Hindu Temple Mystery!


Thirissur Temple in Kerala

Research article by London swaminathan

Post No.2230

Date: 9  October 2015

Time uploaded in London: 21-43

Thanks for the pictures.

Don’t use pictures. Don’t reblog for at least a week.

If you read any modern book on Hindu Temple architecture they broadly classify the temples into three categories: Nagara, Dravida and Vesara. But these are relatively modern terms. It is neither found in Varahamihira’s classification of temples or Tamil saint Appar’s classification of temples. Both of them lived before seventh century CE. Temples did not exist during Vedic times. But they existed during Epic times. We have references to Temple worship in Ramayana and Bhagavata. They may not be the gigantic temples like the temples we see today. They may be just places of worship inside a palace or under a banyan tree.


Dwajasthamba with Tortoise

Nagara type of North Indian temples have curvilinear towers. They have square base. Dravida type of South India have towers like pyramids. They have octagonal base. Vesara type of temples combined both these styles. They have circular base. Earlier temples were built with perishable materials such as wood, brick, clay and mortar. Then Guptas built cave temples probably following the Buddhist caves. The gigantic temples we see today came into existence around eighth century CE. In the South, Pandyas and Pallavas made cave temples from sixth century CE at Kazukumalai, Tirupparankundram, Tirumeyyam,Pillayarpatti, Kundrakkudi Kanchi and Mamallapuram. Athiyaman also made such temples in Namakkal.

Varahamihira enumerates twenty types of temples!

(Read my article Twenty Types of Temples in Ancient India- posted on 30th March 2015. In another article I have listed all the temples from the Tamil epic Silappadikaram). Later Appar mentioned seven types of temples:-

Appar alias Tirunavukkarasu, one of the Four Great  Saivite Tamil saints sings about

“If the seventy eight great temples of the Lord

Whose matted crest is adorned with the great flood

KARAKKOYIL, GNAAZHARKKOYIL  girt with well protected

Groves, the hill like KOKUDIKKOYIL of  Karuppariyal

ILANGKOYIL where with the chanting of the Rig Veda

The Brahmins hail and adore the lord MANIKKOYIL

AALAKKOYIL  and every TIRUKKOYIL where Siva abides

Are circumambulated and hailed in humble

Adoration, evil Karma will get annulled “

(Sixth Tirumurai, Adaivu Tiru Thandakam of Appar)


He and his junior contemporary Sambandar visited nearly 300 temples in Tamil speaking areas of South India in the seventh century CE. But we could not even figure out the temples mentioned in Appar’s Thevaram hymn. My research shows that the Kerala Type of temples were the oldest type. We can see such temples from Kerala to North East India. It is also seen in Nepal. Such type of temples don’t fall under the Nagara, Vesara, Dravida Types. The structure of the temples are designed to withstand the monsoon climate. The rain water drains easily in the step like tiled sheds. It helps the teak wood inside to last for longer. Periodically they wold have changed the roof and wood. No mention of these temples in the modern temple architecture books show that they were not taken into account in the classification of temples.

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Nepalese Temple

The mystery lies not only in its structure but also its occurrence from southernmost tip of the land to the Himalayan country of Nepal. We see them even beyond north east India, in Burma, Thailand and other South East Asian countries. After Cambodian and Javan kings modelled their temples on the stone temples of India, this structure continued its existence only in the royal palaces of those countries. Before eighth century they also must have had temples like Kerala. Two things remain a mystery until today:

  1. How come the temples from Kerala to Nepal were built in the same style?
  2. Why there was no mention of this type in Temple architecture books? I mean they were not listed under the three main categories.

3.Third Mystery

There is another mystery surrounding the Dwajasthama, the Flag Staff. In Kerala, most of the temples have erected the Dwajasthamba on Tortoise/Turtle. There is no explanation to show why Kerala temples only followed this type of Flag staff. Tortoise is associated with various things such as Kurma Avatara, Kurma Mudra, Kurma Asana etc in Hindu literature. But we have no explanation to show why they differed from other temples in the erection of Dwajasthamaba. We have Mandapas (Halls) erected on Turtle/ Tortoise in Tamil Nadu, but no Dwajasthamba.

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Temple in Nepal

After studying these things and other ancient customs in Kerala temples, I concluded that they were the oldest models available today. More research is required to put them in the correct place in the development of Hindu Temple architecture. Till we do it there will be some gaps in the study of temple architecture.