For people of the sanātana-dharma, the whole of creation is an embodiment of divinity – the creation is pervaded by its Creator and both are equally divine; they are, in fact, not two different entities. It is for this reason, there is hardly any object that is not worshipped in the sanātana culture. From a vedāntic perspective, the nirguṇa-parabrahma is the only Reality and needs to be realised within oneself. While the Ideal of realising the saccidānanda-tattva is possible only to an intense seeker, the common man needs a path to reach the Ideal. Thus, the nirguṇa-parabrahma is embodied as saguṇa-brahma, i.e., a deity with attributes, to help the seeker. The attributes of the deity are largely symbolic and the associated stories, metaphorical – they are meant to transcend the from and to realise the formless.
The Sanātana-Devālaya in its essence, is a microscopic representation of the macrocosm. It embodies and houses the saguṇa-brahma, i.e., the deity in worship. The roots of the devālaya (popularly translated as ‘temple’), lie in the vedic traditions – the temporary yajña-śālā and the yajña-vedi of the vedic period metamorphosed into permanent structures built out of stone, brick and wood in the later days. The pūjā that is performed in the temple also finds its roots in the vedic ritual.
Temples form the nucleus of the Indian civilization. Until the recent past, there was hardly any activity of the Indians which was not centred around a temple. A temple functioned as a place of worship, centre of education, seat of justice, hospital, fortress, melting pot of different art forms, financial hub, an institution of tangible historical documentation, residence for spiritual seekers and much more. It catered to the intellectual, artistic, emotional and spiritual needs of the Indian. Even the smallest of the shrines had one or more of these dimensions. The temple provided employment to people of all sections of the society during its construction and also for its functioning. In fact, it is not just Indians who knew the significance of temples, but also the invaders – Islamic and European – made sure that they attack this sacred heart of the civilization. It is a well-known phenomenon that when the temple, which lies at the centre of a town gets destroyed, the surrounding habitation too gradually dissipates and disappears. Temples in India today have retained many of their original dimensions and contribute towards the vibrance of the society.
Such holistic institutions are absent in other cultures. Though the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Mesopotamians and Ancient Chinese had structures akin to the Sanātana-Devālaya, they were mainly places of worship; there isn’t enough evidence to establish their multiple dimensions. As for the Synagogue, the Church and the Mosque, they are not the equivalents of the Sanātana-Devālaya either in structure or substance.
A thorough study of the Indian temple requires knowledge of multiple domains – archaeology, architecture, sculpture, material properties, philosophy, aesthetics, purāṇic stories, rituals, knowledge of different scripts and languages (Sanskrit, in particular, to study inscriptions). The study should enable the student understand the philosophy of the Indian temple and help him strive towards the revival of the temple ecosystem in places where it has depreciated.
The following is a representative list of books which can be studied by earnest seekers to understand the architecture, sculpture, philosophy, iconography and rituals connected with structural temples of India. The list is not exhaustive and the works which are found to be credible have been mentioned. The list does not include books connected with epigraphy, archaeology and tīrtha-kṣetras – each forms an independent subject for study.
[Structures built by the Buddhists and Jains have also been included as they are integral to the sanātana culture.
A note of caution: Some scholars including Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao are of the view that the temples have a ‘dravidian’ origin and have nothing much to do with the ‘Aryan civilization’ of north India. This, however, does not hold true. Readers must exercise caution in this matter. The vedic roots of Indian temple is established well in the works of Stella Kramrisch. The works of M.A. Dhaky contain good documentation of structural aspects of temples; however, the author does not touch upon the philosophy and symbology of temples.]
- Temples – Icons and Rituals – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Surama Prakashana]
- ಭಾರತದ ದೇವಾಲಯ (Kannada) – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Surama Prakashana]
- The Indian Temple – Its meaning – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Surama Prakashana]
- Indian Temple Traditions – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Sri Satguru Publications]
The student will also need to understand the basic principles and values of the sanātana-dharma. Works of S. Srikantha Shastry, Prof. M. Hiriyanna, Swami Harshananda, G.C. Pande and Dr. D.V. Gundappa can help in this regard.
- The Hindu Temple – Stella Kramrisch [MLBD]
This is one of the best and comprehensive works covering all aspects of Indian temple architecture, art, iconography and symbolism
- ದೇವಾಲಯ - ವಾಸ್ತು ವಿಜ್ಞಾನ (Kannada) – Dr. G. Manoj [Subodhini Book Publishers and Knowledge Academy, Chitradurga]
A comprehensive account of the temple architecture of the southern and northern regions of India are provided.
- Indian Architecture – Buddhist and Hindu – Percy Brown [KRJ Book International]
A large part of the information and analysis contained in the book is dated. It is unique for its conjectural constructions of various temple sites in India and is also noteworthy as one of the early works treating the subject in detail.
- Elements of Hindu Iconography (2 volumes, each in two parts) – T.A. Gopinath Rao [MLBD]
The author documents the various representations of Hindu deities and interprets their symbology in accordance with the Indian tradition. He also quotes quite extensively from the original texts.
- ಮೂರ್ತಿಶಿಲ್ಪ - ನೆಲೆ ಹಿನ್ನೆಲೆ (Kannada) – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Surama Prakashana]
- Indian Sculpture – Stella Kramrisch [The Heritage of India Series. Oxford University Press]
- Indian Sculpture – C. Sivaramamurti [ICCR and Allied Publishers]
An early study in the sculptural styles of different dynasties of India
- Facets of South Indian Art and Architecture – Padma Bhushan Dr. R Nagaswamy [Aryan Books International]
Advanced/ Special Interest Books
- The Square and the Circle of the Indian Arts – Kapila Vatsyayan [Abhinav Publications]
- The Indian Temple Traceries – M.A Dhaky [American Institute of Indian Studies and D.K. Printworld]
Contains a unique study of non-representative sculptures in temples and also lattice windows – the author quotes from several original works and maps them out to the patterns found in practice
- Symbolism of Indian Architecture – The Skambha and the Stūpa – Ananda K. Coomaraswamy [The Historical Research Documentation Programme, Jaipur]
- Elements of Buddhist Iconography – Ananda K. Coomaraswamy [Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers]
- The Transformation of Nature in Art – Ananda K. Coomaraswamy [Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers]
- Essays on Jaina Art – Ananda K. Coomaraswamy [IGNCA, Manohar]
- Studies in Indian Art – Vasudeva Sharan Agrawal [Vishwavidalya Prakshan]
- Tantra Mantra Yantra – The Tantra Psychology - Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Sri Satguru Publications]
- Architecture of Manasara (with Illustrations of Architectural and Sculptural Objects) – Prasanna Kumar Acharya [Low Price Publications]
A detailed study of the Mānasāra along with brilliant illustrations are presented in the work. Contains study of temples, civil and residential architecture.
- Hindu Architecture in India and Abroad – Prasanna Kumar Acharya [Low Price Publications]
- The Indian Temple Forms in Karnāṭa; Inscriptions and Architecture – MA Dhaky [Abhinav Publications]
- Rock-cut Temple Styles – K.V. Soundara Rajan [Somaiya Publications]
- Stupa and its Technology – Pema Dorjee [IGNCA and MLBD]
- Folk Origins of Indian Temples – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [IBH]
- Timeless Delight – South Indian Bronzes in the Collection of the Sarabhai Foundation – Padma Bhushan Dr. R Nagaswamy [Sarabhai Foundation, Ahmedabad, 2006]
The work contains special information about bronze sculpture and its making. The author discusses the special poses, gestures and facial expressions of the sculptures along with technical details about jewellery and clothing
Books on Temples belonging to particular regions and dynasties
- Temples of Kerala – S Jayashanker [Directorate of Census Operations, Kerala]
An important work to understand the architecture and rituals of Kerala Temples. Similar design principles are found in the temples of Costal Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra as well
- Temple Architecture of South India (Salem Region) – Dr. G. Manoj [Bharatiya Kala Prakashan]
A very useful book for understanding various kinds of Dravidian Temple Architecture – contains a thorough study of major and minor limbs of a temple
- Hampi – The Splendour That was – Dr. M.S. Krishna Murthy and Dr. R Gopal [Department of Archaeology, Mysuru]
- Masterpieces of Chola Art – Padma Bhushan Dr. R Nagaswamy [Tamil Arts Academy]
- Temple Architecture and Sculpture of the Nolambas – Andrew L. Cohen [Manohar]
- ಹೊಯ್ಸಳ ವಾಸ್ತುಶಿಲ್ಪ (Kannada) – Dr. S Srikantha Shastri [R. Srinath for Parishree Printers]
- ರಾಷ್ಟ್ರಕೂಟ ಶಿಲ್ಪಕಲೆ (Kannada) – Dr. H.S. Gopala Rao [Karnataka Shilpakala Academy]
- Temples of Pālakkād District – S Jayashanker [Directorate of Census Operations, Kerala]
In addition to the above work, the author has published individual volumes on temples on all districts of Kerala. The books present detailed study of art, architecture and rituals
- Temple Architecture of Orissa – Prof. N.C. Panda and Prof. K.M. Suresh [Bharatiya Kala Prakashan]
- The Cult of Jagannath and the Regional Tradition of Orissa – Edited by Eschmann, Hermann Kulke and Gaya Charan Tripathi [Manohar]
- Temples of Gujarat – Dr. Priyabala Shah [Parimal Publications]
- Heritage of the Kakatiyas – Hanamkonda, Warangal, Palampet, Ghanpur – Phillip B. Wagoner [JAICO]
- Badami-Aihole-Pattadakal – George Michell [JAICO]
- Pattadakal – George Michell [Oxford India Paperbacks]
- Ellora – M.K. Dhavalikar [Oxford India Paperbacks]
- Monumental Legacy Series: Mahabalipuram – Padma Bhushan Dr. R Nagaswamy [Oxford University Press]
- Hampi Vijayanagara – John M Fritz & George Michell [JAICO]
- Elephanta – George Michell [JAICO]
- Buddhist Rock-cut Monasteries of the Western Ghats – George Michell and Gethin Rees [JAICO]
- The Hoysala Legacy – Belur, Halebidu, Somanathapura – Kamalika Bose and George Michell [JAICO]
Books/ Studies on Specific Temples
- ತಿರುಪತಿ ತಿಮ್ಮಪ್ಪ (Kannada) – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Abhijnana]
- The Hill Shrine of Tirupati – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Surama Prakashana]
- Tanjavur Bṛhadīśvara – An Architectural Study – Pierre Pichard [IGNCA and École française d'Extrême-Orient, Pondicherry]
- Bṛhadīśvara Temple – Form and Meaning – Padma Bhushan Dr. R Nagaswamy [IGNCA and Aryan Books International, New Delhi]
The above works provide a detailed study of the history, architecture, art, iconography and rituals of the Bṛhadīśvara Temple
- The Liṅgarāja temple of Bhubaneswar – Art and Cultural Legacy – K.S. Behera [IGNCA and Aryan Books International, New Delhi]
In addition to these, the Archaeological Survey of India has published works connected with specific regions, dynasties and particular temples. The following books are worth noting – Ajanta, Ellora, Konark, Khajuraho, Sanchi, Mahabalipuram (by C. Sivaramamurti), The Chola Temples (by C. Sivaramamurti), Badami, Pattadakal, Melukote, Banavasi, Modhera, Pandrethan-Avantipur-Martand.
The books published the State Archaeology Departments in India, in the regional languages are largely reliable as well.
The works published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Ramakrishna Math and the Chinmaya Mission provide credible information on temples belonging to particular regions.
- Encyclopaedia of Indian Temple Architecture (in many volumes) – Michael W. Meister and M.A. Dhaky
- Art and Architecture of Indian Temples (4 volumes) – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Prof S.K. Ramachandra Rao Memorial Trust]
- Vāstu-śilpa-kośa (3 volumes) – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Divine Books]
- The Āgama Encyclopaedia (12 volumes) – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Sri Satguru Publications]
- Śālagrāma-kośa (2 volumes) – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Prof S.K. Ramachandra Rao Memorial Trust]
- Pratima-kośa (6 volumes) - – Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao [Prof S.K. Ramachandra Rao Memorial Trust; available as CDs]
Glossary and Dictionaries
- A Study of Hindu Art and Architecture – Dr. Lalit Kumar Shukla [Chowkambha Sanskrit Series]
- A Dictionary of Hindu Architecture – Prasanna Kumar Acharya [Low Price Publications]
Temples during invasions and post-independence
Hindu Temples: What happened to them – Sita Ram Goel [Voice of India]
Research scholars and students with deeper interests may access the original texts. The following are some publications of the original texts with translation and critical notes
- Mayamatam (2 Volumes) – Edited and translated into English by Bruna Dagens [IGNCA and MLBD]
- Tantrasamuccaya of Nārāyaṇa – English translation by N.P. Unni [New Bharatiya Book Corporation, Delhi]
- Samarāṅgaṇa-sūtradhāra of Bhojadeva – English translation and Notes by Sudarshan Kumar Sharma [Parimal Publications]
- Mānasāra (3 Volumes)– English translation and Notes by Prasanna Kumar Acharya [New Bharatiya Book Corporation, Delhi]
- Śilpaprakāśa of Rāmacandra Mahāpātra Kaula Bhaṭṭāraka – English translation by Alice Boner and Sadashiva Rath Sharma [IGNCA and MLBD]
- Aparājitapṛcchā of Bhuvanadeva (2 Volumes) – Edited and translated into Hindi by Dr. Shri Krishna ‘Jugnu’ and Prof. Bhanwar Sharma [Parimal Publications]
- Viśvakarmavāstuśāstra – Edited and translated into Hindi by Dr. Shri Krishna ‘Jugnu’ and Prof. Bhanwar Sharma [Parimal Publications]
In addition to these, study of āgamas is important for understanding temple architecture and rituals.
The Agni-purāṇa, Matsya-purāṇa, Skānda-purāṇa and Viṣṇu-dharmottara-purāṇa also provide valuable information on art, architecture, sthala-purāṇas and rituals connected with temples. Encyclopaedia such as Bṛhat-saṃhita, Mānasollāsa and Śiva-tattva-ratnākara are also worth perusing.
Thanks to Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh and Hari Ravikumar for their inputs.