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Classification of Hindu Temples

The exact birth of the history of temples cannot be traced exactly. The earliest temples were constructed of perishable materials like timber & clay. Next came the cave rock-cut structures. Elaborate structural temples with ornate architecture & sculpture came into existence much later. 
The Gupta period marks the beginning of structural temples & a wide variety of styles were adopted. The temples were built of brick & stone. The Hindu temples can be broadly classified into three basic styles - Nagara, Vesara & Dravida according to the Silpasastras. The styles are not strictly restricted to particular regions. There is an intermingling of styles, but it can be broadly considered that a particular style was more prominent in a specific region. (Northern, Deccani, Southern styles). 
The construction of a temple is a religious act, thus great care is taken to ensure that all rules & conditions laid down are adhered to strictly, starting from the land selected for the temple. The location has to be appropriate in the sense that it should be a clean, serene place to invoke peace. 
For all power to get concentrated in the vigraham, the norms as laid down has to be followed in every step. None of these rules are the whims of our ancestors, but based on hard scientific facts. The vigraha also has to be made according to specifications. The main deity is housed in the garbagriham & there are Utsava murthis made of bronze.

  • North Indian Style
  • Western Indian & The deccan Style
  • South Indian Style

North Indian Temple Structure - Nagara Style

In the North Indian style, the shrine is a square at the centre, but there are projections on the outside leading to cruciform shape. When there is one projection on each side, it is called triratha, 2 projections - pancharatha, 3 projections - saptharatha, 4 projections - navaratha. These projections occur throughout the height of the structure. This style is found mostly in Orissa, Rajasthan and Gujarat. 

The temples of Orissa are the ones which can be described as the typical Nagara style. These temples escaped the destruction due to invasion. The temples as well as the literature laying down the rules and mode of construction have been well preserved in Orissa. 

In this style, the structure consists of two buildings, the main shrine taller and an adjoining shorter mandapa. The main difference between the two is the shape of the Sikhara. In the main shrine, a bell shaped structure adds to the height. As is usual in all Hindu temples, there is the kalasa at the top and the ayudha or emblem of the presiding deity. 

Some of the temples of this style are : 

  • The Parasurameswara temple at Bhuvaneshwar 
  • Brahmesvara temple in Bhuvaneshwar 
  • Lingaraja temple 
  • Anantha Vasudeva temple 
  • Rajarani temple 
  • Sun temple at Konarak 
  • Jagannath temple at Puri 

Temple Structure of Western India and the Deccan - Vesara Style

The Western Indian and the Deccan temples, basically evolved from the North Indian style. 

Early temples of this style are: 

  • Lakshmana temple at Sirpur 
  • Vaidyanatha Mahadeva temple at Baijnath 
  • Sikara temple at Baroli 
  • Kesavanarayana temple at Amarkantak 
  • Viratesvara temple at sohagpur 

The temples at Kajuraho represent the typical Vesara style. The Chandellas used the coloured sandstone (pink, buff colour or pale yellow) to construct these temples. Granite stone temples also exist. These temples dedicated to Saiva, Vaishnava and Jaina sects do not show great variation in style between one another. 

The prime temples of this tyle are: 

  • Lakshmana temple 
  • Parsvanatha temple 
  • Visvanatha temple 
  • Kandariya Mahadeva temple 
  • Charsath yogini temple (rough granite) 
  • Lalguan Mahadeva temple (Partly granite & sandstone) 
  • Brahma temple 
  • Matangesvara temple 
  • Vamana temple 
  • Jawari temple 
  • Devi Jagadambi temple 
  • Adinatha temple 

South Indian Temple Structure - Dravida Style

This is the style that developed in the Dravida Desam. The Vimana and the Gopurams are the distictive characteristics of the Southern style. The Vimana is a tall pyramidal tower consisting of several progressively smaller storeys. This stands on a square base. The Gopuram has two storeys seperated by a horizontal moulding. The Prakara or the outer wall, envelops the main shrine as well as the other smaller shrines, the tank. 

The Pallavas, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Vijayanagar rulers, the Nayaks all contributed to the Southern style of temples. 

Pallava temples 
The Pallava shrines normally have a Somaskanda relief panel. 

Some of the Pallava temples: 
Rajasimha temple 
Olakkanesvara temple Mukundanayanar temple Shore temple at Mamallapuram Talagiriswara temple at Panamalai in South Arcot Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram (Rajasimha & his son Mahendravarman) Vaikuntha Perumal temple by Nandivarman 

Chola temples 
The Cholas erected several temples and also renovated earlier brick structures in stone. 

Early Chola temples: 
Sundaresvara temple at Tirukattalai (Aditya I) Vijayalaya Choleswaram at Narthamalai Komganatha temple at Srinivasanallur (Parantaka I) Brihadiswara temple at Tanjavur (Raja Raja Chola) Brihadiswara temple at Gangaikonda cholapuram (Rajendra Chola) Airavateswara temple at Darasuram (Raja Raja II) Kamaparharesvara temple at Tirubuvanam (Kulotunga III) 

Pandya temples 
The Pandyas mostly concentrated on the Gopurams, the main entrance. The basic structure and style was maintained, but the decorations on the Gopurams and the size characterises the Pandya Gopurams. 

The typical Pandya style can be seen in the 
Sundara Pandya Gopuram added to the Jambukesvara temple 
Eastern Gopuram, Great Temple, Chidambaram. 

Vijayanagar temples 
The main contributions of the Vijayanagar period were the tall massive gopurams and the multiple mandapas. Unlike the Chola style, where the entire temple structure was usually a unified whole, there were numerous mandapas, pillared halls, shrines to minor deities, tanks, etc. Another major feature is the carved pillars - with the rearing simhas (lions), yalis (lions with elephant trunks). 

The important temples from the Vijayanager period: 
Vitthala Swami temple, Vijayanager 
The pillars and gopurams of the Ekambaranatha temple 

Nayak temples 
The Madurai and Tanjavur Nayaks made great contributions - the main characterictics of this period being the elaborate mandapas of the hundred and thousand pillared type, the high gopurams with stucco statues on the surface, the long corridors. 

The main temples representing this style in various portions are 
The Ranganatha temple at Srirangam - for the increase in the no. of enclosures 
The temple at Rameswaram - for the long corridors 
The Subramanya temple at the Brihadisvara temple court at Tanjavur - for the fine vimana with ardha and maha mandapas.

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