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Temple Architecture


The proposal to take up combined projects of the above type or assist in the same in working towards the
objective was driven mostly by interest. In ancient Indian texts; a temple is a place for Tirtha - pilgrimage.
It is a sacred site whose ambience and design attempts to symbolically condense the ideal tenets of
Hindu way of life. All the cosmic elements that create and celebrate life in Hindu pantheon, are present in
a Hindu temple - from fire to water, from images of nature to deities, from the feminine to the masculine,
from kama to artha, from the fleeting sounds and incense smells to Purusha - the eternal nothingness; yet
universality - is part of a Hindu temple architecture.

The architectural principles of Hindu temples in India are described in Shilpa Shastras and Vastu Sastras.
The Hindu culture has encouraged aesthetic independence to its temple builders, and its architects have
sometimes exercised considerable flexibility in creative expression by adopting other perfect geometries
and mathematical principles in Mandir construction to express the Hindu way of life.

Shiva temple, the main shrine of Prambanan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest Hindu
temple in Indonesia. Angkor Wat, a World Heritage Site and also one of the world's largest Hindu temples
in the world deploy the same circles and squares grid architecture as described above. At the center of
the temple, typically below and sometimes above or next to the deity, is mere hollow space with no
decoration, symbolically representing Purusa, the Supreme Principle, the sacred Universal, one without
form, which is present everywhere, connects everything, and is the essence of everyone. A Hindu temple
is meant to encourage reflection, facilitate purification of one’s mind, and trigger the process of inner
realization within the devotee. The specific process is left to the devotee’s school of belief. The primary
deity of different Hindu temples varies to reflect this spiritual spectrum.

The Vastu-Purusha-Mandala1

The Vastu Purusha Mandala is an indispensable part of vastu shastra and constitutes the mathematical
and diagrammatic basis for generating design. It is the metaphysical plan of a building that incorporates
the course of the heavenly bodies and supernatural forces. The goal of a temple's design is to bring about
the descent or manifestation of the un-manifest and unseen. The architect or sthapati begins by drafting a
square. The square is considered to be a fundamental form. It presupposes the circle and results from it.
Expanding energy shapes the circle from the center; it is established in the shape of the square. The
circle and curve belong to life in its growth and movement. The square is the mark of order, the finality to
the expanding life, life's form and the perfection beyond life and death. From the square all requisite forms
can be derived: the triangle, hexagon, octagon, circle etc. The architect calls this square the vastu-
purusha-mandala-vastu, the manifest, purusha, the Cosmic Being, and mandala.

The vastu-purusha-mandala represents the manifest form of the Cosmic Being; upon which the temple is
built and in whom the temple rests. The temple is situated in Him, comes from Him, and is a manifestation
of Him. The vastu-purusha-mandala is both the body of the Cosmic Being and a bodily device by which
those who have the requisite knowledge attain the best results in temple building.

In order to establish the vastu-purusha-mandala on a construction site, it is first drafted on planning

sheets and later drawn upon the earth at the actual building site. The drawing of the mandala upon the
earth at the commencement of construction is a sacred rite. The rites and execution of the vastu-purusha-
mandala sustain the temple in a manner similar to how the physical foundation supports the weight of the

Based on astrological calculations the border of the vastu-purusha-mandala is subdivided into thirty-two
smaller squares called nakshatras. The number thirty-two geometrically results from a repeated division
of the border of the single square. It denotes four times the eight positions in space: north, east, south,
west, and their intermediate points. The closed polygon of thirty-two squares symbolizes the recurrent
cycles of time as calculated by the movements of the moon. Each of the nakshatras is ruled over by
a Deva, which extends its influence to the mandala. Outside the mandala lie the four directions, symbolic
of the meeting of heaven and earth and also represent the ecliptic of the sun-east to west and its rotation
to the northern and southern hemispheres.

The center of the mandala is called the station of Brahma, the creator of the universe. Surrounding
Brahma are the places of twelve other entities known as the sons of Aditi, who assist in the affairs of
universal management. The remaining empty squares represent akasha or pure space. The vastu-
purusha-mandala forms a diagram of astrological influences that constitute the order of the universe and
the destinies of human lives. When placed on the building site, along with astrological calculations, can
the auspicious time to begin temple construction be determined.

The layout As mentioned earlier a Hindu temple design follows a geometrical design called vastu-
purusha-mandala. The name is a composite Sanskrit word with three of the most important components
of the plan. Mandala means circle, Purusha is universal essence at the core of Hindu tradition,
while Vastu means the dwelling structure. Vastupurushamandala is a yantra. The design lays out a Hindu
temple in a symmetrical, self-repeating structure derived from central beliefs, myths, cardinality and
mathematical principles.

The 8x8 (64) grid Manduka Hindu Temple Floor Plan, according to Vastupurusamandala. The 64 grid is the most sacred and
common Hindu temple template. The bright saffron center, where diagonals intersect above, represents the Purusha of Hindu

sometimes in the form of a deity or to a spirit or apasara. The central square(s) of the 64 is dedicated to
the Brahman (not to be confused with Brahmin), and are called Brahma padas.

In a Hindu temple’s structure of symmetry and concentric squares, each concentric layer has significance.
The outermost layers, Paisachika padas, signify aspects of Asuras and evil; the next inner concentric
layer is Manusha padas signifying human life; while Devika padas signify aspects of Devas and good.
The Manusha padas typically houses the ambulatory. The devotees, as they walk around in clockwise
fashion through this ambulatory to complete Parikrama (or Pradakshina), walk between good on inner
side and evil on the outer side. In smaller temples, the Paisachika pada is not part of the temple
superstructure, but may be on the boundary of the temple or just symbolically represented.

The Paisachika padas, Manusha padas and Devika padas surround Brahma padas, which signifies
creative energy and serves as the location for temple’s primary idol for darsana. Finally at the very center
of Brahma padas is Garbhagruha (Garbha- Centre, gruha- house; literally the center of the house)
(Purusa Space), signifying Universal Principle present in everything and everyone. The spire of a Hindu
temple, called Shikhara in north India and Vimana in south India, is perfectly aligned above the Brahma
pada (s).

A Hindu temple has a Shikhara (Vimana or Spire) that rises symmetrically above the central core of the
temple. These spires come in many designs and shapes, but they all have mathematical precision and
geometric symbolism. One of the common principles found in Hindu temple spires is circles and turning-
squares theme (left), and a concentric layering design (right) that flows from one to the other as it rises
towards the sky.

Beneath the mandala's central square(s) is the space for the formless shapeless all pervasive all
connecting Universal Spirit, the Purusha. This space is sometimes referred to as garbha-griya (literally
womb house) - a small, perfect square, windowless, enclosed space without ornamentation that
represents universal essence. In or near this space is typically a murti (idol). This is the main deity idol,
and this varies with each temple. Often it is this idol that gives it a local name, such as Visnu temple,
Krishna temple, Rama temple, Narayana temple, Siva temple, Lakshmi temple, Ganesha temple, Durga
temple, Hanuman temple, Surya temple, and others. It is this garbha-griya which devotees seek for
‘‘darsana’’ (literally, a sight of knowledge, or vision ).

Above the vastu-purusha-mandala is a superstructure with a dome called Shikhara in north India,
and Vimanain south India, that stretches towards the sky. Sometimes, in makeshift temples, the dome
may be replaced with symbolic bamboo with few leaves at the top. The vertical dimension's cupola or
dome is designed as a pyramid, conical or other mountain-like shape, once again using principle of
concentric circles and squares (see below). Scholars suggest that this shape is inspired by cosmic
mountain of Meru or Himalayan Kailasa, the abode of gods according to Vedic mythology. [12]

In larger temples, the outer three padas are visually decorated with carvings, paintings or images meant
to inspire the devotee. In some temples, these images or wall reliefs may be stories from Hindu Epics, in
others they may be Vedic tales about right and wrong or virtues and vice, in some they may be idols of
minor or regional deities. The pillars, walls and ceilings typically also have highly ornate carvings or
images of the four just and necessary pursuits of life - kama,artha, dharma and moksa. This walk around
is called pradakshina.