Kashyapa Shilpa-shastra (study)

by K. Vidyuta | 2019 | 33,520 words

This page relates ‘Kashyapa Shilpashastra (Introduction)’ 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.

2. Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra (Introduction)

This Śilpaśāstra unlike other texts of this genre does not belong to any particular category. Its uniqueness is that, on one hand it is classifiable in the genre of Śilpaśāstra but on the other hand it is imbibed with many characteristics of an Āgama, particularly the Śaivāgama as this is a Saivaite text.

The present study is based on two printed editions of this text–the Ānandāśrama Sanskrit Series (no. 95), 1926 and the Tanjore Sarasvati Mahal Library edition in two volumes of 1960 and 1968. The web versions of the Maharishi University of Management (Devanāgari version of the Grantha text of Tanjore) and the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute have also been referred. Among the printed versions the Tanjore Library edition is more reliable when compared to the ASS edition as the latter abounds in corrupt readings.

(i). Kāśyapaśilpaśāstra—a Śilpaśāstra or an Āgama

The Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra as is seen, obviously is of the nature of a Śilpaśāstra talking of architecture and iconography in great lengths. This text is basically divided into two parts part one contains the prescriptions for the building of a temple starting with the fundamental canons of soil testing, etc. and the second part deals with the rules for making of images of deities.

As regards the Āgamas, they possess four parts[1] and it is the Kriyāpāda that details on the rules and rituals regarding construction of temples and civil architecture.

This text is also connected with Agamic tradition through its title itself, for Aṃsumatkāśyapīya or Aṃsumatkāśyapam is the name of one of the twelve Upāgamas (of the Śaiva school) of, Aṃśumat. This is confirmed by the colophons of the various manuscripts by the name of Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra, some of which read “iti kāśyapaśilpe...”[2] and also “iti aṃśumadkāśyape...”[3] Moreover, as mentioned before, the opening lines of the Tanjore edition clearly mentions that this text is a comprehensive version of the Aṃśumad mahātantra (I. 5).

Though some scholars agree to the connection between the Śilpaśāstra Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra and the Āgama Aṃśumadkāśyapam, the general observation is that these are two different texts. For example, the NCC 17 states that the Kāśyapaśilpa is not the upāgama, but the Kriyāpāda section of the main Āgama Aṃśumat.

By closely observing the chapters of this text, one can find some similarities with those of the Śaivāgamas. Unlike the other Śilpaśāstra texts this work deals in detail about the ritual aspects that are to be carried out before starting construction in the selected plot. But the second part of this text detailing on the iconography gives it the distinction of belonging to the Śilpaśāstra genre.

(ii). Contents of the Kāśyapa-Śilpaśāstra

The Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra (Maharishi and Tanjore editions) contains 92 chapters[4] of which the first forty-five and the last two chapters are on architecture while the remaining forty-five describe iconography in detail. The study presented in this thesis restricts itself to the last three chapters (43-45) of the Pūrvabhāga of this text describing the Prākāras, Maṇḍapas and the Gopuras.

(a) Pūrvabhāga:

The first four chapters describe the fundamental canons for construction viz., bhūparīkṣā (soil-testing), karṣaṇa vidhi (ploughing the soil), Dik-nirṇayam (fixing of cardinal directions), Śaṅkusthāpanam (fixing the gnomon), Vāstupadavinyāsa (Site-planning), Prathameṣṭikā vidhi (laying of the first stone for construction) and the rules to construct sacrificial altars, etc.

The following few chapters talk of upapīṭha vidhi (erection of daises), adhiṣṭhāna lakṣaṇa (construction of platforms), nāla pratiṣṭhā (construction of suitable outlets for the ablution water), padavarga and bodhikā lakṣaṇa (varieties of simple and ornamental pillars), vedikā lakṣaṇa (construction of fire altars) and jālaka lakṣaṇa (description of several types of windows).

Chapters 12-15 explains the construction and measurement of several kinds of grand and ornamental arches (toraṇa lakṣaṇa) and entrances (stambha-toraṇa lakṣaṇa) and the decorative designs (kumbhalatā lakṣaṇa) pertaining to them. 16-17th chapters help determine the position and location of different doorways (dvāra-vinyāsa and kampa-dvāra lakṣaṇas) and the auspicious rules for their fixture.

The 18-21 chapters deal with the prastara lakṣaṇa (designing of the entablature), galabhūṣaṇa lakṣaṇa, śikhara lakṣaṇa and nāsikā lakṣaṇa (construction of the enclosure walls and the outer columns for the structure upto the roof and pinnacle).

Chapter 22 onwards set forth the rules regarding the structure of the vimāna or the prāsāda i.e., the structure raised above the garbhagṛha, the adjacent columns and enclosures, the different types of measurements (mānasūtra lakṣaṇa) and the Āyādi lakṣaṇa (six components of the structure).

The interesting portion of a detailed account of several types of towers, gopura and vimāna ranging from 1 storey to 16 storeys with dimensions like height, width and the gradation of slope, the several images of deities and other figures as ornamentation to embellish every storey is given in chapters 27-41. The 42nd chapter is devoted to the details about the material and measurement of the capping stone block which is to be placed on the top of the tower (mūrdheṣṭakā vidhānam).

The present thesis is a study based on the last three chapters (43-45) of this work on the prākāra lakṣaṇa (description of rampart walls and their embellishments), maṇḍapa lakṣaṇa (details upon the various types of halls and their uses) and the gopura lakṣaṇa (regarding varied gate-houses, main entrances, their types, measures and their storeys).

(b) Uttarabhāga:

The second part of the text consisting of chapters 46-92 deals exclusively and elaborately on iconography. This part portrays the characteristics and measurements of Saivaite icons, the forms of liṅgas, the images of attendant deities (parivāra vidhi) of Śiva and Saivaite saints. It also deals with the materials to be used for these images, the preparation of colours, plasters and cements and the various standards of measurement called the Tālamāna.

(iii). Kāśyapaśilpaśāstra and other Śilpaśāstra texts

The Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra belongs to the southern school or the Maya school of architecture. When compared with the texts of this school, the Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra shows a striking resemblance with the Mānasāra and the Śilparatna. The pūrvabhāga of the Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra in 45 chapters is similar in many aspects to the first fifty chapters of the Mānasāra. But in iconographical details the Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra is more elaborate than the Mānasāra.

According to Bhattacharya[5],

“The passages quoted by Bhaṭṭotpala indicate that he (Kāśyapa) was a writer on north Indian architecture. But the available works appear to be quite different from the original work of Kāśyapa and are undoubtedly works on south Indian architecture. It is therefore that I think the available works of Kāśyapa were later south Indian recensions of the famous original work of Kāśyapa.”

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Supra I. 5. (i).


The printed editions and the Maharishi Institute edition have this colophon.


The Muktabodha edition alone has this colophon.


Among the editions of the Kāśyapa Śilpaśāstra that have been referred to for this thesis, the ASS edition contains only 88 chapters and the Muktabodha edition records 96 chapters.


The Canons of Indian Art, 1963, p. 100.

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