The basic form of the Hindu temple comprises the following:
- Sanctum (Garbhagriha literally ‘womb-house’), which was a small cubicle with a single entrance and grew into a larger chamber in time. The garbhagriha is made to house the main icon which is itself the focus of much ritual attention
- The entrance to the temple which may be a portico or colonnaded hall that incorporates space for a large number of worshippers and is known as a mandapa
- Freestanding temples tend to have a mountain-like spire, which can take the shape of a curving shikhar in North India and a pyramidal tower, called a vimana, in South India
- The Vahan,e., the mount or vehicle of the temple’s main deity along with a standard pillar or dhvaj is placed axially before the sanctum.
Two broad orders of temples in the country are known— Nagara in the north and Dravida in the south. At times, the Vesara style of temples as an independent style created through the selective mixing of the Nagara and Dravida orders is mentioned as a distinctive style of temple architecture by some experts
Iconography of Indian temples
The study of images of deities falls within a branch of art history called ‘iconography’, which consists of identification of images based on certain symbols and mythologies associated with them. Every region and period produced its own distinct style of images with its regional variations in iconography.
The placement of an image in a temple is carefully planned: for instance, river goddesses (Ganga and Yamuna) are usually found at the entrance of a garbhagriha in a Nagara temple, Dvarapalas (doorkeepers) are usually found on the gateways or gopurams of Dravida temples, similarly, mithunas (erotic images), navagrahas (the nine auspicious planets) and yakshas are also placed at entrances to guard them
Subsidiary shrines around the main temple are dedicated to the family or incarnations of the main deity. Finally, various elements of ornamentation such as gavaksha, vyala/yali, kalpa-lata, amalaka, kalasha, etc. are used in distinct ways and places in a temple.