IAS Preparation – Art and Culture: Temple Architecture Styles

In this article, you can read all about the Indian temple architecture, its types and points to remember for the IAS exam with respect to temple architecture. Temple architecture is an important part of art and culture syllabus for the civil services exam.

The Shilpashastras or architectural texts written in the early medieval period refer to three major styles of temple architecture in India. These were:

  1. Nagara style
  2. Dravida style
  3. Vesara style

Points to note:

  • All the three styles emerged from the earlier style known as the Panchayatana style of architecture.
  • Nagara style emerged in the North. Dravida style evolved in South India and the Vesara style emerged as a combination of both the styles in the Karnataka peninsular region.
  • All three styles are on raised platforms, have exquisite carvings and are expansive in strength and expanse.
  • Basically, their development can be divided into three stages. First, there were simple pillars and structures. In the second stage, more carvings were added and the top part became heavy, so the pillars were also made more ornate. In the third stage, more decorations were added to the Shikhar (top part) and also to the pillars. The trajectory of growth was very complex in art.

Important points to keep in mind regarding temple architecture while writing answers in UPSC exam:

Your answer should encompass the following factors about the temple architecture:-

  1. The geographical and religious requirement of the region.
  2. The raw materials used.
  3. The patron behind the temple, i.e., the king and his ideals.
  4. The period in which the temple was built.
  5. The purpose of the structure.
  6. The skill level of the labourers and craftsmen of the time and region.
  7. The audience or the local population and their response to the temple.
  8. The socio-economic implication of the temple.

You must remember that at the Gupta period and afterwards, art was not for art’s sake alone. There were major social and economic implications of art and culture. Indian temples became prominent players in social history also. Temples also acted as banks, a place for the destitute and also provided employment to the people. Employment activities included singing and dancing for the deity, cooking prasadam, making garlands and sweets, etc. In addition, in a place which was not doing well agriculturally, the King would sanction the building of a temple do as to provide employment to the people there. But of course, the aesthetic value of these wonders cannot be undermined. They show the finesse and craftsmanship of ancient Indians.

Nagara Style of Architecture

  • This style developed in the North of the country, i.e., the land lying between the Himalayas and the Vindhyas.
  • This has its origins in the Gupta period.
  • The main features of the Nagara style are given in the following points.
  • The shikhar or the topmost part was representative of Mount. Meru which had a lot of significance.
  • Garbha Griha or the inner sanctum. This part was a small portion which symbolized a personalized communication with the deity.
  • Antaral or the vestibule.
  • Kalash which is relevant even today. This is a symbolic water pot and it signifies fertility/productivity/birth.
  • Maha Mandap, Mandap, Ardh Mandap – the assembly halls. This was not as large as in the South.
  • Examples are Lingaraja temple (Bhubaneswar), dating from the 11th century; Kandariya Mahadeva temple at Khajuraho.

Dravida Style Temple Architecture

  • This style was seen in South India.
  • Its origins can also be traced to the Gupta period.
  • Pillars and pilasters are used extensively in this style.
  • The top part is a bit more curved.
  • There is a pyramidal elevation of the tower with a progression of stories each one smaller than the one below.
  • The gateways were called Gopurams. This was a later addition to the style.
  • The Dravidian temples had boundary walls, unlike their northern counterparts.
  • Examples include the Brihadeeshwara temple at Thanjavur; Kailasanatha temple at Kancheepuram.

Vesara Style

  • It is a hybrid of Nagara and Dravida styles.
  • It emerged during the early medieval period.
  • This style developed under the Chalukya Kings of the Karnataka region.
  • In this style, the Shikhar part is like a pagoda.
  • The height of the temple is slightly reduced in this style.
  • Examples of the Vesara style include the Papanatha temple at Pattadakal; the Hoysala temples at Belur, Halebidu and Somnathpura.

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Also See NCERT notes on temple architecture: