Temple Architecture - Different Styles - III
Background of Temple-Building
During the Vedic age (say 5,000 years ago) temples as we see today, did not exist. Temple-building appear to have originated around 500 BCE, when Vedic (Srauta) practices gradually disappeared, and Smarta practices (relating to Isvara through bhakti) took over. The opinion that the Vedic yajnasala gradually gave way to temples by the epic period of because of the bhakti-era is widely accepted by scholars.
The earliest temples were built with perishable materials like wood and clay. Then followed the Rock-cut cave-temples (Ajanta, Ellora, Elephanta).
Heavy-stone structures came still later, and in areas where caves were not available. In fact, in places like Bengal, where even stones are not available, temples are built with bricks. Incidentally, currently, most modern temples are partially built with stones, and the external structures are built with brick and mortar, due to funds constrain.
Taking into account the vast size of India (undivided when temple building started), it is remarkable that the construction of temples have followed a set pattern. This is since all of them have followed the Silpasastra, Vastusastra, Agamasastra. The sculptors and artists nevertheless have executed their individual artistic style, remaining within the sastra.
The earliest temples in the North and Central India which have withstood the vagaries of time belong to the Gupta period (320-650 CE). Some of these temples are Sanchi, Tigawa (near Jabbalpur, Madhya Pradesh), Bhumara (Madhya Pradesh), Nachna (Rajasthan), and Deogarh (near Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh).
Some of the earliest surviving temples in South India are those in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Tamil country was the cradle of Dravidian School of Temple Architecture, which evolved from the earliest Buddhist shrines which were both rock-cut (Ajanta, Ellora Hindu caves) and structural.
The later rock-cut temples that belong to 500-800 CE were mostly Hindu or Jain, patronized by three great ruling dynasties of the South, namely the Pallavas (Kamakshi Temple in Kanchi and Mahabalipuram Temples) of Kanchi in the east, the Chalukyas of Badami in the west,, the Pandyas (Minakshi Temple) of Madurai in the far south. With the decline of the Chalukyas of Badami in the 8th century, the Rastrakutas (Kailashnath Temple of Ellora) of Malkhed came to power, and they made great development of South Indian Temple Architecture. The Kailashnath Temple of Ellora belongs to this period.
In the west (northern Karnataka), the Aihole and Pattadakal group of temples (5th – 7th centuries) show early attempts to evolve an acceptable regional style, based on tradition. Among the more famous early structural temples at Aihole are, the Huchimalligudi and Durga Temples, as the Ladkhan Temple, all built between 450-650 CE. Equally important are the ten early Chalukyan temples (of Kasinatha, Papanatha, Sangameswara, Virupaksha, and others) in Pattadakal near Aihole, and the Svargabrahma Temple at Alampur (Andhra Pradesh). In some of these temples, built by the later Chalukyas, we come across the vesara style, a combination of nagara (of north) and dravida (of south) style.
The Three Styles
There are many ancient texts prescribing the formal architectural styles prevalent in various regions. The comprehensive text called Vastusastra has its origin in the Sutras, Puranas, Agamas, Tantrasastra, and Brhatsamhita. Thus, although the basic pattern remained the same, varieties did enter that gave rise to three distinct styles of temple architecture. They are nagara (or rekha or prasada), dravida (or vimana) and vesara style. They employ respectively the square, octagon and circle in their plan. In its later evolution, when the vesara style adopted the square (of nagara) for their sanctum, the circular or stellar plan was retained for the vimana. The nagara style is distinguished by the curvi-linear towers. The dravida style has its towers in the form of truncated pyramids. The third style vesara is a combination of both nagara and dravida style, which is seen in the temples (Belur, Halebid and Somanathapura) built by the Chalukyas in Karnataka.
These three styles do not pertain strictly to three different regions, rather indicate the temple-groups. For instance, the vesara, which came to prevail mostly in the western Deccan, and south Karnataka, was a derivation from the apsidal temples of the early Buddhist period, which subsequently the popular Hindu culture (note, Vedic period did not have temples; so one could say that the worship of form/s was started by the Buddhists. Although the Buddha did not accept the existence of God, he ultimately ended up becoming the God of the Buddhists) adopted, and vastly improved. In its origin, the vesara is as much north Indian as it is west Deccanese. Similarly, among the 6th-7th century shrines of Aihole and Pattadakal, the nagara style is evident in the vimanas. The dravida or Tamilian style became popular throughout South India, only from Vijayanagara period (1350-1565 CE) onwards. While the vimana of the nagara style rises vertically from its base in a curvi-linear form, the vimana of dravida style rises like a stepped-pyramid, tier upon tier. The northern style came to prevail in Rajasthan, Upper India, Odisha, the Vindhya uplands and Gujarat.
During the next thousand years (from 600-1600 CE), there was a phenomenal growth in temple architecture, both in number and intricacy in style. The first in the series of Dravidian/Southern architecture was initiated by the Pallavas of Kanchi (600-900 CE). The rock-cut temples at Mahabalipuram (the five rathas carved out of monolithic boulders), and the Kailashnath and Vaikuntha-Perumal Temples (700-800 CE) of Kanchipuram are the best representatives of the Pallava style.
It was the Pallavas, who laid the foundation of the Dravidian School, which blossomed to its full extent during the Cholas (900-1150 CE), the Pandyas, the Vijayanagara Kings (1350-1565 CE), and the Nayakas (1600-1750 CE). The temples, now built with stones, became bigger, more complex, and ornate with sculptures. Dravidian architecture reached its glory during the Chola period (900-1150 CE), by becoming more imposing in size, and endowed with happy proportions. The most beautiful of the Chola temples is the Brhadiswara Temple at Tanjavur with its 66 metres high vimana, the tallest in India.
The later Pandyans, who succeeded the Cholas improved the Cholas, by introducing elaborate ornamentation, and big sculptural images, many-pillared halls (1000-pillared Halls in Sri Rangam, Minakshi, Rameswaram), new annexes to the shrine, and towers (Gopurams) or the gateways.
The mighty temple-complexes of Madurai and Sri Rangam in Tamil Nadu, set a pattern for the Vijayanagara Kings (1350-1565 CE), who followed the Dravidian architectural style. The Pampapati and Vitthala Temples in Hampi are standing examples of Vijayanagara period. The Nayakas (1600-1750 CE) of Madurai, who succeeded the Vijayanagara Kings, made Dravidian temple-complex even more elaborate by adding very tall and ornate Gopurams, and building pillared-corridors within the temple-compound (1000-pillared Hall within Minakshi Temple-Complex).
The Hoysalas who ruled the Kannada country, improved on the Chalukyan (of the Badami) style by building extremely ornate temples in many parts of Karnataka, noted for their sculptures on the walls, depressed ceilings, lathe-turned pillars, and fully sculptured vimanas. Among the most famous of the Hoysala temples are the ones at Belur, Halebid, and Somanathapura in south Karnataka, which are classified under vesara style.
In the north, the main developments in the temple-architecture took place in Odisha (750-1250 CE) and Central India (950-1050 CE), Rajasthan (10th-11th century), and Gujarat (11th-13th century).The Lingaraj Temple of Bhubaneswar, the Jagannath Temple of Puri, and the Sun Temple of Konark represent the Odisha style. The temples built at Khajuraho built by the Chandellas, the Sun Temple at Modhera (Gujarat), and other temples at Mount Abu built by the Solankis have their own distinct style in Central Indian temple architecture. Bengal with its temples built in bricks (due to non-availability of stones) and terracotta tiles, and Kerala with its temples having peculiar roof-structure suited to the heavy rainfall of the region, developed their own regional styles.