Nagara Style or North India Temple style

  • Nagara style of temple architecture that became popular in northern India is known as Nagara. In North India it is common for an entire temple to be built on a stone platform with steps leading up to it.
  • Another unique characteristic is that it does not usually have elaborate boundary walls or gateways.
  • The garbhagriha is always located directly under the tallest tower.
  • There are many subdivisions of Nagara temples depending on the shape of the shikhara.
  • Amalaka or Kalash which is installed on Shikhara is another characteristic feature of this form of temple style
  • Kandariya Mahadev Temple in Madhya Pradesh is an example for Nagara style of temple architecture
  • Other examples of Nagara style of temples in India are- Sun temple, Konark, Sun temple at Modhera, Gujarat and Ossian temple, Gujarat.

Classification of Nagara style of temple architecture based on the style of Shikhara

  • Rekha-Prasad or Latina: These temples are characterized by a simple Shikara with a square base and inward curving walls that have a pointed top. Early medieval temples such as the Sun Temple at Markhera in Madhya Pradesh (MP). The Sri Jagannath Temple of Odisha has been constructed in the Rekha-Prasad Shikara style.

Sri Jagannath temple

  • Shekari: is a variation of the Latina where the Shikara comprises of a main Rekha-Prasad Shikara and one or more rows of smaller steeples on both sides of the central spire. Additionally, the base and corners also feature mini Shikaras. The Khajuraho Kandariya Mahadev Temple is one of the most prominent temples built in this style.
  • Bhumija: Another type of Nagara temple that evolved from the Latina style was the Bhumija architecture developed in Malwa under the Paramara dynasty. These temples have a flat upward tapering projection comprising of a central Latina spire and miniature spires on the quadrant formed by the tapering tower. These mini Shikaras carved out both horizontally as well as vertically. The Udayeshwar Temple in MP is built in this style.

Udayeshwar Temple in MP

  • Valabhi: style temples are rectangular in shape comprising of barrel-vaulted roofs. The vaulted chamber roof has earned them the moniker wagon vaulted buildings/structures. Teli Ka Mandir, a 9th Century temple at Gwalior has been built in this style.
  • Phamsana: are shorter but broader structures comprising of roofs with numerous slabs that rise upwards in a gentle slope on a straight incline like a pyramid meeting at a single point over the mid-point of the building. The Jagmohan of Konark Temple is constructed in the Phamsana mode.

Sub-schools of Nagara style of temple architecture

  • Odisha School – The most prominent distinguishing feature is the Shikara (Deul) which rises vertically before curving inwards at the top. The main type is square while the upper reaches are circular. These temples have intricately carved exteriors and usually bare interiors. Unlike Nagara temples of the north, most Odisha temples have boundary walls.
  • Chandel School – Unlike Odishan style, these temples are conceived as a single unit and have Shikaras that curved from bottom to top. There are a number of miniatures Shikaras rising from the central tower and towers that gradually rise up to the main tower cap both the porticos and halls.
  • Solanki School – They are similar to the Chandel School except that they have carved ceilings that appear like a true dome. The distinguishing feature of these temples is the minute and intricate decorative motifs. Except for the central shrine, one can find carvings on both the inner and outer sides of the walls.

Famous Nagara temples in various regions of India

  1. Central India
  • Some of the oldest surviving structural temples belonging to Nagara style are from the Gupta Period are in Madhya Pradesh
  • These are relatively modest-looking shrines each having four pillars that support a small mandapa which looks like a simple square porch-like extension before an equally small room that served as the garbhagriha.
  • Deogarh (in Lalitpur District, Uttar Pradesh) was built in the early sixth century CE is a classic example of a late Gupta Period type of temple. This temple is in the panchayatana style of architecture where the main shrine is built on a rectangular plinth with four smaller subsidiary shrines at the four corners (making it a total number of five shrines, hence the name, panchayatana). The tall and curvilinear shikhara also corroborates this date. The presence of this curving latina or rekha-prasada type of shikhara also makes it clear that this is an early example of a classic Nagara style of temple
  • The Lakshmana temple of Khajuraho, dedicated to Vishnu, was built in 954 by the Chandela king, Dhanga.
      1. A Nagara temple, it is placed on a high platform accessed by stairs. There are four smaller temples in the corners, and all the towers or shikharas rise high, upward in a curved pyramidal fashion, emphasizing the temple’s vertical thrust ending in a horizontal fluted disc called an amalak topped with a kalash or vase.
      2. The crowning elements: amalak and kalash, are to be found on all Nagara temples of this period.
  • Kandariya Mahadeo temple at Khajuraho is the epitome of Nagara style of temple architecture in Central India. Khajuraho’s temples are also known for their extensive erotic sculptures; the erotic expression is given equal importance in human experience as spiritual pursuit, and it is seen as part of a larger cosmic whole
  1. West India
  • Nagara temples located in Gujarat and Rajasthan
  • The Sun temple at Modhera which dates back to early eleventh century and which was built by Raja Bhimdev I of the Solanki Dynasty in 1026 is an example of Nagara style of temple in this region. The influence of the woodcarving tradition of Gujarat is evident in this temple

Sun temple at Modhera

3. East India

  • Eastern Indian temples include those found in the North-East, Bengal and Odisha.
  • It appears that terracotta was the main medium of construction, and also for moulding plaques which depicted Buddhist and Hindu deities in Bengal until the seventh century
  • An old sixth-century sculpted door frame from DaParvatia near Tezpur and another few stray sculptures from Rangagora Tea Estate near Tinsukia in Assam bear witness to the import of the Gupta style in that region.
  • Regional variation: The style that came with the migration of the Tais from Upper Burma mixed with the dominant Pala style of Bengal and led to the creation of what was later known as the Ahom style in and around Guwahati. Kamakhya temple, a Shakti Peeth, is dedicated to Goddess Kamakhya and was built in the seventeenth century.

Kamakhya temple, Assam

  • The Palas are celebrated as patrons of many Buddhist monastic sites; the temples from that region are known to express the local Vanga style. The ninth century Siddheshvara Mahadeva temple in Barakar in Burdwan District, for example, shows a tall curving shikhara crowned by a large amalaka and is an example of the early Pala style. It is similar to contemporaneous temples of Odisha. This temple is also an example of the regional variation of Nagara style of temple architecture
  • The temples of Odisha constitute a distinct sub-style within the Nagara order. In general, here the shikhara, called deul in Odisha, is vertical almost until the top when it suddenly curves sharply inwards.
  • At Konark, on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, lie the majestic ruins of the Surya or Sun temple built in stone around 1240. Its shikhara was a colossal creation said to have reached 70m
  • Other famous Nagara temples in this region are: Muktesvara temple, Rajarani temple, Lingaraja temple etc

Jagannath temple, Puri

4. The hill states of India

  • A unique form of architecture developed in the hills of Kumaon, Garhwal, Himachal and Kashmir. Kashmir’s proximity to prominent Gandhara sites
  • This began to mix with the Gupta and post-Gupta traditions that were brought to it from Sarnath, Mathura and even centres in Gujarat and Bengal.
  • As a result both Buddhist and Hindu traditions began to intermingle and spread in the hills. The hills also had their own tradition of wooden buildings with pitched roofs.
  • At several places in the hills, therefore, you will find that while the main garbhagriha and shikhara are made in a rekha-prasada or Latina style, the mandapa is of an older form of wooden architecture. Sometimes, the temple itself takes on a pagoda shape
  • Of the temples in Kumaon, the ones at Jageshwar near Almora, and Champavat near Pithoragarh, are classic examples of Nagara architecture in the region.

Jageshwar temple near Almora