Origin and Development of Temple Architecture in India with reference to regional styles and variations

The practice of temple architecture is considerably old, but the surviving temples go only as far as c. 300-600 CE. Ancient temples had simpler architecture. Then, during the early medieval period, regional styles developed- within the broad divisions of Nagara, Visara, and Dravida style.

A gradual shift from cave temples through monolith temples to structural temples happens in the Dravida and Visara style.

Earliest surviving temples in North India

The oldest surviving temples in North India are in the mountainous areas of Madhya Pradesh e.g. Vishnu temple at Tigwa; they belong to the Gupta age. These were simple; with square sanctum-sanctorum, flat roofs, plain temple walls, etc.

In the 5th -6th century, temples were built on a plinth with a shikhara, mythological engravings on the walls, e.g. Deogarh temple.

Nagara Style of architecture

Nagara style of architecture further evolved during the early medieval period, with curvilinear shikhara, Panchayatan shape, plinth, pillared portico, etc. as its mains features.

Its regional variations include the Khajuraho style in Kandaria Mahadev, the Solanki style in the Sun temple at Modhera; the Sena-Pala style with Bangla dome; the Kashmir style with the sloping roof; the Orissa style in the Lingaraj temple, etc.

Visara Style of architecture

From the Vindhya ranges to the Krishna River, we see the mixture of Nagara style and Dravida style. Rooted in the tradition of the Ajanta, Ellora; it begins with the cave temples of Badami. The Pattadakal and Aihole temple complex takes this tradition further. Kailashnath temple at Ellora is another example.

The Visara Style fully matured in the temples at Belur, Halebidu, and Somanathapura. They are known for elaborate carvings on walls and ceilings and cruciform shaped zig-zag plinth. Later, under the Vijaynagar kingdom, Kalyan Mandap was added.

Dravidian Style of Architecture

Dravida School started out with the cave temples of Mahabalipuram, which are often inspired by mythology. Later, the monolith temples erected e.g. Ratha temples.

During the Chola period, the Dravida style fully matured-with its Gopuram, Viman, pillared Mandap, captive pond- in the Brihadeshwara temple, etc. Later, the Meenakshi temple represents the Madurai school which was broadly similar to Dravida Style.

Therefore, the architecture of the temple evolved from the Gupta period to the modern period with three broad and several smaller divisions.

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