Temple Architecture and Sculpture in India - Seeker's Thoughts

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Temple Architecture and Sculpture in India


Temple Architecture and Sculpture in India





Temple architecture and sculpture occupied something of an art-historical ghetto during colonial times. Ananda Coomaraswamy and his followers' pioneering scholarship idealised Hindu art as being solely spiritual--perhaps partly as a response to Western accusations that Indian culture was barbaric.


Temples evolved throughout India over time. One distinctive North Indian style emerged during the 10th and 11th centuries - Khajuraho and Bhubaneswar are prime examples of this style.


Buddhist Stupas


Nearly 2,500 years after Buddha's death, these stupas serve as symbols of his teachings to remind his followers of their path toward enlightenment. Stupa comes from Sanskrit meaning heap or mound and was first used as tombuli erected over cremated remains of mystics and ascetics who displayed profound spiritual insight; eventually they were modified into forms depicting him sitting meditatively; base representing crossed legs with hemispherical middle section representing his body part with conical spire representing his head topping off this structure.


The shape of a Stupa has spread all across the world and taken various forms in India, Sri Lanka, Ceylon, Java and Tibet, yet its basic form remained the same. A stupa is a commemorative monument which houses sacred relics associated with Buddha or other saintly figures; usually freestanding but sometimes enclosed within buildings - worshippers approach it clockwise when approaching one to pay respects.


Many stupas in India were constructed during the Mauryan era (268-232 BCE) as well as subsequent ones constructed by Shunga, Kushana, Gupta and Kshatrapa dynasties - particularly Sanchi ("Stupa 1") which dates from 5th century CE - making it one of the must-visit sites of Buddhist pilgrimage sites across central India.


Stupas were constructed at key points in the Buddha's life, including Lumbini (where he was born), Bodh Gaya (where he attained Enlightenment), Deer Park at Sarnath where he preached his first sermon, and Kushingara (his place of death). Pilgrims would visit these locations to honor both his memory and attain spiritual goals by studying The Four Noble Truths taught by Buddha - it is thought this can help people break free of birth-death cycles and achieve Nirvana.


Stupas at these sacred sites were decorated with intricately carved relief sculptures depicting Jataka tales and events in the life of Buddha, along with earlier fertility deities. Additionally, their torana or dome was often painted in red and yellow ochre and often decorated with parasols, elephant heads, footprints, flowers or animals as ornaments.



Hindu Temples


Hinduism considers temples to be central features. They represent divinity and serve as their dwelling place. Additionally, temples can serve as bridges between heaven and earth and should therefore be lavishly decorated; built with sculptures recalling mythological episodes as objects of devotion for worshipers; provide space for offering prayers or rituals, as well as serving as stages for performances by professional female performers (devadasi).


Hindu temples first emerged as simple caves and flat-roofed buildings. Over time, however, Hindu architecture began to evolve, reaching a standard arrangement characterized by massive walled complexes with decorative gateways leading to sacred spaces dominated by smaller shrines that are connected by towering spires - this design becoming the basis for Hindu temples worldwide.


Temples were supported by royal patrons, wealthy devotees and others to fulfill both religious and administrative roles. Temples served as public worship spaces where worshippers could offer food, clothing and money offerings to their preferred deities; served as repositories of religious texts; maintained teachers to teach Vedas, gamas, Puranas Agammas etc; received gifts such as land grants; paid taxes etc; as well as being an accumulation point for wealth accumulated from gifts like land grants dues taxes etc and money donations from royal patrons etc.


Temples became increasingly attractive and lucrative during the Gupta period due to their wide appeal and wealth, becoming symbols of prestige for society and thus inspiring more elaborate temple architecture and sculpture designs. As a result, their construction increased greatly with each subsequent generation - most notably during Gupta times.


Sculpting, carving and stonemasonry were family professions; artisans were not simply craftspeople; rather they were men of honor and character dedicated to Dharma who could also serve their gods through worshipping them and upholding Dharma. Hindu manuals for temple building and sculpting stressed the importance of spiritual and moral development of these professionals and trained them in understanding symmetry and proportion; imitating nature; and representing spiritual ideas through images.


Jain Temples

Jain temples can be distinguished from other South Asian temples by their distinctive design elements and architecture. While they draw influence from other styles, Jain temples stand out for being uniquely identifiable due to their emphasis on Jain beliefs and practices. Jainism is an ancient religion which promotes peace through nonviolence and reverence for all living beings - something which Jain temples reflect through their design that seeks to create a peaceful environment conducive to meditation and worship.


Many Jain temples feature multiple shrines grouped around a central structure, as well as sculptures and carvings depicting figures from Jain mythology, such as humans, animals and plants; other carvings feature abstract patterns or shapes reminiscent of Jain history. Their intricate art and design makes Jain temples an integral part of Indian heritage.


Contrary to Hindu and Buddhist temples, which were gradually constructed over time to meet changing lifestyles and pilgrimage patterns, Jain temples were mostly constructed as whole structures from their inception. Caves and stupas may have been preserved more extensively than stone temples; early Jain sculptures may have been made of wood; by the fifth century most were cast into bronze sculptures, with smaller bronze images likely intended for domestic shrines in households being discovered in hoards such as Akota Bronzes (68 pieces dating from 12th century) and Hansi Hoard (58 pieces from 9th century).


Jain temples share similar elements with Hindu and Buddhist temples in terms of basic construction: this includes the presence of a garbhagriha or sanctuary housing the main idol, an elevated superstructure supporting it and a mandapa hall or porch for entry and exit.


Jain temples often include intricately-carved and ornate pillars as essential structural elements that support the roof and other parts of the temple. These pillars often display ornamentation that represents Jain mythology as well as symbols or motifs representative of Jain cosmology.



Pallava Temples


Temple sculptural traditions during this era were highly sophisticated, using various motifs as expressions of religious beliefs and material culture of its inhabitants. A careful investigation of such panels can shed much light on contemporary Indian society and life.


Pallavas were master builders who produced an incredible variety of temples spanning both rock-cut and structural forms, but cave temples are particularly noted as achievements by their people. Additionally, their temples feature an important culture of painting known as Pradakshina Patha paintings (interior walls of shrine) which became further refined under Mahendravarman, Rajasimha, and Nandivarman's reigns.


Early temples such as those found at Adivaraha featured Varaha as a central figure, lifting earth goddesses on both sides. There was also a small shrine dedicated to Brahma and Vishnu along with another large varaha that served as its presiding deity; other themes can also be found carved onto its walls.


At first, cave temples under Pallava rule were decorated with various sculptural motifs and depictions. Later on, however, their decoration shifted towards gods and goddesses depicted through images; consequently the sculpture elements expanded and were modified accordingly; their design evolved with new subjects including elaborated lintels, brackets, and the addition of Kudus and Hamsa friezes to add vibrancy.


Structure-wise, Pallava temples were similar to those built during Kadapa dynasty; however, their pillars were longer, and new features such as sculptural panels depicting Pallava kings, consorts, or other significant figures from Hindu mythology were added onto temple vimana or towers.


One of the major innovations of this period was the rise of personal devotion to divinity - known as bhakti in India. Pallava rulers were heavily influenced by this movement and encouraged people to worship gods as loved ones or father figures; consequently many shrines dedicated to family deities were constructed; an excellent example is Mamallapuram's Shore Temple as an embodiment of such dedications.


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