Based on the design of the ‘Garbha Griha’ (The Sanctum Sanctorum – the innermost sanctuary of the temple where the idol is established) there are 3 types of temples.
- Nagara: The Nagara style is characterized by a rectangular Garbha Griha and beehive shaped Shikhara (tower) made up of layer upon layer of architectural elements such as Kapotas and Gavakshas, all topped by a large round cushion-like element called an Amalaka. The plan of the Garbha Griha is based on a rectangle, but the walls are sometimes so broken up that the tower often gives the impression of being circular. The central shaft could be surrounded by smaller secondary shafts called the Urushringas, creating a spectacular visual effect resembling a fountain.
- Dravida: The Dravida Style is characterized by a square shaped Garbha Griha and a pyramid shaped Gopuram (tower) consisting of progressively smaller storeys of small pavilions, a narrow throat and a dome on the top called the Shikhara or the Vimana. The repeated storeys give a horizontal visual thrust to this type of temples.
- Vesara: This is the name given to an architectural style that evolved in Karnataka during the medieval centuries and combined both the Nagara and the Dravida styles. This style has a Garbha Griha which is either circular or concentric squares which resemble a circle. This style reduces the height of the individual tiers without reducing their number resulting in a reduction in the height of the temple towers. The semi-circular structures are also incorporated in some of the temples of this style. The temples of Halebidu, Belur, Somnathapura and Pattadakal are some of the examples of this style.
The design of the temple could also vary depending on numerous factors like the Janapada (region), the Uthpadana Samagri (raw material), Shilpi (Chief Architect), Kaala (timeline of construction), Devatha (deity in the temple), Bhakthadi (devotees), Raja(s) who sponsored it etc…. Thus, many styles of temple architecture can be seen in Bharata. Listed below are some of the 20 styles of temple architecture, which I have seen.
- Sangam: This Temple Architecture Style is from Tamil Nadu and existed from 300 BCE to 300 CE in its original form. Most of the temples in this style have been excavated. These temples were mostly built with burnt bricks and mortar. e.g. The Mahabalipuram temples.
- Cholas: This Temple Architecture Style is also from Tamil Nadu; the Cholas who ruled from 300 BCE to 1800 CE were the Rajas who patronised this style. This style has survived to the present day but the present artisans use burnt bricks, concrete blocks, cement, steel and concrete. As the Cholas were possibly the longest surviving dynasty, they built the largest number of temples across southern Bharata and as they patronised this style, it has survived till now. There are many temples built of Brick and Mortar but most of them are built of stone. They usually had only the Vimana Gopura on top of the Garbha Griha.
- Pandya: This Temple Architecture Style is also from Tamil Nadu; popularized by the Pandya Dynasty, and hence the name. They ruled from 600 CE to 1000 CE. This style, however, has survived to the present day. The present artisans use burnt bricks, concrete blocks, cement, steel and concrete. Rock cut and structural temples built of Brick and Mortar were a significant part of Pandyan architecture. The Raja Gopuram(s) (entrance tower), Vimana Gopuram(s) (Tower on top of the Garba Graha), and Mandapam(s) are some of the features of the Pandyan temples. Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple is one of the typical examples with 4 big Raja Gopuram(s) on all four sides and 10 inside including the Vimana Gopuram(s).
- Pallava: This temple Architecture Style is also from Tamil Nadu and it had the typical stamp of the Pallava Dynasty. They ruled from 600 CE to 900 CE, during which they built several temples. The typical examples of this style are the rock-cut temples at Mahabalipuram. This is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes the Shore Temples.
- Badami Chalukya: This temple Architecture Style is from present-day Karnataka; this style was patronised by the Badami Chalukyas who ruled from 450 CE to 973 CE. Their style includes two types of temples – rock cut or cave temples, and ‘structural’ temples built above ground. The temples of Aihole, Badami and Pattadakall are some of the earliest examples. They popularised the Vesara type of temple architecture.