Hindu Temple Architecture -V

Site Selection

The previous four parts of this series can be found below.

 Part I

 Part II

 Part III

Part IV

 In this part, I continue with the topic of site selection of Hindu temples.

The third part and the fourth part discussed the similarities and differences between site selection processes of buildings in general and that of Hindu temples.

To summarise, we discussed that the process is a sensory experience in the former case and an extra sensory experience in the latter case.

 To start with the modern scene, we see that sober looking monuments are erected in memory of human tragedies we would like to avoid in future.{readmore}

Image: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

What do we achieve by that act? 

We try to connect with the next generation and keep alive a memory so that mankind in general remembers a momentous event.

If it is sad, we don’t want a repetition, even after we are gone ourselves.

If it is a happy one, we erect victory arches at the site /seat of power.

A tourist looks up at an arch erected to celebrate a victory. He may be able to “feel “the victory of ancient Romans over that particular parcel of land, he may ” see” the warriors and ” hear” their shouts of triumph. Or he may simply take photographs and leave.


Image: Arc De Triomphe-France

But monuments are what we as a species leave, because we know our time is limited and we try to preserve something for posterity.

A thought is present here about future generations, but it is more about our own celebration or mourning as a group/community and less about the coming generations.

But we believe places where great tragedies occurred; carry the weight of collective human sorrow [though we avoid saying so in polite circles!].

 Some of us may call it a ” funny feeling”.

 And its reverse is true too.

 We also believe, that places believed to be holy sites, revered by millions down the ages, kissed by pilgrims in love and faith, have the power to mitigate the miseries of men.

 The site and the building have a deeper connection than what is seen and there should be some compatibility between the use of the building and the site characteristics.

 We are so used to buildings that “shut down” the site as we depend on mechanical heating and cooling. It is something we cant avoid in densely populated cities.

But in an ideal world, the building and the site that supports it would complement each other and have a symbiotic relationship.

As for the intangible, if a few can feel that ” something different ” in some place, the others can also follow the same procedure as the few do, to connect so that they can test the results themselves.

That would be the scientific way of making analyses.


Back to Hindu temples, we will look at the specific examples of two Devi sites first.

 The texts of Sankara Vijayam*Ananda kriyam , and Madhaviyam which details the life history of Shri Sankara mention in detail about the various temples he visited all over India.

 He is said to have done a spiritual renovation to many of them by streamlining the puja/worship rules and also by installing yantras where they were needed.

But a certain site in India was identified by the ” main user” of the shrine itself as per the sthala purana of the temple.

We will briefly look at the background information from the sthala Purana before analysing the facts presented therein.


 Shri Sankara, after he met Kumarila Bhatta in an unusual circumstance, proceeded to the city of Mashismathi.

He wanted to meet a certain Mandana Mishra, an amsavatara of Lord Brahma. Sri Sankara wanted to bring Mishra to the Nivruthi marga.

 To put it simply, he wanted to bring the person from Karma marga back home -to Gnana marga.

 They, as per the custom of ancient India, entered in to a Vaadham, an argument [not to be confused with the western view of argument as in quarrel or disagreement.]

 It was mutually agreed that the one who lost the argument should walk the path of the one who won the argument.

Mandana Mishra’s wife Sarasavani was the refree. Sankara won the vaadham and as per their previous agreement Mandana Mishra had to become a sanyasi  [ a renouncer -the last ashrama of the system of ashramas ]. He became Sureshwar  Acharya.

This left Sarasavani, who was Brahma’s consort Sarasvathi, in a position where she had to decide to go back to Brahma lokha [ the abode of Bhrama] and she proceeded to do so.

But Sankara requested her to stay on in the land to benefit future generations.

She agreed to, again with a condition.

 That Sankara should walk on without a backward glance and she’d follow him in his quest to select a suitable site for enshrining her.

 They walked on, with the Acharya leading the way and Sarasavani following him.

 They walked southwards and reached a place where peace reigned.

 Anyone who wasn’t connected as the Acharya was could have seen that too, the unbelievable scene of a snake shielding a pregnant frog from the hot Sun.

The place was sandy and the sound of Sarasavani’s anklets that was heard all along wasn’t heard as she walked on sand that came up to her ankles.

The Acahrya, despite himself, looked back to check if she was still following. She, probably with a smile, told him that she wasn’t moving from that spot as per their pre condition.

He concluded it was all for good and felt that the site was the most suitable for the enshrinement of Sarasavani /Sarasvathi who was in her pleasant aspect.

Thus we have a Saradamba temple in Shringeri in Karnataka where it is. Shringeri is also the site of a Sankara Peetam.


 Image: Sringeri Temple

So as per the stahala purana, can we say, it was a site chosen by an interesting precondition that ended in perfect drama? It is an interesting story all right.

Or was it the aspect of the divinity [pleasant here or a soumya moorthy ] that had to be enshrined/preserved for posterity which chose the unusual site where a predator protected his prey?

It must have been the latter. Considering we take this version with a modern pinch of salt and conclude Sankara himself chose the site, the decision still seems to have been based on the intangible qualities of the site.

In the previous part, we had discussed how different deities /devata forms are worshipped in different aspects.

Amman or mother Goddess is in general worshipped in a pleasant form in the southern states of Tamilnadu , Andhra and Karnataka.


 Image: Sri Sarada, Sringeri

In a few select sites she is Bhadra Kali or Mariamma /Maisamma in her ugra aspect.

Sankara himself is said to have streamlined the puja rituals of the temple in Kanchi .

It was worshipped by the Kabalaikas [ who performed fierce rituals] and it is said the normally peaceful /shantha aspect of Devi had taken on an ugra [ fierce] aspect.

Sankara is said to have installed a Sri Yantra to channelise the intense energy that had manifested there as he felt it would not be suitable for worship by householders.

A similar sthala purana talks about potent energy that was “stored” in a pair of 

Tadangas [a an ear adorning ornament] on the moorthy of  Akhilandeswari in Thiruvanaikaaval  TN .

The worship of the Goddess in the state of Kerala seems a little different though,

where she ‘s worshipped as Bhagavathy .[ a female form of the supreme divine ,Bhagvan].

Not all sites are suitable for enshrining an ugra aspect of a deity ad the reverse is true about the same deity’s pleasant aspect too.


 Image : Kali

We can conclude that site characteristics have to be compatible to the energy that is sought to be enshrined there for the maximum benefit of humankind.


 The next Shakthi site is the Meenashi Amman temple in Madurai, Tamilnadu.

 The place is also called Aalavai, Naan mada Koodal, Kadamba vanam  in ancient Tamil texts.

 Madurai was the seat of Pandya power and was also the seat of the three Tamil Sangams.

It was also the city that was reduced to ashes by the legendary Kannagi in Silappadhikaaram.


 Madurai Meenakshi Temple

An ancient Tamil text [ said to be 600 years old] by Paranjyothi Munivar called Thiruvilayadar puranam” [ the saga of the divine play/lila] elaborates on the 64 divine lilas by Lord Siva. This is a Saivite text and focuses on Sokkanatha ‘s [Lord Siva ‘s] lila in Madurai .

This is said to have been written in the 15 th century as a Tamil version of  “Halasya Mahatmiyam.”an ancient Sanskrit text. Halasya may have become Alavai in Tamil.

Moreover, some events mentioned in Thiruvilayadar Puranam , especially the legends connected to Saivite saint Manickavachagar can be cross referenced in the saint’s work too.

More references of the same kind are found in Thirutondathogai  [ account of Lord’s servants] by Sundara Moorthy Nayanar and in the magnum opus ” Periya Puranam ” [ The big Epic -an account of the lives of the 63 Saivite saints] by Sekkizhar.[ later 12 th century]

The sthala purana of this temple says Devi manifested herself as a small child when a childless Malayadhwaja Pandyan and his queen performed a yagna to beget a child .

The King got his special daughter trained in all arts including martial arts, as she was the heir apparent.

After his death, Thatathakai Prati [Lady Thatathakai] ascended the throne and went on a victory march all over India that was Bharata then.

She challenged many kings on the way and defeated them by her valour. She reached the Himalayas where a certain Siva was living, with the aim of conquering him.

No weapons were needed; no words were spoken. Thatathakai had conquered yet again, though in a different way. She met her match there and a smiling Siva agreed to go to Madurai to get married to her.

Their wedding was conducted in Madurai and Siva in the Madurai temple is called Somasundara or Chokkanatha. Thatathakai became Queen Meenakshi and Siva, King Chokkanatha/Somasundara Pandyan .


Image: Meenakshi, Madurai, Painting by Artist Silpi

Meenakshi/Minakshi?She with fish shaped eyes?

Learned scholars say the name spiritually means she who blesses her children with Nayana Diksha, as fish are said to take care of their young -with their eyes.

This is one Saivite temple where one first worships the Goddess and then proceeds to the shrine of Siva. Normally, when one goes to a temple for Siva, the tradition is to  worships him first and then proceed to the shrine of Devi , his consort. But in Madurai it is her who has to be worshipped first. It is she who reigns here.

The place is also called Kadamba Vana , a forest of kadamba trees.

This is also said to be a Shyamala Peeta , where Devi is in her Shyamala aspect.

Mata Maragatha Shyama is how Kalidasa refers to her when she is in her Shyamala aspect. Muthuswamy Dikshitar calls her Maragatha chaaye [ the emerald /green hued one] 

In Shyamala Dandakam, Kavi Kalidasa says, 

“Matha marakatha shyama, Mathangi madha shalini,

Kuryath kadaksham kalyani kadambha vana vasini. 3


Please bless me with a side long glance,

Oh daughter of sage Mathanga,

Who is my mother,

Who is as green as an emerald,

Who is exuberant,

Who blesses with all that is good,

And who lives in the forest of Kadambha*.

*Kadambha is a tree called Nauclea cadamba. It is said to put forth orange, fragrant buds at the roaring of thunder clouds.

Jaya Mathanga thanaye, Jaya Neelolpala dhyuthe,

Jaya Sangeetha rasike, Jaya Leela shuka priye. 4

Victory to the daughter of Mathanga,

Victory to her who resembles Neelothphala* flowers,

Victory to her who enjoys music,

Victory to her who likes the playful parrot.

  • Neelothphala: blue lotus flower

These are references to the attributes of the unique form of Devi in this temple.

Image: Meenakshi, Madurai

Meenakshi, Shyamala, Matangi

 The Moorthy of Meenakshi is said to be made of emerald. She is two armed and  holds a flower in her  right hand as many forms of Devi worshipped in this region do. A parrot sits on her right shoulder. She holds a Veena on special occasions as is dressed as the Matangi she is.

She who  is said to be green as emerald is also compared to a blue lotus [ Nilothphala]  .Shyamala is said to be Raja Matangi, and also a mantrini [ minister] to Sri Lalitha Thripurasundari as per the Lalitha upasana tradition widely practiced in ancient TN.

We can see the reference to Shyamala and her connection to kadamba vana.

Devi is also referred to as a ” Kadamba vana nilaye” [ She who dwells in kadamba forest] in Lalitha Sahasranaamam. [The thousand names of Lalitha, the pleasant one]

There is still a Sthala Vriksha in the temple premises that is a kadamba tree.

Many temples once stood within groves or forest and “development” has reduced the trees to a mere memory or in better sites, a single surviving tree.

One another Devi temple where Devi is in her Shyamala aspect is on Jakhu hills in Simla , the name of the place deriving from Shyamala.

We can reasonably conclude that the worship of Meenakshi is more ancient than that is thought of in some circles.  

 Meenakshi’s connection to kadamba among trees, green parrot among birds, emerald among precious stones, and her aspect being Shyamala the pleasant dark one, [the Yin version of Shyam the Krishna ] have proof in ancient literary texts as well as the relatively recent ones written within the last 500 years. [ Meenakshi Amman pillai Tamil by Kumara  Gurubara- 17 th century ]

Informed readers may be able to throw some light on these points from a tantra point of view as well.

We learn that this aspect of Devi is associated with speech, language skills and poetry.

 Devi in this form bestows the skills associated with communication to those who are her upaasaks.[ single -minded worshippers who worship a particular deity as per prescribed methods]

She is said to make Mahakavis out of ordinary men.

 She is kindles the latent creative potential in men and women .

 By her grace, they author great works of literary merit that live through ages. A Kalidasa , a Kavi Kalamegam, a Neelakanta Dikshitar  rained timeless verses in music  by her grace.

That the temple is a Shyamala peeta and the relevant informatiom from a Vidya upasak point of view may be common knowledge in some circles.

But, to her simple daughters , she is auspiciousness personified, as she is worshipped as the  bestower of long life to their husbands. To them, who hold the vermilon and turmeric offering from her shrine as the most holy prasad, all these information may not matter much. She is their loving mother, they can always run to her in distress and what more do hardworking sons and daughters need?

Madurai. Raja Mathangi and the Tamil Sangam 

Madurai ruled by Shyamala /Mathangi was the seat of an ancient classical language where, in times gone by, great works were showcased by authors for a peer review.

The crown jewel of Tamil , Thirukural too is said to have been put to test in the Tamil sangam of Madurai.

Lord Siva himself who as Soma Sundara Pandyan , presided over the Tamil Sangam and Ugra Pandya [ Lorc Subramanya] after him succeeded him.

Apart from a being Shakthi peeta for seekers/devotees, can it also be a site which was identified and developed specifically to enhance the creative potential of future generations and thereby taking them closer to their final goal?

The dormant potential in every person, when taken beyond basic needs, rises and expresses itself creatively. Great songs are written, sung and great sublime works of art are made that outlive the person they sprang from.

More than half way covered in a step-by-step journey?

A step closer to the final goal that is self-realisation?

Informed readers can correct me on this if wrong.

Does blue-greeen Minakshi-Shyamala who is the bestower of great creative potential, eloquence and poetic skills correspond to Anahata and Vishuddhi chakras ?

If we understand that the central concept that influenced and inspired a whole culture is ” The goal of all human life is self realisation”, we’d understand most of its expressions, be it arts or architecture.

In the light of this understanding, statements like ” Hindu temples derived from Buddhist Viharas” seem laughable.

As of today, there may not be a Tamil sangam in Madurai anymore.

A Kumara Gurubarar  and a Nilakanta Dikshitar sang immortal verses in praise of this deity.

In remote paddy fields, away from the cities and small towns, we hear naattu paadal [ a form of folk song] that waft along with the breeze  . They are songs sung by unlettered men and women working in the fields. They make these songs up and sing them impromptu. No practice, no rehearsals.

Whether they are immortal verses in classical languages or heartfelt expressions in simple everyday words, they all spring from the same place, the heart.

The temple here, like any other temple, is a concretised version of a particular aspect of human life, eventually one which would lead the user to the ultimate goal.


What’s in a name?

The answer is ” Everything”.

We believe in the power of the word. Specific Mantras activate specific parts of the human body, which is again cosmos in a microform.

What’s in a place?

Again, the answer is “Everything.”


 To be continued


  1. Deivathin KuraL-A compilation of lectures by Sri Chandra Sekarendra Sawrasvathi Swami.

  2. ThiruvilaiyadarPuranam

  3. Thiruvasagam

  4. Periya Puranam

    5.Website references:

      *Translation of Shyamala Dandakam from this site



           * http://www.maduraimeenakshi.org/


           * http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/life/2004/12/31/stories/2004123100080200.htm

           * http://www.indiadivine.org/audarya/shakti-sadhana/121911-matangi- mantrini-shyamala.html           


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