Home Sites Essays Monuments

Harihara Temple, Osian, 8th c, © M Gunther

Temples of Western India

A group of temples at Osian, dating to about the 8th century, represents the opening phases of medieval temple architecture in the western state of Rajasthan. They stand on high terraces and consist of a sanctum, a hall, and a porch. The sanctum is generally square and has a curvilinear spire. The walls, with one central and two subsidiary projections, are decorated with sculpture, often placed in niches with tall pediments. The halls are generally open, provided with balustrades rather than walls, so that the interiors are well-lit. The surrounds of the sanctum doorway are quite elaborate, with four or five bands of decoration. The pillars within the mandapa, with vase-and-foliage capitals, are also well-decorated. The Mahavira temple, which is the largest, belongs to the 8th century, though renovated in later times, when the torana (gateway) and the sikhara were added. Other important temples are the Harihara temples and the two temples dedicated to Vishnu. The ruined Harshat Mata temple at Abaneri is also remarkable for the exquisite quality of the carving.

The finest temples in Western India, however, date from the 10th century, the most important of which are the Ghatesvara temple at Badoli and the Ambika Mata temple at Jagat. The simple but beautiful Badoli temple consists of a sanctum with a curved superstructure and an open hall with six pillars and two pilasters supporting a pyramidal spire. Only the central projections of the sanctum walls are decorated with niches containing sculpture. The Ambika Mata temple at Jagat, of the mid-10th century, is exceptionally fine. It consists of a sanctum, an enclosed hall, and a parapeted porch with projecting eaves. The walls of the sanctum and the hall are covered with fine sculpture, the superstructures being of the curvilinear and pyramidal types.

Vimala Vasahi, Mt Abu, 10th c, © britannica

The temples at Kiradu in Rajasthan, dating from the late 10th and 11th centuries, shows a movement toward increasing elaboration and ornamentation. The Somesvara temple (c 1020) is the most important of this group. Each of the constituent parts becomes more complex, the moldings of the plinth, for example, are multiplied to include bands of elephants, horses, and soldiers. The walls are covered with sculpture, and the spire is of the rich curvilinear type.

Also in this group are the extraordinarily sumptuous temples known as the Vimala Vasahi (11th c) and the Luna Vasahi (13th c) at Mount Abu, also in Rajasthan. The Vimala Vasahi consists of a sanctum, a mandapa, and a magnificent assembly hall added in the mid-12th century. The interiors are very richly carved, the coffered ceilings loaded with a wealth of detail. The Luna Vasahi is even more elaborate, though the quality of the work had begun to decline perceptibly. Traditional architecture continued even after the Islamic invasions, particularly during the reign of Rana Kumbha of Mewar (15th century). During this period, the nine-storied Kirtistambha and other temples at Chitor were built, as well as the great Chaumukha temple at Rankapur.

The other western Indian state of Gujarat was the home of one of the richest regional styles of India. A temple at Gop (c 600), with a tall terrace and a cylindrical sanctum with high walls capped by a pyramidal sikhara, and other temples in southern Gujarat show the formative phases of the style. Its distinctive features are clear in a group of temples from Roda (c 8th century). The sanctum is square in plan and has pyramidal spires that are weighty and majestic. The walls are relatively plain, with niches, housing images, provided only on the central projection. The masonry work is exceptionally good, a characteristic of Gujarat architecture throughout its history.

Sun Temple, Modhera, 11th c, © wikimedia

The Rankadevi temple at Wadhwan, of the early 10th century, is also characterized by plain walls and a pyramidal spire, while the Siva temple at Kerakot has a composite spire and also a mandapa. The great Sun temple at Modhera, datable to the early years of the 11th century, represents a fully developed Gujarati style of great magnificence. The temple consists of a sanctum (now in ruins), a mandapa, an open hall of extraordinary richness, and an arched entrance in front of which was the great stepped tank. The Navalakha temple at Sejakpur continued this tradition.

The Rudramala at Siddhapur, the most magnificent Gujarati temple of the 12th century, is now in a much ruined condition, with only the torana (gateway) and some subsidiary structures remaining. Successively damaged and rebuilt, the Somanatha at Prabhasa Patan was the most famous temple of Gujarat, its best known structure dating from the mid-12th century. It has been now dismantled, but a great temple built at the site in recent years testifies to the survival of ancient traditions. The hills of Satrunjaya and Girnar house veritable temple cities but most of the shrines, while picturesque are otherwise of little significance.

Bangalore, 2006

Photos and Text © Amit Guha