Temple Architecture in India: Nagara, Dravida and Vesara Styles, Types and Architecture

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Temple Architecture preserves the social and cultural norms, economic prosperity, and religious practices from many historical periods. Hence, an analysis of temple architecture in India reveals India’s diverse cultural heritage. In the north and south of the nation, respectively, there are two major orders of temples known as Nagara and Dravida Styles. The Vesara style of temples can occasionally be discovered to exist independently as a result of the deliberate blending of the Nagara and Dravida styles.

In the history of temple architecture, the Gupta Period marked a new phase. Shilpa Shastras and Vastu Sastras both provide descriptions of the architectural principles used in Indian temples. In this article, we have covered all the information on Temple Architecture that would be helpful for UPSC aspirants during their preparation.

Temple Architecture in India

There is no direct reference to temples in the early Vedic period. The sacred fire, or “yajnas,” was the focal point of all worship and rites. Yet idol worship also started to be used in the later Vedic period, along with the ritual fire. Simple earth mounds may have served as the initial temples before being replaced by brick construction and grass roofs later on.

Prior to the emergence of distinctive styles, early temples discovered in India can be divided into the following three categories:

  • Nirandhara type; with Pradakshinapatha
  • Sandhara type; without Pradikshinapatha
  • Sarvatobhadra; which can be accessed from all sides

A few of the significant temple sites from this era include Eran, Nachna-Kuthara, and Udaygiri in Madhya Pradesh and Deogarh in Uttar Pradesh.

Temple Architecture UPSC Notes

Basic Features of Hindu Temple Architecture

In India, there are many ways in which the temple architecture differs from each other, and each has some prominent features. The Dravida in the southern region and Nagara in the Northern region are the two broad temples of the country.

The following are some of the fundamental components of a Hindu temple:

  • Sanctum, originally a small cube with a single entrance, eventually expanded into a bigger chamber (Garbhagriha, literally “womb-house”). The primary deity, which is the object of significant ritual attention, is intended to be enshrined in the garbhagriha.
  • A mandapa is the name for the temple’s entryway, which could be a veranda or a colonnaded hall with room for many worshippers.
  • Freestanding temples typically have a mountain-like tower, which in South India is known as a vimana and can take the form of a curved Shikhar in North India.
  • A typical pillar or dhvaj is positioned axially in front of the shrine, together with the Vahan, the mount or vehicle of the primary deity of the temple.

Types of Temple Architecture in India

The Gupta Period marked a new phase in the development of temple architecture. Architectural texts from the beginning of the medieval period are known as Shilpashastras. In general, there are three types of temple architecture:

  • Dravida style
  • Nagara style
  • Vesara style

Hindu Temple Architecture

Dravida Style of Temple Architecture

Dravida’s architectural style was developed in the 7th – 8th century AD. Pallavas and Cholas in South India created the Dravida Style of Temple Architecture. The attraction of the Dravida Style was the compound walls and pillars that enclosed the architecture. The vimanas were decorated by sculpting the images of Dwarapalas. The uniqueness of this style is that within an ambulatory hall, the temple is situated.

Some of the temples of the Dravida style include the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram, Rajarajeswara or Brihadeshwara temple at Thanjavur, and the Meenakshi Sundareswaratemple at Madurai.

Features of Dravida Temple Style

The main features of this Dravida style of temple architecture are:

  • A compound wall encloses the Dravida temple.
  • A Gopuram, or entrance doorway, is located in the middle of the front wall.
  • The vimana, or main temple tower, is not shaped like the curved shikhara of North India, but rather like a stepped cone that rises up linearly.
  • The word “shikhara” is only used in reference to the temple’s top element, which is typically fashioned like a miniature stupika or an octagonal dome.
  • The entrance to the garbhagriha is adorned with fierce Dvarapalas, or the doorkeepers, guarding the temple.
  • A sizable water tank, sometimes known as a temple tank, is frequently found encased within the complex.
  • Subsidiary shrines are either integrated into the main temple tower or are situated next to the main temple as unique, tiny shrines.

Nagara Style of Architecture

Nagara architectural-style temples were developed in North India.This style of architecture is complex, and not enclosed. The top of this temple style has Amalarka, which is a stone-like structure. This structure comprises two buildings, the taller one is the shrine, and the mandapa is the smaller one. The subdivisions of the Nagara Style of Temple Architecture include:

  • Rekha-prasada/Latina: It contains a straightforward shikhara with a square base and walls that slope inward to a point at the top. It is the most typical style.
  • Phamsana: Roofs made out of numerous slabs that slopingly climb to a single point above the center of the building. Compared to Latina buildings, these are typically wider and shorter.
  • Valabhi: Rectangular structures whose roof rises to form a vaulted space. It is also known as wagon-vaulted structures.

Some of the famous Nagara architectural-style temples are the Mahadeva temple at Khajuraho, and the Sun temple at Madera, Gujarat.

Features of Nagara Temple Style

The main features of this Nagara style of temple architecture are:

  • It typically lacks intricate boundary walls or entrances.
  • The tallest tower is always exactly above the garbhagriha.
  • Nagara temples can be divided into many different types according to the shikhara’s shape.
  • The installation of Amalaka or Kalash on Shikhara is another distinguishing element of the Nagara type of temple architecture.

Vesara architectural style

The temple architecture of Vesara combines the Nagara and Dravidian traditions. The Vesara style, according to several historians, developed in what is now Karnataka. The Chalukyas of Badami (500–753 AD) established the Vesara style, which was afterward perfected by the Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta in Ellora, the Chalukyas of Kalyani in Lakkundi, Dambal, Gadag, etc., and finally exemplified by the Hoysalas. The structures are finely finished, and also they are well polished.

Some examples of this architectural style are the Kailashnatha temple at Ellora, the Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid, and Navalinga Temples in Kukkanur.

Features of Vesara Temple Style

The main features of this Vesara style of temple architecture are:

  • The tower has a vertical shape rather than sloping levels.
  • By reducing the elevation of each storey and placing them in descending sequence of height from bottom to top with significant embellishment on each floor, the Chalukyan builders changed the Dravida towers.
  • There are two distinguishing characteristics of Chalukya temples: Mantapa and Pillars.
  • The panchayatan style and the shrine and secondary shrine plans are reminiscent of the Nagara School.
  • The vestibule connecting the sanctum to the mandapa follows the same design as temples in Odisha.
  • The wall decoration and miniature decorative towers of Chalukya temples combine Dravida and Nagara architectural elements.

Temple Architecture in India

In India, there are many ways in which the temple architecture differs from each other, and each has some prominent features. The Dravida in the southern region and Nagara in the Northern region are the two broad temples of the country.

Indian Temple Architecture Description of Temple Style
North India Temples The Northern temples are built with stone platforms with steps leading to them. The north temples are mostly made up of Nagara architectural style. Presently in northern India, temples have several temple heads; earlier, it used to be only one.
Central India Temples The temples in central India are mostly made up of sandstones. In Madhya Pradesh state, some old surviving temples were from the Gupta period. Amalak and Kalash are the two crowning elements found in all temples of that period.
Western India Temples The temples in this region are large in number, primarily situated in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and western Madhya Pradesh. Different colors and types of stones are used in building temples. Samlaji in Gujarat is considered the western region’s most important art historical site.
Eastern India Temples These temples are found in the Northeast, Bengal, and Odisha. Bengal used terracotta is used as its primary building material for carving Buddhist and Hindu temples. Eastern India has several temples, but one of the most well-known is the Kamakhya temple in Assam, constructed in the 17th century and devoted to the goddess Kamakhya. Also, Siddheshvara Mahadeva temple is situated in Barakar in the Burdwan district.
Hill Temples It is developed in Kumaon, Garhwal, Himachal, and Kashmir hills. India’s hill temples have a tradition of having wooden structures with pitched roofs. Pandrethan was built during the 8th and 9th centuries.
South India Temple The Dravida-style temple is found in the south Indian temples. These temples have compounded walls, unlike the nagara-style temple. Gopuram is the entrance gateway in its center in temples of south India. The most famous temple in south India is in Tamil Nadu. These are Kanchipuram, Thanjavur, Madhurai, and Kumbakonam.
Deccan Architecture In a state like Karnataka, many different architectural styles from temples of north and south India were used. Most of the experimental hybrid styles of architecture are found in the Deccan region, i.e., in Karnataka. Temples like Lad Khan temple at Aihole in Karnataka and Hoysaleswara temple are famous Deccan architecture temples which were made inspired by wooden roofed temples in the hills and also in dark schist stone respectively.
Buddhist Architectural Developments Bodhgaya is a pre-eminent Buddhist site. King Ashoka constructed the Bodhi Tree, which is known as the first shrine in Buddhist architecture. The design of these temples is neither Dravida nor Nagara; they are different from all. Kumar Gupta, I led the foundation of the monastery in the 5th century CE. Nagapattinam, Lalitagiri, Vajragiti, and Ratnagiri are some of the famous Buddhist monasteries.
Jain Architectural Developments Except in hills, Jain architecture was found across the length and breadth of India. Just like Hindus, Jains were also prolific builders of the temple. In Bihar, there is the oldest Jain pilgrimage, and in Ellora and Aihole, some most important Jain architectural sites can be found. The famous rich heritage of the Jain structure is located in Karnataka. Vimal Shah constructed the most famous Jain temple at Mount Abu.

Temple Architecture UPSC

Temple Architecture finds its relevance in the History section of the UPSC Syllabus. The topic is extremely important for the Art and Culture Section of the UPSC Prelims. The GS Paper 1 syllabus covers the topic of Temple Architecture exhaustively.

To prepare temple architecture topics for the UPSC Exam, candidates must refer to the Art and Culture Notes, along with the NCERT Books for UPSC.

Temple Architecture UPSC Question

Question: The Nagara, the Dravida and the Vesara are the

a) three main racial groups of the Indian subcontinent.

b) Three main linguistic divisions in which the languages of India can be classified

c) three main styles of Indian temple architecture

d) three main musical Gharanas prevalent in India

Answer: Option C

UPSC Notes
Dances of India Paintings of India
Bhakti Movement Six Schools of Indian Philosophy
Madhubani Painting Sangam Literature
Vedic Literature Ancient Indian Architecture
Our Apps Playstore
SSC and Bank
Other Exams
GradeStack Learning Pvt. Ltd.Windsor IT Park, Tower - A, 2nd Floor, Sector 125, Noida, Uttar Pradesh 201303
Home Practice Test Series Premium