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Theories and Principles of
Indian Temple Construction
by Ashish Nangia Bookmark and Share

Before we go any further, it will be worthwhile to examine the principles that guided the Hindu Temple architect and mason. How was there a proliferation of high-quality work in throughout the country? Was it a spontaneous expression of creative energy or were there some basic rules to follow, some essential unity underlying the apparent diversity? 
We shall examine briefly the social, religious, metaphysical and material factors that led to the production of Indian temples. 

Supremacy of the Brahmins 

Since the decline of the Gupta dynasty to the age of the Mughals, there was no central political authority through most of India. This political vacuum was filled by the priestly class, who gradually assumed power as the sole arbiters of almost every aspect of life - birth, death, puberty, marriage, business and personal. All these 'favors', of course, had a price and those on whose behalf they 'generously' interceded with the gods would pay the priests by cash or in kind. 

Obviously the serious business of construction was too important to be overlooked either. While the basic concepts of construction and decoration had already been evolved, it was the Brahmins who began erecting a complex edifice of rules and layouts for different classes of building. These were purposely couched in hideously complicated mumbo-jumbo - the better to be well beyond the ken of the common man or even an ordinary craftsman. A lifetime was required to study the rules and more, if possible. 

These rules sometimes assumed ridiculous dimensions. The most basic acts of building were no longer to be based on technical considerations but rather on mythological ones. Thus the Vastushastra was sometimes more of a hindrance than a help to the craftsmen. 

It is in this situation that the genius of the Indian Craftsman came to the fore. In a situation that could easily have been stifling, the mason and stonecutters came forth and created beauty simply by the plasticity of their sculpture and the sheer brute force of their forms. A large part of this was due to the institution of Senis or guilds, about which a brief mention has been made in a previous article. 

Senis - Protectors of Heritage

As early as the 7th century B.C., Indian craftsmen had organized themselves into guilds, the better to protect their special knowledge, and to gain for themselves better working conditions, and finally to ensure a minimum standard of quality of workmanship. 

In the senis, heredity was the route by which traditional knowledge was passed on through the generations. As soon as a boy was old enough to hold tools, he was set to work on a rough block of stone and so commenced his long apprenticeship. This was the father's sole gift and heirloom to his sons who in turn ensured that his name and style would live on. 

A temple project would often be of such magnitude that more than one generation of master cutters and masons would be required to finish it. So a clan of stonecutters would settle around the building site for years. The temple site attracted young men hoping to learn as well as find work. Thus it became the focus of activity for miles around. Over the years, regional variations introduced for the building of a particular temple led to the evolution of a new style or 'school' of temple building, much like the gharanas that exist in Indian classical music even today. Hence we find distinct schools of art and architecture even within North Indian temple construction - the Orissan, Chalukyan, Gujarati, Kashmiri, and of course, the same situation in the temples of the south, which were further divided into many regional variations and schools of construction. In all these the Vastushastra was the giver of cohesiveness, which ensured overall similarity of form and function, but also, as we have seen, was responsible for fettering the imagination of the craftsmen. 

The Magic of the VastuPurushaMandala 

Looking at Hindu temples, it is not very easy to discern that they are composed of one repeating unit - the square. For God's own abode, the form had to be perfect and this limited the choice of shapes to the circle - a form without beginning and end, and the square - perfect for its symmetry. The circle had already been extensively used by the Buddhists in their Stupas and moreover, was perceived to be too dynamic a form for the resting place of the gods. For the Hindus, their gods had to be installed in buildings symbolizing unity, inertia and permanence. The square, thus, was chosen for these qualities. 

This was the origin of the square Mandala (the best translation of this in English is 'divine chart'). The mandala was further subdivided into smaller squares in a grid, those containing 64 or 81 being the most common. Each of these smaller squares was then invested with a resident deity, each with his own special attributes and powers. The distance of the deities from the center was according to their power and perceived importance.

Thus Brahma, the creator, occupied pride of place in the center and lesser gods were relegated to the edges. A humanistic façade was given to the square by showing it to be able to accommodate a figure in a convoluted yogic posture. 

Vitruvian Man - leonardo da Vinci 

It is interesting to note that this idea, that of the human figure being the basis of a system of proportion, was also used in the European Renaissance by Leonardo de Vinci, and later by Le Corbusier, planner of Chandigarh in India, in his Modular system of measurement. 

Thus, having acquired magical and theological properties, the VastuPurushaMandala was fit to be the basis of temple construction, with many permutations and combinations being used to achieve the final form.

Very simply, the central square could be used for the garba-griha, while the surrounding grid formed the pradakshina-path and outer wall, and so on

By increasing in complexity this system of proportion could spawn the most complex of forms with their basic unit remaining the square. It was by manipulation of this basic grid that the Indian architect created the greatest temples of India. The best examples, the glorious days of Hindu architecture, shall form the basis of our next article.      

More by :  Ashish Nangia
Views: 9269
Article Comment Wir
we are going to reconstruct our Arulmigu Sudalai Madasamy temple. Please guie us. is there any measurement for the main diet area to be marked /
cell 9159369557
K Rajendramany
Article Comment respected sir,
i am doing a dissertation on Hindu temples : old and new. its based on experiential architecture. if possible can you plz contact me so that i can ask you a few questions?
Article Comment Clearly you're not in dialogue with the local museum.
Article Comment Dear Sirs,
We are thinking of constructing a Ganesh Temple in Shillong in the remote State of Meghalaya which is a Christian predominant State inhabited by nearly 90% tribals. We have an existing double storied structure in a plot of land belonging to Rilbong Hindu Dharma Sabha having a frontage as wide as 90 feet.. The challenge is to create the proposed temple with minimal alterations of the existing building. We would be grateful if you kindly suggest how we can go about the project which will be funded through public contribution.
Manas Chaudhuri
Article Comment I would suggest you use a pentagon as your basic shape with a dimension of 16', instead of the full rectangular site.
Article Comment I have a plot measuring 40/80sq feet and wish to construct a temple. Of lord Shiva in One of its corner 6/6feet is a residential Suggest the location, direction ,few images ,designsband architect,mason near up-mp Jhansi.
Article Comment We have a North east Site corner site measuring 70 * 62 , we want to build Shiva temple in this , kindly help
Article Comment Dear sir,
In my village we are planing to construct gali gopuram(entrance arch) for exhisting east faced lord siva temple. Please suggest us for its dimensions.
Thanks with regards
M.Koteswara rao
Article Comment Dear Sir,
i am builder & we are going to built aLord Hanuman Ji Temple in my project ,area =9X((sq.ft).
Plz Guide us.

With Regards...
A.S Developers

Amit Tiwari
Article Comment Dear Sir,
Me belongs to Bramhin family. me with some of my friends are going to built aLord Hanuman Ji Temple of Bigraha size 7ft.
Plz Guide us.

With Regards...
Bijay Ketan Panda.
Bijay Ketan Panda
Article Comment Dear Sir,

i will be going to construct a temple goddess of shri santoshi maa in maharastra dist one of the village ,please give information for theories principle & vasthu,and temple,



Article Comment Hi sir

I am willing to construction a shiv temple 6x6 ft and total height with Kalash may be 16 ft in my lawn boundary , need to know direction of temple opening(door) and shiv LINGA water flow direction.

Please reply sir.
Article Comment sir,
we are planning to construct a vashno mata mandir in Jaipur-agra highway area. size for sthapna is 7*7. please suggest us some vastu techniques for the correct sthapna.
gaurav singh
Article Comment Sir,

We are (7 members) have formed and registered a Trust to construct Famous and Big Shivalingam along with 6 temples viz., Gayatri Devi, Lord Venkateswara, Hanuman, Suryanarayana Swamy, Shirdi Sai Baba, and in the entrance small Ganesh Temple in 10 Acres Land nearby Hyderabad

Hence, would request you to please advise and guide us how to start and construct the above temples as per vastu and other details.

Also would request you to please provide us the idols manufactures and also black stone suppliers for constructing a Shivalingam.

Awaiting your early response.

With best regards,
Kasam Srinivas
Article Comment see the informations
Article Comment Dear Sir,
We are constructing temple for Lord Ganesha. From various article / reports we understand that steel reinforcement must not used temple construction. Is it true. If it is true what should be used for roof. Please advise.
Jayakumar. N
Article Comment The article had written without giving any references from Sastra. Many points are made out of pure conjecture. The writer should study the subjects well, then post.
Article Comment sir
iam solely constructing a lord siva temple in interior tribal village of vizianagarm dist in AP.
already 10 feet construction is cmpeleted.the grabha gudi is 7x7 square
the upa temples ganesh and parvathi are of 4w x 6L.seeing for good stone carved idols of the above gods.the shrine will be constructed up to 22 feet height.pls guide me weather dwajasstambamam can be constructed with cement. and were could i get the stone carved idols ,brass idols and approximate prices.
Article Comment dear sir ,
i will be going to construct a temple goddess of gangadevi,in visakha dist one of the village nagaram,makavarapalem (md),so if u give any information for theories principle & vasthu,and temple agamana siddantham ,i need the information in any telugu books.
Article Comment This is a basic information which is essential for any body interested in the subject.This has to go along dist. to have the full information of the subject.But I do admire the efforts and the interest in the subject.I can share some thing to you ,If you need and are interested.
Mukund Dharashivkar
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