Kashyapa Shilpa-shastra (study)

by K. Vidyuta | 2019 | 33,520 words

This page relates ‘Preface’ of the study on the Kashyapa Shilpa-shastra (in English) with special reference to the characteristics of Prakara (temple-components), Mandapa (pavilions) and Gopura (gate-house). The Silpa-Sastras refers to the ancient Indian science of arts and crafts, such as sculpture, architecture and iconography. This study demonstrates the correlatation between ancient Indian monuments (such as temples and sculptures) and the variety of Sanskrit scriptures dealing with their construction.


The origin of architecture in ancient India is enveloped in a shroud of mystery which cannot be unfolded by source of the literature or texts available now. The earliest references as well as the earliest monuments disclose a stage which can hardly be called primitive, much less initial.

Vāstu” is derived from the root “ vas ” to dwell. There is another definition of Vāstu, from “Vastu” which also means the place of residence. The Science in general is called Śilpaśāstra or “The science of artistic creation”. The term “Śilpa” means “skill”, specifically it refers to art and architecture. It includes all artistic creations first conceived by the mind and then executed by the hand. While the name Vāstuśāstra emphasises the idea of utility and Śilpaśāstra the idea of artistic creation. Sanskrit literature comprises voluminous independent works on architecture and iconography generally termed as Vāstuśāstra or Śilpaśāstra.

The origin of Vāstuśāstra or Vāstu literature can be traced right from the Vedic period just like all other Śāstras. There are many ancient texts laying down the formal architectural styles prevalent in the various regions, but the comprehensive literature, called the Vāstuśāstra, has its sources in the Vedas, Sūtras, Purāṇas and Āgamas besides Tantric literature and the Bṛhatsaṃhitā.

The Āgamas are more technical than the other literature when dealing with architecture. Some Āgamas are fully devoted to architecture. The Kāmikāgama, for example, devotes sixty chapters to architecture and sculpture.

The Vāstuśāstra texts are exclusive treatises on architecture. In general two schools of architecture have existed in India. They are the Northern or Viśvakarmā school and the Southern or Maya school.

Each school contains many texts to its credit. Some of the renowned texts on Hindu architecture, from the two schools are: Southern School–Mānasāra, Mayamata, Śilparatna; Northern School–Viśvakarma Vāstuśāstra, Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra, Aparājita-pṛcchā. The present text under study, the Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra, belongs to the Southern school of architecture. This has not been critically studied so far. The text being voluminous with 92 chapters, the study is limited to only three chapters (42-45) dealing with the structural specialities of the Prākāra, Maṇḍapa and the Gopura has expounded in this text.

The study of these components of the temple is presented in six chapters as follows:

Chapter I–Introduction:

This chapter forms the introductory part of the thesis, giving a brief survey of Hindu Architecture and in particular temple architecture. After tracing the history of Hindu architecture in general, the preliminaries for constructing a building are cited herein, for the main function of Vāstuśāstra is to provide norms for the buildings. Before starting construction of any type of building in a site, the standard manuals of Hindu Science of architecture prescribe a large number of canons of architecture, which have to be observed.

Among them the most fundamental canons are:

(i) Dikparicchedana–Doctrine of orientation;

(ii) Bhūparikṣā–Soil-selection;

(iii) Vāstu-pada-vinyāsa–Site-planning;

(iv) MānaMeasurements of the structure and

(v) Āyādi Ṣaḍvarga–Six components of the structure, viz., Āya, Vyaya, Aṃśa, Ṛkṣā, Yoni and Vāra-tithi.

Then the salient features of temple architecture are discussed. In India the religious architecture has been the most favourite architectural activity, for the genius of the architectural skill and craftsmanship culminated into the profoundest of expression, both from the point of view of art and the culture.

The general vibhāga of a temple consists of the:

  1. Mukhadvāra (Main entrance),
  2. Gopuras,
  3. Prākāras,
  4. Various types of Maṇḍapas,
  5. Upapīṭha,
  6. Devapīṭha,
  7. Dhvajasthambha,
  8. Garbhagṛha and
  9. Various Śālās.

The present study will highlight the lakṣaṇa of the Prākāras, Maṇdapas and the Gopuras.

Since this text also goes by the name of Aṃśumadbhedāgama, an introduction to Āgama literature too is presented in this chapter of the thesis. These Āgamas are texts dealing mainly with rituals observed in temples. They also deal with temple architecture. Among the Āgamas, the two schools of Āgamas, viz., Śaivāgamas and Vaiṣṇavāgamas, are well known. Since the Aṃśumadbhedāgama pertains to Śaivāgamas, prominent texts in Śaivāgamas and their contents are briefly discussed here.

Chapter II–Author and his works:

This chapter discusses the life and works of the author Kaśyapa. The current text Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra is traditionally ascribed to the sage Kaśyapa, who was taught the śilpaśāstra by Lord Śiva, the source of architecture. Kaśyapa is a name that appears quite frequently in Sanskrit literature. Starting from the Ṛgveda, the name of Kaśyapa is found mentioned. In almost all the prominent Vāstu texts sage Kaśyapa is mentioned among the prominent eighteen preceptors of the science of architecture.

Apart from the Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra, there are numerous others works ascribed to sage Kaśyapa. The New Catalogus Catalogorum (III, pp. 291-92) ascribes more than ten texts to Kaśyapa like Kāśyapīya-roganidhānam (a treatise on medicine), Kāśyapa Saṃhitā (āyurveda) and Kāśyapa Dharmasūtra, etc.

The Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra, though classified under the genre of Śilpaśāstras, contains many characteristic features of an Āgama. While the majority of the Śilpaśāstras do not deal with the rituals involved in construction or worshipping, this text discusses such rituals in detail.

The study presented in this thesis is based on two printed editions–the Ānandāśrama Sanskrit Series (no. 95) published in 1926 and the other by the Tanjore Sarasvatī Mahal Library in two volumes 1960 and 1968; the editions of Maharishi University of Management and the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute (available in web) will also be referred to.

The text Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra contains totally 92 chapters of which the first 45 chapters and last 2 chapters are on architecture and remaining 45 are on iconography. This thesis will be a study on the three chapters dealing with Prākāra, Maṇḍapa and Gopuras.

As mentioned earlier this text is known by the name of Aṃśumadbhedāgama or Aṃśumatkāśyapam, which is one of names of the upāgamas of the mūlāgama Aṃśumad. While the colophons in the printed editions and the Maharishi edition read " iti kāśyapaśilpe...', etc., the Muktabodha edition alone reads " iti aṃśumānkāśyape...'. In the opening of the text (the printed editions), it is mentioned that the text is a portion in brief from the Aṃśumad mahātantra (I. 5). While the edition brought out by Tanjore adds editorial notes for the variant readings and additions, the ASS edition abounds in corrupt readings.

In addition to analysing the identity of the author and the different editions of the text, this chapter shall also discuss the date of the text.

Chapter III–Prākāralakṣaṇa:

This chapter elaborates on the Prākāralakṣaṇa as given in the forty-third chapter of the text. The chapter describes the various types of Prākāras and their measurements. The first or innermost prākāra is called the antarmaṇḍala. The second is known as antarhāra and the third is termed as madhyahāra. The fourth prākāra is called the madhyamaryādā and the outermost prākāra is termed as mahāmaryādā. Thus five types of prākāras are explained with their varied measurements.

Further, the designing of different floors of the prākāra, the materials that should be used for the various parts like tula, prastara, kapota and jayanta are listed and the installation of the pillars is also explained for each floor. According to the number of floors, the sālas are classified as jāti, chanda, vikalpa and ābhāsa.

As prākāra or sāla is defined here to be a protective enclosure not only for temples but also for houses (śālā) and mansions (sadana), details of positioning of rooms, halls, maṇḍapas, etc in the different type of prākāras are elucidated here.

Therefore, based on the vāstupada vinyāsa, different rooms (śālās) like yāgaśālā, pacanālaya (kitchen), āyudhasthāna (weaponry), śayanārhaka (bedroom) and so on are described. Also the same rule is ordained for shrines of the parivāra devatās (attendant deities) and for the water-tanks and wells. Then the directions in which the Brāhmaṇas, the Kṣatriyas, the Vaiśyas and the Śūdras should reside are also enumerated. The location to place the dhānyālaya (granary), traders like matsyamāmsopajīvānām (the people who live of selling meat or fish), potters, rogārtānām (asylum for the sick), and sthāpatyādi nivāsakam (the dwelling for the artisans) are given in detail. Further, the text mentions that the śmaśāna (burial ground) must be positioned outside the last prākāra, away from the residential area.

Chapter IV–Maṇḍapa lakṣaṇa:

This chapter enumerates different types of Maṇḍapas, their measures and their features. Depending upon the jāti, chanda, vikalpa and ābhāsa type of Prākāras, the frontage, the pathway, the garden, river banks or banks of ponds must have a maṇḍapa in all the directions, for the deity. Such maṇḍapas are of four types–mukha maṇḍapa, pratimā maṇḍapa, snapanārtha maṇḍapa and nṛtya maṇḍapa.

Then the structure of the antarāla (connecting maṇḍapa) is discussed. All these maṇḍapas would be endowed with adhiṣṭhāṇa and other parts. The measurements pertaining to the pillars and their types are also discussed here. Various parts of the maṇḍapa like sopāna, upapīṭha, adhiṣṭhāṇa, caraṇa, prastara, nīpraveśa, alaṅkāra are all analysed here.

Fourteen types of square shaped (caturaśra) maṇḍapas with pillars ranging from 16 to 282 and fourteen types of rectangular (āyadāśra) maṇḍapas with pillars ranging from 24 to 112 are detailed. All the pillars must constitute embellishments like the nāsi, vedikā, jālaka, toraṇa and so on. Also they should be decorated with kumbhas and flags.

The walls of the maṇḍapas are to be embellished with kumbhalatā like mouldings. Also, these maṇḍapas are said to be endowed with a centre hall without any pillars. Each type of maṇḍapa is said to be endowed with several mukhabhadras (upapīṭha) of varied proportions.

Figurines of animals like elephants are to be sculpted upon the balustrade of the staircases leading into the maṇḍapas, as ornamentation or the balustrade must be shaped like the trunk of the elephant. Also, the extent of the maṇḍapa, the entrances to them and the staircases with balustrade are described exhaustively.

Moreover, this chapter mentions that the materials like wood, stone, etc are to used for constructing the pillars and the rules for constructing are same irrespective of the pillar material. This section is concluded with the instruction to men that, one must place one's right foot upon the steps first to enter the maṇḍapas.

Chapter V–Gopura lakṣaṇa:

Here Gopuras are classified based on the number of storeys as the dvāraśobhā, dvāraśālā, dvāra-prāsāda, dvāra-harmya and dvāra-gopura. Each of these gopuras is further classified based on the different types of prākāras (jāti, etc.).

In addition to this, the various measurements, like hasta māna, harmya māna and so on, for different types of prākāras like vikalpa harmya, ābhāsa harmya and chanda harmya ranging between 2, 3 or 4 hastas amount to 9 (each of the three having three types 3 x 3) types are dealt with; thereby the forty-five types (9 x 5 = 45) of mānas, for these gopuras are elaborated here (XLV. 9ff).

Then, the height and breadth of the entrance (dvāra) and the door to be designed for embellishments in the dvāra-śobhā are stated. The proportion of garbhagṛha and kuḍya (wall) in each storey of a gopura is well explained. Thus, for every additional storey of the gopura the various parts or tiers of it and their measurements are defined.

While explaining the constituents of a storey of the dvāraśāla, the features like karṇa, pañjara, gṛhapiṇḍī, alinda, upapīṭha, adhiṣṭhāna, caraṇa, stūpi and so on are also described. In the same way starting from one storey to seven storeys of gopuras are discussed. The proportion of the parts starting from upapīṭha till the śikhā (upwards) for each variety of gopura is extensively defined.

Next, it is stated that Dvāraśobhā and Dvāraśālā are to be like a maṇḍapa; dvāra-prāsāda is to be constructed as sadanākāra, dvāra harmya must be a mālikākāra and dvāra gopura like a śālā.

After explaining these parts the ornamentation of the dvāraprāsāda with features like nāsi, stūpi, lūpa or lupā, vedikā, jālaka, toraṇam, etc are explained. Depending on these ornamentations further classes like Śrīkānta, Ravikāntha and so on are elucidated.

The three types of dvāraharmya are enumerated based on the difference in proportion of the constituent parts like nāsi, stambha, varied adhiṣṭhānas with upapīṭhas and the caraṇas.

Finally, the description of the dvāra-gopura is recorded. This type of gopura in addition to the above features is said to constitute a staircase with railings termed as vāraṇa. This gopura also has three varieties. This chapter is concluded with the explanation of the terms sabhākāra, śālākāra, maṇḍapa and mālikākāra.

Chapter VI–Conclusion:

The last chapter evaluates the text Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra based on the chapters 43-45 taken up for study. The salient features of the text will be discussed here.

The chapter also gives a brief survey of temples that contain Prākāras, Maṇḍapas and Gopuras as explained in the Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra. Since the Prākāras, Maṇḍapas and Gopuras are a very common feature in all the temples only selective temples are taken here for comparing with the rules provided in this text.

The Śaivāgamas are divided into four parts–caryāpāda, kriyāpāda, yogapāda and jñānapāda. Among them, it's the kriyāpāda of the Āgamas that deals with temple construction and temple worship and it is the part where the descriptions of construction rituals are contained. Since there is a dispute whether this text is the same as the mūlāgama Aṃśumad or whether it is just the architectural part (kriyāpāda) of the Āgama, the compatibility of this text with the Śaivāgamas will also be analysed here.

The temples are the living monuments of Indian Culture. They reflect the culture, art, architecture, history and so on, of the society prevailing at the time of construction of the respective temples. A good knowledge of temple architecture is therefore necessary to delve deep into the greatness of the hoary past. This study makes an attempt in this direction and paves ways for further research in the field of temple architecture.

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