Category Archives: North Indian

Pattadakal Temples

In the Indian state of Karnataka lies the sacred village of Pattadakal, or Kisuvolal as it used to be called, and its 10 temples, constructed from the 6th to the 9th century. Pattadakal was once the place of anointment for the early Chalukya kings of Badami, and it served as their secondary capital. The Malaprabha river flows north near the old city (Annigeri 2). The people of India believe that rivers that flow north are sacred due to the fact that they are rare as most rivers in India flow to the east or the west. The surrounding mountains provided an abundant amount of sandstone to build the temples, and there are several lingas around the village that give a sense that it used to be a large place for Siva worship. Pattadakal is a marvellous masterpiece where the architectural styles of North and South India are blended (Annigeri 6). The influence between the mixing of the northern and southern styles resulted in a different adaptation of ideas. Unfortunately, tracing the development of the northern style is quite difficult as a large quantity of Nagara style temples were destroyed during periods of warfare. They are still distinguished by the tall, convex shape of the tower above the hall of the temples (Dallapiccola 1) . Architects such as Gunda and Revadi Ovajja graced Pattadakal with the construction of temples and sculptors such as Chengamma, Pullappan and Deva-arya decorated the temples with their magnificent sculptures (Annigeri 6).

The biggest of the temples at Pattadakal is the Virupaksha Temple (formerly known as Lokesvara). It was constructed between 733 and 745 CE by queen Lokamahadevi to celebrate the three victories of her husband and early Chalukya ruler, Vikramaditya II, over his rival, the Pallavas of Kanchipuram (Kadambi 266). Along with commemorating his victories, the temple also shows a sense of rajadharma (duties and obligations of a king) and moksadharma (liberation of the soul). The Virupaksha temple was modelled after the Kailasanatha temple (formerly known as the Rajasimhesvara temple) at Kanchi, the town that the king had just conquered. The Virupaksha temple was built by the architect Gunda along with others, such as Sarvasiddhi Achari and Baladeva in a Dravidian (South) style of architecture. The Virupaksha Temple has a nandi mantapa (open pavilion with roof) which Cummings argues is a shrine to the queen (as stated in Kadambi 267). Inside this pavilion resides a sculpture of Nandi (bull) in black stone (Annigeri 14). Her assumptions are proven by the two royal portraits on the temple. One of Lokamahadevi, which shows her standing on a lion throne while holding an elephant-staff in her left hand. The other picture is of the other wife of the king, Trailokyamahadevi. Coincidentally, these two queens were also sisters (Kadambi 267). The pillars of the great hall are covered in episodes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata (Annigeri 15). On the outer wall to the south, there are sculptures of Ravana killing Jatayu and Siva seated in Kailasa. On the north porch, there is an eight-armed Siva who is dancing on the demon Apasmarapurusha (Annigeri 20). Covering the rest of the outer walls are sculptures of Siva, Lakulisa, Nataraja, Lingodbhavamurti, Visnu with a conch and fruit, and more (Annigeri 20). On the ceiling of the eastern porch you can see the god Surya standing in a horse-drawn chariot, with seven horses and a lotus flower in each hand (Annigeri 15). In the shrine is the linga of Virupaksha that was worshipped (Annigeri 18).

Almost simultaneously, the Mallikarjuna temple (formerly known as Trailokesvara) was built in around 740 CE by his younger queen Trailokyamahadevi, who was also the sister of the main queen (Annigeri 25).  It was built to celebrate the victories against Kanchi, just like her sister’s temple. The two temples are very close in architecture and some of the sculptures are in identical locations on the temple (Annigeri 25). There are two Saiva Dvaraplas at the entrance to the hall and  an image of Visnu riding Garuda is on the door frame. Even with the depiction of Visnu, it can still be concluded that the temple is dedicated to Siva (Annigeri 26). The stories that are told along the walls are that of the domestic life, clothing and religious practices of the early Chalukyan era. The great victories of Krsna are depicted along the pillars of the great hall. These include Krsna holding up a mountain, killing the demons Kesi, who was in the form of a horse, and killing Kharasura who was in the disguise as a donkey (Annigeri 28). In the shrine lies a linga with a large lotus flower carved in the wall over the linga, and sculptures of Siva and Parvati all over the ceiling of the shrine (Annigeri 30).

The temple of Sangamesvara (originally known as Vijayesvara) was built by King Vijayaditya to praise the god Vijayesvara (Siva) (Annigeri 34).  There is no date on the inscription but since the King Vijayaditya reigned from 696-733 CE, we can assume it was built during that time period (Bolar 38). On the pillars in the hall are several inscriptions relating to the building of the temple. The first one speaks of how “peggade-Poleyachchi of Mahadevigeri gave 51 gadyanas for the making of this pillar” (Bolar 38). The second one explains that the pillar was donated by an individual named “Vidyasiva” (Bolar 38). The third pillar  tells how “a courtesan of this temple named Chalabbe, donated 3 pillars to the temple” (Bolar 38). The fourth pillar says that Motibodamma donated two pillars sculpted by the sculptor Paka (Bolar 38). There is an inscribed slab standing in the hall belonging to King Kirtivarma II of the Calukyas of Badami dated 754 CE which states that Jnanasivacarya granted land as a provision “for the studies of those who attend the rites of the god” (Bolar 101). The architecture of the temple is quite plain and does not have any of the great sculptures on its walls. There are big sculptures of Visnu, Varaha, Siva with Nandi and Gajasurantaka on the outside of the walls that were never finished due to some unforeseen reason (Annigeri 34). What the temple lacks in design, it makes up for in size as it has three shrines, a walkway around the main shrine and the great hall. What was once worshiped in the shrine is now a broken linga (Annigeri 34).

The Kasivisvesvara Temple was built in the Nagara (northern) style of architecture using sand-stone blocks in the 8th century CE (Annigeri 31). Interestingly enough, there happens to be miniature temples sculpted into the outer wall in a Dravidian or South Indian style of architecture in an attempt to combine the two types of work (Annigeri 32). The temple is divided into two different parts, the hall or mantapa, and the shrine and the ante-chamber or sukanasi. In the shrine there is a black stone linga in the centre (Annigeri 32). On the ceiling of the mantapa is depicted Siva, Parvati with a child in her arms, Nandi, four hybrid creatures, swans and dwarfish garland carriers (Annigeri 33). On the pillars, many stories from the Bhagavata and Sivapuranas are told. One of these such stories is the wedding scene of Siva and Parvati, where other gods have attended (Annigeri 33).

To the left and a few yards away, lies the Galaganatha Temple with its very tall structure. Having been built in the North Indian style (Nagara) in the 8th century CE, it is quite different from the Virupaksha, Mallikarjuna and Sangamesvara which are all built in the South Indian style (Dravidian) (Annigeri 37). In the shrine is a linga in black stone and a sculpture of Nataraja on the door. With age, the wall to the south has been destroyed, but it was possible to conclude their method of constructing walls, which was to lay them on each other without any cementing agent (Annigeri 38). Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this temple is the sculpture of Siva as Andhakasura. The sculpture has eight hands, one with a sword, one with a trident in the body of a demon, one with a shield, and another with a trident, and the rest placed in different poses (Annigeri 39).

The Jambulinga Temple is very small now and has no ceiling. There was once a bigger hall, but it is now in ruins. There once was sculpture of Siva and Visnu, but time has worn them down. It seems to have been built around the same time as the Galaganatha Temple (Annigeri 39).

The Chandrasekhara Temple is quite plain and has been dated to around 750 CE (Annigeri 37). It has a preserved Dvarapalas on the side of the door with a visible trident-like decoration behind his head.

The Kadasiddhesvara Temple has seen better days. It is almost impossible to determine to which god or goddess the temple was dedicated. The only evidence we have is Harihara with four hands carrying an axe, a conch and cloth on the outer wall and, an image of Siva with a serpent and a trident and Parvati and Nandi on the door frame (Annigeri 40). Again, the hall has no roof and there is a Dvarapala who stands on both sides of the door. The other gods depicted around the temple are Brahma, Visnu, Ganga, Yamuna and Ardhanarisvara (Annigeri 40).

The temple of Papanatha is situated only a few yards from the river Malaprabha. It is accepted that it was constructed at around 680 CE (Annigeri 41). This temple does not reflect the advanced architecture of the Virupaksha temple and has very weird proportions. The temple is 90ft. in length but has a very short vertical structure. The improper spacing in the temple has convinced scholars that the temple was built in the early stages of the art of temple building. Contrary to that, the inscription states that the same sculptors that worked on the Virupaksha temple worked on Papanatha, so we are led to believe that the temple could not have been built more than 30-40 years before Virupaksha (Annigeri 41). The temple was not originally dedicated to Siva this time, but dedicated to Visnu or Surya. Scholars have come to his conclusion because there is a image of Surya on the west outer wall, and the image of Nandi was placed in the hall at a later date, after the temple was constructed. But there are some scholars who say that the temple was still dedicated to Siva from the start (Annigeri 42). Even though the temple is one of the oldest, it is still decorated with images of couples and gods and stories of the ages.

The Old Jain Temple, built in the 9th century CE, consists of a second shrine on top of the main shrine that houses two Jaina sculptures. The temple is very simple with a few exceptions like the makaratorana on the doorframe of the shrine door (Annigeri 47). There is a single inscription on a pillar that tells the story of how Jnanasivacharya came from his home in the north of India to live in the Sangamesvara temple. This illustrates the religious ties between North India and Karnataka during the period of the Calukyas of Badami (Annigeri 48).

The temples at Pattadakal, depict a wide assortment of deities in the Hindu pantheon. The site at Pattadakal shows a great amount of history in its walls and tells a great story that has been solidified with the hard work of the architects and sculptors that made the temples possible. The combination of the Dravidian and the Nagara style of architecture is distinctive. Present generations can view the style advancements in temple building as they developed from the oldest temple to the newest. In 1987, Pattadakal was included in the list of World Heritage Sites. Today, for a small entrance fee, an individual can enter the grounds of the temples to look around or to give worship to the deities. The temples have become a very popular tourist destination.



Annigeri, A. (1961) A Guide to the Pattadakal Temples. Dharwad: Kannada Research Institute.

Bolar, Varija (2010) Temples of Karnataka: An Epigraphical Study (from the earliest to 1050 A.D.). New Delhi: Roadworthy Publications (P) Ltd.

Dallapiccola, Anna (2002) Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. London: Thames & Hudson.

Kadambi, Hemanth (2015) “Cathleen Cummings, “Decoding a Hindu Temple: Royalty and Religion in the Iconographic Program of the Virupaksha Temple”, Pattadakal”. South Asian Studies, Vol. 31, No.2: 266-268.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

The caves of Badami

Temples of Aihole

The Calukyas of Badami

Temples at Mahakuta


Websites Related to the Temples of Pattadakal


Article written by: Rebecca Scott (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Nagara Style of Hindu Temples

The origin of the Hindu temple is said to be the ancient basic circle of stones within which one cherished holy relics, human or divine. It is the Hindu temple where the contact between man and gods take place and it is also where a man progresses from the world of illusion to knowledge and truth and thus, a temple is not only a place to worship but an object to worship as well (Michell 61-62). A Hindu temple not only shows unique architecture but also symbolizes ideas characteristic in its structure, which are usually related to the common practice of people residing around it. A pilgrimage or visit to a temple is undertaken for the purpose of looking at it (darsana) (Kramrisch 8).

The evolution of Hindu temples occurred over many centuries due to differing views between the rulers of the Indian sub-continent. Emperor Asoka is credited with ordering the construction of the first significant stone structures in India around 3rd century, BCE. Religious architecture can be tracked back to the Vedic time (1500 – 700 BCE) and practices of temple worship can be traced back to texts from the Puranas and earlier (Michell 63-64). The construction of the temples however was on a small scale back then, which included materials such as timber, baked clay bricks and mud. Caves were naturally the earliest shrines on record and from the 4th to 7th century, a classical “golden period” of art and architecture emerged in India. It was this period in which temple building activities grew rapidly all over the country (Singh and Sharma 17). When kings conquered other kingdoms for the purpose of expansion, they reintegrated their thoughts into carvings of antique superstructures. Some stages of architectural patterns still survive to the present day.

A Nagara style temple would generally stand on a high platform (jagati) made of stone bricks, with several mouldings. The identification of the temple with a mountain is specific and the superstructure is known as a “mountain peak” [For more information and visuals, see Michell 69, Fig. 62]. The jagati represents the feet of a man. Over jagati, there is a smaller platform of stones (pitha). Over the pitha, there rises an even smaller platform (adhisthana), which is the base of the superstructure of the temple. The pillars and walls of the temple are raised on the adhisthana (Singh and Sharma 18).

The Nagara style is not native to the mountainous region and some believe it was introduced in the late Gupta period. The Nagara, also known as the sikhara (mountain peak) type, can be divided into three sub-groups: The first is the Phamsana Type. This is the earliest known type of sikhara. It is usually a pyramidal structure divided into seven, nine and eleven tiers. The towering sikhara is crowned by an amalaka, which is a stone disk believed to represent the deity of the temple. A kalasam, a finial from which the temple banner is hung, crowns the amalaka itself. Illustrations of the Phamsana Type can be viewed at the Siva temple at Camunda, the Nrshimha temple at Bharmaur and many others (Singh and Sharma 19). The second is the Latina Type. This type represents most of the stone temples of Nagara style in Himachal Pradesh and is believed to have emerged at the beginning of the 8th century. The Latina Type temples are curvilinear in nature, following their trademark triratha plan. “The central bands of the superstructure are tall spines of web patterns cast over receding cornices – the creepers (latas) of the Nagara temple’s Latina formula” (Meister 256). An example of this temple would be the Rudranath (Gopinath) temple in Uttrakhand. The third is the Valabhi Type. These temples have a rectangular ground plan, a doorway on one of its longer sides, and a semi-cylindrical sikhara. No Valabhi Types are found in Himachal Pradesh but there are several examples of this type across India. [See Singh and Sharma (2008) for extensive information on the Valabhi Type].

The Nagara style has 2 basic components. The first is garbhagra, a sanctum with only one entrance, in which the image of the main deity is installed (Singh and Sharma 27). “The garbhagrha consists of 4×4 = 16 squares, which is equivalent to the Brahmasthana” (Thakur 264). The second component is known as mandapa, a porch in front of the garbhagrha, typically exposed from three sides for the worshippers to assemble for worship. [Refer to Singh and Sharma (2008) for more information on this component of the Nagara style]. Various examples of diverse ideologies of different emperors regarding Nagara temple architecture will be explored in the following cases.

The northern style under the Guptas and their successors (400 CE – 600 CE) portrayed a square sanctuary that connected with a pillared porch. The roof of the sanctuary consisted of horizontal stone slabs and this part lacked a tower. A horizontal molding serves as a cornice on the plain wall surfaces. Uprights that margin the doorway are divided into vertical bands, which continue over the lintel.  The porch had columns divided into square, octagonal and sixteen-sided sections with undergrowth centers supporting brackets engraved with pairs of seated animals (Michell 94).

Rock-cut temples were common under the Early Chalukyas, Kalachuris and Rashtrakutas (500 CE – 700 CE). These cave temples contain pillared halls with small chambers cut into the posterior walls. The halls have columnar arrangements, with varieties such as fluted shafts or panels of relief carvings; cushion capitals are also employed (Michell 98, Fig. 41). Together with the doorways, these columns display clear northern stylistic characteristics. The brackets of the outer columns of these caves are fashioned to depict amorous couples beneath trees, a motif considered particularly appropriate for the entrance of a temple (Michell 99, Fig. 42). Another variation of the rock-cut temples places the sanctuary in the middle of the columnar hall instead of the posterior wall. The lack of the external access via a flight of steps, sometimes guarded by lions, is characteristic of these caves. The Elephanta cave near Mumbai resembles this type of architecture and one of the main focal points is a three-headed, major sculpture of Lord Siva, also known as the Great Lord, Mahesha (Michell 98-101). Other carved panels nearby are devoted to scenes from the mythology of Siva.

The northern style under the Kalingas and Eastern Gangas (700 CE – 1200 CE) can be seen in some of the Orissan temples such as the Parashurameshvara temple. “The emphasis on the horizontal courses employed in the superstructure of the sanctuary and roof of the adjoining hall is one of their main characteristics. Another key characteristic is the contrast between the vertical profile of the superstructure, curving only at the very top, and the pyramid-like arrangement of hall roof” (Michell 110). In the Vairal Deul temple in Bhubaneshwar, the sanctuary is rectangular and is positioned on a transverse axis to the adjoining hall. The walls of the sanctuary are divided into projections with carved panels, which lead into the lower parts of the superstructure (Michell 111, Fig. 51). As centuries went by, stylistic developments were occurring in the Indian sub-continent. Further stylistic advances may be detected in the Lingaraja temple in Bhubasneshwar (Michell 113, Fig. 53). “The outer walls are divided by a horizontal molding into two registers, as are the tiers of the hall roof, which is surmounted by an inverted bell-shaped fluted form” (Michell 112). This temple was enlarged by the addition of two more halls along the principal axis of the temple to create a sequence of successive interior spaces that was to be copied in later Orissan temples.

The northern style under the Pratiharas and Chandellas (700 CE – 1000 CE) erected several small temples at various sites, which resembled typical northern stylistic features such as a square sanctuary with projecting niches, carved doorways, and towers with curved profile. Distinct stylistic innovations appeared by the 9th century and one temple built with similar designs is the Telika Mandir at Gwalior (Michell 116, Fig. 57). This temple’s rectangular sanctuary raises the superstructure into a massive dome. The unique expansions on the end of the temple project complex interlocking horseshoe arched designs. These expansions spread onto the horizontal divisions of the tower serving as pediments above the doorways (Michell 116, Fig. 58). When the Chandella kingdom replaced the Pratihara rule, several new temples with unique architectural designs were built in Khajuraho, one of the kingdom’s capital cities. Their tall slender columns characterize the interiors of the Khajuraho temples. Auspicious females support the foliage design that exists on the brackets of these columns. The dome-like ceiling above the central spaces of the porches and halls provides the Khajuraho temples’ chief interest. The ceilings are usually sculptured with cusps that rise in diminishing circles to an overhanging lotus bed. The doorway to this sanctuary is characteristic of a northern manner and the images on the outer walls are floodlit by the lighting from the open balconies (Michell 122, Fig. 63).

The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple at Khajuraho is a classic example of the Nagara temple style produced by the Chandella Dynasty (Khajuraho, India)
The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple at Khajuraho is a classic example of the Nagara temple style produced by the Chandella Dynasty (Khajuraho, India)

The northern style under the Maitrakas and Solankis (700 CE – 1200 CE) erected temples that were small buildings with diminishing stepped mouldings adorned with bold horseshoe arched ‘windows’. The Maitraka rulers built temples near Gujarat after gaining control of the region in the 7th century. Under the Solanki kings, who took over the Maitrakas, Gujarat developed prolific regional architecture style. The Surya temple at Modhera is widely known for its unique two structures and an artificial tank that resides along the east-west axis (Michell 124, Fig. 64). The hall of this temple has its long side positioned towards the principal emphasis of the temple with its plan spreading outwards in a number of different projections. The balcony slabs have panels with attendant figures carved upon and the brackets of the outer columns of the temple support an overhanging cave (Michel 125, Fig. 65). The temple itself consists of a hall and sanctuary surrounded on three sides by an ambulatory passageway.

The earliest stone Hindu temples in Kashmir and other Himalayan valleys (700 CE – modern period) can be traced back to the 8th century when Lalitaditya ruled the region. The lower valleys of the Himalayas mark the most northerly extension of Hindu architecture. The Surya temple at Martand was also erected under his patronage. A trilobe arch that frames the doorway is characteristic of the Kashmir style and is well-illustrated in the Siva temple at Pandrethan. The temple has a square sanctuary with entrances on all four sides. A Kashmir characteristic trilobe arch frames the opening. The sloping roof of this temple is divided into two tiers with horseshoe headed ‘windows’. The ceiling of the temple has lotus designs with attendant figures engraved upon (Michell 128, Fig. 67). In the nearby regions of Kulu, Kangra and Chamba, timber and brick buildings dominate the temple forms. Stone is sometimes retained for the doorways and walls of the shrines in these temples. The characteristic northern style can be found in the decoration of the doorframes in these temples.

Two of the earliest surviving brick temples in North India – the Laksmana temple at Sirpur and the Rajivalocana temple at Rajim in south Kosala – preserve superstructures suggestive as much of “Kutina” forms as of the final Latina formula of North Indian Nagara temples (Meister 277, Figs. 21-23). These structures show large single candrasala (“moon-hall”) windows progressing up the central offset of the sikhara and karna-kutas which, while pulled in to the body of the superstructure, have not been absorbed fully into the mass nor condensed beyond recognition. On both temples, these kutas are full miniature structures, presented as small-pillared pavilions with simple superstructures (Meister 288, Figs. 21, 27). In comparison to the Dravidian style, the Indo-European or Nagara style is a curvilinear, beehive shaped tower rather than a pyramid consisting of smaller storeys of smaller pavilions. The base plan itself is usually square in the northern style compared to the pyramidal vimana put on top of the garbhagrha [For information on the Dravidian style, see Michell 127-137].

In modern day India, new temples continue to be erected and older buildings refurbished. Compared to the southern temple style, northern temples are the product of a more discontinuous tradition (Michell 183-184). A temple is a place where one strives for the self-realization, where one finds their true self. It is a place where one may understand their atman/ jiva and possibly, Brahman.


Notable websites associated to the discussion:

Related areas for additional research:

















Himalayan temple architecture



Kramrisch, Stella (1976) The Hindu Temple Vol. I. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Meister, Michael W. (1988-1989) Prasada as Palace: Kuṭina Origins of the Nagara Temple. Zurich: Artibus Asiae.

Michell, George (1988) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meaning and Forms. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Singh, K.A., and Shuchita Sharma (eds.) (2008) Temple Architecture of the Western Himalayas – Ravi and Beas Valley. Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan.

Thakur, Laxman S. (1990) Application of Vastupuraṣamaṇḍala in the Indian Temple Architecture: An Analysis of the Nagara Temple Plans of Himachal Pradesh. Zurich: Artibus Asiae.

Article written by: Sidhesh Mohak (April 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.


The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple

The Kandariya Mahadeva is the largest and most magnificent temple at Khajuraho and is a popular tourist site. It is on a level field in Central India (Alles 1988:4). It forms a parallel row with the Chitragupta and Jagadambi temples and is part of the Western group of temples. Vidyadhara, who was part of the Chandella kingdom,  is credited as being the author of the Kandariya Mahadeva, which is supported by an inscription on a mandapa-pilaster in the temple, which reads, “a gift of courtesans on a certain sacred occasion during the reign of king Virimda” (Deva 1987:15). Virimda is thought to be another name for Vidyadhara. Vidyadhara is thought to be the most powerful Indian ruler of his time. He succeeded his father Ganda as king. Under Vidyadhara’s leadership, the Chandella kingdom reached the pinnacle of their prosperity, evident in the intricate and rich design of the Kandariya Madeva temple. There were two contemporary rival powers in Central India, the Kalachuris and the Paramaras, and Vidyadhara had victories over both of them (Deva 1987:15). Vidyadhara’s prestige was heightened when he, with the help of feudatory Kachhapaghata Arjuna, exterminated Rajyapala, the Pratihara king who had retreated when Mahmud, a powerful foreign invader that invaded Kanauj in A.D. 1018. Because of this, Vidyadhara was both feared and respected by the Paramaras and the Kalachuris. Mahmud considered Rajyapala’s assignation as a serious threat and so he challenged Vidyadhara in war. Vidyadhara put together a large army of cavalry, infantry and elephants (Deva 1987:15). Mahmud was scared by the large army. When the two sides met on the first day of battle there was no victor. Mahmud returned to Ghazni. Vidyadhara and his feudatory Kachchhapaghata Vajradaman defended the fort of Gwalior when Mahmud returned in 1022 to challenge Vidyadhara. Vidyadhara was praised as a hero after holding off Mahmud (Deva 1987:15). Vidyadhara built the Kandariya Mahadeva, continuing the tradition of the Chandellas to build great temples.

The Kandariya Mahadeva is dedicated to the god Siva, as shown through the large marble Siva-linga in the sanctum. There are many depictions of Siva, usually with four arms. It is common to see him with a lotus stalk. The images are all over the interior walls and the exterior. Some images are missing hands, heads or other parts. These images have been broken throughout time from age and weather, but the Kandariya Mahadeva is still one of the most well preserved temples from Indian medieval times.

The art at Kandariya Mahadeva is often used as an example for the erotic designs of the Hindu temples. Erotic sculptures are seen on the facades and interior of the temple. The forms of sexuality are intertwined with religious philosophy (Berleant 97).

Sculptures on the temple are tall and slender. They exhibit the sophistication of Khajuraho at the peak of its prosperity. Depicted are nymphs and people in lively or violently agitated postures (Deva 1987:95). The largest monument of Khajuraho is the marble Siva-linga. This form is 100 feet in height and 66 feet wide. These dimensions exclude the platform. The linga is similar to the Visvanatha temple, however it is more elaborate and magnificent.

On one of the outer niches is an image of dancing Chamunda who has twelve arms and is ugly and vicious. He has bulging eyes, large mouth, and shown with veins and bones, dried-up hanging breasts and a scorpion on his sunken belly (see Deva 1990:156). Chamunda wears a jata-mukuta studded with a grinning skull and a pendant with scorpions (see Deva 1990:156). She stands over a headless corpse and there is a preta, which is a soul of the departed, on either side of her. One of these pretas is munching on a human hand. This is just one example of the grotesque depictions on the Kandariya Mahadeva.

The Kandariya Mahadeva is mostly in darkness, excluding a few days of the year. The days when it is not in darkness are when “the rays of the rising sun strike, as if to waken the image of the deity from its slumbers” (Kelley 281). The intent of this illumination process is not elaborated upon (Kelley 281).

The Kandariya Mahadeva is different from other temples of Khajuraho in its architecture in that each element of the plan is grand with elaborate designs and ornamentation (Deva 1987:95). There are a large number of protruding parts and recesses throughout the entire temple. The basement has elegant ornamented moldings. The interior is similar to other temples, however, it is more spacious and filled with sculptures and carvings.

The Kandariya Mahadeva’s platform is the only one that shows protrusions on the rear and the lateral sides; these protrusions correspond with the protrusions of the transepts (see Deva 1987:95). There is a 10 ft. high terrace on which the temple rests. Only a little of the “original façade of the platform survived in the south-eastern corner on the flank of the imposing flight of steps leading to its terrace” (Deva 1987:95). The foundation is granite covered with a plain course of sandstone. There are two overhangs on the west and south that correspond with the overhangs of the west and south transepts (see Deva 1987:98).

The basement is on a granite foundation, covered with two layers of sandstone. The socle (stone serving as a pedestal) rises on the plinth (a flat stone at the base of a column). The socle is comprised of five mouldings. Underneath these moldings is a “recessed band carved with a processional frieze” (Deva 1987:98). On this frieze are depictions of dancers and devotees, acrobats and musicians, warriors and hunters, horses, elephants and erotic themes. The kapota-hood is the last of the five moldings of the socle and is where the junction of two series of nine niches occurs. The niches are large and are set back to back with the basement. The lower niches are now empty and stop just below the kapota, which is an “overhanging cornice or molding representing it” (Deva 1990:398). The upper niches display images of “the Seven Mothers and Ganesa and Virabhadra” (Deva 1987:98) and they start above the kapota.

A sikhara is the “principal spire or tower over the sanctum” (Deva 1990:403). This tower is where the highest roof rises over the sanctum and reaches its highest point, from which are four diminishing half-spires or urah-sringas on each side, and many minor spirelets or sringas. These minor spirelets are of varying sizes (see Deva 1987:98).  The sikhara’s main stem has twelve compressed stories (bhumis), which are specified by eleven semicircular bhumi-alakas. Each bhumi-alaka has a kapota. There are chaitya-arches covering the sikhara (see Deva 1987:98).

The wall or jangha has three rows of sculptures, all equal in size. The boundaries are marked by two series of moldings. The lower series has a projecting band of kirttimukhas. There is a frieze of rosettes below (see Deva 1987:98). The upper series has a projecting faschia that is decorated with stenciled scrolls, which have a ruffled triangular design below. The first series of moldings repeats above the third row of sculptures (see Deva 1987:98). A broad recess showing diamonds in niches is interceded by a pair of kapotas that make up the varandika mouldings of the eave-cornice that separates the wall (jangha) from the sikhara (Deva 1987:98). Balustrades on the five transepts and facades of the mandapa and porch show four moldings. The balconied windows are above these balustrades and the windows have ribbed eaves supported on pillars with atlantean brackets (Deva 1987:98). There are elephant figures found carved in the round, supported by the corners of the eaves. This is similar to the design of the Visvanatha temple.

The north and south faces a vertical row of four sculptured niches that are shown on the roof the vestibule, which is above the eave-cornice (Deva 1987:98). The top of the sculptured niches has a pyramidal roof. Three rows of framed niches, which are behind the four sculptured niches, rise to the gable of the front antefix, which is an ornamented above the top horizontal molding. This particular antefix has a lion figure. There are two rows of sculptured niches on the front of the roof. These niches have an ascending row of four pediments (Deva 1990:150).

The roof over the transepts starts with a row of sculptured niches. There are pyramidal rooflets on either side of the row of niches. Above the niches are four pediments. The lowest pediment on either side is beside a balconied window, while the upper pediments “are adorned at the terminal ends by model pyramidal rooflets” (Deva 1987:99).

The roof of the maha- mandapa has a dome in the place of a point on a pyramidal shape, which is made of “pyramidal rooflets converging to the crown of the roof” (Deva 1987:99). There are four rooflets that form the base horizontal row. Two of these rooflets are on either side of the central pediments. Over the rooflets is a pyramid made of four other horizontal rows of rooflets (Deva 1987:99). The rooflets are arranged symmetrically in vertical and horizontal rows, marking diagonal progressions, which converge to the crown of the maha-mandapa roof (Deva 1987:99). The roof of the mandapa is similar to the roof the maha-mandapa. The main difference between the two roofs is that the roof of the mandapa is smaller.

The porch is a smaller arrangement similar to that of the mandapa roof. A row of sculptured niches is on a pediment. On each side of the row is a pyramidal rooflet. A bell-rooflet occurs at the roof between the pediment and crowning member of the roof (Deva 1987:99). The bell-rooflet occurs on all four sides at the same level, each with a pyramidal rooflet.

The terrace of the jagati (platform) is entered through a flight of steps, the last two steps being represented as moon-stones. The temple is entered through a makara-torana (an ornamental entrance) of four loops. The upper edges of the loops are decorated and the junctions of the loops carry long pendants that resemble pinecones (Deva 1990:151). Two figures of Siva-Parvati are on the sides of the makaras niches. The inner face is Lakshmi-Narayana on the right and on the left is Brahma-Brahmani (Deva 1990:151).

The mandapa has eight pillars and four pilasters. The pillars and pilasters are similar to the ones in the porch (Deva 1987:96). There is an abacus with a divine couple above the atlantean brackets on a pair of pillars. The cornice of the mandapa makes a square shape, as the cornice reduces the length. Scrolls and kirttimukhas cut off the corners, changing the square into a circle shape. The ceiling has a circular design also, with eight cusped flowers. The ceiling has large void in its centre, which represents the seed-pod of a floral pattern (Deva 1990:152).

The maha-mandapa’s hall is a slight variation of a rectangular plan as it has a rectangle shape along with protruding niches in each corner. The ceiling is supported on the walls and atlantean brackets of the pilasters (Deva 1987:102). There is a beam that the brackets and walls hold, which is 18” high and has the common icon of stenciled scrolls, along with a band of kirttimukhas. A cornice surmounts the beam and has floral and geometrical designs and a lotus petal band. Above this cornice are “three corbelled courses of ribbed rafters simulating timber construction” (Deva 1987:102), similar to that of the Lakshama and Visvanatha temples.

There are two pairs of pilasters from the entrance from the hall to the transepts. The pilasters are of the bhadraka variety (Deva 1990:155). In the space between the two pilasters are two nymph figures on lotus leaves. The balconied openings are on two pillars and pilasters with the upper half resting above the asanapatta and the lower half is below the asanapatta (Deva 1990:155).

The pillars of the vestibule have octagonal shafts; they have sixteen sides with circular sections that rest on a heavy octagonal base (Deva 1987:102). The pilasters of the vestibule are beside the sanctum doorway. They resemble the transepts of the maha-mandapa. However, they support an attic section. Their base rests on the back of elephant figures (Deva 1987:102). The eastern side of the shaft has a picture of a Siva door-keeper and the outer side has a female chauri-bearer (Deva 1987:102).

Steps leading to the doorway of the sanctum are four stepped moonstones with conch-shells. The depiction on the lintel of the doorway is of Siva riding a bull. Brahma is on his right and Vishnu on his left and attendant divinities are in niches and recesses. The doorway itself is made of nine sakhas. The first and seventh are carved with stenciled scrolls, while the second and sixth have dancing asparases. The third and fifth have vyalas and the fourth has mithunas and has a circular capital. The eighth and ninth are decorated with lotus petals and scrolls in bold relief (see Deva 1987:102-103).

The ceiling of the entrance to the sanctum is plain, but the ceiling of the cella is decorated with lotus flowers and scrolls. The inner walls of the sanctum are plain. A sandstone pithika supports a marble Siva-linga and is enshrined in the middle of the sanctum (Deva 1990:155).

The sanctum rests on a high adhishthana, a basement of a temple that supports a wall, pillar or pilaster and consists of distinct molded tiers (Deva 1990:395) and the sanctum has adhishthana moldings of pitha (pedestal) and vedibandha (Deva 1990:155). The pitha moldings have elephants, horses and men, erotic scenes and kapotapali. Kapotapali marks the plinth level (Deva 1990:155).

The architecture of the Kandariya Mahadeva is complicated and covered in various images and sculptures. While most of the images on the interior are of Siva or refer to Siva, on the exterior can be found many erotic depictions, for which the Kandariya Mahadeva is well known.


Alles, Gregory D (1988) Surface, Space, and Intention: The Parthenon and the Kandariya Mahadeva. Chicago: University of   Chicago Press.

Alles, Gregory D (1993) A Fitting Approach to God: On Entering the Western Temples at Khajuraho. Chicago: University of     Chicago Press.

Baumer, Bettina (1999) Review: untitled. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Berleant, Arnold (2000) The Aesthetic Field: A Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience. Christchurch: Cybereditions      Corporation.

Desai, Devangana (1990) Social Dimensions of Art in Early India. New Delhi: Social Scientist.

Deva, Krishna (1987) Khajuraho. Singapore: Brijbasi Printers Private Ltd.

Deva, Krishna (1990) Temples of Khajuraho volume 1. Janpath: The Director General Archaeological Survey of India.

Elgood, Heather (2000) Hinduism and the Religious Arts. London: Continuum International Publishing.

Jones, Clifford R (1973) Source Materials for the Consturction of the Natyamandapa in the Silparatna and the    Tantrasamuccaya Silpa Bhagam. Ann Arbor: American Oriental Society.

Kelley, David H; Milone, E.F; Aveni, A. F (2005) Exploring Ancient Skies: An Encyclopedic Survey of Archaeoastronomy.    New York: Springer-Verlag.

Kulke, Hermann; Rothermund, Dietmar (1997) History of India. London: Routledge.

Lippe, Aschwin (1975) Some South Indian Icons. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Meister, Michael W (1979) Juncture and Conjunction: Punning and Temple Architecture. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Read, Kay A (1995) Sun and Earth Rulers: What the Eyes Cannot See in Mesoamerica. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stadtner, Donald M (1999) Review: untitled. Michigan: Regents of the University of Michigan.

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Chandella kingdom



Visvanatha temple




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Cara Horwood (March 2010) who solely responsible for its contents.

The Jagganatha Temple

The Jagganatha Temple is a major Hindu temple and religious shrine located in Puri. Puri is a city in the eastern Indian state of Orissa on the Bay of Bengal. Puri is the modern name of this holy city, yet a large number of pilgrims call it Jagganatha Puri. Jagganatha Temple is the most famous temple in Orissa, and one of the most famous in India (Fabri 103). The word Jagganatha refers to Natha (master) of Jagat (universe). The origin of the Jagganatha cult has been traced back to time of the Veda (Pasayat 5). The city and temple is considered by Hindus to be one of the four dhams in India. The dhams are believed to be the abodes of Hindu gods, and the holiest places of pilgrimage (Patnaik 1). The building of the temple was started by the Ganga king Chodagangadeva, but scholars are not unanimous regarding the period of its construction (Satapathy 46). Although the exact date is debatable, construction began sometime in the 11th to 12th century. The temple construction was finished by Chodagangadeva’s descendant Raja Ananga Bhima Dev III (Pasayat 5).

Jagganatha Temple is a huge building that dominates the seaside town, and the tower can be seen from seven miles away (Fabri 148). The temple has a flight of stairs with 22 steps and measures 63 meters in height. The temple complex covers an area of over 400,000 square feet, and is surrounded by a high fortified wall. The outer wall is heavily decorated with carved divine figures and other floral and geometrical motifs and measures 202.7 x 196.3 meters (Patel 72). The complex contains at least 120 temples and shrines. The main temple is a curvilinear temple and on the top is the srichaka (an eight spoke wheel). The temple tower is on an 8 meter elevated platform (Patel 71). The temple has four gateways at each cardinal direction. The Singha Dwar (lion gate) is the eastern gate, the Aswa Dwar (horse gate) is the southern gate, the Vyaghra Dwar (tiger gate) is the western gate, and the Hasti Dwar (elephant gate) is the northern gate. Centuries of whitewashing the temple has obliterated almost all evidence of its antiquity and art. The whitewashing has built up a layer of surface coating estimated at over a foot in depth which hides the facade (Fabri 103). The temple is built of Khondalite stone without the use of mortar; instead iron dowels have been used to keep the stone blocks in position. There has been profuse damage done to the temple structure overtime caused by the iron dowels oxidizing, water seepage and structural pressure (Patel 72). There have been a lot of conservation efforts in the recent years to repair damages to the temple. During the process of conservation the original look of the temple was maintained, nothing new was added nor was the original look disfigured at any time.

The Jagganatha Temple in Puri, renowned for its chariot festival, known as the Ratha Yatra; Odisha, India
The Jagganatha Temple in Puri, renowned for its chariot festival, known as the Ratha Yatra; Odisha, India

The temple is revered as the home of Lord Jagganatha, the Lord of the Universe; his origin and worship is shrouded by myths, legends and traditions (Mahalik 1). Lord Jagganatha is a revered and ancient deity, who was originally worshiped by tribes (Mahalik 1). In the temple there are wooden images or statues of the worshipped deities that exhibit strong tribal influences. The deities Jagganatha and his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, are carved out of wood and are peculiarly handless. The legend goes that a carpenter Vishwakarma carved the deities out of a log. He instructed everyone not to disturb him while he was in the temple carving. Unfortunately the queen got impatient and went in the temple before Vishwakarma was finished. He was so upset that he left without finishing and that is why the statues are unfinished. The deific images are carved out of wood from the specially-grown Daru (Neem) trees every 12 to 19 years according to the lunar calendar (Patnaik 4). When the old statues of Jagganatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra are replaced with new ones the brahmapadartha (the life substance) is taken out of the old statues and is placed in the new statues (Satapathy 159). The three deities are kept in the Garbhagrha (sanctum sanctorum) of the temple unless they are taken out for a festival (Barik 19). The persons entrusted with the Sevapuja (ritual services/activities) of the deities are known as Sevakas. The tradition plays a pivotal role in the temple and the Sevapuja rites are not only numerous but also remarkably varied (Pasayat 6).

It is said that there are twelve important yatras (festivals) celebrated at the Jagganatha temple, but there are many more observed at the temple. The temple is most famous for the Ratha Yatra. The Ratha Yatra is one of the holiest rituals in Hinduism; it is also known as the Car or Chariot Festival. It is an annual festival held in Puri at the Jagganatha temple on Asadha Sulkla Dwitiya, which is the second day of the bright fortnight of Asadha (June-July). On this day, the three deities are taken out of the temple and loaded onto very large wooden rathas (chariots). The deities are carried to their rathas in a traditional ceremonial manner called Pahandi when Lord Jagganatha and Balabhadra are swung back and forth. Tradition states that Lord Balabhadra comes out first, followed by Devi Subhadra and then Lord Jagganatha (Barik 20). Lord Jagganatha’s ratha is known as Nandighosha; it has 16 chakras (wheels) and the colors of the fabrics that cover it are red and yellow. Lord Balabhadra’s ratha is known as Taladhwaja; it has 14 chakras and the fabrics that cover it are red and green. Devi Subhadra’s ratha is known as Debadalana; it has 12 chakras and the fabrics are red and black (Barik 20). Four small brass statues of the deities Sudarsana, Madanamohana, Lord Rama and Lord Krsna are also put onto the rathas. Once all the deities are placed on their respective rathas the floor of each ratha is swept by the Gajapati Maharaja of Puri. “This signifies that even the highest sovereign power of the state is only a sevaka (servant) before the almighty” (Barik 20). The rathas are then each attached to four horses and ropes are tied and then pulled by devotees irrespective of caste, creed, sect, religion or sex (Patnaik 4). The rathas are taken to Sri Gundicha Temple, which is about three kilometers away from the Jagganatha Temple, along the Bada Danda (Grand Road). The festival ends once the deity statues have been brought back to the Jagganatha temple; the festival lasts for nine days. Another Jagganatha festival, the Chandana Yatra begins the construction of the rathas. It starts from Akshya Trutiya which is the third day of the bright fortnight of Baisakha (April-May) (Barik 18). And Niladri Mahodaya is celebrated on the eighth day of the bright fortnight of Baisakha (April-May). The festival is to celebrate the day Lord Jagganatha was first worshipped in this Kshetra (holy precinct). For this festival, an abhisek (bath) is performed and 108 pots of consecrated water are offered to the deities (Barik 19).

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Hindu Pilgrimages:



Shri Badrinathji




Shri Kedarnathji





Hindu Yatras (Festivals):

Amarnath Yatra

Chardham Yatra

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra

Vaishno Devi Yatra



Hindu Temples:

Angkor Wat


BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Toronto)

Gurmandir Temple (Toronto)

Noteworthy Websites Related to Jagganatha Temple,9171,892784-2,00.html

References and Further Recommended Reading

Barik, Sarmistha (2007) Festivals in Shri Jagannath Temple. Department of Information an Public Relations Government of Orissa.

Bhardwaj, Surinder Mohan (1968) Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India. University of California

Fabri, Charles Louis (1974) History of The Art of Orissa. London: Longman Group Ltd.

Michell, George (1977) The Hindu Temple. Toronto: Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd.

Patel, Dr. C.B. (2005) Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri and Its Conservation Scenario. Department of Information and Public Relations Government of Orissa.

Patnaik, Jitendra Narayan (2008) The Four Dhams. Department of Information and Public Relations Government of Orissa.

Patnaik, Lalmohan (2008) The Holy City Puri. Department of Information and Public Relations Government of Orissa.

Pattanayak, Pramod Chandra (2008) The Unique God, Lord Jagannath. Department of Information and Public Relations Government of Orrisa.

Satapathy, Niranjan (2000) Religious Life in Orissa. Calcutta: R.N. Bhatacharya Antiquarian Booksellers, Publishers & Exporters

Written by Jacinda Foulkes (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Nagara and Dravida Temples

The nagara and dravida temples are mostly identified with the northern and southern temple styles respectively. The terms nagara, and dravida which are found in the Sastra texts do not function as all-embracing stylistic categories, but indicate a general impulse to classify temples according to their typological features (Michell 88). [for discussions of nagara and dravida terminology for classifying temples see Kramrisch 1991]. Discussing the role that religion plays in the day to day life of a Hindu is imperative to the history of the architectural choices. The rituals and ceremonies that lie at the very core of the religious life of Hinduism, as well as the more elusive ideas and beliefs that accompany divine personages, have fundamentally influenced the forms of temple architecture (Michell 61).

An important aspect of the design of the ground plan is that it is intended to lead from the temporal world to the eternal. A typical Hindu temple consists of the following major elements – an entrance, often with a porch, one or more attached or detached mandapas or halls; the inner sanctum called the garbhagrha, literally “womb chamber”; and the tower build directly above the garbhagrha. “The fundamental preoccupation of Hindu thought is with mans release (moksha) from an illusory world into which he is recurringly born. The architecture of the Hindu temple symbolically represents this quest by setting out to dissolve the boundaries between man and the divine” (Michell 61). [Information can be found on these symbolic ideas and beliefs are found in the Epics and the Puranas, see Michell 1977] For the upper classes this place of contact was usually the temple, in the form of either daily worship or a special occasion or celebration. “To the traditional Hindu the religious and the secular life are never truly distinguished, and the ordinary procedures of everyday life necessitate frequent contacts with the divine” (Michell 49).

There is ancient literature that describes to the reader the merit that is due to the patron of a temple- a motivator for one to build such a place: “Let him who wishes to enter the worlds that are reached by meritorious deeds of piety and charity build a temple to the gods” suggests the Brhatsamhita, while a later text Silpaprakasa –a manuscript specifically on temple buildings “ensures that the patron will always have peace, wealth, grain and sons” (Michell 60). Fame and immortality might have been a motivator to build a grand temple, Michell suggests that such an idea is mentioned in the Silpaprakasa; “everything vanishes with time, only a monument lasts forever” (Michell 60). [For more information on the Silpaprakasa and Brhatsamhita see Dowson 1982].

The distinct temple style which emerges is the nagara style, which is typically characterized by its distinctive sikhara, a superstructure or tower.

A Nagara sikhara (Meister, 1989-99)

The typical Hindu temple of northern India, the Nagara temple consists of a small square-shaped sanctuary called the garbhagrha, housing the main image, preceded by one or more adjoining pillared porches or halls, which are connected to the sanctum by an open or closed vestibule. The entrance doorway of the sanctum is usually richly decorated with figures and geometric ornamentation. Above the main sanctuary rises the superstructure (sikhara), which is usually curvilinear in outline and possessing smaller rectilinear sikharas. The whole may be raised on a terrace (jagati) with attendant shrines at the corners (Meister 1979).

A nagara temple plan(Meister, 1979).

One typical form of the North Indian style is seen in the early temples at Orissa, such as the graceful 8th-century Parasuramesvara Temple at Bhubaneswar, a city that was a great centre of temple-building activity.

South Indian temple architecture, or dravida, style—with its commanding gopuras (gateways)—can be seen in the Rajarajesvara and the Gangaikondacolapuram temples. This style is characterized by its pyramidal, or kutina-type, tower superstructure (Michell 1979­).

Dravida temple outline as well as example of its kutina-type, tower superstructure (Tartakov, 1980)

The South Indian temple consists essentially of a square-chambered sanctuary topped by a superstructure, tower, and an attached pillared porch or hall (mandapa, or mantapam), within a rectangular court. The external walls of the temple are segmented by pilasters and carry niches housing sculpture (Branfoot 2002). The superstructure above the sanctuary consists of an arrangement of gradually receding stories in a pyramidal shape. Each story is defined by a wall of miniature shrines, square at the corners and rectangular with barrel-vault roofs at the centre. The tower is topped by a dome-shaped cupola and a crowning pot and finial. The South Indian style became increasingly elaborate—the complex of temple buildings enclosed by the court became larger, and a number of successive enclosures, each with its own gateway (gopura), were added (Michell 1977). [Information on the dravida style of temples can be found in Tartakov 1977]

Repetition is inevitably one of the factors that explain the stylistic evolutions of Hindu temples. The southern temples created their wall systems by the repetition of projections that framed the recesses working its way up the wall, there were pairs of pilasters marking each change in the wall plane. The dravida style developed a complex system of breaking up the plane of the wall into little straight sections until the temple plan almost approaches a circle (Michell 1977). Fundamental characteristics of these temples is the choice of architectural forms and how many of these details continue to be used in different way other then their original purpose. For example, the northern (naraga) temples used the horseshoe shaped for arched windows, however it can be found on later temples superimposed into the mouldings or onto the superstructure decorations.

The temple as one can see plays an extremely important role in the lives of everyday Hindus. When one takes a deeper look at the various aspects of the temple; style, purpose as well


Branfoot, Crispin. ‘Expanding Form’: The Architectural Sculpture of the South Indian Temple, ca.1500-170. Artibus Asiae, Vol. 62, No. 2. (2002), pp. 189-245.

Dowson, John. (1982) A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History and Literature. Calcutta: Rupa & Co.

Lahiri ,Nayanjot; Elisabeth A. Bacus. Exploring the Archaeology of Hinduism

World Archaeology, Vol. 36, No. 3, The Archaeology of Hinduism. (Sep., 2004), pp. 313-325.

Meister, Michael. (1988-89) Prasada as Palace: Kutina Origins of the Nagara Temple. Artibus Asiae, Vol. 49, No. 3/4. (1988 – 1989), pp. 254-280.

Meister, Michael. Matala and Practice in Nagara Architecture in North India

Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 99, No. 2. (Apr. – Jun., 1979), pp. 204-219.

Michell, George. (1977). The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sharma, Arvind. On Hindu, Hindustin, Hinduism and Hindutva Numen, Vol. 49, No. 1. (2002),pp.1-36.

Sinha ,Ajay J. Architectural Invention in Sacred Structures: The Case of Vesara Temples of Southern India. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 55, No. 4.

(Dec., 1996), pp. 382-399.

Tartakov, Gary Michael. The Beginning of Dravidian Temple Architecture in Stone. Artibus Asiae, Vol. 42, No. 1. (1980), pp. 39-99.

Related Topics







Related Websites

Written by Maddie Fache (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Temples Of Khajuraho

In central India, the temple city of Khajuraho is located in the Chhatarpur District of Madhya Pradesh (Deva 1990:1) [See Munsterberg (1970:258-259) for the location of Khajuraho]. The city of Khajuraho has a large group of medieval temples which depict a perceptible record of one of the most flourishing moments of India’s art (Deva 1990:1). These temples are categorized as the North Indian temple or the Nagara style, which are elevated mount type temples [There are mainly three types of temples in India. A Nagara type or the northern Indian style, a Dravida type or the southern Indian style, and a Vesara type or the middle region, mixed type, see Gupta (2002:13-14)]. On the walls of the temples, numerous deities, celestial beauties, dancers, animals and so forth are carved animatedly and vividly. Although these temples are well-known for their erotic sculptures and attract the common tourist, such categories are only a small percentage of the total aesthetic work (Deva 1986:7).

These temples were built during the reign of the Chandella kingdom, which rose during early tenth century as a powerful central Indian region with one of their capitals at Khajuraho (Deva 1990:2). According to a legend, the first king of the Chandella, Chandravarman, was born as a son of the moon-god (Chandra) and Hemavati, a young widowed daughter of a Brahmin minister. This strong half-divine king was told to build eighty-five temples with a tank and a garden attached to each at Khajuraho as a part of ceremonies with his queen (Deva 1986:13).

However, according to the historical epigraphs of Khajuraho, an influential king, Yasovarman (c. 925-950), built a spectacular temple of Visnu, the Lakshmana temple, which was the most adorned and developed temple of its age in Central India [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:417-441), Lakshmana Temple]. The son of Yasovarman, Dhanga (c. 950-1002), succeeded the reign and made the Chandella the strongest kingdom in North India (Deva 1986:14). During his sovereignty, the Saiva temple of Visvanatha, the Jaina temple of Parsvanatha, and an unidentified third temple were built (Deva 1986:15) [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:442-450) for Parsvanatha Temple, and (451-458) for Visvanatha Temple]. Dhanga’s son, Ganda (c. 1002-1017), governed during a peaceful era and built the Vaishnava temple and a Sun temple, now called the Chitragupta [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:467-470), Chitragupta Temple]. Vidyadha (c. 1017- 1029), the son of Ganda, became the most powerful ruler in the history of the Chandella Kingdom, and built Kandariya Mahadeva temple, the largest temple of Khajuraho [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:471-485), Kandariya Mahadeva Temple]. Following Vidyadha’s death, the kingdom lost power by degrees. Vidyadha’s son and grandson, Vijayapala (c. 1029-1051) and Devavarman (c. 1051), were both feeble kings. Although the next ruler, Kirttivarman (c. 1070-1098), another strong king, built the Vaishnava temple and the Chaturbhuja temple, the Chandella dynasty began to decline in power [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:496-499), Chaturbhuja Temple]. Thereafter, mediocre kings prevailed and the political prestige of Khajuraho waned. However, Khajuraho remained the religious capital until the last days of Chandella’s kingdom, and new temples were continually built until the close of the twelfth century (Deva 1986:17). The original of eighty temples, only twenty survived to contemporary day (Craven 188).

By observing each category of sculptures, one can learn much about medieval Indian society and lifestyle. In the numerous sculptures, the architects and sculptors are often portrayed. Groups of them are carrying hammers or chisels and the master, or senior architects are shown drawing a design or supervising (Deva 1986:165) [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:518), the image of architectural members]. Distinctive in their appearance, some of the senior architects have beards, which can be considered as the symbol of power as same as today in India.

Hunters are often depicted with men carrying their quarry on a pole. Although professional hunters were probably regarded as belonging to the lower castes or aboriginal class, pig-sticking and deer hunting were popular with princes or wealthy young men as an outdoor activity (Deva 1986:167). As an interesting depiction, deer are hunted by people with the help of tame deer (Deva 1986:165) [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:518), the image of deer-hunting].

Various warriors such as wrestlers, acrobats, gladiators and soldiers, are also popular depictions throughout the temples, (Deva 1986:165). While the hunters carry bows and arrows, warriors frequently carry swords and shields, or daggers and lances (Deva 1986:166). Horses and elephants are often depicted as vehicles for those warriors [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:420), the image of soldiers]. According to Deva, there are mainly two types of elephants, namely those that serve as vehicles for people and other ferocious ones that trample people. The fierce elephant’s brutality was used for sport and punishment in medieval India. For instance, a criminal with handcuffs might be chased by fierce elephants. If he was able to escape the elephant, he was freed from his sentence; however, if he could not escape, there was no way to survive (1986:167).

Musicians and dancers are one of the most commonly portrayed categories in Khajuraho. As a feature of gender distinction, the drummers and musicians are males, and the singers and dancers are females (Deva 1986:166) [See Deva (1986:72-73), the image of dancers and musicians]. Although some of the performers are regarded as amateurs or belonging to the indigenous tribes, most of them would have been in the professional class. As a trait of them, in casual scenes are often depicted. One put on eye make up or set her hair with a mirror, and the other tries to pick a thorn out of her foot [See the picture, Munsterberg (1970:97)]. While a barbers comb one’s hair, the girl feeds a birds sitting on her shoulder. Barbers often accompany these women performers or their peers. Cutting the nails, painting the feet, or doing minor surgery were typical roles for the barbers. According to Chandella records, barbers were revered among the most prestigious professions and the occupation still exists in rustic areas in India (Deva 1986:166).

Parades are also common motifs at Khajuraho and there appear to be mainly two types of marches: the secular and the religious. The former illustrates gaiety and revelry, and often dance and music as well. By contrast, the religious type shows devotees accompanying a religious teacher or a deity with dance and music on a pilgrimage. In the parades, the important person is carried by litter on the back of elephant and an attendant sits outside. Usually, princes ride horses and an umbrella is carried over their head by a vassal to indicate their royalty (Deva 1986:166).

Due to its erotic sculptures, Khajuraho is renowned throughout the world. Their blunt, yet scintillating, erotic expressions attract visitors, but at the same time they also puzzle and confuse (Deva 1986:171) [See Deva (1986:170-201), the image of erotic depictions]. According to Deva, it is hard to find a temple that does not have at least some figures of “couples” (mithuna) as adornment, because contemporaries believed these motifs would protect them and bring happiness (1986:205) [Also check Gupta (2002:32), Mithuna and Maithuna scenes in art].

As regard to sexual portraits, there are several interpretations by scholars. According to the Hindu philosophy, sex represents the union of men and women and that is the symbol of non-dualism which designates the goal of Hinduism which is known as liberation or moksa (Deva 1867:171). Another explanation takes them as the perceptible text of the Kamasastra which is the doctrine of the second stage, or householder stage, which explores knowing kama (the pleasure of love), is considered as one of the goals of that stage. Thus, creating sexual depiction was part of their religious life, and probably there were few restrictions or inhibitions dealing with sex in medieval India (Deva 1986:171). However, in the erotic sculptures, one can see some women covering their face with their hands. This gesture may be interpreted as illustrating that although sex was not taboo, feelings of shyness or timidity still existed in the society.

Although the temples of Khajuraho are often focused on primarily for their erotic embellishment, the other enormous part of their depictions often represents significant aspects of the medieval India as vividly as the erotic sculptures. The amazing sculptural art of these temples conveys with great vitality, the sensitivity and lifestyle of medieval India to us today.


Bhatia, Gautam (2000) Eternal stone : great buildings of India. New York: Penguin Books

Campbell, Joseph (1995) The Art of Indian Asia. New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Craven, Roy C. (1976) A Concise History of Indian Art. New York: Praeger Publishers

Gupta, S. P. (2002) Elements of Indian Art. New Delhi: Indraprastha Museum of Art and Archaeology & D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Deva, Krishna (1986) Khajuraho. New Delhi: Brijbasi Printers Private Ltd.

_____ (1990) Temples of Khajuraho volume 1. New Delhi: VAP Enterprises

_____ (1990) Temples of Khajuraho volume 2. New Delhi: VAP Enterprises

Hitchcock, H.R. (1963) World Architecture: An Illustrated History. Italy: The Hamlyn Publishing Group LTD.

Munsterberg, Hugo (1970) Art of India and Southeast Asia. New York: Harry N. Abrams, INC.

Singh, Kavita (2000) Indian Art : forms, concerns and development in historical perspective. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers

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Article written by Asako Okuyama (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.