Vastu-shastra (5): Temple Architecture

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

This page describes Temples at Ellora and Elephanta 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.

It is a remarkable architectural site, perhaps unique in whole of the country, where we find a confluence of all the three principal religious creeds, Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism. Its earlier Buddhist phase is contemporary to Ajanta, in a direct line only some sixty miles distant. The slight difference in the Buddhist rock-cut architecture at Ellora may be necessitated by not only the later adaptation in the creed and the ritual, but also the difference in the terrain of the two places. For instead of the almost vertical cliff as at Ajanta, the halls of Ellora are excavated out of ridge of low hills, pushed up from the vast plateau of the Deccan.


“At Ellora the Buddhists were the first of the three great religious communities to occupy this site, and as such their monasteries are in the most favourable position, being at the southern end of a scarp of the plateau, where it throws out a horn to the west.

Here they practised their religion for some two centuries, from A.D. 450 to 650, during which period the group of twelve rock-cut halls belonging to the Buddhist creed were produced”. (see the tabulation of all these 12 excavations in Brown).

“An architectural feature which emerges about this time is a type of pillar and capital thoroughly distinctive of the rock-out technique, Of massive proportions, the lower half, which corresponds to the shaft is a plain square prism, while the upper portion is round in section, vertically fluted, and elaborated into a capital consisting of the compressed “cushion” forms. This became the dominating type of capital and pillar and together with the other type already referred to as the “vase and foliage”, constituted the two “orders” in all subsequent rock-cut architecture. So different in every aspect are these two capitals—the “cushion” and the “vase”, that it is cleat they are the outcome of two entirely different but parallel traditions.”

The Mahanwada is by far the largest and most remarkable and owing to its uncomnon design, is in a class by itself and resembles with the ‘Mahārāja’ or the “Durbar-Hall” at Kanheri. Both these prayer halls were the outcome of the Lamaistic services in the Order.

The most notable production of the whole Buddhist series at Ellora is caitya Hall no. 10, commonly known as Viśvakarmā or ‘Lord of Arts’ as it has the reputation of being specially frequented by artisans. As a more orthodox type of Buddhist prayer-house and the only one of its kind on the site, it resembles in many respects the two almost contemporary Mahayan caitya halls at Ajanta.


“It was early in the seventh century, when the activities of the Mahayana Buddhists on this site were drawing to a close, that the Hindu hierarchy began in their turn to prepare a series of columned halls in much the same architectural style as the Buddhist, but adapted to suit their own ritualistic needs. The Brahmanical group al Ellora extends along the west face of the hill for about half a mile, and consists of sixteen excavations numbered 15 to 29. The principal examples arc: (No. 14) ‘Ravana-ki-Khai’ or Abode of Havana, the demon king of Lanka (Ceylon); 15) Das Avatāra, or the Ten Incarnations of Vishnu; (No. 16) the Kailasa or Siva’s Paradise; (No. 21) Rameswara, or Lord of Ram; (No. 29) Dumar Lena, sometimes called Sita’s Nani, or Bath of Sita. These resolve themselves, as follows, into four different types, most of them apparently taking their various shapes in order to conform to the changing requirements of the creed”—cf. Brown p 86.

Daśāvatāra cave-temple is the largest and the finest of the first type and is in two storeys along with a detached shrine or maṇḍapa, intended perhaps for Nandi, Śiva’s bull or Dvārāpāla. The second type though quite simple, represents the elaboration to which the Hindu temple was subjected in the early medieval times. The third type, the Dumarlena is one of the largest and most imposing temples on Ellora site. It is a massive central shrine being made possible by the shape of the hill in which it is cut. The final type of Brahmanical rock-cut architecture consists of one example only, the Kailasa, Śiva’s Paradise, and stands in a class by itself as it is unique

. It is the structure in rock—a new scheme altogether. Instead of the underground halls which had hitherto been the practice, its creators threw aside all previous conventions and boldly undertook to reproduce in the virgin rock to very large scale and in full detail a structural temple of the period.

“Once the idea of the Kailasa was conceived, its production became a matter of time, patience, and skilled labour, all of which appear to have been readily forthcoming. That it was an expression of exalted religious emotion is obvious but even this condition could not have made such a consummation possible, bad it not also had the patronage of a ruler with unlimited resources and who was at the same time moved by the loftiest ideals. This monarch has been identified as Krishna I (757-783) of the Rashtrakuta dynasty of Malkhed.”

Artistically judged, Kailāśa is more closely allied to sculpture on a grand scale than to architecture which is the real genius of Hindu Architecture which is not only a mechanical art, but also a fine art grand and splendid. The temple-scheme is comprised of lour parts, the body, the entrance, the Nandi and the cloisters surrounding the court yard. Two free standing pillars or dhvajastambhas fifty-one feet high, one on each side of the Nandi shrine add to the grandeur of the temple. The whole monument shows how both the orders the Southern or Dravidian and Northern or Nāgara have got assimilated to evolve a composite All India Hindu architecture of the medieval period, ‘Cushion’ and ‘Vase and foliage’, both are before our eyes.

Percy Brown is very apt:

“The temple of Kailasa at Ellora is not only the most stupendous single work of art executed in India, but as an example of rock-architecture it is unrivalled. Standing within its precincts and surrounded by its grey and hoary pavilions, one seems to be looking through into another world, not a world of time and space, but one of intense spiritual devotion expressed by such an amazing artistic creation hewn out of the earth itself. Gradually one becomes conscious of the remarkable imagination which conceived it, the unstinted labour which enabled it to be materialized (a work of a hundred years), and, finally, the sculpture with which it is adorned; this plastic decoration is its crowning glory something more than a record of artistic form, it is a great spiritual achievement, every portion being a rich statement glowing with meaning. The Kailasa is an illustration of one of those rare occasions when men’s minds, hearts, and hands work in unison towards the consummation of a supreme ideal. It was under such conditions of religious and cultural stability that this grand monolithic representation of Siva’s Paradise was produced”.

As regards the Jain monuments, they may be passed over for want of space.

Ellora represents the final manifestation of rock-cut architecture in India along with the other notable sites (i) the islands of Elephanta and Salsette and (ii) Mamallapura [Mamallapuram], a development under the Pallava dynasty.


Resembles the Damar Lena in general distribution; but it is superior to all others of its kind in the character and quality of its sculptures. For details see Percy Brown.

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