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Shaped like an elephant

G. KRISHNARATHNAM

The vimanas of temples take different shapes.



GAJAPRISHTA VIMANA: The gopuram of Pralayakaaleswarar temple, Pennagaram.

In Tamil Nadu, Siva temples are usually constructed taking into account the Kaamika-Aagama sastras, besides Vaastu. According to Ganapathy Sthapathy, the stapathya Veda has to be understood and mastered.

The main deity is consecrated inside the Garbagriha, which takes a square, rectangular, circular, oblong or semi-circular shape.

The various parts of a temple correspond to a human being. The face or head, called Mukha in Sanskrit, corresponds to the Sikhara (cupola). The Sikhara is built taking into account the Jaathi (the orignal), Sandas (similarity), Vikalpa (viewed/perceived with imagination) and Aapasa (that which is illuminated). Thus the Sikhara takes different forms/shapes in architecture.

They are largely grouped under the Dravidian (round shape) Naagaram (square) and Vesaram (eight pleats and other shapes). Yet another theory states that the three types, viz. square, octagonal and circular, correspond to the Satvika, Rajhas and Thamasa gunaas.

The sikhara is otherwise called vimaana. `Maa' is to measure. The measurement is said to be made by goddess Uma Herself.

The vimaana is the central elevated shrine meant for the presiding deity. The vimaanas usually take a round, square, oblong or rectangular shape. In a few temples it takes a semi-circular form resembling the rear side of a sitting elephant. This is called the Aththiprishta or Gajaprishta Vimaana. In Tamil, this is referred to as the "Thoonganai Maadam" (sleeping elephant).

I gather that Sage Bharadhwaja speaks of about 22 types of "aakasa vimaanas" in Rig Veda.

Pennagadam Temple at Villupuram district has a Gajaprishta vimaana.

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