The majority of the architectural relics from Ancient and Medieval India are of a religious nature.
Temples in various parts of the country have unique architectural styles as a result of geographical, ethnic, and historical diversity. In the country, two broad styles of temples are known as Nagara in the north and Dravida in the south.
Occasionally, the Vesara style of temples is encountered as a distinct style, resulting from the selective blending of the Nagara and Dravida orders. As temples became more complex, additional sculpture surfaces were created by adding rhythmically projecting, symmetrical walls and niches without deviating from the shrine's fundamental plan.
The shrines of the temples were of three kinds—(i) sandhara type (with pradikshinapatha), (ii) nirandhara type (without pradakshinapatha), and (iii) sarvatobhadra (which can be accessed from all sides).
The fundamental structure of a Hindu temple is as follows:
sanctum (garbhagriha, literally 'womb-house'), which began as a small cubicle with a single entrance and gradually expanded to become a larger chamber. The garbhagriha is designed to house the temple's main icon, which is the focus subject of considerable ritual attention;
the mandapa, which is a portico or colonnaded hall that accommodates a large number of worshippers;
freestanding temples typically feature a mountain-like spire, which can take the form of a curving shikhar in North India or a pyramidal tower called a vimana in South India;
the vahan, i.e., the mount or vehicle of the temple’s main deity along with a standard pillar or dhvaj is placed axially before the sanctum.
It is not uncommon for an entire temple in Northern India to be built on a stone platform called Mandapa with steps leading up to it.
Additionally, unlike in South India, it lacks elaborate boundary walls and gateways.
While the earliest temples featured a single tower, or shikhara, later temples featured multiple shikhara.
The garbhagriha is always located directly under the tallest tower.
Nagara temples are classified according to the shape of the shikhara.
The various components of the temple have different names in different parts of India; however, the most common name for the simple shikhara that is square at the base and has walls that curve or slope inward to a point at the top is 'latina' or rekha-prasada.
The phamsana is the second major architectural form in the nagara order; it is typically wider and shorter than latina forms. Their roofs are composed of several slabs that gently rise to a single point above the building's centre, in contrast to the latina roofs, which appear to be sharply rising tall towers.
The valabhi type is the third major subtype of the nagara building. These are rectangular structures with a vaulted chamber at their centre.
The Kandariya Mahadev Temple in Madhya Pradesh is a classic example of temple architecture in the Nagara style. In 1986, it was also inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Other examples are Sun Temple at Modhera, Lakshman Temple of Khajuraho, Sun Temple at Konark, Jagannath Temple at Puri, etc.
Sub-schools of temple architecture in the Nagara style
Odisha School - The main architectural features of Odisha temples are classified in three orders, i.e., rekhapida, pidhadeul and khakra. Deuls are preceded, as usual, by mandapas called jagamohana in Odisha. These temples typically feature intricately carved exteriors and bare interiors. In contrast to the Nagara temples in the north, the majority of Odisha temples have boundary walls.
Chandel School – In contrast to Odishan style, these temples are designed as a single unit and feature curved Shikaras from bottom to top. Numerous miniature Shikaras ascend from the central tower, and towers gradually ascending to the main tower cap both the porticos and halls.
Solanki School – These temples are distinguished by their minute and intricate decorative motifs. Except for the central shrine, carvings can be found on both the inner and outer walls. The Sun temple at Modhera dates back to early eleventh century and was built by Raja Bhimdev I of the Solanki Dynasty in 1026. There is a massive rectangular stepped tank called the surya kund in front of it.
Eastern -The Palas are revered as patrons of numerous Buddhist monastic sites; temples in that region are well-known for their expression of the indigenous Vanga style. For instance, the ninth-century Siddheshvara Mahadeva temple in Barakar, Burdwan District, features a tall curving shikhara crowned by a large amalaka and is an early Pala style example. Additionally, this temple exemplifies a regional variation on the Nagara style of temple architecture.
Deogarh (in Uttar Pradesh's Lalitpur District) was constructed in the early sixth century CE and is a classic example of a late Gupta Period temple. This temple is constructed in the panchayatana style, with the main shrine set on a rectangular plinth and flanked by four smaller subsidiary shrines (making it a total number of five shrines, hence the name, panchayatana). The presence of this curving latina or rekha-prasada shikhara also indicates that this is an early example of a Nagara style temple.
In contrast to the nagara temple, the dravida temple is surrounded by a compound wall. The front wall is centred on an entrance gateway known as a gopuram. In Tamil Nadu, the main temple tower, called vimana, is shaped like a stepped pyramid that rises geometrically, as opposed to the curving shikhara of North India. The term'shikhara' is used exclusively in South Indian temples to refer to the temple's crowning element, which is typically shaped like a small stupika or an octagonal cupola — this is equivalent to the amlak and kalasha in North Indian temples. Whereas it is customary to find images of mithunas and the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna at the entrance to a North Indian temple's garbhagriha, sculptures of fierce dvarapalas or the temple's doorkeepers are more common in the south. Within the complex, it is not uncommon to find a large water reservoir or a temple tank. The most sacred temples in South India, the main temple in which the garbhagriha is situated has, in fact, one of the smallest towers. This is because it is usually the oldest part of the temple.
These are basically of five different shapes: square, usually called kuta, and also caturasra; rectangular or shala or ayatasra; elliptical, called gaja-prishta or elephant- backed, or also called vrittayata, deriving from wagon- vaulted shapes of apsidal chaityas with a horse-shoe shaped entrance facade usually called a nasi; circular or vritta; and octagonal or ashtasra.
The shore temple at Mahabalipuram was built later, probably in the reign of Narasimhavarman II, also known as Rajasimha.
The magnificent Shiva temple of Thanjavur, called the Rajarajeswara or Brahadeeshwarar temple, was completed around 1009 by Rajaraja Chola, and is the largest and tallest of all Indian temples.
Rashtrakutas -Their greatest achievement in architecture is the Kailashnath temple at Ellora, a culmination of at least a millennium-long tradition in rock-cut architecture in India. It is a complete dravida building with a Nandi shrine.
The hybridisation and incorporation of several styles was the hallmark of Chalukyan buildings. The most elaborate of all Chalukyan temples at Pattadakal made in the reign of Vikramaditya II (733-44) by his chief queen Loka Mahadevi is Virupaksha temple. Another important temple from this site is Papnath temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Hoysala temples are occasionally referred to as hybrid or vesara due to their distinct style, which appears to be neither entirely dravida nor entirely nagara, but somewhere in between. They are easily distinguished from other mediaeval temples by their highly unique star-shaped ground plans and abundance of decorative carvings.
Vijayanagara's architecture combines centuries-old dravida temple architecture with Islamic styles influenced by neighbouring sultanates. Although their sculpture is fundamentally derived from and seeks to recreate Chola ideals, it occasionally depicts the presence of foreigners. Their eclectic ruins, dating from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, preserve an enthralling period of history, an era of wealth, exploration, and cultural fusion.
Temple construction was of great significance. It lent grandeur to rulers' legitimacy. It's a testament to the state's architectural and masonry prowess, which future generations will no doubt admire. The temple was a hub of social, economic, and cultural activity.