Temple Architecture of India

The Hindu temples fall into three basic categories depending on their architecture. Hence, Temple Architecture of India includes:

B. Cave Temples:

  1. Cave Temples form the earliest form of surviving temples in India.

B. Rock Cut Temples:

  1. These followed Cave temples.

C. Structural (Free Standing) Temples

  1. Prominent types included Nagara, Dravida, Vesara
  2. Latest and most easily visible form of temple architecture.


A. Hindu Cave Temples:

These form the earliest form of surviving temples.

Ellora Caves

  • dhumar-lenaThere are 17 Hindu Caves from Cave 13-29.
  • The first nine caves were constructed during 6th century.
  • The later caves such as 14, 15 and 16 were constructed during the Rashtrakuta period.
  • Cave 29, also called Dhumar Lena, is one of earliest excavations in Ellora and among the largest. Dhumar Lena is integrated with a natural waterfall, called “Vale Ganga”


Udayagiri Caves – Vidisha MP

  • udayagiri_cave_They were constructed in Gupta Period during reign of ChandraGupta –II (c. 375-415) and Kumaragupta I (c. 415-55).
  • Cave 13 has a large statute of Narayana(Vishnu) in resting position.
  • The site is notable for its ancient monumental relief sculpture of Hindu god Vishnu, in his incarnation as the boar-headed Varaha, rescuing the earth symbolically represented by Bhudevi clinging to the boar’s tusk as described in Hindu mythology.


Elephanta Caves

  • ele6th century Shiva temple in the Elephanta caves is one of the most exquisitely carved temples in India.
  • 24-feet high bust of the deity in three-headed form.
  • The Maheshamurti is built deep into a recess.
  • There are two groups of caves. To the east, Stupa Hil contains two caves, one of which is unfinished, and several cisterns. To the west, the larger group consists of five rock-cut Hindu shrines.
  • The main cave is universally famous for its carvings to the glory of Shiva, who is exalted in various forms and act ions.
  • Image symbolizes the fierce, feminine and meditative aspects of the great ascetic and the three heads represent Lord Shiva as Aghori, Ardhanarishvara and Mahayogi.
  • Aghori is the aggressive form of Shiva where he is intent on destruction.
  • Ardhanarishvara depicts Lord Shiva as half-man/half-woman signifying the essential unity of the sexes.
  • Mahayogi posture symbolises the meditative aspect of the God.
  • Other sculptures in these caves depict Shiva’s cosmic dance of primordial creation and destruction and his marriage to Parvati. 


Varaha Cave temple – KanchiPuram

  • 640px-vsvarahacaveVaraha Temple is located att Mamallapuram, in Kanchipuram T.N
  • The most prominent sculpture in the cave is that of Lord Vishnu in the incarnated form of a Varaha or boar lifting Bhudevi, the mother earth goddess from the sea.
  • The temple evolved during the rule of Pallava kings Mahendra Varman I and Rajasimha or Narasimhavarman I.


B. Hindu Rock-Cut Temples:

Kailasnatha Temple- Ellorakailasa

  • It was constructed by  Krishna I of Rashtrakuta.
  • The Kailasa Temple is notable for its vertical excavation—carvers started at the top of the original rock, and excavated downward.
  • The traditional methods were rigidly followed by the master architect which could not have been achieved by excavating from the front

Ratha Temples at Mahabalipuram

  • Constructed by Pallavas


C. Structural (Free Standing) Temples

The structural temples of India are so prominent that architectural styles of temples is often associated only with the types of these structural temple. There are different architectural styles found in free standing temples in India with multiple subtypes available. Here, we shall deal with most prominent and macro level styles including:

    • Nagara Architectural style prominent in North India
    • Dravida Architectural Style prominent in South India
    • Vesra Style prominent in Deccan region


a. NAGARA STYLE- NORTH INDIAstructural-temple

  • Garbha-griha, which contains the main deity of the temple.
  • It has a tower called a vimana over it.
  • The ardha-mandapa and maha-mandapa are in front of the garbha-griha (inner sanctum).
  • The veranda next to the inside walls of the pradakshina(path for circumambulation) path.
  • Subsidiary deities and shrines dedicated to minor gods.
  • Mandap (pillared hall).
  • Shikaras(Spiral roof)



  • Mahakaleshwar temple, one of the 12 Jyotirlingas
  • Kal Bhairava temple, finds a mention in the Skanda Purana,
  • Mangalnath temple, regarded as the birthplace of Mars, according to the Matsya Purana.


  • Flourished in Bengal and Bihar under the Pala and the Sena rulers.
  • Nalanda was its most activecentre, whose influence was spread to Nepal, Myanmar and even Indonesia.


Example: Khajuraho Group of Monuments

  • Chandella dynasty- Rajput
  • Mentioned by
    • Al-Biruni, – Mahmud of Ghazni
    • Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveller in his memoirs
  • Consists of:
    • Hindu:
    • Jain: Parshvanath Temple, Adinath & Shantinath , Ghantai
  • 22 Temples
  • Common typology: they comprise an elevated substructure (platform), over which rises the body of the richly decorated building, the ‘jangha’, covered with several registers of sculpted panels on to which open-work galleries are opened. This is crowned by a series of bundled towers with curvilinear contours, the Sikharas
  • Constructed in Nagara style
  • Temples:
    • Lakshmana temple
    • Kandariya Mahadeva which is attributed to King Ganda
    • Chausath Yogini
    • Vishvanath
    • Duladeo (Duladeva)
    • Vishnu Temple @ chaturbhuj
  • architecture_of_the_khajuraho_temples


Sun Temple, Konârak

  • Built around 1250 – Eastern Ganga Dynasty
  • 24 wheels some 3 m in diameter, lavishly sculptured with symbolic motives referring to the cycle of the seasons and the months
  • Black Pagoda , White (Jagganath)
  • Mouth of river chandrabhaga
  • Kalinga Architecture
  • Erotic sculptures of maithunas

Other Examples:

  • Lingaraja- temple in Bhubneshwar.
  • Jagganath Temple in Puri
  • Konark – Sun temple
  • Mukteshwara temple in Bhubneshwar
  • Vishwanath temple at Banaras, Govinda temple at Mathura
  • Delwara Temple – Mount Abu, Rajasthan
  • Somnath – Gujarat
  • Kamakhya temple – Assam
  • Shankaracharya temple – kashmir
  • Kali – Kolkata



Dravidian style temples consist almost invariably of the four following parts:

  • The principal part, the temple itself, is called the Vimana (or Vimanam). It is always square in plan and surmounted by a pyramidal roof of one or more stories; it contains the cell where the image of the god is placed.
  • The porches or Mandapas, which always cover and precede the door leading to the cell.
  • Gate-pyramids or Gopurams, which are the principal features in the quadrangular enclosures that surround the more notable temples.
  • Pillared halls or Chaultris—properly Chawadis — used for various purposes, and which are the invariable accompaniments of these temples.


  • The temples by Pallavas fall into all 3 primary categories of temples. Their early kings constructed cave & rock cut temple and later kings constructed structural temples.
ROCK- CUT Structural (Free Standing)
·       610–690 CE ·       690–900 CE
·       Rath Temples – Mahabalipuram ·       Shore Temple – Mahabalipuram
·       @ Mahendravadi ·       Kailasanatha temple in Kanchipuram
· ·       Vaikuntha Perumal in Kanchipuram

Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram:

  • pancharathaConsists of:
    • PanchaRathas temple of pandvas
    • Mandapas(or rock-cut Caves are sanctuaries or temples covered with bas-reliefs),
    • Structural Temples (Shore Temple & Olakkannesvara Temple)
    • Giant open-air reliefs such as the famous ‘Descent of the Ganges’, and
    • The temple of Rivage, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva –cut stone

PanchRatha temple of Mahabalipuram

  • Point of transition between the earlier tradition of rock-carved cave temples and the later tradition of freestanding stone structures, of the type seen at the nearby Shore Temple
  • 7th century – Pallava Kings – Coromandel coast bay of bengal
  • Each resemble chariot and cut-off single granite rock (monolithic)
  • Structures named after 5 pandvas

Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram

  • 8th century – built with blocks of granite
  • Pallava dynasty (ruled from kanchipuram)

* Mahabalipuram = (previously called Mammallapuram)


cholaConsists of:

  • Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur- RajaRaja I (1010)
  • Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikondacholisvaram – Rajendra I
  • Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram- Rajaraja II –12th CE
  • All Shiva Temples & Dravidian Architecture



Group of Monuments at Hampihampi

  • Consists of:
    • Religious – Temples
    • Civil- Lotus mahal, Aqueducts and canals
    • Military- Elecphant stables
  • Hampi
    • Last capital of Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar
    • Bank of Tungabhadra
    • Iron-ore, manganese
  • Reign of Krishna Deva Raya (1509-30).- Apogee
  • Dravidian temples and palaces
  • Hampi, enriched by the cotton and the spice trade
  • Madurai – Meenakshi Temple
    • Has hall of thousand pillars


  • Virupaksha Temple,
  • Ramachandra temple (1513)
  • Hazara Rama temple (1520)
  • Hemakuta group of temples
    • Krishna Temple
    • Vittala Temple
  • Achyutaraya temple complex


  • Vesara is a combination of NAGARA & DRAVIDIAN temple styles
  • Hoysala temples at Belur, Halebidu and Somnathpura are supreme examples of this stylenagara-dravida-vesara


  • Originated in Aihole around A.D. 450 and was perfected in the neighboring villages of Badami and Pattadakal.

Group of Monuments at Pattadakal

  • Consists of:
    • 9 Hindu temples,
    • Jain sanctuary
  • Malaprabha River to the north,
  • Papanath temple, Pattadakkal
  • Virupaksha temple in Pattadakal
  • Lad Khan temple in Aihole
  • Durga temple in Aihole


The Temple of Virupaksha, Pattadakkalpattadakal1

  • Built c. 740 by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband’s victory over Pallavas of Kanchi.
  • Vesara Style (Nagara+Dravidian)
  • The Kailasantha temple at Ellora was built based on the model of Virupaksha temple. The architect of the temple was given the title as Tribhuvanacharya.

Papanatha temple

  • Vesara Style

Sangameshvara Temple

  • Chalukya King Vijayaditya Satyashraya ( 696-733)
  • Pure Dravidian

Mallikarjuna – pure dravidian

  • Temples of Galaganatha and of Kashi Vishveshvara, which are noteworthy for their square-shaped shikharas with curved edges.

Jain Temple:

  • Dravidian style by the Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta.
  • It consists of a mukhamantapa, a navaranga, shukanasa and garbhagriha. Its construction may be of the 9th century.

*Chalukyas of badami built caves

C2. HOYSALA style:

  • hoysalaContained features of both Nagara & Dravdian architectural styles.
  • To add to its distinctiveness, the Hoysala temple in plan composed of numerous cellas or garbha-grihas served by a common mandapa. The resulting outline thus emerges as a star.
  • Somnathpur Temple – Vishnu Temple – Hoysala
  • Lonar – Daitya Sudan
  • Built in form of irregular star
  • Hemadpanthi Style
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