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Temple Architecture
Dravidian Temple Architecture

The Dravidian style is the typical South Indian style temple that is usually made from stone. The temple shape may be rectangular, square, star-shaped, or octagonal. These temples usually have gopurams, which are large towers over the entrances; a vimana, which is the tower over the sanctum (the Deities); and large pillared halls and corridors. The gopurams were in the past always the tallest structures in town.

The most sacred place is the pitha (altar), or pedestal, of the Deity. The pitha is in the sanctum sanctorum (inner sanctum) called the garbha-griha (womb house). This is where the altar of the main deity of the temple is located. The garbha-griha or inner sanctum of the main shrine is usually semi-dark and has no sculptures, except the main deity. This part of the temple must be constructed first and before construction begins there has to be a significant ceremony known as impregnating (garbhadhana or garbha-nyasa). There is usually a pradakshina path that enables pilgrims to go around the deities.

The sanctum sanctorum (central shrine) is topped by a pyramidal tower several stories high called vimana or sikhara. It is crowned by a chakra in a Lord Vishnu temple and a trident in a Lord Siva temple.

The inner sanctum is surrounded by subsidiary shrines, mandapas (halls), and pillared corridors. Mandapa (mantapa in Kannada) means any roofed, open or enclosed pavilion (hall) resting on pillars, standing independently or connected to the sanctum of the temple. Mandapas are one or more entrance porches or halls that lead to the inner sanctum.

The inner sanctum and the pavilion in front of the main altar is connected by a vestibule or porch called ardha mandapa or sometimes antarala. There is a rectangular hall in front of the sanctum (mukha mandapa) where the devotees stand and view the main deity of the temple. The nityarchana mandapa is where the daily worship of the small (moveable) representative of the main deity is done. The flight of stairs that connects the first prakara with the sanctum sanctorum is called sopana. In front of this flight of stairs is the main mandapa.

The subsidiary shrines or altars contain other deities, including the consort of the main deity (Lakshmi or Parvati). The shrine dedicated to the consort of the main deity usually has her own sanctum (garbha-griha) and ambulatory pathway (pradakshina-patha). In some larger temple they have their own halls and pavilions.

Many temples have several halls such as: ranga-mandapa-usually a large hall with intricately carved pillar used as a large audience pavilion, yajna-hall for occasional sacrifices, nrittya mandapa-hall for dance recitals, vahanamandapa-place where the festival vehicles are kept, kalyana-mandapa marriage hall, asthana-mandapa-where the processional deity holds alankaramandapa where the processional deity is dressed before being taken on procession, vasanta-mandapa-hall in the middle of the temple tank used for festivals, and the utsava manadapa-hall used on festive occasions. Temples will also usually have a treasury, a kitchen (paka-sala), store room (ugrana), dining hall (Ramanuja-kuta in a Vaishnava temple and Siva-kuta in a Siva temple).

In the temple yard outside the main entrance of the inner sanctum is the flagpost (dhvaja-stambha) and a platform for food-offerings (bali-pitha). Both of the-se are usually right next to each other directly in front of the doorway. Near here is the vahana-mandapa, where the carrier (vahana) of the deity, Garuda in a Vishnutemple or Nandi in a Siva Temple.

Each hindu temple usually has a temple tank (teppakulam), flower garden (nandavana), and temple chariot (ratha). On festival days the processional deity is paraded around town on the chariot. Many thousands of people join the festival.

This entire area is surrounded by high walls (prakara) with entrances through towering gateways (gopurams). The gateway facing the sanctum is called mahadvara and is usually the main entrance to the temple. These rectangular, pyramidal towers are often 50 metres high with intricate sculptures of gods, demons, humans, and animals on them. They can also be painted very bright colors.




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