Major Ancient Temples of Hinduism in India

      Let us look at some main initial ancient temple complexes in India to get a good feel about the evolution of these inseparable parts of our proud past. A good read of the section will take the reader through for developments in different parts of the country and briefly touching about applicable socio-religious factors. Attempt is again to put all these temple or temple complexes in order of their emergence.

Elephanta Caves Complex

      To begin with we have Elephanta caves temple near Mumbai carved sometimes around 700 to 800 CE. It is not known with full clarity as who undertook the excavation in these natural caves. It is because Konkan, as a state at that time, was but a small kingdom and could not be assumed to undertake and finance such gigantic excavation and sculpting in hard rocks. There are several stories as to probable powers that may have undertaken such a work from the Mauraya rulers of Konkan to Badami based Chalukyas. But these are mere propositions based on financial capability and clout of probable rulers of the time when these caves were sculpted. There is a network of caves where the first and larger group has five Hindu caves while the second and much smaller group has two Buddhist caves. This is a Shiva temple with Trimurti figure showing all three faces of Shiva. Also seen are Nataraja and Ardhanarishwar forms of Shiva.

Let us look at some main initial ancient temple complexes in India to get a good feel about the evolution of these inseparable parts of our proud past. A good read of the section will take the reader through for developments in different parts of the country and briefly touching about applicable socio-religious factors. Attempt is again to put all these temple or temple complexes in order of their emergence.
Ancient India Temples

Ellora Caves Complex

      Then we have Kailashnath temple of Shiva at Ellora starting carving Sometime around 750 CE and continued for over 300 years. The two-kilometre area complex is completely carved out by chiseling out extra material from the rocks leaving behind magnificent sculpted figures of Shiva and Parvati, linga and bull Nandi in various postures. Even the three story high columned arcade completely sculpted out. All of thirty four caves represent epitome of Indian rock cut architecture and consist of twelve Buddhist caves, seventeen Hindu caves and remaining five being Jain caves. With Dravidian sculpture forms, the effort was to recreate Mount Kailasha, the permanent mythological abode of Lord Shiva. It is said to be a beautiful example of striking proportions, fine workmanship and ornamentation sculpture. The temples also have many Vaishnavism deities on one side of the complex. Also depicted is Durga with the scene of killing Mahishasur. These caves are great examples of religious harmony prevailing among all homegrown religions where due importance was given to all three. The cave sculptures, constructed largely by Chalukya and Rashtrakuta kings belong to an era where Buddhism has started its decline while Hinduism has started reasserting itself.

Khajuraho Complex

      Next in line will be the stone temples at Khajuraho in North east of Madhya Pradesh, the area dominated by strong kingdoms of Chandella Dynasty at Bundelkhand. The 'Nagara' style temples are reported to have been built in 900 to 1150 CE. The total complex is said to have about 85 temples of largely Hindu and some Jain temples spread over twenty kilometres of vast area, are having very intricate erotic sculptures. The images of these temples are irrefutable evidence suggesting very strong sectarian worship in vogue at that point. Going by the sculptures on the outer walls of the temple complex, one finds carvings of couple in erotic embrace and in maithuna figures which gives an impression that the King was a Tantra follower. Also on carving list are many war related material like decorated elephants, horses, weaponry and warriors so as to make a strong military statement about the strength of Kings of the area. It is not difficult to appreciate, as the construction was all state funded and military power enabled continuity of rule. Undoubtedly, seeking spirituality without military power had not worked for any King. These temples came under destruction attack from Sikandar Lodhi in 1495 but their remote locations came handy off continued destruction spree by subsequent Muslim aggressors of many hues.

Konark Sun Temple

      Tantra is again at full bloom at Sun Temple of Konark, Bhubaneshwar. This complex was constructed in 1240-1260 and is decorated with magnificent large stone wheels with intricate carvings. The outer walls of this temple also include erotic scenes to celebrate the beauty and to gather up all sensual thoughts so that the worshipper doesn't carry those corrupted thoughts any further. (This explanation fails to cut ice with many readers but this is the nearest one goes in justifying Kama Sutra poses on the walls of a temple). Interestingly, figures of stunning female beauties were also carved in many Buddhist Stupas in the shape of Yakshis and Yakshinis and gorgeous Apsaras. The main deity is showing Nar Simha worshipping Durga and Jagannath (another Vishnu incarnation) but dedicated to worship Sun. Incidentally, Sun is a Vedic God for energizing the universe.

Temples of South India

      Next in line of discussions are major temples from South India. Most of these have some very unique characteristics much in variation from temples in North India. To begin with, more than place of worship, temples in South came up as places for all community activities. All public functions, which were in past conducted within courts of the Kings, got shifted to new temple complexes. As is the case everywhere, temples were constructed by the kings and were a proof of kingdom's economic and political prosperity and political power. So, they started becoming bigger and better as if all the kingdoms were in competition to each other.

      Typically speaking, they have a large monumental tower at the very entrance with gorgeous and stylish designs, called gopuram. These got started by Pallavas and Pandyas as a dominant style statement and to hide the interior shrines for worship. Depending on the expanse of the temple, many have more than one outer precincts and as many gopurams. As south Indian temples had always been more orthodox, at many temples the access to the sanctum is restricted to only priests, kings and few others. South India certainly boasts for having some of the largest Hindu temples in the whole world. Pallavas built many temples like Meenakshi in Kanchipuram, their seat of power including Shore Temple at Mamallapuram. Pandya's best examples are the temples in Madurai area. Cholas created their imprints on temples like Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram and Sri Ranganathaswamy at Srirangam and at many other temples at Cholapuram. The temple at Brihadeshwara at Thanjavur, which is one of the largest temples in India, is yet another example of great architecture of Chola kingdoms.

North Indian Temples and Foreign Aggressors

      To the contrast of South India, North Indian temples have been simpler, smaller and focused more on to worship than community activities. The restrictions are far and few and most people are allowed access right upto Deity darshan. Typically, the Garbha Griha houses the main Deity and in front we have large hall for facilitating congregation of devotees coming for Darshan and making their offerings. Most temples of North India got attacked one or many times from the stream of aggressors over many centuries for looting all the precious stones and jewels. Actually, till that time, temples used to be working like banks having non stop offerings from devotees. Being religious places, no one cared for security for protection from aggressors. So, looting temples had become a fun time activity for the aggressors with a lot of kill without any opposition.

      Until the rise of West, India was undoubtedly the richest country in the world helped by its conducive climate and fertile soil. No wonder that its riches made it an irresistible target of the Mongols and their descendants who had gathered military powers and took to looting of India as a profitable profession.

      Beginning with Mahmud of Ghazani, herds of aggressors from 11th to 16th century have been using the same method of entering India via Punjab and looting the temples of all their wealth and in many cases also destroying temples and converting them to Mosques. Some of these were also religious fanatics who had double purpose of attacking Hindu temples. Mahmud of Ghazani was, however, no religious proselytizer and his objectives were only and only economic and political. He is known to have made seventeen aggressions on India before he died in 1030 CE of malaria at the age of 59. His sixteenth aggression involving famous Somnath Temple of Gujarat is reported to have provided him huge catch of loot, which was twenty times bigger than his first aggression. And by that time he had opened the floodgates for many of his direct and indirect descendants to pursue the easy way for making huge riches of looting Hindu Temples.

      Most temples in South escaped these aggressions simply because they were deep down of the country and most of these foreign aggressors never had the patience of reaching there or the strategic peninsular geography prevented these people to take risk of getting trapped.

      Over last couple of hundred years, there is mushrooming of temples in all parts of the country with states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat leading the pack. Besides, Cities like Delhi and Mumbai saw many temples getting constructed with the process continuing even in current periods. State like Rajashthan and Gujarat are also famous for their Jain temples with great stone carving work attracting lot many tourists from all parts of the whole world. Increasingly, temples have been associated with a place where God may be approached and where divine knowledge can be discovered. Once again we have scenario where many temples are getting richer once again as was the case during the glorious past.

Post a Comment

Do not post any spam link here.

Previous Post Next Post