Hindu temple

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"Devasthanam" redirects here. For the 2012 film, see Devasthanam (film).

A Temple (Sanskrit: Mandir)[note 1] is a structure which houses the Gods in Hinduism. A characteristic of most temples is the presence of murtis (idols) of the Hindu deity to whom the temple is dedicated. They are usually dedicated to one primary deity, the presiding deity though there are temples dedicated to several deities. Temples are located at key geographical points, such as a hill top, in caves and riverbanks which serves as a shelter for people during natural disasters.


In Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism, the word "mandir" means "house".

Nomenclature and orthography[edit]

The following are the other names by which temple is referred to in India:

  • Devasthana (ದೇವಸ್ಥಾನ) in Kannada
  • Deul/Doul/Dewaaloy in Assamese
  • Deval/Raul/Mandir(मंदिर) in Marathi
  • Deula (ଦେଉଳ)/Mandira(ମଦିର) in Oriya and Gudi in Kosali Oriya
  • Gudi (గుడి), Devalayam (దేవాలయం), Devasthanam (దేవస్థానము), Kovela (కోవెల), Kshetralayam (క్షేత్రాలయం), Punyakshetram (పుణ్యక్షేత్రం), or Punyakshetralayam (పుణ్యక్షేత్రాలయం) in Telugu
  • Koil, or kō-ail (கோயில்) and occasionally Aalayam (ஆலயம்) in Tamil; the Tamil word "Koil" means "residence of the king" and is used to refer to a distinct style of Hindu temple with Dravidian architecture
  • Kshetram (ക്ഷേത്രം), Ambalam (അമ്പലം), or Kovil (കോവിൽ) in Malayalam
  • Mandir (मंदिर) in Nepali, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati and Hindi
  • Mandiram (మందిరం),[1]
  • Mondir (মন্দির) in Bengali

In Southeast Asia temples known as:


The oldest temples were built of brick and wood. Stone later became the preferred material. Temples marked the transition of the Vedic religion to Hinduism.[2] Archaeoastronomy in India provides us with crucial clues to the evolution of the temple and its many cultural functions.[3][4][5] An early description of the temple plan is in the Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira. In the standard square plan, a vastu-purusa-mandala of 64 or 81 squares was first drawn.[6]

Mandir construction and mode of worship is governed by several Sanskrit scriptures called agamas, which deal with individual deities. There are substantial differences in architecture, customs, rituals and traditions in temples in different parts of India.[6] During the consecration of a temple the presence of Brahman is invoked into the main deity of the temple, making the deity and temple sacred.[6]

Architecture and alignment[edit]

Main shrine of Prambanan, a Shiva temple and the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia
The cross section Prambanan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

According to practitioners of Hinduism, the temple, through which contacts or relations are established among the states of being (humans, spirits, and gods), is a combination of the data of yoga, astrology, and sacred geography.[citation needed] In the temple structure, there are diagrams similar to the ones described for chakras according to yoga experience, with proportions similar to those deriving from the position of the stars.[citation needed] All the Hindu temples in India follows the architecture defined in Shilpa Shastras. The top of each Hindu temple may have a series of levels called gopuram.


A South Indian style Murugan temple in Netherlands

In Hinduism, altars generally contain pictures or statues of gods and goddesses. Large, ornate altars are found in Hindu temples while smaller altars are found in homes and sometimes also in Hindu-run shops and restaurants. The altar (and that which contains it, even an alcove or a small cabinet) is a hypostatised temple.

In South Indian temples, often each god will have His or Her own shrine, each contained in a miniature house. These shrines are often scattered around the temple compound. The statue of the God (murti) is placed on a stone pedestal in the shrine, and one or more lamps are hung in the shrine. Directly outside the main shrine, there will be a statue of the god's vahana or vehicle facing the main deity. The shrines have curtains hung over the entrances, and wooden doors.

North Indian temples generally have one main altar at the front of the temple room. In some temples, the front of the room is separated with walls and several altars are placed in the alcoves. The statues on the altars may be placed in pairs, each god with his consort (Radha-Krishna, Sita-Rama, Shiva-Parvati) or alone (Ganesha and Hanuman). Ritual items such as flowers or lamps may be placed on the altar.

Temple tanks[edit]

Temple pond at Chennai
Main article: Temple tank

Kalyani, pushkarini, kunda, sarovara, theppakulam etc. are stepped bathing wells typically built near Hindu temples for bathing before prayer. They are also used for immersing the idols of Gods during religious festivals.

Customs and etiquette[edit]

Shree Ganesh Mandir Uttar Pradesh

The customs and etiquette when visiting Hindu temples have a long history and are filled with symbolism. A bell (ghanta) hangs at the gate of many Hindu temples, which is rung at the moment one enters the temple. Worshipers in major temples typically bring in symbolic offerings for the puja. This includes fruits, flowers, sweets and other symbols of the bounty of the natural world. Temples in India are usually surrounded by small stores which offer them typically wrapped in organic containers such as banana leaves.

When inside the temple, it is typical to keep both hands folded together as a sign of respect. The inner sanctuary, where the murtis reside, is known as the garbhagriha. It symbolizes the birthplace of the universe, the meeting place of the gods and mankind, and the threshold between the transcendental and the phenomenal worlds.[7] It is in this inner shrine that devotees offer prayers and salutations to the presiding deities. Devotees may or may not be able to personally present their offerings at the feet of the deity. In most South Indian temples, only the pujaris are allowed to enter into the main sanctum.[8] In North Indian temples, however, it is more common for devotees to be allowed entrance.[8]

There are various mantras and shlokas or verses from the holy texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads or Vedas which are chanted. Upon the conclusion of prayer, devotees get down on their knees or fall flat on their stomach and bow before the symbol of the deity. If a pujari is present, they are likely to provide sacred symbolically blessed food, holy ash or kumkum as a prasad to the devotee.

Temple management staff typically announce the hours of operation, including timings for special pujas. These timings, due to the vast diversity in Hinduism, vary from temple to temple. Additionally, there may be specially allotted times for devotees to perform circumambulations (or pradakshina) around the temple.[8]

Visitors and worshipers to Hindu temples are required to remove shoes and other footwear before entering. Most temples have an area designated to store footwear. Additionally, it is customary in temples in Kerala, for men to remove shirts and to cover pants and shorts with a traditional cloth known as a Vasthiram.[9]

South Indian temples[edit]

The gopuram (tower) of Natarajar Temple, a typical South Indian temple complex in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu.

South Indian temples have a large gopuram, a monumental tower, usually ornate, at the entrance of the temple. This forms a prominent feature of Koils, Hindu temples of the Dravidian style.[10] They are topped by the kalasam, a bulbous stone finial. They function as gateways through the walls that surround the temple complex.[11] The gopuram's origins can be traced back to early structures of the Tamil kings Pallavas; and by the twelfth century, under the Pandya rulers, these gateways became a dominant feature of a temple's outer appearance, eventually overshadowing the inner sanctuary which became obscured from view by the gopuram's colossal size.[12] It also dominated the inner sanctum in amount of ornamentation. Often a shrine has more than one gopuram.[13] They also appear in architecture outside India, especially Khmer architecture, as at Angkor Wat. A koil may have multiple gopurams, typically constructed into multiple walls in tiers around the main shrine. The temple's walls are typically square with the outer most wall having gopuras. The sanctum sanctorium and its towering roof (the central deity's shrine) are also called the vimanam. The inner sanctum has restricted access with only priests allowed beyond a certain point.

North Indian temples[edit]

Hindu temple at Tilla Jogian, Pakistan

Most temples in North Indian rituals are very simple in stark contrast to South Indian temples which have elaborate rituals. Also, North Indian temples often tend to be less orthodox and in many cases everybody are permitted to enter the innermost sanctum of the deity and worship the deity personally. In such cases, the deity is not adorned with valuable jewelry. The innermost heart of the temple is the sanctum sanctorum where the deity (usually made of fixed stone) is present, followed by a large hall for lay worshippers to stand in and obtain darśana (divine audience). There may or may not be many more surrounding corridors, halls, etc. However, there will be space for devotees to go around the temple in clockwise fashion circumambulation as a mark of respect. In North Indian temples, the tallest towers are built over the sanctum sanctorum. Many large old temples were destroyed during Islamic rule in India. These temples have sikharas (towers) built over the sanctum sanctorum in which the deity is installed.[14]

Cave Temples[edit]

Ellora Temple, Maharashtra (India)

The significant Indian rock-cut architecture evolved in Maharashtran temple style in the 1st millennium. The temples are carved from a single piece of rock as a complete temple or carved in a cave to look like the interior of a temple. Ellora Temple is an example of the former, while The Elephanta Caves are representative of the latter style. Ellora also known as Ellooru, is an archaeological site, 29 km (18 mi) north-west of the city of Aurangabad, Maharashtra, built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty. Well known for its monumental caves, Ellora is a World Heritage Site. The Elephanta Caves are a network of sculpted caves located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri (literally "the city of caves") in Mumbai Harbour, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to the east of the city of Mumbai. The island, located on an arm of the Arabian Sea, consists of two groups of caves—the first is a large group of five Hindu caves and the second is a smaller group of two Buddhist caves. The Hindu caves contain rock-cut stone sculptures, representing the Shaiva Hindu sect, dedicated to the god Shiva.

Temples in Tamil Nadu[edit]

The Shore Temple (built in early 8th century AD) at the Mahabalipuram beach

All Hindu deities in various forms and a large number of village deities are worshiped by Hindus in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu dominates the list of largest Hindu Temples in the world which include the Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple, Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple, Ekambareswarar Temple at Kanchipuram, Chidambaram Nataraja Temple, Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleswar Temple among others. The emblem of Government of Tamil Nadu depicts the Gopuram (gateway tower) of the Andal Temple at Srivilliputhur. Dravidian architecture reached its peak during rule of Pallavas. They build various temples around Kancheepuram and Narasimhavarman II built the Shore Temple in Mamallapuram which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pandyas ruled Madurai and temples such as the Meenakshi Amman Temple at Madurai and Nellaiappar Temple at Tirunelveli are the best examples of Pandyan temple architecture.[15] The Cholas were prolific temple builders right from the times of the first medieval king Vijayalaya Chola. The Cholas went on to becoming a great power and built some of the most imposing religious structures in their lifetime and they also renovated temples and buildings of the Pallavas, acknowledging their common socio-religious and cultural heritage. The celebrated Nataraja temple at Chidambaram and the Sri Ranganathaswami Temple at Srirangam held special significance for the Cholas which have been mentioned in their inscriptions as their tutelary deities. Rajaraja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola built temples such as the Brihadeshvara Temple of Thanjavur, Brihadeshvara Temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple of Darasuram which are the Great Living Chola Temples among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Nayaks of Madurai reconstructed some of the well-known temples in Tamil Nadu such as the Meenakshi Temple.

Temples in Odisha[edit]

Shri Jagannath Temple, Puri

Odisha is known as the "land of temples".[16] Temple architecture in Stipulated architectural principles with ample provision for artistic improvisation enabled the progressive generations. Temples in Odisha are based on certain fundamental principles of stability and take their cue from the human body. The superstructure is basically divided into three parts, the Bāḍa (lower limb), the Ganḍi (body) and the Cuḷa/Mastaka (head). Accordingly, each part is given a different treatment throughout, from the architecture to the final ornamentation of the temple. Kalinga architecture is a style which flourished in the ancient Kalinga region or present eastern Indian state of Orissa and northern Andhra Pradesh. The style consists of three distinct types of temples: Rekha Deula, Pidha Deula and Khakhara Deula. The former two are associated with Vishnu, Surya and Shiva temples while the third is mainly associated with Chamunda and Durga temples. The Rekha Deula and Khakhara Deula houses the sanctum sanctorum while the Pidha Deula constitutes outer dancing and offering halls.

Temples of Goa and other Konkani temples[edit]

Saptakoteshwar Temple and the Kavi murals, Narve, Goa

The temple architecture of Goa is quite unique. As part of Inquisition of Goa, the Portuguese demolished more than 1000 temples on island of Goa. New temples were later built in the areas in Goa which were not parts of the Portuguese kingdom, and were under reign of Hindu princely states. Thus these temples are not more than 500 years old, and are a unique blend of original Goan temple architecture, Dravidian, Nagar and Hemadpanthi temple styles with some British and Portuguese architectural influences. Goan temples were built using sedimentary rocks, wood, limestone and clay tiles, and copper sheets were used for the roofs. These temples were decorated with mural art called as Kavi kala or ocher art. The interiors were decorated with such murals as well as exquisite wood carvings depicting scenes from the Hindu mythology.

Temples in West Bengal and Bangaladesh[edit]

In West Bengal and Bangaladesh, temple architecture has assumed a unique identity and evolved into the Bengali terra cotta temple architecture. Due to lack of suitable stone in the alluvial Gangetic delta, the temple makers had to resort to other materials instead of stone. This gave rise to using terracotta as a medium for temple construction. Terracotta exteriors with rich carvings are a unique feature of Bengali temples. The town of Vishnupur in West Bengal is renowned for this type of architecture. Usually a part of the intended total motif was carved by hand on one side of a brick and then baked. While under construction, these carved bricks were arranged to make up the entire motif. The Bengali style of temple is usually not luxurious. Rather, most are modeled on simple thatched-roof earthen huts used as dwellings by commoners. This can be attributed to the popularity of bhakti cults which taught people to view gods as close to themselves. Thus, various styles like do-chala, char-chala, and aat-chala sprang up. However, there is also a popular style of building known as Navaratna (nine-towered) or Pancharatna (five-towered) in Bengal which is more luxurious than the Chala buildings. A typical example of Navaratna style is the Dakshineswar Kali Temple.

Hindu Temples in Cambodia[edit]

Angkor Wat (Khmer) is the largest Hindu temple complex in the world. The temple was built by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yasodharapura (Khmer, present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation – first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu, then Buddhist. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country's prime attraction for visitors.

Hindu Temples in Indonesia[edit]

Balinese temple is designed as an open-air worship compounds

Hindu temples of ancient Java, Indonesia, bear resemblances with temples of South Indian style. However later ancient Javanese art and architecture developed its own style. The fine example of 9th century Javanese Hindu temple is the towering Trimurti temple of Prambanan in Yogyakarta. In Bali, unlike the common towering indoor Indian Hindu temple, Pura (Balinese temple) is designed as an open-air worship place within enclosed walls, connected with series of intricately decorated gates to reach its compounds. The design, plan and layout of the holy pura is followed the "Trimandala" concept, three mandala zone arranged according to the hierarchy of its sacredness.

Hindu Temples outside of South Asia[edit]

A temple in Hamm, Germany

Many members of the South Asian diaspora have established Hindu mandirs outside India as a means of preserving and celebrating cultural and spiritual heritage abroad. Describing the hundreds of mandirs that can be found throughout the United States, scholar Gail M. Harley observes, “The temples serve as central locations where Hindus can come together to worship during holy festivals and socialize with other Hindus. Temples in America reflect the colorful kaleidoscopic aspects contained in Hinduism while unifying people who are disbursed throughout the American landscape.”[17] Numerous mandirs in North America and Europe have gained particular prominence and acclaim.

Temple Management[edit]

The Archeological Survey of India has control of most ancient temples of archaeological importance in India. In India, day to day activities of a temple is managed by a temple board committee that administers its finances, management and events. Since independence, the autonomy of individual Hindu religious denominations to manage their own affairs with respect to temples of their own denomination have been severely eroded and the state governments have taken control of major Hindu temples.

See also[edit]

Media related to Hindu temples at Wikimedia Commons



  1. ^ In Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism, the word for a Hindu temple is Mandir. Please see the nomenclature and orthography section for the term in other languages.


  1. ^ http://www.mustseeindia.com/Tirupati-Sri-Venkateswara-Dhyana-Vignan-Mandiram/attraction/11357
  2. ^ Subhash Kak, Early Indian Architecture and Art. Migration & Diffusion, Vol.6/Nr.23, pages 6-27, 2005.
  3. ^ J.M. Malville and L.M. Gujral, Ancient Cities, Sacred Skies. New Delhi, 2000.
  4. ^ Rana P.B. Singh, Cosmic Order and Cultural Astronomy. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.
  5. ^ Subhash Kak, Visions of the cosmos. Journal of Cosmoloy, vol. 9, pp. 2063-2077, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple. University of Calcutta, Calcutta, 1946.
  7. ^ Werner, Karel (1994). A Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Curzon Press. ISBN 0-7007-1049-3.
  8. ^ a b c Narayanan, Vasudha. "The Hindu Tradition". In A Concise Introduction to World Religions, ed. Willard G. Oxtoby and Alan F. Segal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007
  9. ^ Bain, Keith, Pippa Bryun, and David Allardice. Frommer’s India. 1st. New Jersey: Wiley Publishing, 2010. Page 75
  10. ^ Ching et al., Francis D.K. (2007). A Global History of Architecture. New York: John Wiley and Sons. p. 762. ISBN 0-471-26892-5. 
  11. ^ Ching, Francis D.K. (1995). A Visual Dictionary of Architecture. New York: John Wiley and Sons. p. 253. ISBN 0-471-28451-3. 
  12. ^ Mitchell, George (1988). The Hindu Temple. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 151–153. ISBN 0-226-53230-5. 
  13. ^ "gopura". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  14. ^ Williams, Raymond (2001). Introduction to Swaminarayan Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 123–136. ISBN 978-0-521-65422-7. 
  15. ^ Sastri 1970, pp. 18–182.
  16. ^ http://travel.financialexpress.com/201201/market22.shtml
  17. ^ Harley, Gail M (2003). Hindu and Sikh Faiths in America. Facts on File, Inc. ISBN 0-8160-4987-4.

External links[edit]