designmango-Styles of Free-standing Temples in Hindu Architecture

Styles of Free-standing Temples in Hindu Architecture

A free-standing structure refers to a structure that stands on its own without being supported by other elements. Free-standing temples can be characterized by the use of standardized elements that could be constructed separately and transported and assembled with ease. These structures don’t require specialized tools, techniques, and surroundings for construction, unlike rock-cut structures.

Free-standing structures began to be constructed in India during the Gupta Empire and gradually replaced the cave structures in popularity and prominence. This can also be attributed to the function that these temples served as the centers of community where people frequently gathered. The earliest examples of free-standing temples in India include the surviving free-standing temple structures at Deogarh and the Dashavatara temple of Vishnu which was built in the 6th Century CE.

Although numerous styles of free-standing temple architecture have emerged over time in the Indian subcontinent with the influence of different cultures, they can majorly be divided into three types in terms of structural similarities and prominence:

Nagara Architectural Style

Nagara Architectural style of free-standing temples was prominent in the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent. It is characterized by the presence of Garbha griha or womb chamber that is used to house the idol of the main deity, a maha mandap or ardha mandap, a pillared hall, to the fore, surrounding the inner sanctum, and a tower structure called vimana covering it.

A veranda was also constructed around the womb chamber for pradakshina or circumambulation and this path was known as the circumambulation path. Subsidiary shrines and structures were also built around the temple to serve minor Gods.

Dravida Architectural Style

Prominent in the southern regions of the Indian subcontinent, this style of free-standing temple architecture is characterized by Vimanam or Vimana, a pyramid-shaped roof that rises in the form of terraces, unlike the Nagara style which features a high and curved roof.

Mandapas and Gopurams are also some of the distinguishing features of this style.

Mandapas refer to the front porches that lead to the cell and Gopurams refer to the gate pyramids in the form of quadrangular enclosures.


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Vesara Achitectural Style

The Vesara style of architecture is most prominent in the Deccan region and is characterized by a mix of elements of the Nagara and Dravida style of architecture. Hoysala temples at Belur are some of the prime examples of this style.

Kushal Trivedi

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