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Temple Architecture- Devalaya Vastu – Part Four (4 of 9


Temple Layout

The drawing of the court yard of the Shiva temple at Thiruvālangādu, by the famous artist Silpi. The Shilpa text Shiva-prakasha in its chapter titled vastu-bhumi-bedha, describes sixteen (Shodasha) types of temple layouts: the Square (Chandura); Rectangle (Agatra);Trapezium ( with uneven sides – like a cart – shakata); Circle (Vritta); Elliptical (kritta vritta); triangular (dwaja); diamond or rhombus (vajra) ; Arrow (shara);umbrella (chatra) ; fish (meena);back of a tortoise (kurma);conch (shanka); crescent (ardha-chandra); pot (kumbha);sword (khadga); and lotus (kamala).

***** . Else. Rectangle (Agatra). the best of all. Varaha-samhita calls such layouts as Siddha-bhumi. ignoring the rest. pot (kumbha). it would be better if the elevation on the west or the South is slightly higher. I fear.the North South dimension should be greater than East-west dimension. Similarly the Square (Chandura). For the limited purpose of this discussion let us stick to the square or rectangular layout. it might get too complicated. conch (shanka) and lotus (kamala) are recommended only for Vishnu and Shiva temples. The rest of the lay outs are for other (lesser) deities. It is also said . For instance: the back of a tortoise (kurma). fish (meena). and are not to be used generally. diamond or rhombus (vajra) and sword (khadga) are recommended for Devi temples.These layouts have specific applications. In case the layout is rectangular . But all texts generally agree that the square or the rectangular shape of layout are the best and most auspicious.

or 4:5. 4:6. This again involves preparation of another Vastu Mandala. Even the Sri Harmandir Sahib.Having determined the suitability of the land for constructing a temple. the Buddhist and Jain temples too follow the same principles. in case it becomes necessary to construct a temple on a land of such “un approved” shape.This specifies the location. the next stage is to draw up a construction plan . The following is the layout of a Jain temple. The ratio between the breadth and the length of the area may be 4:8. (The square would be 4:4). rod shaped (dandakriti). Shapes of sites to be avoided are: circular (vritta). triangular (trikona). and having drawn up the Vastu Mandala of the town and identified the temple location . *** Pada Vinyasa The land considered suitable for the purpose of constructing the temple (vastu bhumi) and placed at the center (Brahma Sthana) of the Vastu mandala of the township must be in the shape of a rectangle or a square. bow shaped (dhanur akara) and other irregular shapes. the size and the orientation of the various temples to come up in the proposed complex. Incidentally. the Golden Temple at Amritsar is structured in a square shape. 4:7. with the Sanctum placed in the Brahma sthana. And. the area meant for the temple should be demarcated and rendered a square or a rectangle in shape. .

signifying the four directions which bind and define it.In case of a rectangular site. That is the reason we find our temple walls (prakara) on north-south shorter than the walls on east-west. it must have north – south orientation. Fountains or lotus ponds of the temple should be in the northeast direction. . and the Vastu is the extent of existence in its ordered site. 81 or 256 in number. Purusha being the source of existence. a Yantra. Basil plant with raised bed should be in the east. Four approach roads are much recommended. The depth of the site (Aaya-profit) should be more than its breadth (vyaya-loss). *** The preliminaries for construction of a shrine include preparations of a plan. In the open space surrounding the temple. The slope of the land surrounding the temple in the east and the north direction should be in the northeast corner. Vastu Purusha Mandala. should be in the northwest corner or the east. with unit cells (pada) of 64. The square shape of the Mandala is symbolic of earth. The entire process is rich in symbolism. the Jasmine. white Champak. Star Coral plants etc.

The position of the deity is in accordance to the importance assigned to him . known as Pada-vinyasa or Vastu mandala Vinyasa is essential not only for construction of the main temple but also for deciding upon the location. with each cell belonging to a deity. The grid made up of squares and equilateral triangles is imbued with religious significance. Another important aspect of the design of the ground plan is that it is intended to lead from the temporal world to the eternal. is symbolic and is the representation of cosmos in miniature.The ground plan.The central portion of the square (Brahma Sthana) is occupied by the presiding deity of the temple . The Vastu Purusha represents terrestrial world with constant movements. This process of drawing the Mandala . the orientation and the size of the sanctum. . along the east-west axis and through a series of increasingly sacred spaces is of great importance and is reflected in the architecture. The principal shrine should face the rising sun and so should have its entrance to the east. again. while the outer cells house deities of lower order. Movement towards the sanctuary. and for placement of retinue-divinities. Let us look at the following example of an 81 cell parama-saayika layout.

The Vastu purusha mandala is in some ways a development of the four pointed or cornered earth mandala having astronomical reference points.The site-plan is to be regarded as the body of the Vastu-purusha whose height extends from Pitrah (in the bottom left corner) to Agni (top right corner). lunar and solar. In the case of Parama Saayika Mandala (9×9) . . Brahma is the God at the centre. the entire square would be unevenly divided. The Manduka Mandala (8×8) the whole square would be divided by the two axes that go North-south and East-west. It is the representation of all cyclical time. The mandala of 81 squares has 32 squares around the border representing the four cardinal points and the lunar constellations.

There are 8 spirits in four corners. Thus there are in all 45 spirits (including Brahma). Niritti. The Three cells to its east are for Aryaman. Vayu .. who assist in the affairs of universal management. the first of beings and the engineer of universal order. three cells to its west are for Mitra and three cells to its north are for Prihvidhara. South. reside in the East . forming a sort of map or diagram of astrological influences that constitute the order of the universe. North-West. Only by the combination of the vastu-purushamandala and the astrological calculations can this factor be ascertained. are an important part of the Vastu. South-East . South-West. All except Kubera are principal Vedic deities. North and North-East respectively. Yama. This provides a method that determines the requirements of architecture in relation to its directions. Kubera and Isana. There are four spirits surrounding Brahma. Establishing Vastu Mandala on the site The vastu-purusha-mandala. Dikpalas or guardian deities of different quarters. Indra. Varuna. When placed on the building site the vastu-purusha-mandala determines the positions and orientations of the temples and the time for commencing the construction. In this site plan 32 spirits reside in the outer ring. Agni. is now complete.The center of the mandala consisting nine cells is dedicated to Brahma. West. .

The square. the octagon and the pentagon are fundamental patterns in the horizontal or ground plan. in exactly the patterns laid out by the mandala. by drawing 10 lines from East to West and 10 lines from North to South in which Vastu Mandala deities are installed. . In addition the deities of the Sarvathobhadra-mandala are also established after performing Vastu Homa. The ground for civil construction is demarcated by dividing the site into 81 cells.From the diagram of the vastu-purusha-mandala the architect next proceeds to develop the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the temple. The subdivisions of the ground plan include the brahmasthana (the main shrine and smaller chapels) and the mantapa(balconies. The relationship between the underlying symbolic order and the actual physical appearance of the temple can best be understood by viewing it from above (top elevation). assembly halls and auditoriums). The construction of the temple follows in three dimensional forms. the rectangle. The vertical plan consists of drawings for the gopura (entrance ways). the circle and the curve are more prominent. In order to establish the vastu-purusha-mandala on the construction site. In the vertical alignment the pyramid. it is first drafted on planning sheets and later drawn upon the earth at the actual building site. the vimana (the structure above the main shrine or chapel) and the prakara (the walls).

After this. and. It is laid in the north-western corner of the building plan. is the nucleus of the Vastu Purusha Yantra. the construction of the foundation is taken up. The ceremony related to it is known as Garba-dana or Garba-nasya.The drawing of the mandala upon the earth at the commencement of construction is a sacred rite in itself. containing nine types of precious stones. It is the laying of the first stone (square in shape) or a brick signifying the start of construction. The Brahmasthana . At thebrahmasthana. up to the plinth level. several metals. as drawn on the . The foundation is built and the ground filled up. The sanctum is technically known as Garba-Griha. the principal location in a temple where the Garbagraha will eventually come up. except in the middle portion of the garbhagraha area. The following is alittle more detail about it. The cells sustain the temple in their own sphere of effectiveness. Garbhadhana. This part of the temple is usually constructed first. which is filled up three-fourths. Shilanyasa is the ceremony for laying foundation stone. in the manner that the actual foundation supports its weight. minerals. herbs and soils symbolizing creation and prosperity. drawn on the ground. it involves letting in to the earth a ceremonial copper pot.

and the icon its sap. The final tier of the Vimana is air (vayu) and above it is the form-less space (akasha). The roof resting over the walls is called Kapotha. The external features of the temple are brought to life through finely sculpted figures and paintings. . the priest places an appropriate mantra in written form to invoke the presence of the corresponding divinity . The four walls around the icon represent the branches spreading around. Pushya and Magha months he sleeps facing south. Ashviyuja and Karhika months facing east.The sanctum is thus a constellation of five elements that are basic building blocks of all existence. Ananta. All the units of the gold box are first partially filled with earth. The sanctum is thus a model of a growing tree. meaning where the doves rest.An Image of Ananta . yellow sapphire. inviting the soul of the temple (Vastu Purusha) to enter within the buildings confines. rubies. Another set of symbolism is that the foundation of the temple represents the Earth (prithvi). the units of Brahma and the twelve sons of Aditi. The art and sculpture frequently portray the forms of divine entities and the different stages of consciousness in the gradual evolution of life throughout the universe. over this slab will rise the foundation for installing the Mula-bhera. the hooded serpent . In the thirtytwo units representing the nakshatras (lunar mansions). and the tower over it the fire (tejas). The box also contains nine precious stones – diamonds. pearls. A stone slab (adhara-shila) is thereafter placed over the spot the copper pot is buried. In this ritual. The structure of the Vimana rises above it in a series of tiers. During Margashira. and blue sapphire. is also placed in the box.grounda ritual is performed calledgarbhadhana. The sanctum constructed around it is the body. the walls of the sanctum the water (apaha). emeralds. The interior of the box is divided into smaller units exactly resembling the vastupurusha-mandala. When the foundation is finished the vertical structure is raised. The imagery suggested is that of a tree with birds perched on its branches. That pot represents the roots of the “temple-tree”. red coral. It is believed that the Vastu Purusha sleeps during Bhadrapada. also represents theenergy that supports the universe. a golden box is imbedded in the earth. and icon the life arising out of it.And. The copper pot signifies the womb. meaning eternal or timeless. Once the garbhadhana and agni-hotra ceremonies are complete the actual construction of the temple commences according to the plan. cats-eye and jade – to appease the nine planets.

a Garba-Griha and a Shikara directly above the Garbha-Griha. **** Temple Layout and its symbolism Sri Venkateshwara temple . The Temple entrance should face east – the direction of the Rising Sun. he sleeps facing north. Cleveland The Agama Shastras say that the Temple structure is a mini cosmos. a Mandapa or a large hall. Chaitra and Vaishaka. he sleeps facing west. an Ardh-Mandapa. The ideal Temple should have at least one entrance. in Jeysta Ashada and Shravana.In phalguna. The doors facing towards those directions are fixed in the respective months. The design comprises: . And.

The above design applies both to the “Shiva” and “Vaishnava” Temples with small variations. 9. Architecture is otherwise called “Shilpa” and the one who constructs the Temple is called a “Sthapathi”. The Main Deity faces East word inside and the Garba-Griha is located inside a structure or sanctuary called the “Vimana”. 7. 4. Near the Dwajasthamba is a lotus shaped pedestal for offerings. The pyramidal or tapering roof over the Deity is called “Shikara” or “Gopuram” which is a dome. Ardha Mandapa adjacent to the main Mandapa and before the “Garba-Griha”. The “Sthapathi” is an expert in Temple architecture and idol creation. 3. 5. called the Balipeeta.1. A Towering structure called the Rajagopuram (pyramid in pattern) on the Eastern side at the entrance to the Temple. . There is a circumnutating passage or “Pradakshira Patha” around the Garba Griha and Mandapa. 8. 6. 2. The procedure of worship in the Temple is known as “Agama Vidhi”. A Dwajasthamba (pillar) in line with the main shrine immediately after the Rajagopuram. A large Mandapa or hall for assembly of devotees. The passage through the Mandapa leads to the “Garba-Griha” (womb chamber) where the Main Deity is installed.

the garbhagrha represents the neck. the kalasa (finial) the tuft of hair (sikha) and so on. devoid of any ornamentation. the various mantapas are the body. In accordance with this scheme. It represents the phases of progress in a man’s journey towards divine. these simpler motifs and the prevailing semi darkness help the worshipper to put aside distractions and try focusing his attention on the sanctum. the sikhara (superstructure over the garbhagrha) the head. gradually leading him to the experience. he is greeted by a host of secular figures on the outer walls. which awaits him as he stands in front of the deity in the in the sanctum. Another interesting symbolism is that when a devotee enters the temple. Other parts of the building complex are identified with other parts of the body. This marks the transition from the way of the world to the world of God. The symbolism of the temple plan and elevation suggests that the garbhagrha represents the head and the gopuram the feet of the deity. a worshipper first bends down and touches the threshold before crossing it. the sukhanasi or ardhamantapa (the small enclosure in front of the garbhagrha) is the nose. leads the devotee further to tranquility. and with its plainly adorned entrance. representing the outward and diverse concerns of man. the prkaras (surrounding walls) are the hands and so on. leading to passage next to the previous one. carved on the inner walls attune his attitude. The immediate pavilion and vestibule near the sanctum are restrained in sculptural details and decorations. to fulfilment and to the presence of God. On reaching the main gateway. the antarala (the passage next to the previous one. As he proceeds.The Temple is not only a home of God but his representation in the structure of temple which resembles human form. Finally the shrine. the architectural and sculptural details vary from phase to phase . His progress through the pavilions to reach the sanctum is also symbolic. leading to the main mantapa called nrttamantapa) is the neck. Entering the gateway. he is virtually entering into a mandala and therefore participating in a power-field. the familiar mythological themes. Vertically. For instance. This is explained in the following way. .

In Hindu and Buddhist thought.The garbhagriha is usually surrounded by a circumambulatory path. . this represents an encircling of the universe itself. Positions and orientations of the temples The following plan indicates the position of gods and goddesses in an 81 celled temple-site. This plan relates to construction of a Vishnu temple. around which the devotee walks in a clockwise direction.

action (virya). The temple per se signifies the `body of God. The three sanctums enshrine Vishnu in three postures – seated. The seventh-eighth century Pallava temple Viz. Pradyumna facing east towards heaven. Sri Vaikunta Perumal temple of Kanchipuram (which follows the Pancharatra Agama) is an excellent illustration of the fulfillment of these requirements. the realm of human life. reclining and standing. with three sanctums on the three floors one over the other and a concealed staircase leading to the upper floors. power (bala). to house five forms of Vishnu.’ . The sanctum of the third floor represents the realm of space-time. Its architecture is unique. sovereignty (aishwarya). The shrine must have five sanctums. i. The Vimana is represented as a three dimensional Mandala. representing the six `glorious excellences’: omniscient knowledge (jnana). Sankarshana facing north.V Atri Samhita prescribes that the central Brahma bagha must be divided into four equal parts and the main shrine facing east must be located on the North-western side thereof. The central figure in the sanctum of the ground floor is Vasudeva facing west. The sculptural scheme matches the Pancharatra concept. depicting Vasudeva as he appeared in the human form of Krishna (manusha Vasudeva). brilliance (tejas) and potency (sakthi). the Earth. and Aniruddha facing south. the realm of ancestors.e. and the shrine should have three stories.

and the enclosure is open on only three sides. within the Brahma bagha was perhaps to satisfy the requirements of the temple vastu norms. while the path on the other side (towards the left of the deity) is seventeen feet wide and ninety-two and half feet long. slightly to the North West. this feature occurs in the temple of Sri Venkateshwara at Tirumala too.Coming back to the issue of placing the sanctum slightly to the NorthWest. . The path in the south (on the right side of the deity) is seven feet wide and twenty feet long. This skewed position of the sanctum. The width of the enclosure is uneven. The enclosure immediately surrounding the sanctum called Mukkoti Pradkshina is rather skewed.

Subramanya . opposite to Shiva is lined Nandi.The Shiva temples too have their own configuration. The Sapth Mathrikas. The shrine of Nitya_kalyani Amman is located independently in the North. In a Siva temple. Veerabhadra and Candesvara would placed in the surrounding cells of the temples Vastu Purusha Mandala. Similarly in the Sri Kailasanathaswamy and Nithyakalyani Amman Temple. Bali pita and Dwajasthamba. In the Mantapa adjoining the Sanctum are Ganapathi. Shiva shrine is at the Brahmastana. Karaikudi. the shrines are dedicated to Parvathi. Durga and Skanda. the Shivaliga would be placed at the Brahma sthana. as illustrated in the following typical layout of the famous Shiva temple at Gangaikondacholapuram(mid 11th century). the seven female divinities. Ganapati. have their shrine in the Prakara behind the shrine. .

Durgi .The Shakthi temples have their layout with shrines for other manifestations of the Mother Lakshmi . Saraswathi . . Chamundi and related goddesses.

Devalaya Vastu By Prof. Maps of Madurai and Sri Rangam By courtesy of Kultur in Indien B.G Gnanananda .Other pictures from Internet. SKR Rao D.Sources: A. C.Kashyapa Shilpa Sastram by Prof.