From ancient structures to modern designs, temple architecture has evolved and adapted to reflect the beliefs and values of different cultures and religions. Temple architecture has shaped how people worship and connect with the divine. In this article, we will explore the rich history of temple architecture, examining how it has developed and changed throughout the ages and the many ways in which it continues to inspire awe and reverence in those who enter these sacred spaces.

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The Khajuraho Temples_©Praniket Desai

What is Temple Architecture?

The architecture of temples can vary greatly depending on the religion or culture they represent. Temple architecture is the design and construction of buildings intended for religious or spiritual purposes. These buildings are often characterised by their grandeur and beauty. They are typically constructed to serve as places of worship or prayer for followers of a particular religion or faith.

Ancient Greek temples were typically constructed with a rectangular floor plan and a pitched roof. They often featured columns and other decorative elements intended to evoke a sense of grandeur and power. In contrast, Hindu temples in India often feature elaborate carvings and sculptures intended to tell the stories of the gods and goddesses they honour.

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Shwezigon Pagoda_©Yves Alarie

The architecture of the Shwezigon Pagoda is characterised by its bell-shaped stupa, gold-plated dome, and intricate carvings. It is an impressive example of Buddhist temple architecture in Myanmar.

One of the critical functions of temple architecture is to create a sacred space conducive to worship and spiritual contemplation. This is often achieved through specific architectural features, such as domes, spires, or intricate decorative details intended to create a sense of awe and reverence in those who enter the space.

In addition to their aesthetic and spiritual functions, temples often serve a practical purpose. Many temples are designed to facilitate specific rituals or ceremonies, and the temple’s architecture is often tailored to accommodate these activities. For example, a Hindu temple may include a large central hall for group worship and smaller chambers for individual meditation or prayer.

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Architecture and Spirituality come together here_©Isha Ralhan

Gurudwaras, or Sikh, places of worship, have a distinct architectural style in India. The design often includes a central prayer hall, or darbar sahib, where the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhism, is kept. Other features include a langar hall for communal meals, a tower or dome, and a courtyard. The architecture of Gurudwaras is meant to symbolise the egalitarianism and inclusivity that are central tenets of Sikhism.

Another distinctive example is The Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on an island off the coast of Mumbai, India. The temple architecture of the caves dates back to the 5th to 8th centuries and is primarily dedicated to Lord Shiva.

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The Elephanta Caves_©Isha Ralhan

The caves are characterised by their intricate carvings and sculptures depicting Hindu myths and legends, as well as the impressive rock-cut architecture of the main cave, which features a massive sculpted panel of Lord Shiva in his iconic Nataraja form. The temple architecture of the Elephanta Caves is a testament to the skill and artistry of the ancient Indian architects and craftsmen who created them.

The Past | Temple Architecture

[The past of temple architecture can be traced back to ancient civilizations worldwide, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Indians, who all constructed temples dedicated to their respective deities. In India, the art of temple architecture peaked between the 5th and 12th centuries CE, when various dynasties such as the Guptas, Chalukyas, Pallavas, and Cholas built some of the most magnificent and intricate temples in the country. The architectural styles varied across different regions, with the Nagara or North Indian style, the Dravida or South Indian style, and the Vesara or Mixed style being the most prominent. These styles were influenced by various factors such as geography, climate, culture, religion, and history and have left a lasting impact on the architectural heritage of India.

One crucial part of the ancient Indian temples was their decoration. It is reflected in the multitude of details of figure sculpture and the architectural elements. Another essential component of Indian temples was the garbha-griha, or the womb chamber, housing the temple’s deity. The garbha-griha was provided with a circumambulation passage around. However, many subsidiary shrines within temple complexes are also more common in the South Indian temple.

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Brihadishvara Temple_©Ramakrishnan Nataraj

During the early stages of temple architecture in India, North and South Indian temples were distinguished based on specific features such as sikhara and gateways. North Indian temples placed greater emphasis on the sikhara, while gateways were generally less prominent. In contrast, South Indian temples featured enclosures and Gopurams, which served as large gateways leading into the sacred courtyard. Despite these differences, both styles shared standard features, including the ground plan, positioning of stone-carved deities, and range of decorative elements used in their construction.

The ideology of the Hindu temple is rooted in the belief that all things are connected, and the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, moral living, and self-realisation are the four essential aims of human life according to Indian philosophy. The mathematical structure, intricate artwork, and decorated pillars and statues in Hindu temples reflect and celebrate these philosophies.

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Vijaya Vittala temple, Hampi, Karnataka_©Siddhesh Mangela

The distinct architectural styles of different regions reflect the unique cultural, environmental, and historical factors that shaped their development.

The Present

Today, temple architecture continues to be an essential aspect of many religions and cultures worldwide. Modern temple architecture often combines traditional design elements with contemporary materials and technology. 

Some architects have incorporated sustainable and eco-friendly practices in temple construction, while others have incorporated contemporary design elements into traditional temple architecture. Additionally, there has been a growing trend towards interfaith and multicultural temple architecture, where different religious beliefs and cultural traditions are integrated into a single temple space.

Koyasan, Wakayama_©Meishang
Koyasan, Wakayama_©Meishang

One notable example is the Lotus Temple in Delhi, India, which has won numerous architectural awards for its innovative and sustainable design. The temple is shaped like a lotus flower and is made of marble, with energy-efficient features such as natural lighting and ventilation. The Lotus Temple is open to people of all religions and symbolises unity and peace.

The Lotus Temple_©Swapnil Deshpandey
The Lotus Temple_©Swapnil Deshpandey

Another example is the Bahá’í House of Worship in Chile, known for its unique and striking architecture. The temple is designed as a nine-pointed star made of translucent materials that allow natural light to filter through the interior. The Bahá’í House of Worship is a space for prayer and reflection for people of all faiths.

Bahá'í House of Worship_©Vasilis Karkalas
Bahá’í House of Worship_©Vasilis Karkalas

Japan has a growing trend towards sustainable temple architecture, with architects incorporating eco-friendly features such as solar panels and rainwater harvesting systems into temple design. These features help reduce the environmental impact of the temples and promote a more sustainable way of living.

Shinto-Schrein in Itsukushima, Japan_©Vasilis Karkalas

A spirit of innovation, sustainability, and inclusivity marks the presence of temple architecture worldwide. Temples remain important places of worship and cultural landmarks while adapting to contemporary societies’ changing needs and aspirations.

The Future | Temple Architecture

The future of temple architecture will continue evolving as technology and modern construction techniques advance. With the increasing focus on sustainability, we may see more eco-friendly temples built using green materials and energy-efficient designs. There may also be a greater emphasis on creating inclusive spaces that welcome people of all faiths and backgrounds.

In addition, with the rise of virtual and augmented reality technologies, we may see temples and other religious sites being recreated digitally, allowing people worldwide to experience them in a new way. New types of religious buildings may also emerge, reflecting contemporary society’s changing needs and beliefs.


  • Indian temple architecture – evolution, type, Design Layout Plan & Difference in North & South Indian temples (no date) Indian Temple Architecture – Evolution, Type, Design Layout Plan & Difference in North & South Indian Temples. Available at: (Accessed: April 20, 2023). 
  • South Indian temple architecture (no date) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Available at: (Accessed: April 20, 2023). 
  • The 12 most beautiful temples in the world (2023) Veranda. Available at: (Accessed: April 22, 2023). 

Isha Ralhan is a 5th-year undergrad student pursuing a bachelor's degree in architecture. She likes learning about new things and traveling to new places. She enjoys photography as a hobby, reading books in her free time, and adores cats.