Exquisite South Asian Temple Architecture

by SAHF Team

As part of our South Asian architecture series, we have collected pictures of some amazing architectural works of temples in South Asia. We would like to give credit to twitter handle @LostTemple7 and @Raghuna60111601 for these nice photographs. We encourage original photographers to take credit of their photos if we have missed their names here.

Shri Murudeshwara Temple (located in Karnataka, India) is built on the Kanduka Hill, which is surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Arabian Sea. It is dedicated to Sri Lokankara, and a 20-storied gopura is constructed at the temple. The temple authorities have installed a lift that provides a breath-taking view of the 123-feet Sri Shiva idol from the top of the Raja Gopura.

The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is a Hindu temple located in Thiruvananthapuram, which is the state capital of Kerala. It is the wealthiest place of worship in the world. The name of the city of Thiruvananthapuram in Malayalam translates to “The City of Lord Ananta”, referring to the deity of this temple. According to one source, Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple is one of the 108 Divya Desams in India. These 108 temples are mentioned by the Hindu Azhvars (saints) between the 6th and 9th centuries AD as the holiest abodes of Vishnu. Therefore, the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple has been occupying an important place in the Hindu religion for a very long time.

The 16th century Sri Padmanabhaswamy Swamy Temple is so well constructed that during the Equinox, the sun passes exactly through the middle of the Gopuram and through all its doors. The equinox is said to happen twice in one year, once in the spring and once in the autumn (each year when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun). During the event, the tilt of the Earth (with respect to the Sun) is 0° and because of it duration of the day and the night are almost equal i.e. 12 hours. The event occurs once on 20th or 21st March and 22nd or 23rd September each year.

Khajuraho group of temples are located near the town of Khajuraho in the Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh in India, around 620 kilometers southeast of the capital city New Delhi. The Khajuraho temples were built over a period of 100 years from 950 to 1050 during the rule of the Hindu dynasty of the Chandela Dynasty. 20 of these Jain and Hindu temples, famous for their erotic art, survive in India, and have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The temples of Khajuraho depict spectacular artwork in the form of sculptures on both the interior and exterior walls. Around 10% of these sculptures depict erotic acts being carried out by human beings. These erotic carvings are usually avoided in the walls facing the deities of the temples, which could imply that sexual desires need to discarded while entering the temple to worship the deity. The presence of the erotic art is found among the other art forms which depict the daily life of humans.

The entire collection of art and architecture of the Khajuraho temples attempts to highlight the central ideas of Hinduism, including the Hindu principles of dharma, karma, artha and moksha, and the interdependence between masculine and feminine entities. Some of the major Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism, as well as the Jain tirthankaras, have temples dedicated to them in the Khajuraho temple complex. The sculptures on the walls of the temples also depict the traditional Hindu ways of life, acting as a lifestyle guides to practicing Hindus. Only a few of the temples of Khajuraho remain active for religious purposes, and these include the Matangeshvara temple and the Kandariya Mahadev temple.

Chidambaram temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the heart of the temple town of Chidambaram in  Tamil Nadu. The temple is 78 km south of Pondicherry and 235 Km from Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu. The Sangam classics refer to Viduvelvidugu Perumtaccan, a respected clan of traditional Vishwakarmas, as being the chief architect of the temple renovation. There have been several renovations in its history, particularly during the days of Pallava/Chola emperors in ancient and pre-medieval periods.

Chidambaram is one of the five holiest Shiva temples, each representing one of the five natural elements; Chidambaram represents akasha (aether). The other four forms of Shiva in this category are Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswara (water), Kanchi Ekambareswara (earth), Thiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara (fire), and Kalahasti Nathar (wind).

A unique feature of this temple is the bejeweled image of Nataraja. It depicts the Lord Shiva as the lord of the dance, notably in the context of Bharatanatyam. It is one of the few temples where Shiva is represented by an anthropomorphic murthi rather than the classic, anionic lingam. The Cosmic Dance of Lord Nataraja symbolises the motion of the universe as sustained by Lord Shiva. The temple has five courts. Aragalur Udaya Iraratevan Ponparappinan (alias Vanakovaraiyan) rebuilt the Shiva temple at Chidambaram around 1213 AD.

The Chaturmukha Jain Temple of Ranakpur is in the heart of the remote and enchanting valley of the Aravallis, skirting the rivulet Maghai and enveloped in the solitude of the surrounding forest, stands. Deep in the Aravali hills of the northwestern state of Rajasthan in India, between Udaipur and Jodhpur, stands this stunning fifth-century Jain temple of Ranakpur. There are 1440 pillars in this temple and each pillars tells some sort of story and, these stories are different from pillar to pillar.

Someshwara Temple is situated in the Kolar town of Karnataka. It is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is believed to be built by the Cholas and was extensively renovated by the Vijayanagara Kings in the 14th century. This temple is very rich in finish and detail. The temple is noted for its tall Gopuram over the main entrance. The Kalyan Mandapa is intricately carved and compact.

The Kailash temple is situated about 30 km from the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra. This rock-cave temple of Ellora is the largest monolithic structure in the world. It was carved from top to bottom. It is believed that the Kailash Temple at Ellora has striking similarities to the Virupaksha temple of northern Karnataka. It is curved out of Basalt Rock, which is one of the hardest stones found in nature.

The Kailash Temple is in the sixteenth cave, and it is one of the 32 cave temples and monasteries forming the magnanimous Ellora Caves. As per the historical records, it was built by the 8th century Rashtrakuta King Krishna I between the year 756 and 773 AD. Further, the non-Rashtrakuta style temples located close by denote the involvement of Pallava and Chalukya artists.

Vijaya Vittala is a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu of the Hindu Trinity (Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva). It is built in the Dravidian architectural style in Hampi. Hampi-Vijayanagara was the world’s 2nd largest medieval-era city after Beijing, and probably India’s richest at that time. It was destroyed by the Deccan Sultanate armies in 1565 after Vijayanagara was defeated at the Battle of Talikota.

Vijaya Vittala is the only temple in Hampi that possesses a stone chariot in the front courtyard. In fact, it is one of the three temples in India that have stone chariots. The Musical Pillars of the Vijaya Vittala Temple are the next most famous thing inside the complex. Vijaya Vittala Temple has 56 musical pillars and they are often called the Saregama Pillars. These pillars can be tapped with your thumb to generate music similar to the notes of Saregama.

Arunachalesvara Temple, also called Annamalaiyar, is dedicated to the God Shiva. It is located at the base of Arunachala hill in the town of Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. It is significant to the Hindu sect of Saivism as it is one of the temples associated with the five elements, the Pancha Bhoota Stalas. Specifically, it associated with the element of fire or Agni. Shiva is worshiped as Arunachalesvara or Annamalaiyar and is represented by the lingam, with his idol referred to as Agni Lingam. It is carved out of one of the hardest rocks (i.e. Granite) over 1,300 years ago.

Sun Temple at Modhera is a Hindu temple dedicated to the solar deity Surya located in the Modhera village of Gujarat. It is situated on the bank of the river Pushpavati. It was built after 1026-27 CE during the reign of Bhima I of the Chaulukya dynasty.

The temple complex has 3 components: Gudhamandapa, the shrine hall; Sabhamandapa, the assembly hall; and the Kunda, the reservoir. The halls have intricately carved exteriors & pillars. The reservoir has steps to reach the bottom and numerous small shrines.

Meenakshi Amman Temple or Meenakshi-Sundareshwara Temple is located on the southern bank of the Vaigai River in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. It is dedicated to Meenakshi, a form of Parvati, and her consort, Sundareshwara, a form of Shiva. The temple is 2,500 years old, and the temple’s 14 towers are each covered in thousands of colorful stone figures depicting animals, gods and demons.

Below, you can see the Sukhasanamurti Shiva at Meenakshi Amman Temple. Sukhasanamurti is one of the forms of Lord Shiva, in which he is referred to as a yogi. ‘Sukha’ refers to the pleasing state of mind & body. ‘Asana’ refers to the physical posture when one performs yoga.

Some more features of this temple, including the artwork of the gopuram towers.

Below, you can see a picture of a Shiva lingam. On the ceiling outside the Shiva temple, the artist has painted this linga in such a way that it always point at you.

Vijay Stambha is located at Chittorgarh, Rajasthan and was built in 1440 AD by Maharana Kumbha to commemorate his victory over Mohamed Khilji. This 9-storyed tower is adorned by sculptures of Hindu deities around. There are around 157 narrow steps leading to the terrace

Chausath Yogini Temple is located in Morena, Madhya Pradesh and is also known as Ekattarso Mahadeva Temple. It is an 11th-century temple located in Morena district in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. It is one of the few well-preserved Yogini temples in the country. The temple is formed by a circular wall with 64 chambers and an open mandapa in the centre, separated by a courtyard which is circular in shape.

The design of the temple has withstood earthquake shocks without any damage to its circular structural features in the past several centuries. The temple is in the Seismic Zone III. This fact was cited when the issue of safety from earthquakes of the Indian Parliament House, which was designed after this Chausath Yogini Temple, was debated in the Indian Parliament.

Chennakesava Temple is located in Somanathapura, Karnataka and was built during the rule of the Hoysala Dynasty of Karnataka; this temple illustrates the prolific skills of the sculptors of that era. It is a sheer exhibition of Hindu scriptures moulded in lifelike sculptures. For an artist, it is a temple where the creators left behind an art gallery for the generations to come. Even for a layman, it would have been like a school to grasp the unwritten mythology through an easy pictorial representation. Historians claim it to be an artwork that led Hoysalas to the zenith of their architectural glory. This ornately chiselled ancient temple of India is located near Mysore and was built in the 13th century.

Arulmigu Kallalagar Temple is located in the picturesque wooded hill azhgar kovil at Madurai. It is one of 108 divya desams dedicated to Lord Vishnu. At this specific temple, Lord Vishnu takes the form of Goddess Meenakshi’s brother ‘Azhgar’. As per the puranams, the temple was built by Dharmadevan and later renovated by Malayathdwajan.

The temple is built on an extensive area in a very picturesque spot, surrounded by the ruins of a historic fort. The impressive main tower at the entrance is believed to have been built by the Pandyan Kings, and it has some beautiful sculptures depicting scenes from the epics. According to historical records, Malayadhwaja Pandyan, the son of Kulasekhara Pandyan, who is said to have established the Pandyan kingdom, appears to be the earliest known monarch who patronised this temple.

Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple is located in Tamil Nadu, and it is the biggest temple constructed during the reign of Rajendra Chola in Ariyalur region. Following the conquest of the Gangetic plains in 1023 AD, Rajendra I built a great city called Gangaikondacholapauram, a Shiva temple to a form of Shiva called Gangaikondacholisvarar, and a lake called Chola Gangam in commemoration of his victory. The city, the temple and the lake (Chola Gangam) are the living embodiments of the heroism of the Tamils who unfurled the Chola‘s Tiger flag on the banks of the River Ganges. Rajendra I also shifted his capital from Thanjavur to this newly built town. From his period to the end of the Chola family rule in A.D.1279, this city was the capital of the Chola Empire for a period of 256 years. The gigantic stone temple, which he built in this place, is rich in beautiful sculptures of the middle Chola period. This city is celebrated in the literature of Muvar Ula of Ottakuttar and Kalingattuparani of Jayankondar.

Jambukeswarar Shiva Temple is located in the Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) district of Tamil Nadu. It is one of the five element shrines of Lord Shiva mentioned before. The sanctum of this temple has an underground water stream, and one can see water coming out of that stream. This temple is around 2,500 years old.

Delwara Temple is located at Mount Abu in Rajasthan. It is one of the finest Jain temple, and it is known the world over for its extraordinary architecture and marvelous marble stone carvings. Some experts also consider it architecturally superior to the Taj Mahal. It seems like a fairly basic temple from the outside but, the temple interior showcases the extraordinary work of human craftsmanship at its best. These temple was built between 11th to 13th century AD. The beautiful lush green hills surrounding the templ gives the local environment a very pleasant feeling. The ornamental details of marble stone carvings is phenomenal and unmatched. The minutely carved ceilings and the pillars are just amazing. All this was done at a time when little to no transport or roads were available near Mount Abu, which is over 1,200 meters tall. Huge blocks of marble stones were transported on elephant backs from the Arasoori Hills at Ambaji to this remote hilly region of Mount Abu. Dilwara temples is also a popular Jain pilgrimage attraction.


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