(Last Updated on : 05/08/2011)
History of Indian temples is deeply rooted in the ancient period and is widely influenced by the impact of religion in various regions. India, historically associated to have served the territory bound by the Hindu Kush and the Himalaya mountain
ranges, is a country saturated with exquisite temples. These unrivalled and artistic architectures profusely contribute to the Indian cultural heritage. Irrespective of the grandeur, colossal perimeters, lofty spires, or being humble and decent in structure, Indian temples are unique and unparalleled in legend and history. The earliest temples and religious monuments can be witnessed in the rock cut cave temples by the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats. They are traced through the Barabar Hills
, Elephanta Caves
, Bhaja Caves
, Karla Caves
, Kanheri Caves
, Nasik and Ellora Caves
- all in Maharashtra
, Badami Cave Temples
, and Pallavaram and Mahabalipuram
in Tamil Nadu
which date back to the 3rd and the 2nd century B.C. These cave temples were caverns directly cut out from the mountains.
Dominating amongst these countless bunch of Hindu temples, various religious monuments of Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Islamic or Christianity is also present. Running almost parallel in exquisiteness and grandness, Hindu temples indeed bear a rich history from even the uncounted epoch, ranging from mere brick structure, to massive rock-cut architecture.
Architectural History of Indian temples
Since the ancient period, Hindu temple architecture followed a set of fundamental rules. The sanctum sanctorum containing the statue or symbol of the deity is a square cell. A pyramidal structure rises above that, which symbolises the Meru Mountain, abode of the Hindu gods. This section of the temple was considered the most sacred of all. Apparently, Temples did not seem to have existed during the Vedic Period. The practice of casting images of deities mentioned in the Vedic mantras might have come into vogue by the end of Vedic age. The Yajnasala of the Vedic period gradually got metamorphosed into temples.
Historical archives on the earliest of Indian temples state that the edifices were built with perishable materials like timber and clay. Cave-temples, temples carved out of stone or built with bricks were to arrive much later. Heavy stone structures with flamboyant architecture and sculpture belong to a still later period. In spite of the basic pattern remaining the same, variations appeared, steadily leading to the fruition of different styles in temple architecture. Broadly speaking, these can be branched into the northern and the southern patterns. The northern style, technically termed Nagara, is spotted by the curvilinear towers. The southern style, known as Dravida, has its towers in the mould of truncated pyramids. A third style, Vesara by name, is sometimes added, which blends in itself both these mentioned patterns.
History of Indian Temples in Nagara Style
The earliest temples in north and central India which have withstood the ravages of time belong to the Gupta period, precisely from 320-650 A. D. Mention can be made of some of the extraordinary temples at Sanchi, Tigawa (near Jabalpur
in Madhya Pradesh
), Bhumara (in Madhya Pradesh), Nachna (Rajasthan
) and Deogarh
, Uttar Pradesh
History of Indian Temples in Dravida Style
History of temples in the southern part of the country speaks about the earliest surviving instances found in Tamil Nadu and northern Karnataka. The cradle of Dravidan School of architecture, Tamil Nadu, was the country which evolved from the earliest Buddhist shrines, both rock-cut and structural. The later rock-cut temples which belong approximately to the period 500-800 A.D., were mostly Brahmanical or Jain, patronaged by three great ruling dynasties of the south, the Pallavas of Kanchi in the east, the Chalukyas of Badami
in the 8th century A.D. and the Rashtrakutas of Malkhed. The Rashtrakutas had ascended to power and made unforgettable contributions to the development of south Indian temple architecture. The Kailasanatha temple
at Ellora belongs to this period.
History of Indian Temples in Vesara Style
In the west (northern Karnataka
) the Aihole
and Pattadakal group of temples (5th to 7th centuries) exhibit early essays to evolve as an acceptable regional style based on tradition. Among the better known early structural temples at Aihole are the Huchimalligudi and Durga temples, as also the Ladkhan temple, all attributed to the period within 450-650 A.D. Equally authoritative are the temples of Kasinatha, Papanatha, Sangamesvara, Virupaksa and others in Pattadakal near Aihole, as also the Svargabrahma temple at Alampur
). It is in some of these temples, built by the later Chalukyas, that the Vesara style can be wholly witnessed, an amalgamation of the northern and the southern patterns. History of Indian temples can be truly viewed to have metamorphosed in a pretty systematic basis, with reigning dynasties contributing incessantly.
Literary History of Indian Temples
One unique factor about history of Indian temples is that umpteen ancient texts laying down the formal architectural styles prevalent in the various regions have survived till date. They are referred to time and again, so that the comprehensive text called Vastu Sastra can acknowledge its sources in the Sutras, Indian Puranas
and Agamas, besides Tantric literature and the Brihat Samhita. But all of them agree on one single issue that basically styles can be divided into three forms of Nagara, Dravida and Vesara. They employ respectively the square, octagon and the apse or circle in their plan of temple architecture. During its later evolutionary years, the Vesara style adopted the square for the sanctum, whereas, the circular or stellar plan was retained for the Vimana. These three styles however do not relate themselves sternly with three different regions, but as indicating only the temple groups.
The Vesara, which came to prevail mostly in western Deccan and south Karnataka, was a derivation from the apsidal chapels of the early Buddhist period which the Brahmanical faith adopted and improved enormously. In its origin, the Vesara is as much north Indian as it is of west Deccan. Similarly, among the 6th - 7th century shrines of Aihole and Pattadakal, evidence can be found of the Nagara style in the Prasadas or Vimanas (referring to various modes of architecture). The Dravida style from Tamil Nadu became widely popular throughout south India only from the Vijayanagara
ruling onwards. While the Prasada or Vimana of the Nagara style rises perpendicularly from its base in a curvilinear form, the Dravida rises like a stepped pyramid, tier upon tier. Historical evolvement of Indian temples from northern style came to prevail in Rajasthan, Upper India, Orissa
, the Vindhyan uplands and Gujarat
History of Indian Temples in the Pallava Reign
During the next thousand years (600 A.D. to 1600 A.D.) of historical evolution of Indian temples, there was a phenomenal growth in temple architecture both in quantity and quality. The first in the series of southern or Dravidian architecture was initiated by the Pallavas (reigning from 600 A.D. to 900 A.D.) The rock-cut temples in Mahabalipuram, of the Ratha
type, and the structural temples like the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram
and the Kailasanatha and Vaikuntha Perumal temples in Kancheiuram (700-800 A.D.) are the soundest illustrations of the Pallava style. Pallavas had laid the foundations of the Dravidian school, which blossomed to its full extent during the Cholas
, the Pandyas
, the Vijayanagara Empire and the Nayakas. The temples in this period were being built of stone, thus becoming bigger, more complex and flamboyant with sculptures.
History of Indian temples in the Chola Reign
Dravidian architecture reached its peak height during the Chola period (900 A.D. to 1200 A.D.) by becoming grandiose in size and endowed with blissful proportions. Among the most exquisite of the Chola temples is the Brihadeshwara temple at Tanjore with its 66 metre high Vimana, the most grandiloquent of its kind. The later Pandyans who succeeded the Cholas improved on the Cholas by introducing sophisticated and complex ornamentation and big sculptural images, many-pillared halls, new annexations to the shrine and towers (Gopurams) on the gateways.
History of Indian Temples in the Vijayanagara Empire
The mighty temple complexes of Madurai
and Srirangam in Tamil Nadu
established a pattern for the Vijayanagara builders (ruling from 1350A.D. to 1565 A.D.), who followed the Dravidian tradition. The Pampapati and Vitthala temples in Hampi
are still-standing examples of this epoch. The Nayakas of Madurai, who succeeded the Vijayanagara kings (1600-1750 A.D), made the Dravidian temple complex even more intricate and meticulous, by making the Gopurams exceedingly tall and ornate and adding pillared passageways within the temple`s extensive compound. Indian temple history was becoming more grand and majestic, with the edifices turning out to be even better than the previous instance.
History of Indian Temples in the Hoysala Reign
Contemporary to the Cholas were the Hoysalas, who had ruled the Kannada country and in the process improved on the Chalukyan temple architectural style. Hoysalas had accomplished their task by building exceptionally over-elaborate temples in various parts of Karnataka, that were noted for the sculptures in the walls, depressed ceilings, lathe-turned pillars and fully sculptured Vimanas. Among the most famous of these temples are the ones at Belur
and Somanathapura in south Karnataka, which are always classified under the Vesara style.
History of Indian Temples in Other Regions
In the northern part of the country, chief developments in Hindu temple architecture took place in Orissa
(750-1250 A.D.) and Central India (950-1050 A.D.). History of Indian temples and its gradual building run was also rapidly witnessed in Rajasthan
(10th and 11th century A.D.) and Gujarat
(11th-13th century A.D.). The Lingaraja temple
(Bhubaneshwar), Jagannath Temple
) and Surya (Konarak) represent the quintessential Orissan style. The temple at Khajuraho built by the Chandelas, the Sun temple
) and another temple at Mt. Abu built by the Solankis possess their own distinct features under Central Indian architecture. Bengal with its temples built in bricks and terracotta tiles and Kerala with its temples having peculiar roof structure, suited to the heavy rainfall from the regions. As such, these two maritime states had formulated their own localised atypical styles.
History of Indian Temples Abroad
To add further to the prestigious and esteemed list of historical evolvement of Indian temples, mention can also be made of the various Hindu temples outside India, especially in the South East Asian countries. These countries had in ancient times, actually included under the Indian ruling kingdoms. The earliest of such Hindu temples are found in Java; the Shiva temples at Dieng and Idong Songo. The group of temples of Lara Jonggrang at Pranbanan, is a magnificent example of Hindu temple architecture. Other temples worth mentioning include: the temple complex at Panataran (Java), the rock-cut temple facades at Tampaksiring of Bali, the `mother` temple at Besakh of Bali, the Chen La temples at Sambor Prei Kuk in Cambodia, the temple of Banteay Srei at Angkor and the celebrated Angkor Vat complex built by Surya Varman II.