Vastu-shastra (5): Temple Architecture

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

This page describes Correspondence of the Prasadas with Monuments which is chapter 11 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 11 - Correspondence of the Prāsādas with Monuments

[Full title: The Correspondence of the Prāsādas of Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra with Monuments]

Scope of the correspondence:

While dealing with the Temple Architecture from the different standpoints of origin, development, styles and classification in the previous chapters, something has already been said on this topic. Here in this chapter, I would like to dwell at length upon this topic.

Scholars in their treatment of Indian architecture and more particularly of Temple Architecture have adopted the criterion of the ruling dynasties to whose munificence temples owe their origin, for the classification and other allied details of the temples. Naturally, therefore, the glory of temple building has been attributed to the patrons, the donors, the Karakas of the Prāsādas, rather than to the Sthapatis, the Sthāpakas and the law-givers, the propounder-Ācāryas of the Śāstra. If the religious merit of building the temple is transferred into the Yajamāna, the builder, nobody is going to question it. But the merit of the artistic perfection of the temple and of the devotion of the highest order with which the work has been done must not be usurped. It is they, who had evolved the different styles of architecture. The propounder Ācāryas only gave them the norms of building types, the Sthapatis, in collaboration with the genius of the Sthāpakas, evolved different styles in which these temple-types could be finished. Types go with the Śāstrācārays [Śāstrācāryas?], and the styles should go with the Master Architects—the Sthapatis,

A persual of these different classifications of the temples as tabulated before us will convince any intelligent student that the same type of temple, may it be Rucaka, Meru, Mandara, Kailāśa Nandyāvarta or Sarvatobhadra, has been described several times in several classifications in connection with different styles. Styles, therefore, as I remarked before, are the sum total, not only of the regional traits, but also of the architectural craftmanship which evolved them, of course, with due regard to the local and cultural background of the place, the centre of art, in a particular part of the country.

The principal art-centres, so far as the architectural evolution and development are concerned, were Kaliṅga, Āndhra, Gurjara, Baṅga, Madhyadeśa, Rajasthan, Orissa and Braja. It is in these Janapadas that the Prāsādas of old, the ancient period, i.e. Gupta Period, as well as early and later medieval periods, say from 350 A. D. to 1350 A. D. rose from the small shrines to the stupendous super-structures, the main factors in giving rise to them were the patronage of the ruling dynasties, and the religious currents of the times—Buddhism, Jainism and Pauranic Hinduism. All of these contributed to the creation of monuments of supreme beauty, our richest and greatest architectural heritage.

As Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra was written in the early part of the eleventh century, it mirrors not only the then developed temple architecture, but has also prescribed potential norms for producing the later types of temples, characteristic of the later Chalukyan and later Indo-Aryan styles at Gwalior, Gujarat and Brindaban.

Now without going into details, let us proceed with the multiple classifications of temples one by one and show their correspondence to the monuments. This classification will have to be based either on the materials, or on the styles, or the shape and super-structure along with the names, varieties and origins thereof. A very important point to decide beforehand is that in what sense should we understand the correspondence of the norms of the temple architecture as propounded in the texts to the monuments? This correspondence we have to take only in a limited and general sense. It would be futile on our part to seek to find out if the details of the different canons of the planning of the Prāsādas, the Hindu Temple, as given in the texts, correspond to those found in the composition of an existing temple building. I have said several times, that this text is the most representative manual on the Vāstu-śāstra, the Hindu Science of Architecture, and as it was composed in the early eleventh century, naturally it portrays all the then developments of the temple architecture and according to the genesis of the great work, it not only epitomises the evolution of the temple upto its time but also, in its, own way has added many innovations to the already existing canons of the art. I will very soon show this characteristic of the work more particularly in the realm of the proportions of measurements and the varieties of the temple types; as already hinted in previous pages.

Proceeding with this topic with this background, the most outstanding points which I have made in this study are! firstly, the interpretation of the word ‘Prāsāda’ in the sense of Hindu Temple; secondly, the use of the various materials like brick, stone, wood, bamboo, cloth, rock (cave temples) and earth itself, according to the situation and surroundings, location and localities such as town of a hamlet, a hill or forest and thirdly, the types of the structure and the super-structure thereof. This last criterion brings us to the most important subject, though controversial in nature, the styles of the temple. Different styles of the temple revolve round the super-structure and more correctly the finial the crowning part of the superstructure of the Prāsāda. These in my opinion are the broad angles from which we can see the correspondence between the texts and the monuments.

The word for the temple:

The denotation and connotation of the word Prāsāda has already been taken into consideration. Here I am concerned with the architectural implication of the word. In my opinion Prāsāda architecture and Vimāna architecture had their different origins from the two different building traditions. These two epitomise, as it were, the Very essence of the Aryan and non-Aryan elements of Indian architecture, more especially of the temple architecture. Vimāna architecture is the proto-type of the South Indian Prāsādas having superstructure with storeys (Bhūmis) and the Prāsādas the raised platforms (cf. Vedic Altar) were the precursors of the Prāsādas developing into the piled up super-structure having Śikharas, as we have them in North India, viz. temples at Bhuvaneśvara, Khajuraho etc.

The Samarāṅgaṇa-Sūtradhāra, being the most representative compendium of the North Indian architectural traditions of the past (i.e. Nāgara School and its crown, the Lāṭa Style) naturally has patronised the word Prāsāda for temple and developed its architectural potentialities, as is evident from its very ornamental and exuberent architectural motifs of all parts of the temple, i.e, Jagatī, the super-structure and the finial. Thus the word Prāsāda for the temple in the Samarāṅagaṇa corroborates the implication of the Prāsāda as a sacred monument and also corresponds to several such monuments, both in the literature and architecture as well. For the former, the ancient works like Sāṅkhyāyana Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra “Prāsādas on all sides of the Āhavanīya Fire” and Patañjali’s Mahābhāṣya (II 2.34):

Prāsādas of Dhanapati, Rāma and Keśava (already referred to in a previous chapter) can be cited and for the latter the following references are enough by way of illustrations:

1. Garuḍa Pillar (Bhilsa) has an inscription for Uttama Prāsāda, of Bhagavata, 2nd Century B.C.

2. The ‘Vaijayanta Prāsāda’ the Prāsāda of Indra, represented in a relief panel in Bharhut Cave 1st Century B.C.

3. ‘Prāsāda-devālaya’, occurs in the Nālandā stone inscription (Vs. 4-6) of Yaśovarmmadeva [Yaśovarmadeva?] C. 530 A. D. ‘Ep. Ind.’, Vol. XX. p. 43,

4. Among the other inscriptions referring to extant temples as Prāsādas, is the Lakshmana Temple Sirpur (C, 700 A. D.), Ep. Ind. Vol, XI. p. 190).

5. Similar reference is found in the Gurji Inscriptions of Prabodhśiva, Ep. Ind. Vol. XXII. page 127.

N.B.—There are other numerous references in Inscriptions and Praśastis as very ably gathered together (Ency. H. Arch) by Dr. Acharya in which the word Prāsāda corresponds in monuments to gorgeous temples as well as small pavilions where a deity or emblematic phallus of Śiva is installed.

Substances of the Prāsādas.

The substances of which the temples are built, as described in the text have already been referred to in the previous chapter ‘The Planning of the Prāsāda’. These substances in the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra range from wood, bamboo, cloth, bricks and stone to precious stones together with gold, silver, copper, brass and other metals as well.

Dr. Kramrisch on the authority of Utpala the commentator of Bṛhatsaṃhitā and Maya remarks:

“Utpala commenting in the tenth century on the ‘Bṛhat-Saṃhitā’ (LII.39-41) quotes Hiraṇyagarbha; according to him the range of substances used in definite types of buildings was large. The building Mandira, was made of stone, Vāstubhavana of baked bricks, Sumanta of unbaked bricks, Sudhāra of mud, Mānasya of wood, Nandana of bamboo, Vijaya and Śilpivikalpita of (tent) cloth, Kaṭima of wattle and others of gold, silver, copper, iron, lac and tin. According to Maya, there are only five kinds of buildings of different substances (H. T. ft. note 2 on page 101).

The South Indian texts like Mānasāra, Mayamata and Īśānaśivagurudeva-paddhati, the last one being contemporary of the Samarāṅgaṇa, however, treat this topic more technically.

Mānasāra classifies the buildings from the point of view of the materials of which they are built under Śuddha, Miśra and Saṅkirṇa i.e.

  1. Śuddha, or pure, made of one material (brick, iron or wood);
  2. Miśra, or mixed, made of two materials;
  3. Saṅkīrṇa or amalgamated, made of three or more materials, cf. Man., XVIII. 139—42 (vide H. A. In. & Ab. p. 187).

“In the I.G.P. (referred above) Part V, Ch. XXXII. 86-89, about the same time, the South Indian type of temples is said to be ‘saṃcita’, ‘asaṃcita’ and ‘upasaṃcita’, according to its ‘density’, and is considered male, female or neuter, respectively. In the first instance, it is built of stone or brick, in the second of brick or wood, and lastly of brick and wood combined”. (H T. p 101)

The following tabulation will show at a glance the early specimens of the temples built of the different substances:—

Substances Specimens Age Remarks
1. Brick 1. Bhitargaon (U. P.) Gupta Pd. Mixed type
  2. Uttareśvara and Kaleśvara temples at Ter (Tagara) in Hyderabad Deccan. 5th Century, A.D. brick and wood brick and stone
2. Wood 1. At Brahmor, Chamba (J.Ph. Vogel ‘Antiq. of Ch. State’ (p. 96). 8th Century.  
  2. Wooden temples as represented in the carvings of Bharhut, about 100 B.C. and as described in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra (Ch.49th) as Hall temples; pillars support, their roofs or ceillings.    
3. Stone 1. Śilāprāsāda.   (Ref H.T. p. 100)
  2. Śailamaya Prāsāda.   Ditto
4. Rock Rock-cut temples at Ajanta, Ellora, Elephanta and so many other places (cf. Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra Layana and Guhādhara).    

N.B.—These are only early references. The early medieval temples are numerous. The main material used in them is stone or brick and they abound in literature and architectural monuments, taken notice of, by practically all the modern works on Indian Architecture.

Proportionate Measurements of the Prāsādas

Prāsāda, the Hindu Temple, in its full development, means a huge settlement. Maṇḍapas, Jagatīs, small shrines housing the other deities (beside the principal one) to mention only a few of them, constitute this setup. Therefore, here when I am talking of measurements, a complete code of measurements not only of all the main parts of the temple is out of question, but also the measurements of the accessory buildings do not fall within my scope (cf. the measurements of the Maṇḍapas,—vidce chapter VIII). A full picture of the proportional measurements of Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra Prāsādas is painted in the subsequent volume of this study ‘The Architecture and Sculpture of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra’. Here, therefore, my main aim is to show that about 1000 A.D., the time of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra, a good deal of modifications in the proportionate measurements of the Prāsādas can be seen which correspond and are sustained in the living practice of the art. The Lakṣmaṇa-temple in Khajuraho and the Nīlakaṇṭheśvara temple in Udaipur may be cited as typical illustrations to show that the profiles of Adhiṣṭhāna and Vedikā tally with Prāsādas described in the 57th Chapter of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra (cf. temple types like Rucaka, Nandiśa, Hemakūṭa, Kṣitibhūṣaṇa, etc.).

The medieval developments in the temple architecture, the ground plan (talacchanda or saṃsthāna) the height and the super-structure etc. correspond fully to the temple types of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra. The Sāndbāra (having circumambulatory passage) varieties of of Prāsādas are represented in the Vaikuṇṭha Perumal and Ambarnath temples.

Similarly the measurements relating to the height and super-structure too underwent a substantial change in the temples belonging to the early medieval period of architectural history of India as portrayed in the pages of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra.

“In the early texts in the 6th century etc. the total height of the temple including the Āmalaka was twice or else thrice its width. The general rule half a millenium later, as given in the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra, however, is, that the height of the temple to its shoulder course (skandha) is twice, two and a half times and 2 small parts (kalā)—or two times and a quarter, the width of Prāsādas (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra LVII, 122; 329; 455; 492 etc.) Above the shoulder course of the curvilinear Śikhara are the neck (kaṇṭha, grīvā) and the Āmalakasāra or Aṇḍaka, which yet form the part of Śikhara. Above the Āmalakasāra i.e. above the Śikhara, is the finial, which is composed of several parts; the Gandrikā also called Padmaśīrṣa; has the shape of an inverted flat bowl. It supports the jar, Kalaśa or Kumbha and on it is placed the Bījapūraka, the shape of the citron or an Uṣṇīṣa (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra LVI—LIX passim).”

Again Śukanāsā which extended originally to half the height of the Śikhara is now given various commensurable heights in the different temples (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra LV. 91-93). The Maṇḍapa is now established as a separate hall in front of the Prāsāda, preparatory and subservient to the purpose of the Prāsāda (cf. Temples at Bhuvaneśvara in Orissa).

Super-structure of the Prāsāda.

The super-structure, crowned by the Āmalaka is the third and highest part of the body of the Prāsāda (the two other main parts of Prāsāda being the solid base or socle, its altar and the sanctuary the Garbahgṛha with its vertical walls). No composite name could be evolved for the superstructure of the Prāsāda, the whole finial. Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra enumerates in many passages the several parts of the finial, the Candrikā or Padmaśīrṣa, the Kalaśa or Kumbha and on it the Bījapūraka, Bījeśvara etc, (LVI. 153-54. LVII. 136; 425; 719). I have already remarked (vide the “Development of the Temple Architecture” the III Chapter) that the Prāsādas as described in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra with their curvilinear super-structures (Śikharas) correspond mostly to the monumental shapes of the temple. The construction of the curvilinear Śikhara, by means of a division in geometrical progression by fourfold division (Caturguṇa sūtra) was the rule in the canons as enunciated by pre-Samarāṅgaṇa works like Agni Purāṇa XLII. 15-17 and Hayaśīṛṣa Pañcarātra XIII. 32.4 This canon no more held good by the time of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra This height of the trunk of the Śikhara given should be divided by geometrical progression into a certain number of parts—three, four, five or six according to the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra (LVI. 137 and LVII. 817). The description of such a Śikhara fits in with the temples more profoundly at Bhu-vaneśvara (and also at Khajuraho).

In a previous chapter (Development of the Temple Architecture) I have already talked of the main varieties of the curvilinear super-structure, namely the cluster of Śikharas, the Śikhara enmeshed in Gavākṣas and the composite Śikhara. The first is represented most perfectly in the temples of Central India, especially in Khajuraho (cf Kandriya Temple); in northern Gujarat and also in Rajputana (cf. Jain Temple in Osia; Someśvara temple in Kiradu); the Rajarani temple in Bhuvaneśvara, Orissa. The second variety of the curvilinear Śikhara has been particularly perfected in Orissa (cf. the Liṅgarāja and Brahmaṇeśvara temples). Lastly the third variety belongs to Central India and Deccan (cf. the Nīlakaṇṭheśvara temple at Udayapura of the eleventh century and the temple at Jhodga, Nasika).

A word on (he pyramidal superstructure still remains to be said. It is mostly found in the Deccan as well as in Drāviḍa country. Chādya Prāsādas of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra come to in as illustrations of the pyramidal superstructure (already referred to, in Chapter III), but they are illustrations of earlier phase. The piling of one shape of temple upon the other, forms the subject matter of the chapter LV. of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra.

The superimposed temples may be square in plan or circular, etc., their vertical sections are also different and every type has its such as Rucaka etc. The text (cf LV. 79) says:

“Rucaka or Vardhamāna or Śrīvatsa or Haṃsa whichever one may like among them, one should set up that on Garuḍa”.

The most perfect form with greatest height (190 ft.) is represented in the Bṛhadīśvara ‘Great Temple’ in Tanjore about the year 1000 A.D.

The Pyramidal superstructure composed of storeys or Bhūmis (as described in the text—chapter 62) have several varieties, a detailed notice of which is not every much desirable here.


Temple architecture in India is not purely an architectural tradition. It is something supra-architectural. It is, therefore, difficult to conclude with it, as it is difficult to conclude with any such supra subject. The transcendental background, metaphysical motif and spiritual significance have made the Prāsāda, the Hindu Temple, as high as the highest peak of the Himalayas, and as deep as the deepest part of the oceans.

But I can surely form a conclusion of my humble attempt at the interpretation of this great institution as it is expounded and ramified into innumerable ranges and outlets in the pages of this mangnificent book written by a magnificent king. If the temple is a microcosmic representation of macrocosmic Brahman, the Universe, surely an ordinary sūtradhāra is incompetent to build it. Only the Bhuvanatraya-Sūtradhāra (cf. the very first verse of this work) can fashion it or can will some one to fashion it. So is the case with me, it is only in an inspired moment of my life that I could make an attempt to just peep into this vast ocean. I am fully conscious of it. There is still room for another attempt (cf. “Architecture and Sculpture of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra”).

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