Hindu Temple Architecture-IV


Hindu Temple Architecture-IV

Site Selection & Analysis

[continued from the previous post – Hindu Temple Architecture III ]

The Previous article at this link discusses site analysis in the modern sense and compares that with the kind of analysis that may have gone in to the site selection of ancient Hindu temples.

  To summarise the discussion on modern site analysis , we can say it is,Primarily a sensory experience for the person[s] concerned .Though at times it can be an extra sensory one in rare cases. For example,  a developer may “see” a great theme park in a green field, while the rest of us may see only the green field. An  entrepreneur’s spirit  sees things that aren’t seen by others who aren’t on the same wavelength.

There isn’t any altruism there but when we see some developments , when we experience the joy of some places, we can , to some extent, understand the thought behind the built experience

A desire to share the joy one feels with others they are unlikely to ever meet  without expecting anything in return, can be a motivation too.

“I want to create a serene , peaceful  or exciting atmosphere to the users of the building” can be  a great motivator.

I am currently in the process of updating myself  as a green professional [ not the behind -the- ears type] as the World seems to have suddenly realized we need to build sustainable buildings.

Many countries have  a green rating system and a cursory study of different systems let us know that Sustainable Sites is a major section in these guide books/systems .

Under site selection, there are a lot of guidelines that  discuss the benefits of building on sites that have been already built upon.  In other words, sparing the green fields /virgin lands is considered very important.

Ï cant quote the exact verse ,but readers can throw some light on that. I  have heard Bhavishya Purana , one of the 18 Maha Puranas talks about how in future , [read “now”] people would build on green fields as the population increases to an unsustainable level.

We all know choosing a green field site for construction is an extremely unsustainable option and in these days of recession it is one that sends more chill down our collective spines.

The  nations that aggressively and proudly expanded themselves after industrial revolution over the last hundred years or so suddenly seems to be realizing that we need to think in terms of future generations and there seems to be an urgency to this thought now.

The rating systems world wide are now a necessity to ensure that right from site selection to building and operation we need to think of not just our generation but subsequent generations as well.

This is a welcome move and has not come a moment sooner .

Blue responsibility and green responsibility are phrases that are discussed widely and slowly professionals are being educated about the responsibilities they carry.

There is less emphasis on personal -professional egos and more emphasis on “we -our planet-our future generation “.Talks about how we should work together to save Mother Earth make me happy and sad at the same time. We are indeed coming a full circle since we started on the fast lane as the children of industrial revolution.

Not a moment too soon at all.

 “Common good first, personal goals last ” is how the ancients saw any development.


The ancients who built great monuments  in India were people who always put common good first.

As we discussed in the previous parts posted , the design goals behind the Hindu temples were something deeper than what is accepted by the academia.

Sacred sites were identified  [ site selection], then marked with a shrine  [ site development] and this was done for the benefit of future generations.[ The Design  goal]

Sthala Puranas talk about how someone gained a vision of the divine at a particular place and subseqently , requested  that particular aspect of the deity to be enshrined there for the benefit of future generations.

For example, according to the  Sthlaa Purana of Thirukarukavoor [ Karu/Garbha meaning the  “unborn”;Kaavoor meaning the place that protects] ,Tamilnadu, a woman called Vedika , whose unborn child was protected by Devi requests her to remain there to shower her divine grace on women of the future generations.

The aspect of Devi in that temple is called GarbhaRakshambika [ protector of the unborn] and here is an article I posted in another blogsite sometime ago.

More information on the site and the presiding Goddess at this link.

Image:Goddess Garbharakshambika,Tirukarukavoor.

As discussed earlier, each Hindu temple is different though the central concept may remain the same.

They are dedicated to different deities as well as different aspects of the same deity.

A practicing Hindu , however “illiterate “he may be in the eyes of modern World knows he isn’t worshipping thirty three thousand Gods.

In his heart, he knows that he  worships the one and only great thought in many forms prescribed by the scriptures.

For example the deity Nrasimha  , the fourth Avtar ofMaha Vishnu is worshipped in more than one aspect.

His is the Avtar that instantaneously manifested from out of a pillar as  Ugra Nrisimha and he subsequently slays the Asura King   Hiranyakashyapu  and protects the latter’s  Son Prahlad from the murderous Father.

It’s said  that the  Vadham  took place in what is now modern Andhra and hence we find several Ugra Nrisimha sites there.

He is said to have sat in Yoga soon after and one finds many sites with a temple dedicated to Yoga Nrisimha nearby , further down South.

Yoga Nrisimha:Image from this link


One such site is in Sholingar near Arakonam in North Tamil Nadu. You find another  Yoga Nrisimha shrine in Partha Saarathy temple,Triplicane , Chennai.

Sthala Puranas also talk about how his consort Lakshmi ‘s presence  greatly reduced his fury and  pacified him .

We also have shrines for Lakshmi Nrisimha in some sites still further South.

Eg: Poovarasan Kuppam, TN.

Image: Lord Lakshmi Nrisimhar , Poovarasankuppam, TN.

The worship of Yoga Nrisimha removes obstacles from one’s path in spirituality. If you have trouble concentrating during meditation , you may pray to that aspect of the divine to help you out in your practice.For householders who are concerned with their many miseries , his worship is said to grant an instant relief from them.

Singa perumal koil [ literally, the Lion God’s temple] located South of Chennai is a famous rock cut shrine [ probably belongs to the Pallava period] where you find a Lakshmi Nrisimha shrine within the main shrine of Ugra Nrisimha.

The site is also called Pataladri meaning “Red Hill” (Patal means red; Adri means hill) – here Narasimha is an Ugra roopa. Legend has it that he manisfested here at the request of Sage Jabali, after the slaying of Hiranyakashyapu..

The Garbagriha /main shrine houses the seated form of Ugra Nrisimha and as a figure that is bigger than human scale he inspires awe.

Ugra Nrisimha, Pataladri/Singaperumal koil, TN.

But it wasn’t just the scale that caused awe and we found out that  something else was at work there .

The priest / Bhattacharya of the temple, just before he performed the Arathi , lifted the metal Vishnu tilak [Naamam ]for a second and gave us a jolt. He replaced it again and said that the Lord there has three eyes , but as per the customs of that temple , the third one had to be kept covered  except for very short periods like the moments we were fortunate to experience.

“The World wouldn’t be able to manage the energy that emanates from it. Hence , the third eye has to be kept covered most of the time.”He said.

{xtypo_quote_left}The brief electric moment was enough to prove to us   , once again, that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy as the famous author of Hamlet said once.{/xtypo_quote_left}

The brief electric moment was enough to prove to us   , once again, that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy as the famous author of Hamlet said once.

Different places have different effect on people and if we manage  to stop our external and internal chattering , even for  a small moment, it is possible to hear and see what cannot be heard or seen by the five senses.

May be this place has the vibes of Ugra Nrisimha and appropriately  a truly altruistic “developer” decided to frame it for the benefit of smaller people who would come ages later.

For more information on Pataladri /Singaperumal Koil please read this article.

We read about how people were overwhelmed by a sense of sadness when they walked through places which were sites of great tragedies in the past. That people are able to sense “that something in the air” shows that people aren’t mere masses of flesh , blood and nerve connections.

Some kind of communication goes on at a different level and that links the whole of humanity.

With our backs turned towards them, we still sense when someone is looking at us and respond by turning to look at them without a clue about why we did that .

We visit hill stations and feel closer to nature and therefore feel exhilaration but we visit a hill shrine and feel that it isn’t any ordinary hill station.

Coming back to the issues discussed in the previous part , as per the Tamil sangam classification of landforms ,the Adhi Devata for mountainous land forms is Subramanya /Muruga and the Adhi Devata for coastal areas is Vishnu.

Yet there is a famous Subramanya site near the Sea [ Thiruchendur] and a very famous Vishnu site on a mountain.[ Tirupati]

There was some talk about how they were “converted “temples .

There is literary evidence to prove otherwise and the Sangam Tamil classic Silappathkaaram talks about the Vishnu temple in Venkatam [ Tirupathi] .

The Silambu is believed to be atleast 2000 years old [ that 2000 somehow seems to be default number. May be the concerned Historians didn’t know how to count beyond 2000?!].

So there is literary evidence here that Tirupati was indeed a Vishnu temple atleast since 2000 years or so.

Image: Tirumala -Tirupati

The next site Thiruchendur is mentioned in Adi Shankara’s Subramanya Bhujangam and it is where he got his disease cured.The site is renowned for its curative powers and the aspect of Subramanya here is  benign one as he is elsewhere even though he fought a war here and won it.

Subramanya Bhujanga is atleast 1200 years old as that eighth century is when  Adi Shankara is believed to have lived.[ I say “atleast “as I feel these are conservative estimates. Till impassionate study is done on the timeline of these literary works, we would have to use cautious estimates].

Still older than that is the ThiruMurukattrupadai , an epic work by Poet Nakkerar of the Tamil Sangam period

[Time period estimated between second century CE and the third century BCE] This epic work mentions Thiruchendur [ also called as “Thirucheeralaivai”-The sacred Sea coast.]

If the Sangam classification was some kind of zoning by law , these sites seem to be exceptions.

When the visionary developer decides to develop the lush piece of agricultural land in to  a theme park, he approaches the Government who controls the Townplanning department.

The Government  studies the case and makes an amendment in the existing land use plan.

Thus a theme park is born out of a green field.[ In the process some people are benefitted]

In the case of these holy sites , the general law seems to have taken an exception but what could have been the reason for doing so?

Did another kind of visionary, a person who saw the benefit of generations of people by doing so ,decide on the change in zoning laws?

Did the visionary see Subramanya in Thircheerali vai /Thiruchendur  and Vishnu in Venkata hills /Tirupathi ?

Image:Thiruchendur-The Seashore abode of Subramanya.

Was Subramanya “detected” where he is enshrined now at Thiruchendur as was Lord Vishnu where he is enshrined now?

As for Tirupati , apart from the literary evidence , there seems to be a lot of stone inscriptions that indicate the hoary nature of the site.

The visionaries in this case had the benefit of mankind in mind and not the benefit of a small group of people over a limited period of time.

The detection  of  a particular aspect of a deity  is an intriguing subject of study . Why a particular spot was chosen and by careful calculations made as focus /central shrine is a question that begs answers.

Shri Ramakrishna , when he was talking about holy places compared them to those spots where ground water was readily and easily available to people. Though groundwater is available in many places , we don’t dig wells wherever we want. We use  a water divining system and choose our locations carefully before embarking on the well project.

God is present everywhere but if every one of us truly understood that point would we still be here?

The theory of Sacred sites or Geomancy is a science that is still under study. Known scientific methods may not be adequate to understand this at all.

A magnetic therapist /acupuncturist once told me that  temple sites were really some kind of power generators where super magnetized idols were kept and hence people feel the “vibrations “they feel there.

It seemed like an exciting concept then ,but now I am beginning to understand that the “power” isn’t something which is impersonal like the forces of nature but something very profound, something that can actually interact with people.

All over the world some sites are revered , considered sacred and fought over by people of different faiths.

People who visit the sites talk about how they felt that the entire atmosphere was charged with power.

A site like Tirupati , attracts people like  a magnet . Many people go there as they have a wish list.

Many people go there as penniless pilgrims with a child or two perched on their shoulders crying “Govinda !Govinda ! “

The sight of such pilgrims is humbling .still , any out of the ordinary happening is attributed to “faith” as though that is an easier word to digest than saying divine power.

Years ago, I walked from Tirupati to Tirumala as a college fresher .My mother had made that prayer wish for herself but the family decided to walk along too . We had a  choice of taking a vehicle and we could have avoided the four hour trek.

I was not happy about the walking as the trek started.i grumbled and complained but walked on . I mentioned more than once that  we could have motored up the hill. That’s when my father pointed to the footwear- less pilgrims from the  nearby villages.

They didn’t look like they had much but they trekked up the hills with the name of Govinda on their tongues.

I started trekking as a reluctant pilgrim around 3 :00 AM in the morning as we had planned to have  a Darshan of the Lord of Tirupati by Sunrise.

The hilly area was absolutely quiet then and somehow I couldn’t compare that with the trekking I had done in some hill stations .That had been exciting  but this had a different effect on us.

In fact when we completed our trip, I mentioned that walking up the hill is the only way to visit the hoary temple as ,only then we get the full experience .My parents didn’t laugh or say “We told you so “.

Regarding the History of the temple, there are literary evidences that show that Tirupati has always been a Vishnu temple and the innumerable stone inscriptions there are hard evidences too.

Please read Shri Partha Desikan’s translation of a verse from the ancient Tamil epic Silapadikaaram at the link below.


The verse mentions Vishnu and his attributes. Though the article on Tirupati’s stone inscriptions don’t mention any 2000 year old inscriptions, the literary evidence is clearcut. May be modern research methods  can help  further ascertain the age of the main shrine,

But the effect of the sight of the “Gali” Gopuram seen  during the predawn hours that day cannot be considered as any evidence that can be proved by known Scientific methods. Neon- lit Vishnu tilak flanked by Shankha and Chakra , [associated with Vishnu] as seen against the darkness of predawn moved me and it is  a sight I can bring to mind even now.

Image:Ghali gopuramFrom the link


I can only imagine what great souls, whose spiritual  level was well above that of an ordinary person [ who is neck- deep in Samsara] would have experienced there.

(to be continued…)

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