A Visual Glossary of Hindu Architecture


Prambanan temple ruins, built c.mid-9th century CE / Wikimedia Commons


By Mark Cartwright / 12.19.2016
Historian

Adisthana – the decorative raised platform on which a temple is built.

The Brihadishvara Temple (side view), Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India. c. 1010-1025 CE. The temple is, at 65 m high, one of the largest Chola period buildings.

Alasa kanya – a decorative female figure.

Or, how you should put kajal (kohl, collyrium) on your eyes. Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India, 11th CE

Amalaka – a large fluted stone disc placed on top of a Nagara tower taking its form from the amla or myrobalan fruit native to India.

The Muktesvara Temple, Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, India. 9-10th century CE.

Antarala – an antechamber to the inner sanctum or garbhagriha of a temple.

A diagram illustrating the principal features of Hindu temples. This example is the Kandariya Mahadeo temple at Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India, c. 1025 CE.

Ardhamandapa – a temple portico serving as an entrance porch.

Bho – a medallion motif of Orissan architecture which projects from towers and shows a monster regurgitating garlands flanked by two dwarfs.

The 8th century CE Durga temple at Aihole, Karnataka, India. It is richly decorated with architectural sculpture such as figures of Durga and Shiva.

Bhoga mandapa – (or Bogh-mandir) a hall in Orissan temples which is used for consecrated food preparation and distribution.

A diagram illustrating the principal features of a Hindu temple complex.

Devalaya – the general name of a temple meaning a god’s dwelling place.

The Brihadishvara Temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India. c. 1010-1025 CE. The temple is, at 65 m high, one of the largest Chola period buildings.

Dravida – the style of southern temple architecture.

The Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India. Built between 700 and 728 CE during the reign of Narasimhavarman II, it is a remnant of a larger complex of temples and civil structures much of which lie under the depth of the sea now.

Garbhagriha – (also garbha grha) meaning ‘womb-chamber,’ the small windowless room that is the main shrine of the temple, usually containing a representation or symbol of the principal deity.

Ghana dvara – blind doorways of the garbhagriha, which symbolically allow the energy of the deity to radiate through and beyond the temple. They may also act as secondary niche shrines.

Ghanta – a bell-shaped finial on the top of a tower.

The garbhagriha (garbha grha) inner sanctum of a Shiva temple at Pattadakal.

Gopura – a monumental gate tower of Dravida temples.

The monumental gateway of the Brihadishvara Temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India. c. 1010-1025 CE. The temple is one of the largest Chola period buildings.

Jagamohana – the mandapa or entrance hall of an Orissan temple.

An illustration indicating the original design of the Konark Sun Temple in Orissa, India. 13th century CE.

Kirtimukha – a decorative lion or monster motif with the lower jaw missing, typically placed over doorways.

A Kirtimukha from Kathmandu, Nepal, a decorative lion or monster motif with the lower jaw missing, typically placed over doorways in Hindu architecture.

Mandapa – a columned hallway which leads to the garbhagriha or inner sanctum.

The mandapa or columned hall of the Amritheswara temple in Amrithapura, Chikkamagaluru district, Karnataka state, India.

Makara – a decorative sea monster motif.

A makara, the decorative sea-monster motif common in Hindu architecture, especially, as here, above doorways. Cambodia, 1st-7th century CE. (Musée Guimet, Paris)

Nagara – the style of northern temple architecture.

The Jain Parsvanatha Temple, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India. 950-970 CE.

Nandi Mandapa – a pavilion which contains a statue of Shiva’s gatekeeper and vehicle, the bull Nandi.

Nandi and lion sculptures on the the early 8th century CE Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, southern India.

Nata mandapa – (also nata mandir) the dance hall in Orissan temples, added from the 10th century CE.

The nata mandapa or dance hall of the 13th century CE Hindu Surya Sun temple at Konark, India.

Nataraja – a decorative dancing Shiva motif.

A sculpted sandstone panel from the 8th century CE Durga Temple, Aihole, Kamataka, India. Depicted are Shiva and Nandi.

Prakara – a high wall which encloses a temple.

The early 8th century CE Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, southern India, is one of the most impressive structures surviving from ancient India.

Ratha – a projection on the exterior wall of a Nagara temple; there are typically seven on each side. Also the name for the chariot of the sun god Surya which sun temples represent via spoked wheels on the outer walls.

Carving of a wheel on the 13th century CE sun temple in Konark (Konarak), Orissa, India. The temple was dedicated to the sun god Surya. There are a total of 12 pairs of wheels and the main shrine is shaped like a chariot and the wheels represent time. In fact, they can each be used as sundials to read time.

Sala – a barrel-vaulted roof in Dravida architecture, often represented as an architectural motif.

The 7th century CE Bhima Ratha with its sala barrelled roof on the left and the Dharmaraja Ratha temple. Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India.

Sikhara – the tower of a Nagara temple which is built directly above the inner sanctum or garbhagriha. Also the decorative top of a tower in Dravida temples.

Rajarani Temple, Bhubaneshwar, India. 11-12th century CE.

Tala – the tiers of a vimana tower.

Talas (tiers) of the vimana (tower) of the Brihadishvara temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India. c. 995-1025 CE.

Temple tank – a ritual bathing tank or pool common in southern temples.

Gopura & Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India, 12th century CE.

Urushringa – a smaller, subsidiary tower, usually joining or enclosing the main tower.

The Kandariya Mahadeo temple, Khajuraho, India. Dedicated to Shiva c. 1025 CE.

Vimana – the more rounded tower of a Dravida temple. Typically they are topped by a small dome.

The early 8th century CE Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, southern India, is one of the most impressive structures surviving from ancient India.

Vastu-purusa-mandala – the symbolic symmetrical floorplan which Hindu temples follow.

The vastu-purusa-mandala (symmetrical floor plan) of the Vishveshvur temple, India.

Vesara – the style of architecture which mixed Nagara and Dravida styles.

The Somnathapura temple, Karnataka, India. The temple is a good example of the Vesara architectural style which mixed northern and southern styles (Nagara and Dravida). 13th century CE.

Vyala – (also yali) the decorative lion monster seen in many Hindu temples.

A vyala (yali), the decorative lion monster which decorates many Hindu temples. This example is from the Mahadeva temple, Khajuraho, India. 11th century CE.

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