Brick Temple at Bhitargaon
- 11 Dec 2018
- 5 min read
The temple at Bhitargaon in Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh) is one of the earliest surviving brick temples of India.
- It was built in the 5th century A.D during the Gupta Empire.
- It is the oldest remaining terracotta Hindu shrine with a roof and a high Shikhara (spire) which paved the way for elaborate Nagara style of temple architecture in North India.
Brief History of Temple Architecture
- There is no evidence of the existence of temple architecture during the Vedic period.
- Over generations, worshipping was systematised and paved the way for the evolution of temple structures.
- Rock-cut architecture began to develop from the 3rd century BCE. Though the earliest rock-cut architecture is from the Mauryan dynasty, the Ajanta caves which belong to post Mauryan period are among the earliest rock-cut temples.
- As man progressed and learnt new techniques, rock-cut temples gave way to stone temples and as
stonewas not easily available everywhere, it gave way to brick temples.
- In the Gangetic plains, which have alluvial soil and
paucityof stones and rocks, many brick structures came up.
- Though rock-cut and stone temples withstood the vagaries of time, brick temples could not survive. That is what makes the brick temple of Bhitargaon so special.
Architecture of Bhitargaon Temple
- The entrance into the sanctum shows one of the first uses of a semi-circular doorway.
- Alexander Cunningham (First Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, 1871) called this as the ‘Hindu arch’ which was peculiar to India.
- The temple has a tall pyramidical spire (shikhara) above the inner sanctum (
garbha griha). This shikhara became the standard feature of the Nagara temple architecture of India.
- The walls of the temple are decorated with terracotta sculptures of God and Goddesses like Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, Vishnu etc. on panels separated by bold ornamental pilasters (
rectangularcolumn that projects slightly beyond the wall).
- According to Cunningham, because of the Varaha incarnation at the back of the temple, it was probably a Vishnu temple.
NAGARA, DRAVIDA &
- Temple architecture evolved slightly differently in different regions, such as the distinct features of Orissa, Kashmir and Bengal temples, but it can be generally classified under three categories- Nagara (North), Dravida (South) and Vesara styles.
- The shikhara tower in Nagara temples has a sloping curve as they rise and are topped by an amalaka (a large fluted disk) and also a small spherical pot known as the kalash.
- The Nagara style of temples
weregenerally built on upraised platforms.
- Kandariya Mahadeva temple at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh is one of the best expression of Nagara temple architecture.
- In contrast, Dravida towers (known separately as vimana) are in the form of a stepped pyramid that rises up linearly rather than curved.
- There is only one vimana in the Dravidian architecture on top of the main temple. The subsidiary shrines do not have vimanas, unlike in Nagara architecture.
- The presence of water tank inside the temple enclosure is a unique feature of the Dravidian style.
- Southern Indian temples are typically enclosed within a walled courtyard with a gate (gopuram) which over time had become even more massive and ornate than the temple itself.
- The 11th century A.D. Brihadishwara Temple complex (built by Rajaraja I of Imperial Cholas) at Tanjavur is a wonderful example of Dravida temple which incorporates all of these features.
- Vesara style of temple architecture flourished under the later Chalukya rulers in the 7th century A.D.
Vesarastyle had combined features of both Nagara school and Dravidian school and resulted in a hybridised style.
- Durga temple at Aihole, Karnataka is a prominent example of Vesara style temple.