General Studies Paper 1 (Art & Culture): Nagara style of temple architecture

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Syllabus: General Studies Paper 1 (Art & Culture)


Discuss the essential features of Nagara style of temple architecture. How it is different from Dravidian style of temple architecture. (10M)



Ancient Indian temples are classified in three broad types. This classification is based on different architectural styles, employed in the construction of the temples. Three main style of temple architecture are the Nagara (between Himalayas and Vindyas) or the Northern style, the Dravida(South of Deccan)  or the Southern style and the Vesara or Mixed style.


Features of Nagara style of temple architecture.

  • The Nagara style has 2 basic components. The first is garbhagriha, a sanctum with only one entrance, in which the image of the main deity is installed.
  • “The garbhagriha consists of 4×4 = 16 squares, which is equivalent to the Brahmasthana
  • The second component is known as mandapa, a porch in front of the garbhagriha, typically exposed from three sides for the worshipers to assemble for worship.
  • A Nagara style temple generally stand on a high platform (jagati) made of stone bricks, with several mouldings. The jagati represents the feet of a man. Over jagati, there is a smaller platform of stones (pitha).
  • Over the pitha, there rises an even smaller platform (adhisthana), which is the base of the superstructure of the temple.
  • The pillars and walls of the temple are raised on the adhisthana.

Nagara style of temple architecture

The Nagara, also known as the sikhara (mountain peak) type, is divided into three sub-groups:

  • Phamsana Type.
    • This is the earliest known type of sikhara. It is usually a pyramidal structure divided into seven, nine and eleven tiers.
  • The towering sikharais crowned by an amalaka, which is a stone disk believed to represent the deity of the temple. A kalasam, a finial from which the temple banner is hung, crowns the amalaka
  • Ex: Siva temple at Camunda, the Nrshimha temple at Bharmaur.
  • Latina Type.
    • This type represents most of the stone temples of Nagara style in Himachal Pradesh and is believed to have emerged at the beginning of the 8th century.
    • The Latina Type temples are curvilinear in nature, following their trademark triratha
    • “The central bands of the superstructure are tall spines of web patterns cast over receding cornices  the creepers (latas) of the Nagara temple’s Latina formula”.
    • Ex: Rudranath (Gopinath) temple in Uttrakhand.
  • Valabhi Type.
    • These temples have a rectangular ground plan, a doorway on one of its longer sides, and a semi-cylindrical sikhara.

Some of the best examples of the north Indian style (Nagara style) of temple architecture are the Khajuraho Group of temples, Sun temple, Konark, Sun temple at Modhera, Gujarat and Ossian temple, Gujarat. 


How Nagara style is different from Dravidian style.

  • Architecture:
    Dravidian temple architecture usually has a Raja Gopuram (biggest tower) at the main gate and a small tower for the sanctum sanctorum (exception being Tanjore Big temple). South Indian temple gopurams are extremely intricate filled with statues.
  • This is quite the reverse in North Indian temples, where the height of the structure is progressive starting from a lower height gate leading to a tall tower where the sanctum is present. Also North Indian temple towers are mostly presented in a minimalist fashion with less or no statues in them.
    • Central Tower
      • Nagara architecture is characterized by a beehive shaped curvilinear tower (called a Shikhara, in northern terminology) made up of layer upon layer of architectural elements and a cruciform ground plan. In this style, there is a multiple Shikharas.
      • Dravidian architecture has pyramidical shaped central tower (called Vimana in Dravida style). In this style, there is only one single Shikhara or Vimana.
    • Gopuram
      • In Nagara style, the Shikhara remains the most prominent element of the temple and the gateway is usually modest or even absent.
      • In Dravidian style Gopuram is the most prominent. It is stylized and big in size.
    • Boundary
      • In Nagara style, boundary has less emphasized.
      • In Dravidian style, temples have elaborated boundary.
    • Entrance
      • In Nagara style, Ganga and Yamuna rivers are depicted in personified form at the entrance of Garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum.
      • In Dravidian style, Dwarpalas are there on the entrance.
    • Tower
      • In Nagara style, there are multiple towers. For example – Khajuraho temple.
      • In Dravidian style, there is always a single tower.
    • Pedestal
      • In Nagara style, pedestals are higher than ground.
      • In Dravidian style, pedestals are more or less at ground level.
  • Size of Temples:
    Difference in North and South Indian temples is the sheer size. Southern temples are much larger in comparision. Srirangam Ranganathar temple in Tamilnadu occupies an area of 156 acres, making it the largest working worship place in the world. 



The temples of Nagara and Dravidian style architecture can be mainly  distinguished on the basis of some specific features like sikhara and gateways. In the north Indian temples, the sikhara remained the most prominent component The most prominent features of South Indian temples were enclosures around the temples and the Gopurams (huge gateways). On the other hand there were many common features in the Northern and the Southern styles. These included the ground plan, positioning of stone-carved deities on the outside walls and the interior, and the range of decorative elements.


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