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The ultimate origin of the Hindu temple is said to be the ancient crude circle of stones within which man enshrined sacred relics, human or divine. From vedic times (1500 -700 B.C) there had been a tradition of religious architecture. However construction was on a small and localized scale utilizing easily perishable materials like timber, plastic bricks, mud and clay.
The caves were naturally the earliest shrines. These stupas are the earliest shrines on record as well as in actual evidence. The expression ‘stupa' means a heap of grain or a mound of earth. As a heap of grain it was precious and as a mound of earth it was a monument.
The emperor Ashoka who ruled from the magnificent Pataliputra is credited with ordering the construction of the first significant stone structures in India in the 3rd century BC. These were termed as Chaityas or large rock-cut temples and then stupas or Commemoratie receptacles of his relics.
Stylistically, the structure of the temple originates from vedic stupa and functionally the enclosure of a temple is a survival of the vedic sacrificial arena i.e. Yajna sala.
Another innovation that was chronologically parallel to the Buddhist stupas was the excavated caves like those of Junnar (150 caves, near puna about 100 A.D.), Kanheri (eight caves near bombay about 150 - 189 A.D.), Ajanta (about 27 caves, the first centuries after christ) and Ellora (about 33 caves , about 550 - 750 A.D.). These caves were excavated from hard living rocks on the faces of hills. They were elaborately carved and richly ornamented by pillars, arches and pierced windows.
It is not to be imagined that the cave-shrines were the only kind of shrines that prevailed during those days. There must have been numerous shrines constructed of perisheble materials like wood, clay and bricks.
The next powerful rulers were the Guptas who reigned from about 4 - 7 centuries A.D. and whose power witnessed the re-emergence of great religious construction parallelled by a similar boom in south India. This was the classical of golden period when the art and architecture received strong encouragement. Naturally the post Gupta period in India was one where across the country acclaimed temple building occur.
The temple complex of the Chalukyas of Badami marks an important face in the evolution of temple architecture in India. It reveals numerous experiments in stylistic variation. Here, perhaps, was the origin of the classical Trichotomous classification of Indian temples into Nagara, Dravida and Vesara.
While this classification is neither neat nor absolute, it points to certain trends of stylistic variation, especially with regard to the sikhara treatment. This classification was regarded as valid and inclusive. It is said that the word Nagara actually means squarish, Vesara circular, and Dravida polygonal (6 or 8 sided). The buildings of Nagara style are quandrangular from the base to the top, those of the Dravida are octangonal from the neck to top, and those of Vesara style are round from the neck to top. Though the basis for both the styles was the same architectural texts, however Nagara style was highly varied due to repeated invasion which brought rebuilding and reconstruction of temples whereas the Dravida style was more cohesive.
The classical description is that Nagara type prevails in the land between the Himalayas and Vindhya ranges, the Vesara between the Vindhya ranges and the river Krishna and the Dravida in the country between that river and Kanyakumari