The Matsya Purana (critical study)

by Kushal Kalita | 2018 | 74,766 words | ISBN-13: 9788171103058

This page relates ‘Temple (prasada) architecture in the Matsyapurana’ of the English study on the Matsya-purana: a Sanskrit text preserving ancient Indian traditions and legends written in over 14,000 metrical verses. In this study, the background and content of the Matsyapurana is outlined against the cultural history of ancient India in terms of religion, politics, geography and architectural aspects. It shows how the encyclopedic character causes the text to deal with almost all the aspects of human civilization.

Part 2.2 - Temple (prāsāda) architecture in the Matsyapurāṇa

The temple is the main sacred place of worship for the Hindus. The Indian śilpa texts termed temple as prāsāda although it commonly denotes a palace. According to the Śilpaśāstras, temple or prāsāda or devagṛha is a special kind of building devoted exclusively for religious use. As temples are connected with religion and, religion is one of the basic social elements that influence the society in a spectacular manner, temples remained the storage of important information all along. The temple served as a centre for practising sculpture, painting, music, dance etc. The Hindu temple architecture deployed perfect geometric shapes such as circles and squares. Like many other Purāṇas the Matsyapurāṇa has also broadly discussed about the temple architecture.

Site examination and preparation of the ground plan :

According to Matsyapurāṇa, before construction of a temple [i.e., prāsāda], an expert of house building should select a site examining all the aspects of that site.[1] Thereafter the Vāstupuruṣa is worshipped at that site. For ritual vāstumaṇḍala of eighty one (81) squares is drawn in the middle of vāstu and thereafter the sacrificial pit (kuṇḍa) is made measuring one hand.[2]

After that, in sacrificial ceremony forty five (45) deities [like the following are worshipped]:

  1. Agni,
  2. Parjanya,
  3. Jaya,
  4. Indra,
  5. Sūrya,
  6. Satya,
  7. Bhṛśa,
  8. Antarīkṣa,
  9. Vāyu,
  10. Purṇa,
  11. Vitatha,
  12. Gṛhakṣata,
  13. Yama,
  14. Gandharvas,
  15. Bhṛngarāja,
  16. Mṛga,
  17. Dauvārika,
  18. Sugriva,
  19. Asura,
  20. Puṣpadanta,
  21. Varuṇa,
  22. Śesa,
  23. Pāpayakṣmā,
  24. Roga,
  25. Nāga,
  26. Mukhya,
  27. Soma,
  28. Aditi,
  29. Bhaga,
  30. Diti etc.

At the time of starting the construction, celebrations should be held with dancing, playing music specially reciting the Rakṣoghna and Pāvamāna Sūkta.[3]

As per the general regulation on construction of a temple [i.e., prāsāda] the site of the selected plot should be divided into sixteen parts. In the middle of the plot the garbha[4] consisting of four parts should be imagined which is again divided into twelve and half parts. The doorways on the four sides also should be planned.[5] On the remaining twelve parts four walls to be constituted. The depth of the temple’s foundation should be one fourth of the room’s width, whereas the double of the same should be the height of the top of the temple (śikhara).[6] A path should be there round the garbhagṛha for circumambulation (pradakṣiṇa).The width of the path for circumambulation should be a quarter of that of the śikhara.126 The maṇḍapa attached to the garbhagṛha of a temple should be determined in front of the two garbhasūtras in rectangular shape and in one third part of the maṇḍapa the bhadrāsana is to be made.[7] Garbhasūtra means the line in the interior or middle, the inner or central line of a foundation[8] and bhadrāsana means a kind of throne, a chair of state or a great seat.[9] Dividing the size of the garbha into five parts, the prāggrīva (eastern doorway) is to be designed in one part. The mukhamaṇḍapa (front maṇḍapa) is to be designed in front of the garbha-sūtra.[10]

Apart from the general characteristics and instructions for preparing the ground plan of temples [i.e., prāsāda], this Purāṇa has provided some other proportions for different types of temples. In case of the worship of liṅga, the pithikā or pedestal should be proportioned as per the size of the liṅga.[11] The foundation is to be measured by the half of the pedestal. The elevation of the walls should be thrice of that of liṅga or image. The width of the sanctum should be two thirds of its own height. The height of the śikhara should be double that of the foundations and the width of the path for circumambulation should be a quarter of that of śikhara.[12] On the other hand, the maṇḍapa in front should be built in accordance with the measurement of the passage for circumambulation and the mukhamaṇḍapa should be half of that maṇḍapa.[13] Two door-ways should be made according to the size of the garbha extracted from the temple.[14]

There is another kind of prāsāda built for the installation of Śiva-liṅga which is built in proportion to the size of the garbha. The garbha is to be divided into nine parts and then the liṅga should be installed in the centre. The remaining eight pādas around it should be utilized for the erection of the pīṭhikā. The side of the pīṭhikā should be of eight feet with artistic touch. The width of the wall should be of eight feet and the height should be five times of the width. The śikhara should be the double of this measurement.[15]

The Matsyapurāṇa has again discussed about another kind of temple which says that the area specified for the installment of the deity should be divided into three parts. The rathāṅga is to be built in proportion to that size.[16] Again the width of the nemi is to be one fourth of the temple. Nemi means the circumference, a surrounding veranda or balcony. [17] It is to be built all around. The garbha is to be made double the size of the nemi. The walls of the temple should be of the size of garbha. The śikhara should be double the height of the walls. In 3rd part of the round walls hole should be made. Two prāggrīvas are to be located at the karṇamūla of the fifth part. Golden pieces are to be placed at the door.138

Varieties of temples:

In the Matsyapurāṇa about different varieties of temples [i.e., prāsāda] and their characteristics have been mentioned. They are:

  1. Meru,
  2. Mandara,
  3. Kailāsa,
  4. Kumbha,
  5. Siṃha,
  6. Mṛga
  7. Vimāna,
  8. Chandaka,
  9. Caturasra,
  10. Aṣṭāsra,
  11. Ṣoḍaśāsra,
  12. Vartula,
  13. Sarvatobhadraka,
  14. Siṃhāsya,
  15. Nandana,
  16. Nandivardhanaka,
  17. Haṃsa,
  18. Vṛṣa,
  19. Suvarneśa,
  20. Padmaka,
  21. Samudgaka and
  22. Gaja.[18]

Meru type of temple is made with hundreds of śṛṅga (tops). It has four doors and sixteen storeys. Mandara has twelve storeys. Kailāsa temple is made with nine storeys. Vimāna and Chandaka have several tops and doors. Nandivardhana has eight or seven flats. One that has several tops and sixteen corners is called Nandana. The Sarvatobhadra temple has various tops and five storeys with citraśālā (painters’ house). Valabhicchandaka is made with several tops and doors as well. The height of Vṛṣa temple is like that of a bull and which has no petals. The Siṃha temple is like a lion and the Gaja temple is like that of an elephant. The Kumbha temple has the shape of a pitcher and its height is nine storyed. The Samudgaka type of temple is with sixteen petals and its form is like the concavity of fingers. Gajaprāsāda has many candraśālās whereas Mṛgarāja is ornamented with candraśālās and a big eastern doorway. The Garuḍaprāsāda has three candraśālās and is seven storyed and its outside is surrounded by eighty six flats. The other kinds of Garuḍa temples either have ten, sixteen, or even more flats. The Vṛṣa temple has five egg-shaped two storied flats and its inner most chamber (garbha) measures four hands.[19]

The Matsyapurāṇa has given some other measurements for the proper construction of the temples. It has said that every temple should have candraśālā and eastern doorway and should be with built brick, wood or stone. Moreover, the temples should have toraṇa (arched doorway).[20] The Meru temple is of fifty (50) cubits, the Mandara, forty five (45) cubits, the Kailāsa, forty (40) cubits, the Vimānaka, thirty four (34) cubits, the Nandivardhanaka, thirty two (32) cubits, the Nandana, thirty (30) cubits, the Sarvatobhadra temple should be circular and of twenty (20) cubits with Padmanaka. The Gaja, Kumbha, Siṃha and Valabhichandaka are of 16 cubits each. The Kailāsa, Mṛgarāja and Vimānachandaka are of twelve (12) cubits each. The Garuḍaprāsāda is of eight (8) cubits and the Haṃsa is of ten (10) cubits.[21]

Maṇḍapa (pavilion):

After the features of various temples [i.e., prāsāda] the Matsyapurāṇa has given a detail discussion on maṇḍapa. Maṇḍapa means pavilion or open hall, arbour, corridor.[22] According to Bharata’s Nātyaśāstra, maṇḍapa means tower, temple or auditorium in a theatre.[23] Mānasāra defines it as a temple, bower, shed or hall.[24]

The Matsyapurāṇa divides the maṇḍapa into three classes, viz.,

  1. uttama,
  2. maddhyama and
  3. kaniṣṭha.[25]

They are of twenty-seven kinds, viz.,

  1. puṣpaka,
  2. puspabhadra,
  3. suvrata,
  4. amṛtanandana,
  5. kauśalya,
  6. buddhisaṃkīrṇa,
  7. gajabhadra,
  8. jayābaha,
  9. śrīvatsa,
  10. vijaya,
  11. vāstukīrti,
  12. śrutirjaya,
  13. yajñabhadra,
  14. viśāla,
  15. suśliṣṭa,
  16. śatrumardana,
  17. bhāgapañca,
  18. nandana,
  19. mānava,
  20. mānabhadraka,
  21. sugrīva,
  22. harita,
  23. karṇikāra,
  24. śatardhika,
  25. siṃha,
  26. śyāmabhadra and
  27. subhadra.[26]

The number of pillars determined the name of the maṇḍapa. The biggest maṇḍapa according to this Purāṇa is puṣpaka with sixty four (64) pillars. Puspabhadra is with sixty two (62) pillars. One with sixty (60) pillars is suvrata. Amṛtamanthana is with fifty eight (58) pillars whereas kauśalya has fifty six (56) pillars. With fifty four (54) pillars the buddhisaṃkīrṇa is made. One with fifty two (52) pillars is gajabhadra, śrīvatsa with forty eight (48) pillars, vijaya, with forty six (46) pillars, vāstukīrti, with forty four (44) pillars and with forty two (42) pillars the śrutinjaya is made. Yajñabhadra is with forty (40) pillars, with thirty eight (38) pillars viśāla, with thirty six (36) pillars the suśliṣṭa is made. One with thirty four (34) pillars is known as śatrumaṇḍana while that with thirty two (32) pillars is known as bhāgapañca. Nandana is with thirty (30) pillars, mānava, with twenty eight (28) pillars, mānabhadra, with twenty six (26) pillars, sugrīva with twenty four (24) pillars, harita with twenty-two (22) pillars and with twenty (20) pillars is karnikara. Śatardhika consists of eighteen (18) pillars. Siṃha has sixteen (16) pillars, śyāmabhadra has fourteen (14) pillars and subhadra consists of twelve (12) pillars.[27] The shape of these maṇḍapas may vary from triangular, half circled, and octagonal to rectangular or may be sixteen (16) sided.[28] According to Mānasāra, some maṇḍapas are with one hundred (100) or one thousand (1,000) columns also.[29]

Temples [i.e., prāsāda] with other shape of maṇḍapas are regarded as inauspicious. According to the Matsyapurāṇa, the plot for the maṇḍapa should be divided into sixty-four (64) pādas. The doorway measuring sixty-four (64) feet should be made in the centre of the hall, the height of it should be double the breadth and one third of the breadth should be the measurement for the plinth. Again the garbha should be half of the breadth. The walls (bhittidvār) of the maṇḍapa should be all round. With the one fourth measurement of the garbha as a unit, thrice of it will be the breadth of the door and twice will be the width of the threshold. The width of the two side-frames of the door should be the quarter of the width of the door. To make s door there should be three (3), five (5), seven (7) or nine (9) parts.[30] The door is to be divided into three classes, viz., kaniṣṭha, madhyama and jyeṣṭha. The principal doorway (jyeṣṭadvāra) should be one hundred forty (140) and half fingers high and the madhyamadvāra and kaniṣṭhadvāra are one hundred thirty (130) and one hundred twenty (120) fingers high respectively. The height of the ventilating door should be one hundred eighty (180) fingers. The doors of the third category of the height of one hundred ten (110), one hundred sixteen (116), one hundred (100), ninety (90) and eighty (80) fingers are regarded as good. Apart from the above mentioned measurements the doors of different height are not regarded as good.[31] There should not be any obstruction in front of the doorway as due to obstruction destruction, misery, banishment, starvation, ill-luck, imprisonment, disease, poverty, quarrel, disunion and loss of wealth may happen. Again, the Matsyapurāṇa has mentioned that the flower garden will be auspicious if specific trees are planted in four specific directions.[32] Moreover, in the west of the maṇḍapa there should be a charming pond full with lotus and towards the north palm tree should be planted. Towards the south, the penance-grove (tapovana) is to be made, house for the mātṛkās is to be made in the north, kitchen, in the south-east, temple of Gaṇeṣa, in the south-west, to the west, the resting place of Lakṣmī, to the north-west, the platform of all the asterisms and in north, yajñaśālā and nirmālyasthāna should be made. Towards the west the place for offerings to Soma and other devas are to be made. In front of the place of Śiva there should be the place for Nandī and lastly the place of cupid.[33]

Consecration of idols:

On the rules of consecration of idols, Matsyapurāṇa regards Caitra, Vaiśākha, Māgha, Phālguna, Jyeṣṭha as auspicious months for consecration.[34] In the Uttarāyaṇa season the second, third, fifth, seventh and tenth days of a bright fortnight, the full moon-day are the most auspicious for the consecration of idols.[35] In case of Nakṣatra, Mūlā, Aśvini, Pūrvaṣāḍha, Uttarāṣāḍha,, Purvabhādrapada, Uttarabhādrapada, Revatī, Anurādhā, Hastā, Pusya, Svāti and Mṛgaśirā are best for consecration of idols.[36] Mercury, Jupiter and Venus are the auspicious planets for this work. In all such auspicious time, consecration of Idol is started in an auspicious place after performing the grahapujā (worship of planets).[37]

Footnotes and references:


Ibid., 268.2


Matsyapurāṇa, 269.5,6


Ibid., 268.34


The garbhagṛha is the place where the primary idol or deity is housed. It is a small, dark, cubical chamber even in the largest temples. The door of this cell usually faces the east. In front of the doorway is the rectangular chamber which is called the antarāla or vestibule. The vestibule is the intermediate chamber between the garbhagṛha and the pillared hall called the maṇḍapa. Entrance to the maṇḍapa is by a porch called the ardhamaṇḍapa (the hall leading to the inner sanctum sanctorum). In a fully formed temple there may be a transept on each side of the central hall known as the mahāmaṇḍapa.


Matsyapurāṇa, 269.1-2


Ibid., 269.3126 Ibid., 269.4


Ibid., 269.4-5


Cf., Prasanna Kumar Acharya, An Encyclopaedia of Hindu Architecture, Volume VII, p.148


Ibid., p. 380


Matsyapurāṇa, 269.5-6


liṅgapūjāpramāṇena kartavyā pīṭhikābudhaiḥ/ Ibid., 269.8


Ibid., 269.9-10


Ibid., 269.10-11


Ibid., 269.11


Ibid., 269.16-17


Ibid., 269.22


Prasanna Kumar Acharya, An Encyclopaedia of Hindu Architecture, Volume VII, p.287138 Matsyapurāṇa,269.21-26.


merumaṇḍara kailāsakumbhasiṃhamṛgāstathā/ vimānacchandakastadvaccaturasrastathaiva ca/ astāsraḥ ṣoḍaśāsraśca vartulaḥ sarvabhadrakaḥ/ siṃhāsyo nandanaścaiva nandivardhanakastathā// haṃso vṛṣaḥ suvarṇeśaḥ padmako otha samudgakaḥ/ Ibid., 269.28-30


Ibid., 269.31-45


Ibid., 269.46


Ibid., 269.47-51


Vaman Shivram Apte, The Student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, p 417-418


Nāṭyaśāstra, 2.7-8, 22


ā ā M nas ra, 34. 578


Matsyapurāṇa, 270.1-2


Ibid., 270.3-6


Ibid., 270.7-14


trikoṇaṃ vṛttamarddhantu hyashtakoṇaṃ dviraṣtakam/ chatuḥkoṇantu kartavyaṃ saṃsthāṇaṃ maṇḍapasya tu// Ibid., 270.15-16


satapādayutam vātha sahasrāṅghrika maṇḍapam / Mānasāra, 34. 120


Matsyapurāṇa, 270.18-21


Ibid., 270.21-24


Ibid., 270.28-29


Ibid., 270.29-36


caitre vā phālgune vāpi jyeṣṭhe vā mādhave tathā/ māghe vā sarvadevānām pratiṣṭhā śubhadā bhavet// Ibid., 264.3


Ibid., 264.4-5


Ibid., 264.6-7


Ibid., 264.10-11

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