Vishnudharmottara Purana (Art and Architecture)

by Bhagyashree Sarma | 2021 | 59,457 words

This page relates ‘The Vishnudharmottara-purana and Temple Architecture of India’ of the study on the elements of Art and Architecture according to the Vishnudharmottara Purana: an ancient text whose third book deals with various artisan themes such as Architecture, Painting, Dance, Grammar, etc. Many chapters are devoted to Hindu Temple architecture and the iconography of Deities and their installation rites and ceremonies.

4. The Viṣṇudharmottara-purāṇa and Temple Architecture of India

Ancient Indian scriptures on Architecture state about three major styles of temple architecture viz. Nāgara, Drāviḍa and Vesara.[1] Though the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa haphazardly states the types of some temple such as himavāna, mālyavāna, śṛṇgavān, āgāra, bhavana, gṛha etc.[2] This work does not divide them in any particular categories. But if we see the lists of three types of temples i.e. Nāgara etc., stated in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra and Mayamata, it can be noticed that the types of temple mentioned in the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa can be included under these three categories of types of Temple.

The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra gives a list of Nāgara type of temples and the list goes as:

  1. Meru,
  2. Mandara,
  3. Kailāśa,
  4. Vimānacandra,
  5. Nandana,
  6. Samadga,
  7. Padma,
  8. Garuḍa,
  9. Nandīvardhana,
  10. Gaja,
  11. Gṛharāja,
  12. Vṛṣa,
  13. Haṃsa,
  14. Kumbha,
  15. Sarvatobhadra,
  16. Siṃha,
  17. Vartula,
  18. Caturasra,
  19. Catuṣkoṇa,
  20. Ṣoḍaśāśraa and
  21. Aṣṭāśra.[3]

Some of the temples such as Kailāśa, Nandana, Padma, Garuḍa, Nandīvardhana, Gṛharāja, Vṛṣa, Haṃsa, Sarvatobhadra etc. as mentioned in the list of Nāgara type of temples are also mentioned in the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa. Moreover, the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra says that the temples having storeys should be included under the category of Drāviḍa style of temple.[4] Thus the temples having storeys as mentioned in the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa can be included under the Drāviḍa style of temple. The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra states that the Drāviḍa style of temple consists of storeys up to twelve in number[5] which the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa also seems to accept.[6] Again, the Vesara style of temple architecture is an admixture of Nāgara and Drāviḍa type of temple architecture.[7] According to the Mayamata, the Vesara type of temples should be in round shape.[8] In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa also the references of temples in circular or round shape are found.[9]

The temples of Northern, North-Western, North-Eastern and Eastern regions of India basically fall under the category of Nāgara style of temple architecture.[10] The following figures show some pictures of Nāgara style of temple.

Figure: Kedarnath Temple[11]
Figure: Lakshmana Temple[12]
Figure: Jagannath Temple[13]

The Drāviḍa style of temple basically denotes the temples of Southern India. Geographically the Drāviḍa style of temple belongs to the regions of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and some parts of Andhra Pradesh.[14] The following figures show some pictures of temples of Drāviḍa style.

Figure: Brihadiswara Temple[15]
Figure: Ekambareswara Temple[16]
Figure: Padmanabhaswamy Temple[17]
Figure: Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple[18]

The temples of central parts of India i.e. between the Vindhyas and the river Krishna basically belong to the group of Vesara style of temple. The Vesara style of temples were built by the later Calukyas, in the Kanarese Districts, and by the Hoysala Dynasty, in Mysore.[19] The following figures show some pictures of temples of Vesara style.

Figure: Yellamma Temple, Badami[20]
Figure: Dodda Basappa Temple[21]
Figure: Keshava Temple[22]

Moreover, some fundamental parts of a temple viz. jagatī, bhūmikā, kaṭi, kūṭa, śikhara, kalaśa, garvagṛha, maṇḍapa, candraśālā, mekhalā, valabhī, dvāra etc. are also discussed in the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa. The Hindu temple architecture reflects a close association with these fundamental parts of a temple. Here, the famous Kamakhya temple of Assam can be taken as a glaring example.

The following figures show the main parts of Kamakhya temple of Assam.

Figure: Jagatī of Kamakhya temple[23]
Figure: Kaṭi of Kamakhya temple[24]
Figure: Kuṭas of Kamakhya Temple[25]
Figure: Śikhara, Āmalasārakas and Kalaśas of Kamakhya Temple
Figure: Garvagṛha of Kamakhya Temple from the outside

The Kamakhya temple comprises three maṇḍapas which are locally known as calantā, bhogamaṇḍapa or pañcaratna and naṭamandira[26] . The pictures of the three maṇḍapas are shown below.

Figure: Maṇḍapas of Kamakhya Temple

Moreover, having bhūmikās i.e. storeys are the speciality of temples of southern India. The temples of south India are also associated with all the parts of temple architecture mentioned above. The pictures of some temples of south India with their different parts are figured here.

Figure: Bhūmikās of Rameswaram Temple[27]
Figure: Garbhagṛha and Maṇḍapa of Shore Temple from outside[28]
Figure: Garbhagṛha of Bālājī Temple from inside[29]

Again, the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa suggests that there should be two statues of lion in the both sides of the steps of a temple which is seen to be followed in many of the Hindu temple architecture. In the Sun temple of Konark and Kamakhya temple of Assam the statues of lions can be noticed in both sides of the front steps of the main building. The following pictures can be the proof of this expression.

Figure: Statues of lions in the Sun Temple[30]
Figure: Rock cut carvings of lions in the Kamakhya temple[31]

Footnotes and references:


nāgaraṃ drāviḍaṃ caiva vesaraṃ ca tridhā matam/ Mayamata, 19.35


Vide, ch.4, f.n.103


[...] Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra, Vol-2, 63,1-34


Ibid., Vol-1, Introduction, p.cxiv


Ibid., Vol-2, 62.1-219


Vide, ch.4, f.n.109


Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple, Vol-2, p.291


vesaraṃ tu……vṛttaṃ vṛttāyataṃ dvyastraṃ vṛttaṃ prakathyate// Mayamata, 19.37


. Vide, ch.4, f.n.108


Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple, Vol-1, p.295


Source: Google, Picture Credit: Dr. Sushma Shallakaul, Date of picture taken: 29.12.2020, Venue: Kedarnath Temple, Uttarakhand.


Source: Google, Picture Credit: Christopher Voitus, Date of picture taken:13.10.2003, Venue: Lakshman Temple, Khajuraho, Northern Madhya Pradesh.


Source: Google, Picture Credit: Kali Justine, Upload Date: 26.11.2018, Venue: Jagannath Temple, Puri, Odisha,


R. Champakalakshmi & Usha Krish, The Hindu Temple, p.46


Source: Google, Picture Credit: Nehal Rajvanshi, Date of picture taken: 03.03.2020, Venue: BrihadiswaraTemple, Tamil Nadu,


Source: Google, Picture Credit: Ram Prakash, Venue: Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, am_is_a/


Source: Google, Picture Credit: PTI photo, Venue: Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala,


Source: Google, Picture Credit: Venue: Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangapatna, Mysore.


Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple, Vol-2, p.291


Source: Google, Picture Credit: Dinesh Kannambadi, Date of picture taken: 1.08.2008, Venue: Yellamma Temple, Badami,


Source: Google, Picture Credit: Dinesh Kannambadi, Date of picture taken:21.07.2007, Venue: Dodda Basappa temple, Dambal, Karnataka.


Source: Google, Picture Credit: Raggi Mudde, Date of picture taken: 20.07.2011, Venue: Keshava Temple, Somanathapura, Mysore.


Picture is taken by myself. Date of picture taken: 06.02.2021


Picture taken by myself, Date of picture taken: 06.02.2021


Picture taken by myself, Date of picture taken: 06.02.2021


Design for Tomorrow, Vol-1, P.623


Source: Google, Photo Courtesy:, Venue: Rameswaram Temple, Tamil Nadu,


Source: Google, Photo Credit: Sakthibalan, Date of picture taken: 18.01.2012, Venue: Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu,


Source: Google, Picture Credit: Ramani, Venue: Tirumal Balaji temple, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh.


Picture Credit: KEVINSTANDAGEHOTOGRAPHY,, Posted on: 13.03.2020, Venue: Sun Temple, Konark, Odisha.


Photo is taken by myself. Date of picture taken: 06.02.2021, Venue: Kamakhya temple, Guwahati, Assam.

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