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The Hindu Temple

The Hindu Temple

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore the traits of Hindu temples.

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Tutorial

Exploring the architecture and art of HIndu temples.

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell and today's lesson is about the Hindu temple. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things we're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, explain the basic features and function of the Hindu temple, and that's it. Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson.

First key term is mandapa. In Indian architecture, a pillared outdoor hall for public ceremonies. Garbagriha, the innermost sanctum of the Hindu temple that houses deities, idols or icons. Shikhara is a roof of a Hindu temple. Bhakti, loving devotion to a deity that can be performed by any individual. Next key term is mithuna. Sexual union for the purpose of creating divine energy. Tantra, a series of beliefs and ritual practices that seek to channel divine energy. Shakti, female divine energy often personified as a goddess. And personal god, a god that people can relate to as a person rather than as an energy force or other abstract concept.

The big idea for today is that the vibrant art and architecture of the Hindu temple contrasts noticeably with the more reserved appearance of the Indian Buddhist stupa. And when in history are we looking? The art ant architecture from today extends from the sixth to the 10th centuries AD. We'll be looking at temple architecture and sculpture from two locations in India, Deogarh and Khajuraho.

Hinduism is a very, very old system of beliefs and it's considered a polytheistic religion that includes the worship of many variations or manifestations of many different deities. The many manifestations and many forms of deities appear to be simultaneously faces of a single god while retaining the individual characteristics of multiple gods. So this idea of multiple perspectives is fundamental to Hinduism and help explains how Hinduism appears to weave between polytheism and monotheism even though at its core it lacks the sense of organized religion and monotheism of many other religions.

Now, Hindu temples were considered a god's home on earth and they are interesting contrast between vibrant and occasionally shocking imagery on the exterior, and supposedly serene and calm atmosphere of the interior. Now, the sculptural motifs are more than decorative, as the gods themselves are thought to be manifested through the imagery of the temple. And they are sacred buildings. The mountain shape shikhara, or shikhara, referring to the peak of a mountain, is typical of northern style temples.

Ordinary worshipers would stand near the entrance and mandapa, which is a public gathering place. The most sacred inner chambers, the garbagriha, essentially a womb room where the deities, idols or icons were located, were only accessible by high priests, or brahman.

So the first temple is called the Vishnu temple from Deogarh. And Vishnu was one of the primary deities in Hinduism. This structure is an old structure dating from 500 AD and is an example of an earlier, simpler type of Hindu temple. It's a rectangular structure with a tower that originally would have been about 40 feet tall. Even though the building is rather simple in its design, it's decorated with elaborate sculptural reliefs, in particular the sculptural guardians that protect the entrance way.

The temple complex at Khajuraho, India is an example of the northern style of temple design in India. The most distinguishing features of the northern style temple are the progressive dome shapes that culminate with the large shikhara, which is the mountain shaped roof. The Himalayan mountain range in the north of India was believed to be the home of Shiva, another principle deity. And the temple design was symbolic of the gradual assent from foothill to the highest mountain top in the Himalayas. On the interior, a garbagriha under the shikhara contains the image of Shiva. So this is an outer view of the temple of Kandariya Mahadeva. It's made of sandstone and it's located in Khajuraho, India.

Now, this is an outer diagram of Kandariya Mahadeva and it labels the different sections of the temple. And notice the mandapa's labeled on the right and the shikhara labeled on the left. Here's an aerial plan of the temple-- here it is-- to give an idea of the overall layout. And as always, you can come back and view these, pause the video so you can get a better look at these.

Now, the temples at this complex are notable for their elaborate, vibrant and erotic sculptural reliefs adorning the exterior. Here's an image of some of the outer sculpture at Kandariya Mahadeva. And this next image is not from Kandariya Mahadeva temple but from another temple at the Khajuraho called the Visvanatha Temple. Visvanatha means lord of the world.

Now, it's call the mithuna reliefs. And mithuna is a Sanskrit term related to sexual union. And they are images from the north side of the temple. Now, you only need to look for a little bit before you can tell that the people in this image seem to be enjoying themselves. What are images like this doing on the side of a religious temple, you may ask? Well, good question.

It's something you'd never see on the side of the Western style church, Western meaning European. So the true purpose of images like this are debated among scholars, but one of the more plausible suggestions is that the imagery on the exterior is a positive representation of sexual relations as well sexuality in its celebrated role within the religion. Now, this idea sharply contrasts with a negative views associated with sexuality that were, and in many ways still are, pervasive in Western religions.

This last image is of a solid bronze sculpture called the Shiva Nataraja, which means lord of the dance. It's a portable sculpture intended to be moved around and is considered a physical embodiment of the deity, not just a sacred image. It was treated as the actual deity and actually cared for like a real person.

This personification was intended to encourage the bhakti, or active involvement, on the part of the person worshipping. The bhakti was also a common form of worship that has a close association with Hindu temples and is a unique form of worship that distinguishes Hinduism from other religions.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, can you explain the basic features and functions of the Hindu temple? And that's it. I keep thinking there's one more.

And the big idea for today is that the vibrant art and architecture of the Hindu temple contrasts notably-- noticeably with the more reserved appearance of the Indian Buddhist stupa. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Citations

Image of India Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:India_(orthographic_projection).svg; Diagram of Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Architecture_of_the_Khajuraho_temples.jpg Plan of Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plan_of_Kandariya_Mahadeva_temple.jpg Mithuna Sculpture from Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, Creative Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kandariya_Mahadev_Temple,_Khajuraho,_picture_17.JPG Image of Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Khajuraho.KandariyaMahadeva.jpg Image of Shiva Nataraja, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shiva_as_the_Lord_of_Dance_LACMA_edit.jpg Khajuraho Sculpture; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Khajurahosculpture.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Mandapa

    In Indian architecture, a pillared outdoor hall for public ceremonies.

  • Garbagriha

    The innermost sanctum of the Hindu temple that house deities, idols or icons.

  • Shikhara

    The roof of a Hindu temple.

  • Bhakti

    Loving devotion to a deity that can be performed by any individual.

  • Mithuna

    Sexual union for the purpose of creating divine energy.

  • Tantra

    A series of beliefs and ritual practices that seek to channel divine energy.

  • Shakti

    Female divine energy, often personified as a goddess.

  • Personal God

    A god that people can relate to as a person, rather than as an energy force or other abstract concept.