Temple architecture

The mandir (temple) is the most obvious form of Hindu architecture. At its most elaborate, the temple contains a shrine dedicated to the main deity worshipped there, located in a complex of shrines dedicated to subsidiary deities, within an enclosed compound. Of course, many temples are much simpler in plan and far more modest in scale, some just a recess with one murti (image). There are two principal styles, Nagara associated with northern India and Dravida associated with southern India. These styles can be distinguished by various features, notably the towers or spires (shikara in Nagara; vimana in Dravida) which in Nagara temples are curved and in Dravida temples resemble stepped pyramids. Further, while in Nagara temples there can be many towers or spires, in Dravida temples there is only one. Other differences include construction of the temple on a raised platform with less emphasis on external boundaries in Nagara style whereas in Dravida style there are temple tanks and walled courtyards with gates.

In the diaspora, it has not always been possible to build a traditional temple. Initially, Hindus had to manage in rented or temporary accommodation and, when they have been in a position to acquire their own premises, have often needed to convert pre-existing buildings such as schools or deconsecrated churches. The process of conversion can leave the external appearance of buildings largely unaltered but generally involves extensive internal modifications. Increasingly, though, Hindus in the diaspora have been able to build traditional temples such as the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, North West London, and the Shri Venkateshwara Temple in the West Midlands constructed in the Nagara and Dravida styles respectively. However, in diasporic settings, as well as the necessity of construction satisfying local planning and building standards, some architectural changes have been required to allow the temple to perform its spiritual and other roles for the community, for example, sufficient space for congregational worship and rooms for educational classes, cultural events and the provision of support services.

Download the entire essay here

Hindu Worldview Traditions


649.4 KB

Download resource