North Indian Temple Architecture

Indo-Aryan temple art, which is characterised by the presence of a sikhara on the cella, appeared under the Chalukya dynasty, and developed one of its most finished forms in the province of Orissa at Bhuvanesvar, Puri and finally at Konarak. These temples consist of a sikhara with curved lines which includes the cella in its base and has an attached mandapa, or porch, at the front face. Later, further porches were added to these temples. These were in the same axis and \vere intended to house various religious ceremonies such as offerings or dances: they are then known as nata mandapa or bhogamandapa.  

In the shaiva temples, marked by the presence of the linga, an aniconic form of Shiva, the sikhara always ends in a flat cushion, the amalaka, which is surmounted by a spire, or kalasa. This represents the world axis, the axis mundi, usually epitomized by a sacred mountain like Mount Kailash or Mount Meru. One sees this in the temple at Kedarnath, one of the Jyotirlingas, in the Himalayas as well. It is not unusual to find carvings of namaskar or namaste, the traditional form of greeting in Indian culture and tradition, as well as the many mudras or hand positions adopted in dance. These temples are very highly decorated on the outside, while the interior is quite undecorated, except for the festivals of Mahashivaratri and Guru Purnima, the night of the Guru, and on Ekadashi or fasting days. Vishnu temples are generally bedecked on the days of Makar Sankranti, the harvest festival and navratri, the festival of the goddess.

The temples of Khajuraho, capital of the Chandellas, are many in number and represent one of the most brilliant periods in Indian architecture. The temples were built by the labor of the common people, as a process of devotion or karma yoga, the yoga of service. People participated irrespective of their social status and caste or division in society. They were almost all erected within one hundred years (950-1050). Near the temples, one also finds the place where Bodhidharma, the first Zen master is said to have gone into samadhi, or intense meditation. The temples are in sandstone and the Chandella employed cement and iron tenons extensively. This is perhaps the reason why their temples are still in a perfect state of preservation.

Although close to those of Orissa, they differ profoundly from them and constitute a self-contained and entirely new style. They are built on a high platform and have no enclosing wall. As with the sanctuaries of Orissa the cella is surmounted by a sikhara situated on the same axis, generally with a west-east orientation, are the antarala, the mandapa and the covered porch, or ardhamandapa. The cella includes a circumambulatory decorated with sculptures. These components are raised upon a high, decorated base above which columned balconies support the first elements of the roof. Very small miniature buildings flank the roofs of the mandapa and the sikhara.

Starting from the porch the roofs rise progressively to the siklzara. Subsidiary siklzaras, built against the main sikhara and rising in stages, increase the lofty and slender effect of the whole. Some temples have five sanctuaries of which the four minor ones are set at the corners of the platform. By contrast with those of Orissa the interiors of the temples are highly decorated. The cella includes a richly sculptured entrance. One enters the temple at the east end after climbing the steps which lead to the ardhamandapa. This consists of an arch supported by pillars and covered by roofs, and is said to represent the layout of the human energy system, with chakras and the three nadis, or channels carrying energy.

From there one passes into the first mandapa whose roof is supported on four columns. From each side of this mandapa open transepts ·which give access to balconies. Between the cella and the mandapa is a constricted passage, or antarala. which leads to the slightly elevated doorway of the sanctuary and to the circumambulatory. Three openings, set in balconies, light the passage around the cella. The decoration is generally arranged in parallel bands which follow the insets and projections of the walls. This decoration, which is extremely rich, consists, in addition to the figures of the usual gods, of sculptures representing apsarasas, couples, nagas, fantastic animals, etc. The column brackets are often decorated as in certain caves of Ajanta and Ellora with seated ascetics (on the path of brahmacharya or renunciation) practicing the ancient yogic technique of kriya yoga.

On the walls of these temples, as on those of Orissa, large numbers of erotic sculptures are to be seen. These representations are of a powerful religious significance; they are the symbol of the various unions of the soul with the divinity, as varied as the unions of the flesh. The Indians feel no shame in the face of realistic descriptions ofhuman activities and, since religion is as essential to them as breathing, every act has a philosophical or religious significance. Procreation is a most important act. The Indians therefore attach to it many religious meanings, whether esoteric or, more simply, ritual. Tradition claims that during the reign of the Chandellas eighty-five temples were erected. Today about twenty-five remain, divided into three groups according to their locations or their dedication to Brahmanism or to Jainism.