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  • Monika Lakshmanan

Immortal Temple Architecture

Temples have beautified India for centuries. The temple architecture of India has undergone numerous transformations as a result of its antiquity and fluidity. 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 incredible wealth of architectural elements, sculptural forms, and decorative zeal that is unique to Indian Hindu temple architecture and has few parallels in the world's creative expression. Almost all Indian art has been religious, and nearly all aesthetic traditions in India have been profoundly orthodox.

But the 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 heritage is a great passion. He had done his PhD (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 the chronology of Indian temples, the development of scripts, the combination of architecture and engineering in temple design, etc. It was a very exuberant talk regarding the marvels of temple architecture, especially on South Indian temples like the Brihadeeshwara temple in Thanjavur, the Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) shore temple and the Kailasanath temple in Kancheepuram. His intellectual and humorous method of sharing knowledge motivated us to learn a lot regarding the heritage of Hindu temple architecture.

The talk on Hindu temple architecture
The Talk by Mr Swaminathan on Hindu Temple Architecture
Hindu temple architecture
Sculptures on the Gopuram of a Temple

Evolution of Hindu Temples

We learnt about the evolution of Indian temples from their cave form to the structural form, and about the stages of the changes that took place in the construction of them. The earliest temple structures to come up in India were cave temples and rock-cut temples. The oldest known cave temples are Barabar Caves in Bihar. These caves date back to the 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.

Temple Sculptures
Temple Sculptures

Indian Hindu temple architecture is a feat of structural engineering and craftsmanship. He also presented the spiritual meaning of the Hindu temples and the typical layout of Vaishnava and Shaiva temples.

Stone Sculptures in Hindu Temples

He not only talked about the evolution of the temple form but also about the evolution of the idol (sculpture) from its relief form to a 3-Dimensional monolithic sculpture. Carving out sculptures is not an easy thing to do. Carving these beautiful structures of devotion seen in every temple makes us feel astonished. We understood the intricacy of these sculptures. He showed us a few examples of sculptures of Airavadeshwarar Temple, Dharasuram carved in a 1” X 1.5” frame all around the temple.

Temple Sculptures
Temple Sculptures

He then specified the architectural wonder of the Kanchipuram Kailasanath temple, which increased the urge for us to visit the temple. We had a wonderful learning experience about Hindu temple architecture that day.

The Kailasanathar Temple, Kancheepuram
The Kailasanathar Temple, Kancheepuram

- Monika Lakshmanan

(Pictures shown here were given by Mr Swaminathan)

To know more about the conservation of a temple, visit the following link:


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