Twenty Types of Temples in Ancient India!


Madurai Meenakshi Temple

Written by London Swaminathan

Research Article No.1760;  Dated 30 March 2015.

Uploaded at London time 20-55 (GMT 19-55)

Varahamihira of sixth century CE and Tamil saint Appar of seventh century CE give us valuable information about the different types of temples that existed in ancient India. Though Earlier Sanskrit literature and Sangam Tamil literature give us lot of information about temples for different deities, we don’t know the structure or the types of temples (I have already listed all the temples form the Tamil epic Silappadikaram in one of my research articles)

Varahamihira has devoted one full chapter (56) in Brhat Samhita  for the description of temples. In the first verse he says that one should build a temple in order to enhance one’s fame and religious merit. He also insisted that there should be abundant supply of water through tanks and lakes and gardens around it. All the south Indian temples are with tanks and gardens. But in course of time the gardens were left uncared for.

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Tiruvannamalai Temple

He says that by building temples one gets the merits (Punya) of both performing sacrifices and sinking wells. He wrote it 1500 years before our time. That shows that building temples were very popular.  But Hindus used wood and brick (like we see in today’s Kerala temples) and they were destroyed by invading Muslims and weather. Later Hindus started building with stones. First they started by excavating rocks and then built with granite stones. Some of them are engineering marvels. In today’s costs they will cost us billions of rupees to build such a massive structure.

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)

Translated by Dr T N Ramachandran


Mamallapuram Cave Temples

Eminent archaeologist and historian Dr R Nagasamy in his scholarly article ( Second World Tamil Conference Souvenir, 1968) on the development of temples has listed all the terms for temples in Tamil in addition to the above types (KOYIL=temple). He has also quoted the verse from Pingalandai Nikandu (Dictionary of Tamil Synonyms) the ten materials used for making temple sculptures and idols. Stone is just one of them. So ancient temples used other nine perishable materials 2000 years ago.

Varahamihira gives more information about the 20 types:

“Deities reside with pleasure in places which abound in water and gardens, whether natural or otherwise”. He gives a list of places of natural beauty where god prefers to reside.

Then he describes in detail the height, length and width of the temples. It shows how advanced was temple building around 500 CE.


Hampi Temples

There are twenty types of temples enumerated here

Meru , Mandara, Kailasa, Vimanachchanda, Nandana, Samudga, Padma, Garuda, Nandhivardhana, Kunjara, Guharaja, Vrsa, Hamsa, Sarvatobhadraka, Ghata, Simha, Vrtta, Catuskona, Sodasari and Astasri.

Meru type has twelve storeys and hexangular in shape. The dimensions are – breadth 32 cubits, height 64 cubits, sanctum sanctorum 16 cubits. He gives the dimensions for all the 20 types and finishes the chapter with the following statement!!

“Thus I have briefly explained the characteristics of temples. All that had been expounded by sage Garga has been incorporated in this chapter”. He has also seen the large works of Manu and others on this subject.

One must compare this twenty types listed by Varahamihira with later works. It will give us some idea about the temples that were destroyed by the invaders and the monsoon weather.

gopura darsan