Gopuras, from the stand point of architectural planning and arrangement thereof, are characteristically associated with Prākāras—the manifold courts into which the temples of South India are distributed. The courts really fall in the domain of Palace-architecture; but as already elucidated the palaces and temples have a marked affinity to each other; because temporal authority, the King and the spiritual authority, one’s Kula-devatā or the Rājya-devatā were in India kept on par for some of the most mundane purposes like the residence and rites, the festivities and the processions. Accordingly the temple-establishments and the palace-establishments were identical to all intents and purposes. Their magnificence and the decorative elements too, were to some extent on par. Indian genius however, at last, surrendered to the feet of the god and relegated the king to insignificance. The history bears die testimony that the grandest of the Prāsādas and the loftiest of the Vimānas were built by kings who took pleasure in foundation and dedication of temples and pouring all their wealth in the erection of stupendous undertakings like the Kailāśa at Ellora, Mīmākṣī-Sundareśvara at Madura and so many illustrious temple monuments scattered in every part of this land.

While reviewing the principal Vāstu-texts like the Mānasāra and Mayamta, we have already seen the respective classifications of Prākāras and the manifold types of Gopuras. It is, therefore, not advisable to go into their details here. My point is that the Gopuras were set in the Prākāra walls of the temples.

Gopura originally was a town-gate vide the Amarakoṣa—‘puradvāram ca gopuram’, which tradition is based on the Vedic Gomatī-pur and Epic Gogṛha, the fortified extensive cow-stalls. In the medieval history these culminated into colossal buildings, over or near the gate, giving entrance to a temple. The Arthaśāstra also enjoins the erection of a Gopura on the prākāra-wall. The Kāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata abound in Gopura-glittering palaces and cities. In the Mānasāra the Gopuras are laid in front of each of the five courts into which the whole compound of a temple-edifice is divided. The Gopura belonging to the first (antar-maṇḍala) is called the dvāraśobhā; that belonging to the second court is known as dvāra-śālā. The gate house of the third court is called dvāraprāsāda and of the fourth dvāra-harmya. Lastly the gate house of the fifth court (mahāmaryādā) is known as mahāgopura.

Like Vimānas, Gopuras are also said to be furnished with as many as sixteen storeys. According to the Mānasāra, these Gopuras are divided into ten classes in regard to the number of architectural members.

They are called:

  1. Śrībhoga,
  2. Śrīviśāla,
  3. Viṣṇukānta,
  4. Indrakānta,
  5. Brahmakānta,
  6. Skandakānta,
  7. Śikhara,
  8. Stūpikā and
  9. Saumyakānta.

As regards other elements of Vimāna-vāstu, the Maṇḍapas and Taḍāgas etc., they may not be dealt with at greater length here for want of space.

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