Hindu temple architecture is known from the earliest time in the world as per Hindu philosophy . Absolutely, the concept that a human being is a microcosm is a longstanding idea in various philosophical, religious, and cultural traditions. This perspective suggests that the human body reflects or mirrors the larger cosmos. The term “macrocosm” refers to the universe or the cosmos, while “microcosm” refers to a smaller, representative system, often thought to be a reflection of the larger whole. The Hindu temple is a feast of a variety of visual aspects, and wherever one engages one of them, entering a doorway, circumambulating or approaching the inner sanctuary, or worshipping there– one is accessing an aspect of the whole. Hindu Temples take their cue from the structure of the Human body. The vast Hindu canonical literature on Agamic texts, Devalaya Vastu (Temple Vastu astrology), and sacred geography describe the temple as a cosmic man, the ‘Purusha’ (cosmic man). In many Hindu temples, the architectural design is thought to represent the human body. This concept is rooted in Hindu philosophical and religious traditions, particularly in the Agama and Vastu Shastra texts. The idea is that the temple, as a sacred structure, mirrors the human form, and each part of the temple corresponds to a specific aspect of the human body. This symbolism is known as “Vastu Purusha Mandala.”
Here is a general analogy of how the temple architecture reflects the human body.
This innermost and holiest part of the temple, where the main deity’s idol is placed, corresponds to the head or the mind of the cosmic being. The Garbhagriha is analogous to the head of the cosmic being. It represents the highest and most sacred part of the temple, symbolizing the divine consciousness or the cosmic mind. The deity enshrined within is considered the presiding consciousness.
2. Vimana or Shikhara (Tower)
The tower or spire of the temple represents the upward movement of spiritual energy, akin to the human body’s torso. In Hindu temple architecture, the Vimana (also known as Shikhara) refers to the towering structure above the sanctum sanctorum (Garbhagriha), typically pyramid-shaped or spire-like. The Vimana is a prominent feature in many temples and holds symbolic significance. When drawing an analogy to the human body, some interpretations can be made. Just as the human body is believed to have energy channels (nadis) through which spiritual energy flows, the Vimana can be seen as a representation of these energy pathways. The vertical ascent of the Vimana symbolizes the upward movement of spiritual energy.
The pillared hall represents the shoulders and torso of the cosmic being. It is often a place for congregation and communal activities. The Vastu-purusha-mandala represents the manifest form of the Cosmic Being; upon which the temple is built and in whom the temple rests. The vastu-purusha-mandala is both the body of the Cosmic Being and a bodily device by which those who have the requisite knowledge attain the best results in temple building. The Mandapa can be symbolically associated with the shoulders and torso of the cosmic being or the human body. Just as the torso provides a central and supportive structure for the body, the Mandapa serves as a central gathering space in the temple
4. Antarala (Antechamber)
The space between the sanctum and the mandapa represents the neck or junction between the head and torso. The Antarala can be symbolically linked to the neck or a junction point between the main body (Mandapa) and the head (Garbhagriha). Just as the neck serves as a connector between the head and the torso in the human body, the Antarala acts as a passageway connecting the outer hall to the inner sanctum of the temple. In some interpretations, the Antarala may be associated with the flow of spiritual energy or consciousness. This flow parallels the energy pathways (nadis) in the human body, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the different aspects of the temple and the individual.
5. Prakara (Enclosure)
The outer walls and enclosures of the temple represent the skin of the cosmic being. The Prakara can be symbolically associated with the skin, which is the outer protective layer of the human body. Just as the skin provides a boundary between the internal organs and the external environment, the Prakara serves as a boundary between the sacred inner space of the temple and the external world. The Prakara defines the limits of the sacred space within the temple complex. Similarly, the human body analogy can be compared to the idea of personal boundaries and the importance of maintaining a distinct and protected inner space.
In some temples, the entrance tower or gopuram is considered symbolic of the feet of the cosmic being. It serves as a gateway to the temple complex and is often considered a prominent and ornate feature. While the Gopuram itself does not have a direct equivalent in the human body. In some symbolic interpretations, the Gopuram’s base and foundation may be associated with the feet. The feet are often considered the foundation and support of the human body. In this analogy, the Gopuram’s base symbolizes the stability and strength that support the spiritual journey. The towering structure of the Gopuram, reaching upward toward the sky, can be seen as representing the upward spiritual path. While not directly analogous to a specific part of the human body, it symbolizes the aspirational nature of spiritual growth and enlightenment.
In Hindu temple architecture, the term “Navaranga” is more commonly associated with the central hall or assembly hall where religious and cultural activities take place. In some temple architecture, the central hall symbolizes the navel or the center of the cosmic being. In a symbolic sense, it can be compared to the core or center of the human body. The Navaranga may be associated with the heart or a vital center within the temple. Like the heart is central to the physical body, the Navaranga is central to the temple’s communal and worship activities, serving as a hub for religious gatherings and ceremonies. This gathering space can be likened to the social and communal aspects of the human body, emphasizing the interconnectedness of individuals in religious and cultural practices.
Indian Temples are symbolic representations of cosmic principles and the divine order. They serve as a physical manifestation of the ideal, providing a tangible and structured space where individuals can engage in spiritual practices, seeking to align themselves with higher ideals and cosmic principles. Temples are laden with symbolism. From the layout and orientation to the intricate carvings and representations of deities, every aspect of the temple is often rich in symbolic meaning. This symbolism is meant to convey deeper spiritual truths and guide individuals on their journey toward the divine. Vastu Shastra is an ancient Indian architectural science that provides guidelines for designing structures harmoniously with natural forces. Temples often adhere to Vastu principles, emphasizing the balance of the five elements. The greatness of Indian temple architecture lies not only in its aesthetic appeal but also in its ability to create a spiritual and cultural ambiance that has captivated people for generations.