Temples have beautified India for centuries. By virtue of both its antiquity and fluidity it has undergone many transformations. The architects and sculptors were allowed a great deal of freedom in the embellishment and decoration of the prescribed underlying principles and formulae. The result was an overwhelming wealth of architectural elements, sculptural forms and decorative exuberance that is so characteristic of Indian temple architecture and which has few parallels in the artistic expression of the entire world.Almost all Indian Art has been religious, and almost all forms of artistic tradition have been deeply conservative.
But present generation lacks understanding of our heritage, and consequently it lacks a sense of its own identity. To bring this out to us, we had a session with Mr. Swaminathan, retired Professor of Mechanical Engineering from IIT Delhi for whom the study of Indian Indian heritage is a great passion. He had done his Ph.D. (1978) and M.Tech (1972) from IIT Kanpur, while he took his Bachelor’s Degree in 1969 from Annamalai University.
He gave us a drop of his knowledge regarding chronology of Indian temples, development ofscripts, combination of architecture and engineering in temples etc. It was a very exuberant talk regarding the marvels of temple architecture especially on Brihadeeshwara temple in Thanjavur, Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) shore temple and the Kailasanath temple inKancheepuram. His intellectual and humorous sharing motivated us to learn a lot regarding the heritage of temple architecture. .
We learnt regarding the evolution of the temples from its cave form to the structural form and stages of the changes in theconstructional techniques used to build the temples.
The early temple structures to come up in India were Rock-Cut Architecture. The oldest known Cave temples are Barabar Caves in Bihar. These caves date back to 3rd Century BC, i.e. during the period of Ashoka. Few other significant cave temples in India are Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Varaha Cave Temples, Amarnath Cave Temple, etc.Over the period of time, the techniques evolved and instead of carving out a temple within the rock, the stone was carved out of the rock and temples were made near water bodies. These temples followed various styles of architecture, which has kept on evolving with the passage of time.
These ancient and medieval structures represent significant achievements of structural engineering and craftsmanship. He also presented on the spiritual meaning of the temples and the typical layout of Vaishnava and Saivai temples.
He not only talked about the evolution of the temple form, but also the evolution of the idol (sculpture) from its relief form to 3-Dimensional monolithic sculptures. Carving out sculptures is not an easy thing to do. But carving out these beautiful structures of devotion seen in every temple makes us feel astonished. We understood the intricacy of these sculptures. That too he showed us few examples of sculptures of Airavadeshwarar Temple, Dharasuram carved in 1” X 1.5” frame all around the temple.
He then specified architectural wonder of Kanchipuram Kailasanath temple, which increased the urge on us to visit the temple. We had a wonderful learning experience this day.
- Monika Lakshmanan
(Pictures shown here were given by Mr. Swaminathan)