Vastu-shastra (5): Temple Architecture

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

This page describes Bhaumika Vimanas (Temples of South India, Decan and Greater India) 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.

Bhaumika Vimānas (Temples of South India, Decan and Greater India)

[Full title: Bhaumika Vimānas (the South Indian, the Decanese and the Greater India Temples)]

It has already been remarked that the piled up altars the base, the dolmen-cell, the Garbhagṛha and the superstructure are the architectural constituents of the whole image of the temple; it rises like a, mountain. Further in our accounts of the origin of temple-architecture, the Citi, the altars, the dolmen (cf. the menhir), the shed of Initiation and the Tabernacle along with its structural and superstructural evolutions on the motif of the image of the “Mountain and the Cavern”, the superposition of the shapes along the vertical Axis and its form (i.e. vertical axis) we have already got some idea of the different factors that have contributed in the making of Hindu temple in all its types. The chādyas and halls have their prototype in dolmen and the Bhaumika Vimānas and the Śikharottamas have their prototypes in the image of the mountain. Their rich ornamentation is a memory of the primitive Tabernacle, like the temporary devagṛhas with exuberance of forest verdure the leaves for ornamentation, the Kadalīs for pillars and so many other allied decorations. These manifold bhūmis or miniature Śikharas in the fully evolved Hindu temple are replicas of the image of mountain. The Vedic seers have sung the analogy of world and the pillar and the world-pillar inheres in the world-mountain and transcends it where it becomes visible above the highest stratum of the superstructure.

Prof. Kramrisch makes a metaphysics of the analogy (H.T. 175-6) and it is worth quoting.

“The mountain shape of the Prāsāda is the sheath of its vertical axis. The vertical axis is clothed in it, from the floor of the Garbhagṛha to the shoulder course of the superstructure; from there however it is seen to exceed the body of the superstructure (Śikhara, in Nāgara temples; the series of Bhūmis in Drāviḍa temples). Encased in the vertical shape of a pillar, which is circular, as a rule, or polygonal (Parts VI and VII), it transcends the slopes of the superstructure although for a short distance only. It is therefore called Grīvā or Neck. It emerges from the body of the Prāsāda to be capped by a dome (Figs, f-h; Part VI) or clasped by an Āmalaka (Pls. I, XLIII, LXXI). These crowning shapes of the Pillar support the finial of the temple. Its Highest Point, the end or beginning of the axis of the temple, is in the centre of the hollow shaft above the Liṅga or image in the Garbhagṛha, above the Womb and Centre of the Cosmos and above the Navel of the Earth.”

“The finial is beyond the body of the temple, which has its extension in Antarikṣa, the mid-space. Above its High Temple (harmya) cupola (śikhara); (Figs, g-h, Pt. VI) above its being gathered by the Āmalaka (Fig. i) rises the finial, the Stūpikā, in the Empyrean and up to the Bindu, its Highest Point, the limit between the unmanifest and the manifest.”

In the Bhaumika Vimānas of the South, the pyramidal Superstructure is the rule and if there are exceptions, they prove the rule. Now Bhūmis and Śikharas, these are the two important words in the Indian texts of Vāstuśāstra which must be understood fully to comprehend the real genesis of the superstructure of Hindu Temple. The Śikhara as its etymological meaning conveys, is the mountain or peak-like super-structure above the perpendicular walls of the Prāsāda, It is curvilinear as a rule, as is represented in the fully evolved Hindu temple, in the north where it is the indispensable part of the exterior of the Prāsāda. The authoritative texts like the Samarāṅgaṇa-sūtradāra speak of this śikhara in the terms of Mañjari which is its another name. Mañjarī is shoot and this synonym is remarkable not only to connote the Hindu Temple as Puruṣa-mūrti (vide the Organic Theory) but also illustrates the vegetable decorations which were the exuberance of the tabernacles which had lent their bit towards the ornamentation of this sacred place of Devas

According to Kramrisch:

“This refers to the form of the superstructure as much as it follows logically by way of natural symbolism from the rite of Garbhādhāna. The vivifying Germ (Garbha) and the Embryo of Splendour (Hiraṇyagarbha) are within the walls of the Garbhargṛha and have their images in the construction of the temple”.

The workmanship of the superstructure of Hindu temple in both the styles, the Drāviḍa and the Nāgara, consists of arithmetical progression.

Prof. Kramrisch has some very lucid remarks on these progressions belonging to both the types and I am tempted to reproduce them to my readers here (H.T. ft. n. p, 166-7);

“The height of the storeys (bhūmi) of the pyramidal superstructure diminishes, on certain temples, in an arithmetical progression; each successive storey is ¼ or also ⅛ less than the lower. In this progression however is not included the ground floor (saṃsthāna) of the temple. In order to moderate the abrupt superposition of the pyramid with its miniature storeys on the relatively high wall of the ‘cubical’ Garbhagṛha, this wall frequently appears divided externally in two storeys, each complete with its base, pillars, capitals and roof cornice. This architectural consideration belongs to the Cola age (Temples at Tanjore, 1000 A.D.; Gangaikonda, Colapura [Colapuram] about 1025 A.D.); and while later temples show an increase in the number of simulated storeys on the walls on the Garbhagṛha (Temple at Tiruvarur, about 1600 A.D.), Pallava temples are free from this aesthetic deceit (Shore temple at Mamallapura [Mamallapuram], Kailāsanātha temple at Kāñcīpura [Kāñcīpuram] (650-700 A. D. approximately). See Plates LI-LIII: LVII-LIX in P, Brown, Indian Architecture and Part VI.”

“The superposition of the pyramidal, storeyed form on the vertical walls of the Garbhagṛha, though generally is not necessarily always observed. The pyramidal structure of the Vaikuntha Perumal Temple (ib. Pl. LIV) rises directly from its socle. Here too, the the storeys are not simulated, miniature replicas; they house a Garbhagṛha on each floor. In the majority however, of the temples in South India, including the Kanarese country, a complete structural pyramid of this type, appears raised on the Saṃsthāna, the ground-floor or one storeyed temple This development appears already completed in the seventh century rock cut temple models which an ingenious king (Narasiṃhavarman) was pleased to have cut out of the rocky boulders near the shore of Mamallapura [Mamallapuram].”

“The diminution of the height of the Bhūmis of the superstructure of a South Indian temple is carried out according to more than one consideration, such as the number of these ‘storeys’, etc, (see Part VII, Chap. 5).”

“In Northern India, the diminution of the Bhūmis of a curvilinear superstructure such as the Śikhara of an Orissan temple does not form a series; if, for example, there are ten Bhūmis, of which the lowermost has 5 units, the height of the following is: 4 7/16; 4; 3 15/16; 3¾, 3 5/8; 3 9/16; 3 7/16; 3 5/12 and 2. (‘Canons of Orissan Architecture,’ op. cit. p. 111) No diminution however in a geometrical progression can be seen, as stated by M. M. Ganguly ‘Orissa and Her Remains’, p, 128 on the accompanying Plate II.”

This is one interpretation of the successive Bhūmis in the Southern Vimānas. Another interpretation is based, as already hinted at, on the image of the cavern. It is the place of the Omphalos, in the womb of earth and below its surface which also became integrated into the Hindu-tempIe. The cave, underground, the crypt is the main Garbhagṛha of several preserved temples.

Kramrisch has made a very brilliant case of this secret, according to one of the most fundamental elements of Indian culture namely the three Guṇas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, active in every form of manifestation which have in the form of the temple a comprehensive visual symbol:

“Tamas, darkness, is the descending tendency, it is the quality proper of underground crypt. Above it, the Prāsāda arises, ascends in height according to the Sattva Guṇa, and expands its perimeter as far as Rajas, requires it. “Tamas, darkness, is the causal body, the ‘kāraṇa rūpa.’ As it was in the beginning when out of primordial darkness evolved all things that be, so also from the deep, central darkness of the Garbhagṛha the meaning of the temple shines forth on its walls and reaches the high point of the finial. Thus in certain temples there are two Garbhagṛhas; above the crypt-Garbhagṛha is the upper sanctuary, accessible or visible to all. The secret chamber of the Sūrya temple at Modhera, Gujerat, built in 1026-1027 A.D., is sunk to eleven and a half feet below the level and is underneath the floor of the Gar-bhāgṛha of the temple. At Aundh, the principal Liṅga is in the crypt below; in the upper Garbhagṛha is another Liṅga; steps lead down into the crypt from an opening in the floor of the upper shrine. The present-day temple of Somanatha Pattan, Kathiawar, also has a lower shrine. It surrounds the Somanatha Linga, symbol of the self-existent Omphalos. A ‘duplicate’ for every day worship is in the upper shrine. In the Jambukesvara temple, near Trichinopoly, in South India, the Garbhagṛha below the level of the ground enshrines a Svayambhu Linga standing in water.”

“Sanctuary upon sanctuary, they are superposed in several storeys, particularly and consistent with the total symbolism of the respective temples, in South India There, the special application of this principle is to those temples of Viṣṇu where in seven superposed storeys, the lowermost cell enshrines the standing (sthānaka), the next higher one the seated (āsana), the one of the third floor recumbent (śayana) image of Viṣṇu, as in the Vaikuṇṭha Perumal Temple at Kancipura [Kancipuram], and in the yet higher storey, the images of Brahmā, Mahāviṣṇu, Sadāviṣṇu and the four armed Nārāyaṇa. ‘Like a hollow cane of bamboo (veṇurandhravat) are the cells placed one above the other in the vertical axis of the Prāsāda’ ‘Vaikhānasāgama’ VI”.

With this introduction to the metaphysical implication and the implied ritual of image-worship, the different varieties of the architectural superstructure may be dwelt at some length. As already indicated the superstructure of Indian temples is principally of two types—the pyramidal and the curvilinear which is Śikhara. The former is the topic of the present section in the context of the Bhaumika Vimānas of the South. It may be pointed out at the very outset that in the South Indian text this pyramidal superstructure is designated by the number of its storeys and accordingly the chief distinguishing characteristic of the Drāviḍa Prāsāada (as we have already, seen—vide the classification of Prāsādas) is Bhūmis. Śikhara, in these texts like Mayamata or Īśānaśivagurudeva-paddhati is the name of the dome shaped massive roof of the small miniature-temple (kṣudra-alpa-vimāna). The observation of Prof. Kramrisch therefore, is significant (See hr book on page 182).

It may be however, pointed out that we cannot be dogmatic in our assertion that all the temples belonging to the South are Bhanmika [Bhaumika?] Vimānas. Architectural traditions in India from the very early beginnings of the Christian era had got amalgamated—vide Pt. I. An out-line history of Hindu Architecture both as science and art—and these traditions are very substantially illustrated in the early monuments especially in the early Chalukyan temple-architecture at Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal. Mahakuteśvara and Papanath are the leading monuments where this observation can be amplified and corroborated. Further the corner stone of my thesis that Drāviḍian style is earlier than the Nāgara style has been laid out from these specimens of the Chalukyan genesis.

But as in South Indian Vāstuśāstra the entire super-structure is discussed according to the number of storeys (Bhūmis) and as it bears no special name, I have termed the types of the South Indian temples as Bhaumika Vimānas in which the pyramidal superstructure is the most predominant elaboration in contrast to the Northern counterparts where curvilinear (śikhara) superstructure is of singular interest.

Now this pyramidal superstructure, in its generally accepted shape in South India is composed of three main factors of which (1) the recessed tiers or storeys are the chief and supporting clement; (2) above the last of these storeys rises the miniature Vimāna or Harmya, the High Temple; (3) each storey is surrounded by a rampart or enclosure composed of chapels. In this its complete form, the pyramidal superstructure is an amalgam of several independent types of buildings. Prof. Kramrisch has dwelt at length on the successive evolutions of this type of structure and has also made a brilliant presentation with its corroboration in the existing monuments.

Pyramidal superstructure has many varieties based on the principle of stratification in receding tiers. It has two main branches, the one having a flat or sloped roof, its cornice or eaves, for its unit and the other having a complete storey for its unit. The former has already been dealt with in brief outline in preceding chapter-Development of Temple Architecture and the latter concerning bhūmis may be taken up here.

This pyramidal superstructure composed of storeys (bhūmis) again may be viewed from three angles namely the stepped trunk of the pyramid formed of single storeys, the high temple Kṣudra-Alpa-Vimāna and enclosure of chapels. The first phase is rudimentary manifestation as is illustrated in the temples like those of Bodh Gaya and Sarnath. The High Temple or Kṣudra-Alpa-Vimanā, are the superstructures of the temples in the Kanarese districts and through out that part of South India generally known as Drāviḍa. The reliefs of Barhut and Sanchi display the prototypes of those superstructures especially the Nāga or Fire Chapel. This is the representation of the pre-Christian century (1st century B.C.), later on aggrandised and consolidated in its architectural form as illustrated in the Draupadi Ratha at Mamallapura [Mamallapuram]. The flat-roofed sanctuaries of Pallava and Chola age such as the temple at Enadi examplify the ‘small’ south Indian temple (Alpa-Prāsāda) without the rampart of chapels. The great temple at Tanjore also illustrates this evolution in the top of its many-storeyed super-structure.

Now coming to the third manifestation of this superstructure namely the inclosure of chapels, I may reproduce Prof. Kramrisch’s rendering:

“In a fully evolved South Indṭan temple or Jāti Vimāna of about 1000 A. D. the high pyramid of the Bhūmis of the superstructure rests upon upright walls in which is encased the Garbhagṛha. They are frequently given the appearance of two storeys, one perpendicularly above the other as in a vast building with many niches (ghanadvāra), flanked by pilasters in each storey and heavy cornice moulding, the eaves, above each (fig. h). Both these storeys occupy the same floor space and together they form the perpendicular walls on which is placed the pyramidal superstructure. The storeys of the pyramidal superstructure are comparatively on a miniature scale but they too have their niches and pilasters. In front of them, however, on each floor on all the four sides, is a series of small chapels or cells, oblong or square, and vaulted or domed, correspondingly (Figs. f-h). These chapels are called Kūṭa and Koṣṭha, etc. placed close to the cornice of each storey they fill the gap between the receding tiers and give the outline of the superstructure the appearance of leading straight and unbroken from its base to its shoulder course”—H.T. p. 197.

The development of this variety of superstructure can be traced from the ancient Buddhist monasteries of Gandhara, Ajanta and Nasika. The open or hypaethral temples also contributed to this exuberance e.g. Causaṭha [Causatha] Yogini-temples.

Kramirsch corroborates:—

“This type of open air temple appears to be the basic form of the Court of the Stūpa, at Takht-i-Bahai. But it is also preserved in the surrounding wall of cells of some of the great temples set up by the _ Pallavas in South India; the Shore Temple at Mamallapura [Mamallapuram] (Fig. g) and the Vaikuṇṭha Perumal Temple being the youngest (710 A.D.). Each of these large temples with its accessory buildings is surrounded by a wall of chapels. Apart from this enclosure of the whole precinct, another corresponding row of chapels surrounds the Prāsāda itself. In the Shore Temple it has the form of a wall of cells separated from the body of the temple by an open air passage. (Fig. g). In the Kailasanatha Temple however, another great structural temple of about 700 A. D., at Conjeeveram, the single chapels of the enclosure, are attached to the walls of the Prāsāda from which they are seen to project,—also in the rock-cut Kailāśanātha temple at Elura whereas in the Vaikuntha Perumal Temple they are altogether embodied in the temple of which they form part of the outermost but covered ambulatory. These various solutions are stages in a process of drawing towards the Prāsāda the enclosure wall of the chapels and incorporating it. Nearest amongst south Indian temples to the original open-air type is the Shore Temple”.

“While the Drāviḍa temples incorporate the theme of the hypaethral temple, the enclosure formed of chapels in the body itself of the Prāsāda, the enclosure of cells around and the main temple, belongs to some of the great shrines in distant parts of India, such as the Virupākṣa temple in Pattadakal, or the Navalinga temple at Kukkanur (Gadag), in the Kanarese country, the Kesava temple at Somanathapur [Somanathapura] in Mysore, and in Kashmir, the sun temple of Martand and the Avantisvami temple in Avantipur [Avantipura]. Amongst Jain temples that of Vimala Shah, A.D. 1031, on Mt. Abu, the Neminatha [Neminath] Temple at Girnar, Kathiawar, or the Chaumukh Temple at Ranpur, Jodhpur, built by Sutradhara Depaka in 1440 A. D. are cloistered by a range of cells, each of a shrine with an image.”

The Sāndhāra Prāsāda having an enclosed or open circumambulatory passage round the Garbhagṛha is also a contribution of this side development.

“The surrounding wall however belongs particularly to Drāviḍa temples. Thus the enclosure made of chapels too, kept its independent open-air existence while it also came to function as an essential part in the large Pallava temples, the first structural temples built of stone which were set up in the Drāviḍa country. Finally it becomes an adornment of the superstructure of the Prāsāda.”

“This takes place not on one level only, but is repeated on the floors of the many-storeyed superstructure (Fig. f). In receding tiers, a wall of cells forms the continuous parapet above which emerge the walls of the Gaṛbhagrha of that floor, these again carry the parapet of the floor above. An open air circumambulatory is thus provided for each respective floor; it is hidden from view by the parapet of cells (Fig. f; also Fig, g); this in addition to its ritual suggestiveness has monumental effectiveness for the recess of each upper storey, the step of the pyramid, is thus masked, the outline of the superstructure appears unbroken, and enriched by the bold three-dimensional discipline of the domed and vaulted chapel shapes of its parapets or enclosures.”

The theme of the pyramid as represented by the Vaikuṇṭha Perumal temple comprises entire Vimāna and Kramrisch’s observation of the architectural paradoxes are worth quoting:

“The Vaikuṇṭha Perumal temple, however, with its Garbhagṛhas in the centre of each of its four storeys, reveals the original purpose of accommodating a sanctuary in each storey of the pyramidal superstructure to the same extent as does the outer shell of this Prāsāda, from the ground level to its ‘High Temple’. As a rule however and seen from the outside the consolidated trunk of the pyramidal superstructure simulates only a tiarbhagṛha in each of its storeys (Fig. h)”.

“The paradox is obvious in the history of this type of the superstructure of the temple. The hypaethral temple with nothing in the centre or near to nothing is here amalgamated with a monumental structure in its centre. It towers in each storeys above its surrounding enclosure with its many small shrines”.

“Further paradoxical developments accompany the evolution of this type of the superstructure. The surrounding chapels, it has been pointed out, of the ground floor of the Kailasanath [Kailāsanātha] Temple at Kancipura [Kancipuram], were attached to the body of the building and drawn into the outer walls of the temple circumambulatory. Similarly, from the Cola age onward, the parapet of chapels on each floor of the superstructure is attached to its walls; the open air circumambulatry itself a vestigial part of the hyapethral temple, is pressed out of existence. The enclosure of cells is now an embellishment of the wall of each Būhmi, sculptural part of the monument (Fig. h).”

“The fully evolved pyramidal superstructure having attained its perfect form and greatest height (190 feet) about the year 1000 A. D in the Bṛhadīsvara, the ‘Great Temple’ in Tanjore (Fig, h), loses it in the following periods in proportion to the increasing height of the gate towers, the Gopuras of its enclosure walls. Taken as a whole, the South Indian temple irrespective of the flat roofs of its extensive pillared halls, in the centuries of its greatest expansion (Temple of Srirangam, 13th-18th century; the temple of Tiruvannamalai, Cola period and later) is a hypaethral temple, an open air sacred enclosure, with high walls, be they as many as seven, marked in the four directions by Gopuras whose height decreases towards the centre, where the main temple is ṛnarked by its position. Its presence is inconspicuous, its diminutive superstructure barely noticeable as it emerges from the flat roof of a covered court. With its many subservient buildings immersed in the air space and fenced off by repeated high walls and their Gopuras, the total South Indian temple-town covers the ground marked in the four directions by the sequence of the Gopuras of successive walls, within the outermost enclosing wall. The shrinkage of the superstructure of the centre, the diminution of the height of the main temple is a paradox of which the meaning is adjusted by relating it to the enclosure (paridhi, prākāra) and its architectural form, the hypaethral temple. Between the beginning and the end of this development lies the formation of the superstructure of the South Indian temple, a pyramid of many storeys each with its enclosing parapet of chapels and crowned by a small High Temple (Vimāna)”.

“The devolution of the South Indian Prāsāda, the shrinkage of its height in comparison with the Gopuras, the gate towers of the surrounding walls, whose height increases with their distance from the temple in their centre, appears a paradoxical development, but it may be understood as a return to type. Few representations and no structural examples of this type are preserved. The representations are of an early age and from central and northern India, from Barhut and Mathura. A high structure is seen there; it encloses and encases a small building which is the main temple. The central sanctuary surrounded by structures larger than itself shows here the principle of the Garbhagṛha extended to the building that holds it. The small central temple with the image in the Garbhagṛha is the Sanctum Sanctorum; comparable in its position to the “Throne of Supreme Blessedness.”

Now with this brief introduction to the main elements of the temple-architecture, characteristic of the South Indian temples let us have a bird’s eye view on the existing monuments characterised by these superstructures, the pyramidal. From the historical standpoint there have been as many as four characteristic evolutions and developments in the art of temple-building in this part of the country—the Pallava, the Chola, the Vijayanagara [Vijayanagaram] and the Madura. I have, elsewhere—vide my “hindu prāsāda, caturmukhī pṛṣṭhabhūmi”—, in my own characteristic way treated the fourfold background giving rise to this most stupendous, zealous, painstaking and liberal endeavour on the part of Indian people comprising not only the common men and women at large but also the nobility of the clan and that of the mind. Among these, the four foundations, the remarkable impetus came from the ruling dynasties, the Pandayas, the Cholas, the Vijayanagara [Vijayanagaram] and the Nayakas of Madura, The building art as flourished in their respective reigns is characterised and designated by their genius and their patronage. In the early medieval and the later medieval periods of Indian history this remarkable sway captivating the hearts, minds and money of the people was due to the great landmark in religious history of India, the Pauranic Dharma which centred round the Doctrine of Pūrta—the foundation and dedication of temples and the enshrinement of the deities in them. There was a time when the belief was paramount that the sacrifice would lead us to heaven and prosperity—“svargakāmo yajet”. Now another maxim replaced it—“svargakāmo mandiram kārayet”. Hence Kartā, the Sthapti and Bhartā, the Kāraka, Yajamana, the patron along with the Purohita-ācārya the trinity had the fullest outlet for the exuberance of the play of their genius, the liberality of their wealth and the gospel of their Dharma—the Pūrta-dharma respectively.

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