Wood as a Feature of Kerala Temples
An important aspect of Kerala temples is the profuse use of wood. The divine buildings of Kerala are especially known for their accomplishments in wood. About the temples in Kerala it can be said that geometric impact of Kerala temple structures, particularly their roofs, is unique.
Development of Culture in the Features of Kerala Temples
The rise of temples also saw the development of culture in all its aspects. The temple became the nerve-centre of all cultural activities. Temple festivals of Kerala were instituted with a view to making the Hindu religion more attractive. Festivals also gave an opportunity to people for the expression of their deepest spiritual cravings.
Features of Classic Temples of Kerala
A unique feature of Kerala temples are the classic temples. A classic temple in Kerala is also called "Ambalam" or "Kshetram". The temples have the central shrine Srikoil as its heart. The Srikoil plan may be round, square, rectangular or apsidal. Some of them face west and a few face south. Some even reach heights of many roofs. However, the upper levels of the Srikoil are not functional; their role is to give the building an imposing appearance.
In the classical temples of Kerala with the Srikoil forming the nucleus, the other components like the open Pradakshina Patha, the cloistered Nalambalam, the Vilakkumatam affixed with a galaxy of lamps, paved outer Pradakshina Van and Prakaras are aligned in orderly succession centering the main shrine. The temple well which supplies water for bathing the deity and for preparing food is situated generally in the north-east corner. The kitchen or Madapalli is also provided in one portion of the Nalambalam.
As a general rule, the Srikoil is fronted by a square Namaskara Mandapa with a pyramidal roof. In some temples there is another pillared structure, the Balikkal Mandapa, in front of the Valiambalam, a wing of the Nalambalam, providing the main entrance to the temple proper.
Facing the Balikkal Mandapa, which enshrines the main Balipitha, is the Dhwajastambha or flag staff that stands towering over the temple environs. There may be a Deepstambha or gallery of lamps also, one or more in number, in front of the Balikkal Mandapa. Close by, in bigger complexes there is a large edifice, the Kuttambalam meant for kuttu or Kutiyattam.
Surrounding the inner structure is the paved processional path in the classical temples of Kerala. Then there is the outer Prakara enclosing all these structures which is pierced at the entrance and sometimes on all four sides by Gopurs with multiple roofs covered with tiles though they are not tall or imposing like those of Dravidian shrines. There is also the temple-tank as part of the structure which devotees can use and directly enter the temple after a bath.
Deities at Kerala Temples
In almost all the classical temples of Kerala there are small shrines dedicated to Shasta, Lord Ganesha etc. But more prominently, the sacred trees and snake-stones also survive inside the temple precincts as relics of early animistic devotion.
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