Auspicious Architecture

Temple architecture is not as simple as it looks and design aspirants can learn a lot from it, states Ar. Subhash Bhoite in a conversation with Preeti Srivastav

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In a country which is a melting pot of various religions and faith, temple architecture holds immense importance. The fact that temples and deities are a sensitive subject in India, temple architecture also requires a special skill set to ensure that there no room for errors. Various regions have their own specifications and an architect needs to take care of that. Interestingly, various Gods and Goddesses also have their own specifications in terms of direction, design and dimensions and thus an architect needs sound knowledge of the mythology and emotions attached to the deity, culture and the community before designing the temple. Ar. Subhash Bhoite, who has designed more than 200 temples across the world talks about some of the important aspects of temple architecture.

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What is the role of Vastu Shastra in Temples?

Unlike Vastu Shastra in residences or offices, temples are strictly built according to Temple Architecture Vastu Shastra with no room for any correction later. However, while designing a temple, Vastu is looked at from a different perspective. Generally, Vastu states that all temples must be east facing, however, it is not the case in temples. There are many temples in India which is facing direction other than east. It can be said that Gods have preferences of direction in different places. For example, we have Dakshineshwari Kali (South facing Kali) temple in Haridwar. Shani temples are usually north facing while Hanuman temple must be South facing preferably. To our surprise, one of the most famous Krishna temples in Dwarka is west facing. Nageshwar Temple at Dwarka, Gujrath, considered one of Shiva’s Twelve Jyotyrlinga temples is facing west direction, which is renovated by Ar. Subhash Bhoite. Planning of temple is done according to the movement of the Sun, position of main God, constellation of stars and air flow etc.; it is how Vastu is decided.

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What elements of vernacular architecture are prominent in temples?

All the old temples are finest example of vernacular architecture. The raw materials were locally sourced due to absence or rarity of transport facility. But it is interesting to see that even the newly built temples have elements of vernacular architecture. Today the material can be transported easily from one place to the other; however, this does not affect the designing of the temple which is designed in vernacular fashion. Small windows and doors, use of locally available wood and stones, considering local climate, culture of inhabitants around the area and mythology attached to the deity. Another important aspect in Indian temples is that almost all of them are designed in a particular way. There is Garbhgriha, where the deity’s sits, then there is Sabha Mandap for visitors and devotees and there is small portion between garbhagriha and sabha mandam, that place is reserved for the priest. Ample ventilation, use of local stones, thick load bearing walls (to make it sound proof and heat proof) are some of the vernacular elements commonly seen in temples. Apart from these, the carvings and figurines on the walls and pillars are designed according to the attributes of the main deity of the temple.

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Why do most temples have conical dome?

One of the most common elements is conical/pyramid shaped dome. The reason, pyramid is considered auspicious in all cultures. It has a large and firm base and it narrows down as it progresses higher. This represents quality of life, where people should have stronger base. Technically speaking, broader and stronger base stands a chance during earthquakes, while flat surface may give away. The conical shape also represents prism where energy converges. God is a cosmic energy; hence the shape of the roof is a prism. Another popular myth behind the shape is that people believed that God’s home should be highest building in the state, hence a conical roof against the flat or round roofs of others buildings. The main pyramid, anga is supported by other smaller pyramid offsets called upanga, from the outer sides. This not only provides support to the structure but also add to the thickness of the walls.

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What is the basic difference between Jain Temple and Hindu Temple?

There are two basic differences—while Hindu Gods differ in looks and attributes, All Jain Gods look alike and are represented by various symbols. In a Jain temple use of iron / steel is not allowed so the beams used are also of stones, hence Jain temples have more pillars to support the stone beams. Nowadays, in Hindu temples, steel is allowed so comparatively Hindu temples have less pillars and the difference between two pillars is also more. The height of the temple depends on the dimensions of the Garbhagriha, and the deity’s dimensions are according to the dimensions of Garbhagriha. Deity’s eye level is in proportion with height of Garbha Griha door.

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What are the latest trends in temple architecture?

In earlier decades one temple was dedicated to one God only which was prayed by the King or community / devotees around. But nowadays temples have multiple Gods or the Guardian Gods. While mainly the carvings and sculpture happens according to the attributes or myths around the main deity, there are spaces where other God’s characteristics and powers are also shown through art work.

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What are main aspects of Temple Planning?

A. Temple plan is formed with mainly 3 parts– Garbha Griha(Sanctum, Place of Main Deity; Generally, a closed room with a door, windows high roof); Sabha Mandap(Room / Hall for devotees to stand to pray and to sit-down for meditation); Antaral (This space is always created for priest to sit-down; who is mediator between the God and devotees). Mythologically, Garbha Griha is assumed as the heaven, Sabha Mandap is assumed as Earth; and part between Garbhagriha and Sabha Mandap, Antaral, is assumed as space between Earth and Heaven. This space kept for Nandi mostly in Shiva’s temple.

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