India as we know today, and the one that dates centuries ago has a prodigious difference in picturization, yet having one element that continues to exist in her heart, Temples.
Temples are considered to be revered places of linkage between humans and the divine.
Temples are sacred structures and mark India’s most ancient form of Architecture. They are known to be elaborate vis-à-vis scale, ornamentation, and art depiction. Hence, on coming across the term ‘Temple’, one’s instinctiveness is the Meenakshi at Madurai, the ornate Dilwara in Rajasthan, or maybe even the magnificent temples of Khajuraho.
However, the oldest surviving complete temple in the country, is a small, nondescript shrine in Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh known as the Sanchi 17 and dates back to the 5th century CE (Common Era). Remnants of temples dated to the 2nd and 3rd century BCE have been excavated. These remnants only exist in plan form today and a few others have undergone frequent renovation making it difficult to trace their actual origins and history. Intact temples predating this era have not been recovered as the construction materials were mostly perishable like bamboo, wood, mud-brick, or even burnt brick.
Temple Architecture is an exemplar of design as it follows a majority of the design principles, balance, rhythm, proportion, contrast, to name a few. Complexities were added in this form of architecture by adding more rhythmically projecting, symmetrical walls making additional space available for sculpting, without strolling from the fundamental plan of the shrine. These are ideologies that have been derived from ancient architecture.
Having said that, today, do contemporary methods and materials of architecture deprive temples of their real essence?
The materials used, principles like focus, scale, the plan, all culminating to give appropriate light and ventilation affects the overall aura of a temple.
Dilwara Temple, Rajasthan:
Considered a magnum opus of Indian Architecture, the Dilwara Temple comprises a cluster of 5 temples, each having its own unique identity, built at intervals of a century or so.
The temples although symmetrical in the plan do not have a single common axis. Space surrounding the temples seems residuary and does not form a welcoming public square.
Constructed entirely of white marble, there is intricate ornamentation everywhere except the floors, from walls to ceilings, columns, and beams, all have delicate engraved work.
Temple in Stone and Light, Rajasthan (by SpaceMatters):
Staying rooted in tradition, this temple uses stone as the primary and dominant building material to stand out in the desert landscape of Rajasthan. Stone gives the effect of being massive yet allows scope for delicate work like jaali.
The overall planning remains traditional, while in the first appearance the form of the temple evokes the lines of a traditional Shiv Temple, at a closer glance the temple reveals a reimagining of the fractal geometry of the traditional Indian temple structure. Intentional interlocking stone joinery is employed to let light into the structure during the day and let light out during the night, making light and ventilation a key element of planning.
The legacy design principles are all applied yet this piece of architecture has a contemporary outlook in terms of being wholesome like the careful planning of the outdoor spaces for the public to just pass some time peacefully.
Another example is,
Shiv Temple, Maharashtra (by Sameep Padora and Associates):
The temple involves simplifying a traditional temple design by eliminating the complex intricacies but maintaining symbolic elements. A wood-clad frame wraps around one corner marking the entrance, while the interior is illuminated by a skylight. The temple was constructed by the villagers using local stone from a quarry within 200 meters from the temple site.
The stone’s natural patina seems to confer age as if the temple had always existed… before inhabitation. (Associates, 2010)
Only embellishments integral to the essence of temple architecture in memory appear in the finished temple. The heavy foliage of trees along the side edge demarcates an outdoor room, which becomes the traditional ‘mandapa’ (pillared hall), a room with trees as walls and sky the roof. All typical traditional elements exist but are just simplified to a great extent. (Associates, 2010) .
It is probably thus safe to say that the components of the temple build the essence and aura but the era in which it is built-in doesn’t define or deprive it of its true virtue of being a sacred place of worship.