Vastu-shastra (5): Temple Architecture

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

This page describes Temples of Madura, the final phase (from 1600 A.D.) 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.

Temples of Madura, the final phase (from 1600 A.D.)

Even the brave Vijayanagar succumbed to the confederacy of Mohammadan principalities in the Deccan and so the Hindu element in the Tamil country, owing to the pressure of Islamic aggression, was forced further south eventually to establish itself with the city of Madura as its capital seat. Here and in certain other towns like Srirangum and Trichonopoly under a dynasty known as the Nayakas, the Dravidian style assumed its final form which has lasted almost until modern times. Trumalai Nayaka (1623-1659) was the greatest patron of Madura style which was in a way revival and continuation of the building procedure of the Pāṇḍyas (1100-1350) which as we have seen, consisted in improving and extending the existing shrines so that these attained much greater magnificence. We have seen the Mayamata’s definition of a Prāsāda denoting not only the central shrine but also the manifold temple-establishments like Maṇḍapa, Prapā, Prākāra, Gopura etc. Accordingly this Madura style is the greatest exponent of that ideal where Gopuras, Prākāra [Prākārams] and Maṇḍapas [Maṇḍapams] formed the principal fascinations for the patrons like Nayakas to undertake the superb creations of architecture, the majestic and soaring Gopuras strong and fortified Prākāra [Prākāram] along with spacious pillared halls, the Sahasra-maṇḍapas and so on so forth, All this was necessitated on account of the corresponding expansion in the temple ritual consequent upon the institution of worship which had attained by this time a powerful upsurge where the pilgrimage to such sacred and sanctified sites was one of the dominating ideals of Hindu life.

The Doctrine of Pūrta-Dharma had its full play now. Further, the royal patronage to the temple-building art of the day also gave a new importance of the deity of the temple. Wider powers were accredited to the deity who was envisaged in dual capacity both a spiritual head and temporal head. Accordingly twofold planning of temple emerged, one inner covered and most sacred part housing the deity in his cella and another outer, open and more public. The latter accordingly, was therefore utilised for the processional and festival occasions. Royal ideal of the manifold courts and gateways was fully imparted to the temple-scheme of the day. It was therefore, but a logical step to give more attention to the grandeur and the splendour of the temple rather than to concentrate on temple-cella, the Vimāna or Garbhagṛha. The soaring structures and superstructures of the Bhaumika Vimānas comprising of many storeys from one to twelve now became of the Gateways, the Gopuras [Gopurams] which according to Śilpaśāstras like Kāśyapa and Mānasāra could be made upto 16 or 17 storeys, and they did take a good number of them. The Madura-Gopuras are remarkable architectural creations of this aftermath. Further in addition to the munificent patronage of the ruling kings, liberality and piety of the multitude of men also had their full play towards the foundation and dedication of some additional structure in the very enclosure of the temple, hence shrine of saints and pillared hall maṇḍapas of varying magnitude sometimes having as may as 1000 pillars sometimes doing only with 100 pillars were also liberally contributed. All this made a temple a city, and the evolution of temple-cities and temple-towns has already been dwelt upon. Dravidian temples of this period are remarkable for two eminent elements—exteriorly the Gopuras and interiorly the pillars.

As regards pillars, though they do not have that florid elegance of the previous style, but nevertheless, do retain a vigirous character.

“As an example there at least a thousand pillars in the temple of Madura, in addition to an equal number in the hypostyle hall, making a total in this one temple alone of two thousand pillars in all. They are mainly of four kinds, consisting of a square moulded and patterned example, the simplest of all; the rampant dragon; the figure, usually of a deity; and the portrait, often of the donor or one of his family. All of these support ponderous and complicated superstructures in which crouching dragons and foliated brackets predominate.”

The number of temples of the Madura class is nearly thirty, but the following may be cited as more important ones:—

  1. Madura—Mīnākṣī-Sundareśvara
  2. Śrīraṅga [Śrīraṅgam]—Ananta-śāyī-Nārāyaṇa (Raṅganātha)
  3. Jambukeśvara
  4. Tiruvarur
  5. Rāmeśvaram [Rāmeśvara]
  6. Chidambara [Chidambaram] (Naṭaraja)
  7. Tinnevelley.
  8. Tiruvannamalai
  9. Srivelliputur.

N.B.—The details may be purviewed in Brown.


It is a double temple, as it has two separate sanctuaries, one dedicated to Śiva and the other to his consort the goddess Mīnākṣī. These two shrines, which are really temples within a temple, occupy the largest space inside the main enclosure. The outer wall of this surrounds an area which is nearly a square as it measures approximately 850 feet by 725 feet, with four large gateways one towards the centre of each of its four sides”.

“Large and small there are eleven gopuras [gopurams] to the Madura temple, the four outer ones being of the first class as they are all over 150 feet high. There is one other important and spacious structure in the temple scheme and that is the court of a thousand pillars, added about the year 1560 by Arianayakam Mudali Minister of the founder of the Nayak dynasty.”

“Outside the main enclosure, but in axial alignment with the eastern gopuram from which it is separated by an intervening busy thoroughfare of traders’ shops, is the large supplementary hall of the Vasanta or Pudu Mandapam, commonly known as Tirumalai’s Chaultri. This is in the shape of a parrallelogram measuring 330 feet and is recorded to have taken seven years to build, from 1626 to 1633, being a contribution to the temple scheme by Tirumalai Nayak. Its use is as a reception hall or temporary place of residence for the presiding deity during a certain festival season of the year”.

Śrīraṅgam [Śrīraṅga].

By far the largest of these southern Indian temples is that of Śrīraṅgam near Trichonopoly which differs from the Madura temple in two particulars as it is a single temple having only one sanctuary. Its construction, instead of consisting of mainly one effort, extended over a long period of time (see details in Brown). Here in this temple main establishments being a hall of a thousand pillars, a flat-roofed structure occupying a recangle 500 feet to 160 feet and a Horse court. The others of some note being Garuḍamaṇḍapa [Garuḍamaṇḍapam] and two tanks called Sūrya-puṣkariṇī (pool of the sun) and Candrapuṣkariṇī (pool of the moon).


This temple situated within a mile of the Śrīraṅgam has the finest architectural interior. No Dravidian temple of this period, in the opinion of Brown, gives a better idea of the style at its best than the large and central court of Jambukeśvara. Within this arc four immense square piers one at each corner of a square, leaving an open space or crossing in the centre for the four symbols of the creed, the Liṅga [Liṅgam], Nandī, Dhvaja-stambha, and Bali-pīṭha [pīṭham].

Rameśvaram [Rameśvara].

“A notable feature of the temple of Rameshvara [Rameshvaram] of which the chief glory consists in its pillared corridors, which not only completely surround it, but form avenues leading up to it, so that combined they are calculated to aggregate three thousand feet in length. The breadth of these fine columned passages varies from seventeen feet to twenty-one feet, and their height from floor to roof is about twenty-five feet. Richly decorated pillars of good proportions and closely set continue along the entire length, each pillar being twelve feet in height and rising from a moulded stylobate five feet high.”

Chidambaram [Chidambara].

“The Siva temple at Chidambaram consists of a large group of buildings the construction of which has extended over several hundred years, each century making its contribution until it has attained its present form. As with most of these shrines it originally rose on an ancient site, some of the inner parts being of legendary antiquity, but there are definite records of its existence before the tenth century, and some inscriptions of the eleventh. The east gopura [gopuram] was erected in the thirteenth century, the Parvati temple added in the fourteenth century, the north gopuram in the sixteenth century and the hall of a thousand columns in the seventeenth century”.

“It is recorded however that the inner shrine is in the form of a temple car mounted on wheels and drawn by horses, by no means an unusual temple design, as may be seen at Konarak, and the Alankara mandapa at Darasuram [Darasura], to mention only two examples. One of the chief features of the Chidambaram sanctuary is its portico which is composed of fifty-six pillars of intricate pattern.”

Here are two important annexes to the temple’s scheme, consisting of a large tank called Śivagaṅgā and a thousand pillared maṇḍapam called Rājasabhā. The gopuram leading to the main shrine is of special interest as it depicts one hundred and eight modes of the celebrated dances of Śiva who is Naṭarāja. Other examples may not be elaborated.

N.B.—As regards the Greater Indian exuberance, it will be dealt with in a subsequent section, their affinity with the Bhaumika Vimānas was responsible for their co-heading.

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