Vastu-shastra (5): Temple Architecture

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

This page describes Shikharottama Prasadas (Nagara Temples)—The evolution of Shikhara 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.

Śikharottama Prāsādas (Nāgara Temples)—The evolution of Śikhara

This classification of Bhaumika Vimānas and Śikharottama Prāsādas may not be taken as watertight. The predominant element is our guide—“prādhānyena vyapadeśā bhavanti”. Accordingly even the so-called Bhaumika Vimānas of the South do show the evolution of Śikhara. The most characteristic temples of this class are those designated as Chalukyan especially at Aihole. It may however be remarked that in wealth and number these Śikharottamas are by far the greatest, grandest; sublimest and largest of the monuments that we possess in our architectural heritage. These Śikharottama Prāsādas are characteristic of the Hindu-temple throughout four-fifths of India. Their fascination is found in even the south of the Kistna (which is generally regarded as the southern boundary of its extent) and as far as the Tuṅgabhadrā. The two shrines at Mahākūṭa and also two shrines belonging to the Rāmaliṅgeśvara temple at Kurnool, and a number of them in Alampur, Raichur, illustrate this southern upsurge. Amongst the several types and stages of development, however, two shapes arc fundamental one as represented at Aihole (Temple IX) and the other fully manifested at Khajuraho, The former may be taken as illustrative of the emergence and evolution of the Śikhara which, except for the inward curve of its sides does not differ in detail from the pyramidal type of the superstructure (i.e. the straight trunk with round edged slabs) as represented in the Sūrya temple at Sutrapada. The Āmalaka, the most distinguishing feature of the Śikharottamas may be seen at Aihole Temple No. X, which shows this genesis where they are seen supporting the topmost course or slab of the superstructure. This may represent an early stage of the employment of the Āmalaka on the trunk of the superstructure.

Prof. Kramrisch remarks:

“The Āmalakas are however, repeated in most of the curvilinear Śikhara in regular intervals re-inforcing the curved edge where they mark the Bhūmis, levels or storeys”. Prof. Kramrisch’s observation. therefore that “on the earlier temples from about the 6th century, the distinction between the pyramidical and curvilinear superstructure of ṭhis type is one of degree only” is significant.

From the standpoint of the origin of temple architecture into its manifold varieties it may be contended that while the pyramidal superstructures, characteristic of southern Vimānas have their prototypes in dolmen or in the tabernacle of bended branches; the Śikha-rottama Prāsādas especially in the first type (i.e. Aihole) may be said to have evolved out of the Vedic Sads from the prototypes, of which the Chādyas, the pillared halls had evolved and later on when the superstructure was conceived, the walls were made to buttresses.

“The buttresses do not form part of the flat roofed dolmen temple. They can be thought of as having originated in brick structures corresponding to the augmentation of a central area, by adding bricks in the four directions as in the piling of Vedic altars (Figs. in Part VII), not only but also in pillared buildings whose halls are made spacious by an analogous arrangement of the pillars. When the buttresses make their appearance on otherwise plain walls of the Garbhagṛha, its roof is no longer flat but carries the superstructure, the Śikhara (Deogarh, etc.)”.

Now coming to the other shape of Śikhara which as I have remarked, was most perfectly manifested in Khajuraho temple is remarkable for giving us a concrete outline history of the evolution and development of Śikharottama Prāsādas. The style may be said to have originated in the land of the Bhaumika Vimānas—vide Chalukyan contributions. And the movement must have spread north-wards as is evident in some of the early illustrations at Buhvaneśvara where the identical ramifications with their counter-part at Khajuraho may be seen. Both Bhuvaneśvar (including Koṇārka) and Khajuraho seem to have an identical back-ground of the temple-ideal which may be a result of Tantric influence which had in a way, debased these splendid sacred sites (the Koṇārka and Khajuraho groups of temples) on account of the obscene sculpture on the buttresses depicting naked Maithuna. Though the temple of Rājarānī is regarded as later production than the Khajuraho temples but the affinity is remarkable. Which has borrowed and which has not, is very difficult to surmize. In a former part of this work I have traced the movement of the Nāgara style of temple architecture from the genesis of the Chalukyan temples spreading through Ganjam to the north of the Orissan strongholds of Kesari temples, the Buhvaneśvara, Jagannātha Puri and Koṇārka and from there it might have migrated to still north, the heart of the Bundelkhand, at Khajuraho. Bhuvaneśvara group of temples began as early as 500 A.D. and continued for full seven centuries. Hence the influence of this upsurge spreading towards extreme north in the 9th century may not be un-understandable.

Now coming to the subject-matter in hand namely the second and the perfectest type of Śikhara as illustrated in the monuments of Khajuraho, it may be said at the very outset that these Śikharas arc reminiscent of our very hoary institution of worship clone in the tabernacle of leaves, bamboos or branches by those early inhabitants of this land who were predominantly foresteers and naturally conceived and evolved out a structure like the Satyanārāyaṇa-maṇḍapa which we practise even to day. This Śikhara of our temples surges towards the apex; other smaller śikharas cling to it in a massed competition of ascent.

Prof. Kramrisch has illuminating observation on this point:

“Although each of them has its edges marked by Būhmis of many strata and by Āmalakas, these horizontal elements, like the nodules of the stem of a plant, do not break its rising lines. Their curves belong to forms of vegetation, the ribs of the large leaves of Banana plants, of palm trees or bamboo rods fixed in the corners of a square drawn on the ground and bent towards a central point; with their curves the stone built Śikharas of the Khajuraho temples arise and reiterate in their complex organisation the perennial meaning of the Tabernacle of the forest It served and still serves the performance of worship (pūja) and vows (vrata). When these Pūjas and Vratas are completed the leaves and branches which had formed the Tabernacle, having served their purpose, are thrown away, whereas the form of these temporary and humble structures was clothed in brick and stone and raised above the Garbhagṛha, in the innumerable Śikharas known to exist from the Gupta age and which to this day compete towards the Highest Point. The Tabernacle of leaves, bamboo or branches is the prototype of the curvilinear Śikhara. The arch of vegetation, the arch of Nature surmounts and encloses the seat of God. In temple chariots with a framework of bamboo, as much as in the temples themselves, it is this ‘Form of Nature’ which remains one of the primeval and sempiternal forms of sacred architecture in India. It is the most sacred of all the forms of the superstructure, destined for the Prāsāda only. It is never placed as superstructure on any Maṇḍapa or any accessory building of the temple proper. There the pyramidal types are accommodated, and at times assimilated to its curves, without however attaining to their unbroken ascent”.

Vāstuśāstras like the Samarāṅgaṇa-sūtradhāra, also establish the origin and evolution of the temple-śikharas from some of the most fascinating prototypes of vegetable kingdom. The Śikhara in the terminology of Vāstuśāstra is also called Mañjarīmūla-mañjarī and uromañjarī, which is very significant. The manifold peaks of mountain and manifold buds in a mañjarī are likened to śṛṅgas and aṇḍas in the Vāstuśāstras. Thus this two-fold denomination of this characteristic superstucture of the Nāgara-temple gives us two-fold meaning one relating to its height, sacredness and metaphysical implication in the mountain peak rising high towards the highest point, the ‘bindu’ the Nirākāra Puruṣa and the other pointing to the rich sculpture adorning the outer superstructure on the central shrine, the Garbhagṛha.

Formation of the Śikharas by means of a division in geometrical progression—by fourfold ‘caturguṇa-sūtra cf. Agni P.; Hayaśīrṣa Panch’. etc. or by sixfold ṣaḍguṇa sūtra—cf. the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra and the Bṛhacchilpa, has already been referred to—vide one of the last chaps, and it may not be elaborated here. A theme however, of particular interest, here is the main varieties of the curvilinear superstructure, the Śikhara in the orthodox Nāgara school as are illustrated in the three main temple-sites of India, the Khajuraho, the Bhuvaneśvara and the Kannarese country; and it may be taken in hand.

These are, as already pointed out elsewhere (ibid):

  1. The cluster of Śikharas,
  2. The Śikhara enmeshed in Gavākṣas; and
  3. The composite Śikhara.

The cluster of Śikharas:

Before we undertake this type of Śikhara, a working knowledge of the temple plan and its general formation may be appreciated. The plan in the present context is cruciform which is the result of the central major projection of each side called Bhadra, being flanked by more shallow lateral offsets, called Ratha. This is in case of the Nirandhāra Prāsādas. In the Sāndhāras (having circumambulatory passage) the Bhadras appear like transpets in the plan. The Talacchanda is then accentuated in the four directions, the temple stepping forth from the straight inner walls of the Garbagṛha and the square of the Garbhagṛha is transmuted into the cross of the Prāsāda. Then follows the progression of the buttresses carrying up the Śikharater minating at the shoulder-course (skandha). Above the skandha the Āmalaka, the distinguishing symbol of Nāgara temples held aloft by the round neck, supports the finial.

Now sustaining the symbolism of Mañjarī, this type of cluster of Śikharas, as its very name indicates, consists of a central curvilinear Śikhara surrounded by a cluster of similar Śikharas. Prof. Kramrisch has very faithfully interpreted our technical canons in this respect: “These are formed by one or several half Śikharas or Śṛṅgas leaning against the ‘chest’ (uras) of the main Śikharas and of each successive Uromañjarī. At the corners, narrow and high quarter-Śikharas fill and round off the recesses between the Uromañjarīs and the main Śikhara (mūla-Śikhara or Mañjarī), while smaller part or three-quarter Śṛṅgas are grouped in the lower courses of the Śikhara each in continuation of a buttress or offset of the perpendicular wall of the Prāsāda. The many variations of the theme of Śikhara cluster are brought by the number of Uromañjaris of the Śikhara, the number of Rathas or offsets of the perpendicular wall and the number of horizontal rows in which are set the miniature Śikharas called Tilaka (sesamum seed) at the base of the main Śikhara, the Mūlamañjarī. These factors depend on the specific proportions of the particular type of temple and also on its height and the curvature of the superstructure. All the subsidiary Śikharas and other shapes are always subordinated to the main and dominant central Mūlamañjarī”.

The most faithful representation of this type of Śikharottama Prāsādas is illustrated in the temples of Khajuraho, those in the northern Gujrat and also in Rajputana such as Jain temple in Osia; Someśvara temple in Kiradu and (as already hinted at) the Rājarānī in Bhuvaneśvara, Orissa.

The Śikhara enmeshed in Gavākṣas.

As already remarked that the evolution of Northern or Nāgara Śikhara began in the South as has been seen on the temples of Kanarese country of the seventh century and prior to it. The same type prevails in Orissa culminating in the Liṅgarāja temple from the eighth century. This development may be said to take this form of Śikhara enmeshed in Gavākṣas. The Decanese temples like one at Anjaneri near Nasik, those in Rajputana, central India and as far north as the western Himalayas, also represent the type.

We have already remarked that the Śikharottoma Prāsādas as described in the Samarāṅgaṇa-sūtradhāra (LVII) are full of this evolution and development. “The temples in which the ascent is continued in one theme from the wall of the Prāsāda to the shoulder course of the Śikhara are called Latina in Vāstu Śāstra. The Latās or single offsets of the Śikhara each with its web of ‘sunray windows’ or Gavākṣas carry the vertical movement steadily upwards. Its urge and also its assurance rest on the curved walls of the Śikhara. Between the several offsets are recessed chases (jālāntara); their shadows outline the Vertically of this Śikhara while they also add tone and enliven the many horizontal mouldings which arc carried in tiers across the facets and the recessed chases. Between these horizontal mouldings run narrow, but deep, horizontal bands of shadows. With their dark lints they clasp the entire volume of the Śikhara.

Over it is cast the trellis of point like openings of the Gavākṣas; light and shade thus become part of the texture of this Śikhara”,

“This form of the curvilinear Śikhara has been particularly perfected in Orrissa. The various shapes which contributed to the Orissan temples have their models carved on the walls of the Liṅgarāja and Brahmeshwara temples specially and also on the Citragupteśvara and other of the latter temples in Orissa.

It may however, be brought home to the readers that side by side with this type of śikhara as evolved very perfectly in Orissan temples, the other type already described namely the cluster Śikharas are also remarkably adhered. Prof. Kramrisch in her celebrated work H.T. supports this genesis: “The closed volume of an Orissan temple consists of the Prāsāda and its Maṇḍapa; the former is the Rekhā or Bara Deul and the later is the Pirha Deul; its superstructure is pyramidal, it represents type IA, In its fully evolved shape it is crowned by an Āmalaka above a Ghaṇṭā (bell-shape). The two shapes of the superstructure, the curvilinear Śikhara II. (B) and the pyramidal Śikhara I. A here conjointly, each by the side of the other, from the perfect shape of the Orissan temple, the lower Pirha Deul being subordinated to the higher Bara Deul in proportionate measurement of which the width of the Prāsāda is the module. The balance of these two contrasted superstructures, a closely knit unity of Prāsāda or Bara Deul and Maṇḍapa or Pirha Deul, is peculiar to Orissa. In the other provinces the superstructures of the Maṇḍapas prepare and defer the climax of the Śikhara of the Prāsāda (PL. l)”.

The composite Śikhara.

Now remains the third type—the composite Śikhara. It, as its very name indicates, is an amalgam of both the former types integrated into one. Both the ‘overspun’ and ‘clustered’ elements make up this composition. This type cannot therefore, be said to be represented in an entirely individualistic form; because while it combines elements of both it loses the cogency of either form. The central Indian temples like Nīlakaṇṭheśvara at Udaipur, and some of the Deccan temples represent this composition in their characteristic style having a good amount of regional bias.

With this general introduction to the Śikharottamas, let us illustrate them with the monumental temples in our possession. Let us begin with Bhuvaneśvara as some of the temples in this group are earlier enough to justify the chronological sequence. Thus leaving the South we now wander in the North. In treating the Northern or Indo-Aryan or more correctly Nāgara style in opposition to the Southern or Dravidian style, we cannot adhere here to the dynastic manifestations as we have been doing in case of the Dravidian Temples. Here we have to treat the Nāgara temples in their geographical distribution as this Indo-Aryan development was not confined to a relatively restricted area such as the southern extremity of peninsula, but was characteristic of the four-fifths of India.

Thus this geographical distribution pre-supposes the regional developments which are some six in number.

  1. Kalinga or Orissa,
  2. Khajuraho,
  3. Rajputana,
  4. Gujarat and Kathiawar,
  5. Deccan and
  6. Gwalior and Brindāban.
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