The Cosmographic Role of the Temple 9121 The Hindu Temple

The temple10 is the architectural expression of its creators' aspirations to transcendance above the illusions of the present world to the state of pure knowledge and truth. The cyclicity of time and of the movement of the soul toward a higher truth is played out in the architecture and ritual of the believer who traverses the perimeter, and enters into ever more holy spaces, passing ultimately into the center of the sanctuary. The temple is also a temporary abode of the gods, made attractive to them by the presence nearby of groves of trees, rivers, gardens, springs, and mountains. Some early temples were carved out of rock. The cosmic aspect of temples is reflected in the frequently assigned names Meru, the navel of the world, and Kailasa, the celes-

8 The Tibetan Buddhists, often considered Mahayana, refer to their form of Buddhism as Vajrayana or "Diamond Vehicle."

9 The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak (1469-1539), left a number of hymns, elaborated and handed down by subsequent Gurus (teachers), as the Adi Granath. In the Rag Maru, God first shaped the universe, and then created "the high gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva," as well as the goddess Maya, "the veil of illusion" (cited in Coward et al. 1988, p. 243).

10 A fuller discussion of the purposes, characteristics, and construction of Hindu temples than we are able to do here can be found in Mitchell (1977) and beautifully illustrated examples in Stierlen (1998).

tial home of Shiva. The holiest place in the temple is on its vertical axis, on a line with the highest point, therefore symbolically in the core of the mountain—the navel of the universe. The plan view of a Hindu temple recreates a mandala, a sacred checkerboard-like pattern that, in effect, diagrams the basic structure of the cosmos, and in the padas or individual squares on which each of the pantheon of gods may find a resting place. The center square is reserved for a creation deity, around which squares are occupied by planetary gods, gods of the spatial directions, and other astronomically related gods. In some mandalas, a cosmic man (mahapu-rusha) is depicted, arms along two sides, legs along two sides, head in a corner opposite feet, and at the center, his navel. Thus, the temple unites in concept, humanity, the gods, and the universe. The construction of a temple is characteristically along an east-west axis, that is, the underlying mandala traces the diurnal movement of the Sun. It is not coincidental that early architectural treatises are also astrological works.11 Temples vary in style from place to place, especially between northern and southern India, and they were built primarily from the 5th to 13th centuries, but temple building continues in the valleys of the Himalayas, Nepal, Bengal, and Kerala. We cite among our examples, temples in the region of the ancient Kalmga, to which Asoka brought so much destruction. The early kings of the Pallava dynasty, who were seafaring and spread Hinduism to the Indian archipelago, constructed temples in caves and carved rock. Figures 9.1 to 9.5 provide examples of temples at Maha-balipuram, Kanchipuram, and Bhubaniswar in southeastern India. The ratha temples (Figure 9.1) were carved from solid rock in the 7th century (Sivaramamurti 1978).

The relatively narrow, east-facing shore temple (Figure 9.2), built by Narasimhavarman II [690-715], is an example of early stone masonary construction in this region. The soaring temples at Kanchipuram (KanchI, the Pallava capital) and Bhubaniswar (20°15'N, 85°50'E), ~438km SW of Calcutta, shown in Figures 9.3 and 9.4, respectively, are testimony to the perfection of this art.

Between the 7th and 11th centuries, changes occurred in temple design and in iconography at Bhubaniswar. A result was the addition of the invisible planet Ketu (the descending node), to the representations of Rahu (the ascending node) and the rest of the pantheon of planets, to make nine. The west-facing Muktesvara temple (Figure 9.4c) at Bhubaniswar is the first at this location to depict Ketu. Although the nine-day week and thus presumably the acceptance of a nine-planet cosmos had been known for centuries at the time of this construction, the addition of Ketu along with the association of Karttikeya with a cock, and the appearance of a mouse atop Ganesa, mark stylistic changes. The gateway to the temple (Figure 9.4d) conceals a well, Marichi-kunda, the water of which is traditionally believed to make women fertile. Thus, temples can be seen to embody the cosmos and the attempt to bring humanity into harmony with it.

One particular type of temple complex was centered on the Sun god, Surya. The devotees of the Sun (Sauras) were

Figure 9.1. The five Ratha (chariot) monolith temples carved from solid rock near the village of Mahabalipuram between Madras and Pondicherry in southern India: (a) All five temples—Note the rock-carved animals as well as the buildings. (b) Detail of the tallest temple in the complex, Dharmaraja-ratha—The Pallava king, Narasimhavarman I [630-670], in whose reign the monuments were excavated, is carved in deep relief to the lower left. Photos by Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

Figure 9.1. The five Ratha (chariot) monolith temples carved from solid rock near the village of Mahabalipuram between Madras and Pondicherry in southern India: (a) All five temples—Note the rock-carved animals as well as the buildings. (b) Detail of the tallest temple in the complex, Dharmaraja-ratha—The Pallava king, Narasimhavarman I [630-670], in whose reign the monuments were excavated, is carved in deep relief to the lower left. Photos by Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

11 The Brihatsamhita and the texts Shastra and Agama.

Figure 9.2. View from the southwest of the shore temple at Mahabalipuram, once the Pallava seaport on the Bay of Bengal: This east-facing, spray-washed temple was constructed by king Narasimhavarman II [690-715]. Note the rows of Nandis that line the path. Photo by Dr. A.R.F. Williams.
Figure 9.3. The temples at Kanchipuram, India, some of which were constructed by Narasimhavarman II and by Nandivarman [~717-779]. Photo by Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

among the six major philosophical schools described by Shankara in the 8th century. In its earliest form, this movement did not involve temples or priests (Malville 1989), and institutionalization may have come about through the imported influence of Persian sun priests (Magas) brought by invaders. In any case, temples dedicated to individual gods are not rare in India. The Konarak temple as well as many early Shivaite and Vishnaite temples,12 appear to be stone replications of elaborately carved wood, which suggest a revered but less permanent earlier form. In the case of the Suryan temples, the wooden temple makes a periodic return: It is reconstructed in massive but mobile form for festivals. The temple is the chariot of the Sun god; supported on wheels, it is rolled through streets, where its momentum makes it difficult to stop (the "Juggernaut," a corruption of

12 That is, devoted to the worship of Shiva or Vishnu/Krishna, respectively.

Jagannath, but more generally associated with movable Hindu shrines). Figure 9.5 is one of the Konarak chlorite sculptures of Surya in his traditional place in a heavenly chariot. In a similar carving from Ganga Sagar, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (reproduced in Craven 1976), his charioteer, Arum, the god of dawn, symbolically holds the reins of the horses at the bottom of the sculpture.

The largest temple in India devoted to worship of the Sun god is at Konarak (f = 19°53') in Orissa, on the Bay of Bengal. It erection is attributed to the Ganga dynasty king Narasimhadeva I [1238-1264] between 1242 and 1258 a.d. to commemorate a victory against a Muslim army led by Tughan Khan in 1243 (Chatterjee 1985). Figure 9.6 show the temple in various facings and detail.

Although the temple fell into disrepair by the beginning of the 17th century, it is still the site of a great festival each year when up to 50,000 pilgrims greet the dawn of the 7th day of the month of Magh. In fact, well before this particular temple was built, the Sun was an object of worship in India. Malville (1989) cites (from Stutley and Stutley 1977) the gayatri mantra:

We meditate on that excellent light of the divine Sun; may he illuminate our minds.

The Konarak temple included representations of Surya in secondary shrines and on the main shrine, or deul. The sanctuary was estimated to have been 70 m (225 ft) high (Harle 1986, p. 252), but Craven (1976, p. 181) doubts that the sandy foundation could have supported the weight of such a structure, and suggests that it was left unfinished for this reason. The jagomohana, the great hall adjoining the deul, contained one of the largest interior spaces of any Hindu temple. Into its main platform were carved 12 giant stone wheels, about 4m (12ft.) in diameter, six on each side (see Figures 9.6b and 9.7).

Seven stone horses are found on the sides of the steps leading to the front hall of the temple (Figures 9.6a and 9.8). Chatterjee (1985, p. 14) connects these to the seven horses mentioned in the Bhagavat Gita.

The overall impression is that of a ratha (chariot, in this case, a celestial one), and is in accord with the traditional depiction of Surya riding in a chariot drawn by seven horses (Harle 1986, p. 252). There is also a pillar (stambha) of Aruna, confirming the association. According to Malville, the wheels represent the zodiacal constellations; this seems reasonable for a solar temple, but they also may represent, perhaps less plausibly, the 12 lunar months. Each wheel has eight major and eight minor spokes. This too is symbolic because each half day was divided into eight time units analogous to hours called praharas. Less clear is the purpose for the erotic sculpture that surrounds the plinth of the shrine and adjoining structures (e.g., that seen in Figure 9.9), although Craven (1976) suggests that the couples may symbolize the "ecstatic bliss experienced by the separated soul of man when reunited with the divine." A more prosaic interpretation would regard them as related, in origin, to ideas about planetary conjunctions or, more plausibly, to the renewal theme described earlier in connection with the Shiva-linga at Khajuraho. At one time, the temple at Konarak may have been one of a number of tantric cult

Figure 9.4. Temples of Bhubaniswar, India: (a) The 7th-century ParaSuramesvara deul (tall sanctuary) faces west. The architrave (not visible here) bears images of eight Grahas (planets), Ketu being omitted in the iconography of the time; (b) The 11th-century Brahmesvara Temple, constructed in the 18th reign year of Oddyotakesari by his mother who had a Shiva Linga constructed at the core of the structure. Images of the Buddha were found in the vicinity of this temple, well after the coming of the Jainist and then Hindu (Saivist) kings of the Pallava and later dynasties. The side (c) and entranceway (d) of the Muktesvara temple, which the Archaeological Survey of India refers to as "the gem of Orissan architecture" (Mitra 1984). Here, Ketu makes an iconographic entrance as the 9th planet. All photos by Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

Figure 9.5. Surya in his traditional place in a heavenly chariot, one of three large chlorite sculptures of the Sun god at Konarak: This one shows a vigorous Sun god in full strength at midday. The other two show the youthful Surya, with a fresh team of horses represented at the very bottom of the sculpture, and a tired but satisfied Surya completing the journey on the last surviving horse of his team at the end of the day, respectively. Photo courtesy, Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

Figure 9.5. Surya in his traditional place in a heavenly chariot, one of three large chlorite sculptures of the Sun god at Konarak: This one shows a vigorous Sun god in full strength at midday. The other two show the youthful Surya, with a fresh team of horses represented at the very bottom of the sculpture, and a tired but satisfied Surya completing the journey on the last surviving horse of his team at the end of the day, respectively. Photo courtesy, Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

centers, in which eroticism was practiced, and which were later suppressed by orthodox Hinduism (Craven 1991, p. 182). The suggestion has arisen with respect to one other solar temple, as we note below. Interpreted merely as symbolic of the "wheel of life" (Chatterjee 1985, p. 14), the erotic sculpture in the hubs is perfectly comprehensible. Erotic temple sculpture is found widely in India, and in temples devoted to other gods, so the presence of erotic sculpture elsewhere in the Konarak temple is hardly a problem. There is, after all, a linga at the core of the temple.

Malville (1989) notes that the year of the beginning of the temple's construction, 1242, was also the year of a solar eclipse that was visible at the site, and that an area in the temple was dedicated to Rahu, the head of the dragon, devourer of the Sun at the moment of a solar eclipse. He

Figure 9.6. The Jagomohana or great hall of the largest temple in India devoted to worship of a Sun god: Konarak in Orissa, on the Bay of Bengal, was built between 1242 and 1258 a.d. (a) Front view, with stone horses on either side of the steps leading to the front hall. (b) Side view, which shows modern brickwork, designed solely to protect the building from further collapse, and some of the wheels of the solar chariot (see Figure 9.7). All photos by Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

Figure 9.6. The Jagomohana or great hall of the largest temple in India devoted to worship of a Sun god: Konarak in Orissa, on the Bay of Bengal, was built between 1242 and 1258 a.d. (a) Front view, with stone horses on either side of the steps leading to the front hall. (b) Side view, which shows modern brickwork, designed solely to protect the building from further collapse, and some of the wheels of the solar chariot (see Figure 9.7). All photos by Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

Williams The Great Figure
Figure 9.7. Examples of the 12 great stone chariot wheels: Together with the horses, the conveyed impression is that of a great ratha (chariot). Photos courtesy, Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

asserts that during the time of the winter solstice, the statue of Surya would have been carried into the precinct of Rahu in order to be illuminated by the Sun, because the narrowness of the apertures along the predominant E-W axis of the

Figure 9.8. One of the remaining horses lining the stairway of the great solar temple at Konarak. Photo by Dr. A.R.F. Williams.
Medieval Solar

Figure 9.9. A sample of erotic sculpture from the solar temple at Konarak: Craven (1976) suggests that the couples may symbolize the "ecstatic bliss experienced by the separated soul of man when reunited with the divine." Another interpretation would regard them as related to ideas about planetary conjunction or to a renewal theme as per the Shiva-linga at Khajuraho. Photo by Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

Figure 9.9. A sample of erotic sculpture from the solar temple at Konarak: Craven (1976) suggests that the couples may symbolize the "ecstatic bliss experienced by the separated soul of man when reunited with the divine." Another interpretation would regard them as related to ideas about planetary conjunction or to a renewal theme as per the Shiva-linga at Khajuraho. Photo by Dr. A.R.F. Williams.

temple precluded direct illumination. The symbolism of such an event is not fully demonstrated, however.

We know less about other Indian Sun temples. Lad Khan, a 6th/7th-century temple at Aihole in the Deccan was probably dedicated to Surya-Narayana according to Harle (1986, p. 172). The largest Hindu temple in Kashmir is an 8th-century temple of the Sun at Martrand. Several of its features are suggestive of derivative Greco-Roman influences (Harle 1986, pp. 189-191). Others are seen in Orissa, north of Gujarat at Modhera (11th century), at Ranakpur, and at Rajasthan in western India. Occasionally, however, an image of Surya is found in other types of temples as well, such as that in Vaital also in Orissa, where Harle (1986, p. 161) suggests an association with the tantric Cult of the Mothers.

Elaborate associations of a multiplicity of gods, animals, plants, numbers, asterisms, and planets are manifested in representations from two Shivaite temples on the Coro-mandel Coast at Chellambaram (now Chidambaram) and (somewhat inland on the Coleroon River) at Trichinopoly (now Tiruchchirappalli) (Mollien 1853). A list of the associations are given in Table 9.2. At Trichinopoly, surrounding a central lotus flower, are six concentric circles and, concen trically distributed around the outermost circle, are 16 deities. In order of increasing radius, the circles contain the following:

(1) The seven planets

(2) The nine planets (i.e., including Ketu and Rahu)

(3) A series of 11 animals

(4) The 12 signs of the zodiac

Table 9.2. Associations at Trichinopoly.®

Lunar mansions

Table 9.2. Associations at Trichinopoly.®

Lunar mansions

(Associated animal)

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