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Architecture Design of Religious Temples

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Architecture
Wordcount: 3464 words Published: 3rd Aug 2021

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Over time new inventions and discoveries have taken place in bringing advancement to technology. So the society, people, and their mentality gets adapted to the technological advancement. The things used by them get modified, so do their tastes. Similarly there is also a huge change in the environment, architecture, the spaces they use, the type of food they have, etc.

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Considering these changes in the society, there is also a huge change in the way a TEMPLE; a place of worship is related to the society. Over centuries the temples’ function changed from a social institution to a place of community gathering, though there is no considerable change in its design. Is it due to imitation of the architectural form from one generation to other? Does this piece of architecture tells us about the society of this period as other pieces of architecture do? Does it still show the advancement in the technology? Is it still run under high patronage? This dissertation attempts to deliberate upon these issues and to arrive on a solution on how a contemporary temple should look like.


In Hinduism ‘TEMPLE’ (mandir) is a structure that houses the gods (Encyclopaedia). It was designed to be used as a focus for all aspects of life, namely, religious, cultural, educational and social. It helps a visitor to transcend from his world so that he connects with the supreme authority, the GOD. They are also taken as places of enlightenment and liberation. Hence the principles of designing temples were derived keeping everything in mind.

Initially the temple did function the way it was designed to be.

A piece of architecture is said to reflect the time and the type of society to which it belongs. There is a change in everything around us. We started living and working in multi storey apartments with glass facades leaving behind the huts and bungalows. But a considerable change in temples is not witnessed. After the development of the temple typology, later was just imitation or embellishment.

‘In real world of architectural construction, temples were built by imitation: one generation copying the predecessor or one rival architect, but always with some minor modifications to keep client interest alive.’ (Oijevaar, 2007)


A Temple was once the most important building in the society. It proved to be the divine power, the tallest building in the society. The king paid patronage to the construction of it. It also symbolised the power and richness of the kingdom. Hence, a huge land was allocated and a huge amount of money was commissioned in the construction. Lot of masons, engineers, sculptors and labourers were engaged in its design and execution.

The making of a temple was a big fair which continued over years depending on the hugeness of the temple. There are temples that were built over the reins of two to three dynasties.

The making of temple was also a mode of employment in the kingdom.


Temples marked the transition of the Vedic religion into Hinduism. The notion of symbolising everything important with a human figure and making idols to worship them led to the emergence of a TEMPLE.

Initially the typology was inspired from the Buddhist architecture. The first remarkable temple, the Durga Temple at Aiholi was said to be a chaitya hall with a peek on the top. The notion of ‘cave in a mountain’ was imitated by the architects of that period which led to the development of an inner sanctum or garbha griha, a place where the idol was placed. A pillared hall known as mandapa was designed in front of it so that people can stand and worship. Hence the initial temple was just a building made as a replica of a cave in a mountain with just two rooms namely garbha griha for the idol and a mandapa for other activities respectively. These were square rooms (square taken as a holy shape according to vastu shastra) covered with a slab above so that the devotees are not disturbed by any external elements. The examples of such temples are found in various places around Karnataka (Aihole) which was taken as the place of experimentation for temple architecture.

After the development of the basic plan type in Aihole, now the problem emerged in giving it a proper shape so that it becomes a magnificent piece of architecture so that it overpowers the society. Hence the need of a dominating feature in the building emerged which later gave rise to a vertical shrine or shikara. In initial examples one can notice shikara only on the garbha griha with a flat roof on the mandapa but in course of time the flat roof on mandapa was also replaced by a shikara (smaller than that on the garbha griha). Slowly the priest started living next to the temple, the school (Veda patashala) where younger boys were taught Vedas also became a function of the temple which led to the development of more number of small rooms around the temple. Also the functions like entertainment in terms of dance or/and music performances for god, the place to feed people with the prasadam led to development of more number of mandapas. The temple with its mandapas, other small deities (generally someway related to the main deity), pundits’’ house, Veda patashala, temple tank, etc. came to be known as temple complex. Finally a huge wall was built around it to safeguard the place allotted to temple with an entrance also known as gopuram.

Also the temples were developed in a way that it gives a visual feast to the visitor entering it so that he enters into a different world mentally. This is done by designing the interiors of temple and decorating them with sculptures, paintings and inscriptions from various books like bagawadgita, Ramayana, etc.

Though the development seemed to be very common all over the country, the aspect of regionalism has played an important role in the development of a temple’s design. Hence many differences have been noticed in the various temples of different regions. One known as the north Indian or the Nagara had a different approach of designing compared to the one of South Indian or the Dravidian. Still the essential features of design namely garbha griha, mandapa, shikara remain to be present in both the styles though they appeared differently.


Vimana/ Prasada/ Shrine:

‘The shrine proper is termed as Vimana (measured out) in the southern context, the northern equivalent being Prasada (palace; literally seat of the deity)’ (Hardy, 2007).

It contains a sanctum, garbha griha, usually square. While some early shrines seem to have been flat roofed, a Nagara or Dravida shrine has a superstructure as an integral part. The interior of the super structure is rarely accessible, and sometimes filled with solid and rubble. Shrines may be rectangular, apsidal, circular or octagonal. However the garbha griha generally remains in square shape, except for the rectangular shrines. Most of the plans are square or square generated giving importance to the four cardinal directions. Generally square generated orthogonal plans undergo maximum number of projections and evolve towards a more pronounced central emphasis.

Garbha Griha:

The inner sanctum is known as garbha griha. The garbha griha is a small dark room in which the idol is placed. Derived from the concept of ‘cave in a mountain’. It is generally square or derivative of square in shape. Not accessible for general public, private space of god.


All the shrines have a porch which allows people or the god servants to carry out their activities known as mandapa. A mandapa might be a closed one or an open porch. The closed mandapas get light through the door ways. The number of doorways to the mandapa may vary from one to three. In addition to it the thick walls of mandapas have bright holes of stone traceries as windows for the light to penetrate inside. Sometimes light pouches are also given in the roof of the structure.

The light entered here reflects from the floor and reaches the ceiling creating a divine effect inside the mandapa. Hence the ceilings are carved in most of the mandapas. The mandapas were constructed in post and beam construction simply imitating the wooden architecture that existed before. The distance between the columns depended on the length of the stone which itself is dependent on the grade and distance of the quarry. Spans hardly exceeded 2.5m.

The initial mandapas (6th -7th centuries) had flat roofs where a stone was laid out as a ceiling with a few carvings from inside so as to create a sophisticated effect. From 8th century onwards the mandapas started reflecting the shrine itself though in a comparatively smaller scale. A central bay started dominating the plan which also acts as the axis.

‘corbelled construction- the method of stepping horizontal courses progressively forward to cover a space, prevented from toppling by the weight of masonry pressing down at the rear- developed considerably from the 10th century’(Hardy, 2007).

Pradakshina patha:

The circumambulatory path one takes around the temple in a clockwise direction is termed as pradakshina. Here the exterior of the sanctum conveys the idea of an inner temple. For this especially a path is built around the temple with stones and this path is known as pradakshina patha. It is believed to be a scared path. It is taken in clockwise direction as suns path is clockwise.

Natya mandapa:

In later time there were a numerous editions in a temple. The temple started developing more as a social institution; hence things like entertainment also became the part of its rituals. To continue these rituals a different mandapa, generally connected or a stand-alone structure in front of the jagmohana was built. This mandapa is known as natya mandapa. There is a huge change in the way the natya mandapa was built when we compare from lingaraj to konark. It has seen a huge development due to the increase of the project size or patronage.

Bhog mandapa:

A mandapa was also designed in the later temples where people can sit and have the prasadam of the temple. Basically they are pillared halls with beautifully carved pillars where people sit and eat. Bhog meaning prasadam is how the name of it has been arrived. This is not usually found in large number of temples. A feature present in developed Nagara temples from lingaraj to puri. It disappeared after puri in konark.


The entrance gateway of a temple is known as gopuram. It was initially a mark able structure, smaller than the shrine proper to mark the entrance to a temple. Over time it evolved to be the most important structure and hence its size increased. The tallest and the most magnificent gopurams are seen in meenakshi temple Madurai, where the gopuram looks like commanding the nature around. Gopurams are generally found in Dravidian temples. Coming to Nagara temples, a gopuram was found in mukteswar, but in further development it just disappeared.


This typology is basically defined to possess curvilinear spires with square plans. After the experimentation of the basic design in Aihole, the further development of this typology happened in Odisha near Bhubaneswar.


Bhubaneswar became the experimentation ground. The first notable temple here is known as parasurameswar, a temple devoted for the god Shiva built in 7th century AD. ‘The temple has a flat roofed rectangular pillared hall known as jagmohana attached to a tri-ratha deul (sanctum), which carried a squat heavy- shouldered shikara. The carvings are known for their charm and static volume’ (ASI).



Next remark-able development is marked by the temple of mukteswara, built in 10th century AD with the introduction of a gopuram and a boundary wall to the temple. Mukteswara is defines as ‘a dream realised in sandstone’ (Ganguly, 1961), ‘a gem in Odishan architecture’ (ASI). Elegantly decorated from top to bottom it is designed with a low heighted boundary wall and an entrance torana. This temple is known for its sculptural beauty and also its archaeological advancement. From the flat roof over the


Jagmohana it is developed into a pyramidal deul. This was achieved by slight corbelling of the stones, yet it was an achievement thinking of the time it was designed. The deul is pancha ratha on plan and stands on a low platform. The peda deul (pyramidal shikara) has two latticed windows on north and south, where the outer most part of the window depicts humorous scenes of a monkey’s life. The ceiling of jagmohana is deliberately carved in the form of a blown lotus.

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The pillars of this temple are very much notable. The introduction of snake pillars, relief figures and figurines, gaja simhas on pilasters was all new. The torana, known as makara torana has two crocodiles’ heads both towards two different sides and their tails meeting each other. The carvings of different goddess also present on it. The basement of the pillars supporting the arch, square in section contains on each face a miniature temple flanked at the top by gaja simhas. The sixteen- sided shafts consist each of four blocks of stone of which the topmost has loops of pearl strings hanging down from the mouths of row of kritti mukhas above.

The next temple that marked a remarkable development is the temple of Raja- Rani. Though it went a little off in the development process, it still has its own contribution in the development of Nagara typology. The entire Shiva temples end with the name of ishwar ex. Parasurameswar, mukteswara, etc. there is a story behind the name of this temple. This temple was expected to be a pleasure resort for the king and the queen as the idol is missing but M.M.Ganguly rightly rejects it by talking about the absence of the stables, out houses, etc. ‘ The name Raja-Rani has been derived from very fine grain yellowish sandstone known as Raja Rani in common parlance’(Ganguly, 1961).

Due to the missing of the deity inside the temple, there are still confusions if the temple was dedicated to lord Shiva or lord Vishnu. ‘The later milestone in development, the temple of Ananth Vasudev being a Vaishnavite temple and on the examination ‘khura pristha’ or the upper plinth carved as it is with the petals of lotus it appears that the temple was meant for being dedicated to Vishnu’ (Ganguly, 1961). Hence there is no confirmation on the deity of this temple. The torana that appeared in mukteswara was lost by the time Raja Rani was made. There is not much difference in the plan form. The deul is a pancha ratha plan that stands on a certain plinth.

In line next is the Vaishnavite temple, the temple of Vishnu in the form of lord Krishna known as Ananth Vasudev. Here two new mandapas have seen to be emerged in the regular plan form. By then the role of temple in a society has drastically increased. The more now became more of a social institution rather than just a religious place. Hence the functions like entertainment, donation, etc. have come into the temple premises increasing the scale of the temple and giving rise to the natya and Bhog mandapas. All these mandapas were covered by a pyramidal deul (pida deul), except for the rekha deul on the garbha griha. Rekha deul is tallest of all with decreasing height of each deul in order.

In plan Lingaraj temple was very similar to Ananth Vasudev but it is a shaivite temple. The plan form has evolved to the proper extent in Ananth Vasudev and as time passed the hugeness of the temple increased. Lingaraj is the most notable temple all over Odisha. It stands a mid of a numerous small shrines. Like Ananth Vasudev it has a three chambers frontal part consisting of jagmohana, natya mandapa and Bhog mandapa. There are clear evidences that the other three mandapas are later addition to the existing structure though there is a continuation of sculptures found.

Shifting from Bhubaneswar the next remarkable temple was built in puri commonly known as jagannath mandir. For the first time a temple was designed in the form of a chariot. Chariot being the vehicle of god, the temples also have taken the form of a chariot. This temple has a garbha griha, jagmohana, natya and Bhog mandapas placed on a ratha. The ratha was basically a raised platform with wheels carved on it. The scale of the temple was huge compared to Lingaraj, though the plan form remained the same. A complex was designed for it with boundary walls and a proper entrance way was provided. Inside the complex were numerous small shrines dedicated to different gods along with the main shrine.

Konark temple defined as the ‘black pagoda’ (Behra, 2007) is situated in Konark, a place near Bhubaneswar. The scale of the temple is very huge compared to the rest of the buildings of that era. It is considered as one of the best in terms of technological advancement of that time. Coming to the plan form, this temples’ form is a little different compared to the jagannath mandir, though it is also designed to be a chariot. A chariot of the sun god which had 12 pairs of wheels carved out on its plinth. Over the chariot are the garbha griha and the jagmohana. A natya mandapa remains to be a standalone structure in the complex. The complex contains other smaller shrines along with the main shrine.

All these temples represented the time in which they were built. They represented the society, the richness of the kingdom, and the technological advancement of that time which is not exactly what the temples of day-to day represent.

Further I would like to go through the development in Dravidian typology, refer to the designing of temples today and there relation with society and technology and would like to end with the parameters required in designing a contemporary temple.


Online dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Temple)

Oijevaar K.J, sept 2007, The South Indian Hindu temple building design system on the architecture of shilpa shastra and the Dravidian style, Delft University of technology, Netherlands, pg.4

Karuna Sagar Behra, 1993, Temples of Orissa, Orissa sahitya academy

Krishna Chandra Panigrahi, 1961, Archaeological remains at Bhubaneswar, Kitab Mahal, pg.87-101

Adam Hardy, 2007, The temple architecture of India, John Willey and Sons ltd. Britain, pg.90-105

Karuna Sagar Behra, 2005, Konark – The Black Pagoda, Publications Division, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India


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