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Artistic masterpiece

Indian temples are not only engineering marvels but also storehouses of art.



The Sun temple at Konark.

Indian temples are a storehouse of Indian art. Sculptures and paintings form an essential part of temple architecture. In some temples, the architecture is so unique that besides being an engineering marvel, it is as well an artistic masterpiece.

The Konark temple in Orissa is dedicated to the Sun God. Kona means corner and arka means Sun. The temple is situated in the north-eastern corner of Puri. The temple is in the form of a chariot with the Sun God as the Charioteer. There are 12 pairs of wheels drawn by seven horses. The 12 pairs represent the months of a year, and the seven horses carved in relief on the staircase sides represent the days of the week. The temple is also famous for its sculptures representing the daily life of warriors, animals and lovers.

There are three images of the Sun God, which catch the rays of the sun at dawn, noon and dusk. The temple built by King Narsimhadeva I, is considered a world heritage by the U.N.

Generally Indian temples can be categorised under three styles — Nagara style or North Indian style, the Deccan or Central style and the Dravidian or South Indian style. While the fundamental rules for placing the god in the sanctum sanctorum (garba griha) remain common, there are differences in the structures. The towers above the temple called shikara, in the Nagara style are conical structures. The Dravidian style has towers (vimanas or gopurams) resembling rectangular step pyramid. There are various sculptures on the steps, each dedicated to a deity.

The Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur, constructed by the King Raja Raja Chola, follows the Dravidian style. The interesting aspect of this temple is its vimana, over the sanctum sanctorum. Unlike other temples in the south, the vimana of the Brihadeeswara temple is very tall. It is also placed in such a way that the shadow of the monolithic cupola (dome made from a single big stone) at the top doesn't fall on the ground. Sculptures depicting the wedding of Goddess Parvathi and beautiful paintings adorn the temple walls. The main deity of Shiva is represented by a huge stone lingam.

The Hoysaleswara temple in Halebid, Karnataka, is an example of the Deccan style, built by the minister of the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhan. The temple is built for Shiva but its architecture is different from the Northern and the Dravidian styles. The temple has a horizontal star-shaped structure and has a flat roof without any towers or shikaras rising above the sanctum sanctorum or the entrance. Well-chiselled stone sculptures cover the interior and exterior of the temple. There are many sites in India, where beautiful sculptures are carved from hard rock, like the Elephanta caves near Mumbai. These are famous for its sculpture of `Maheshamurti' — the three headed Shiva, each showing a different aspect of the God — feminine, angry and meditative. The Kailasa temple at the Ellora caves, Maharashtra, is also dedicated to Shiva. Following the Dravidian style, the cave temple has freestanding sculptures of elephants, gods, pillars and towers — all carved out of a hill representing the Kailasa, the abode of Shiva.

Many of these stand testimony to the high level of art that existed in bygone eras.

MALA MAHESH

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