A Synthesis of Styles Spanning Over Thousand Years
P.C. Kumar, P. Krishna Rao, R. Parthasarathy
(Reprinted from a previous Souvenir of SSVT)

Temples have held a central position in the life of the community in India. Several social and family activities revolved around the temple. Consistent with their importance and significance, temple architecture evolved in its stylistic forms to elaborate ornamented structures. These ornamentation’s reflected the rich Hindu mythology, seeking to provide a direct link between the community and its spiritual and social values.

This article provides a historical background and synopsis of architectural styles from the classical and neoclassical periods, still extant in India, now recreated in the SSVT. The SSVT architecture is truly authentic sample of styles evolved in many parts of India over the centuries. The project also shows that craftsmanship and technologies associated with ancient art form are well nurtured and preserved. The companion article by the temple architect Ganapathi Stapathi, dwells on the spiritual link between the art and the Hindu concept of divinity.

Functions of the Hindu Temple The Hindu temple is conceived as a link, which facilitates communion between man and divinity. The architecture attempts to dissolve the boundaries between human beings and the divine, seeking to stress the unification with the divine as the ultimate aim. An understanding of the relationship between forms and their meaning is essential to appreciate the role of the temple.

Temples are places where concepts are translated into visual images accessible to people and directly meaningful. Some of associated designations are:-

  • Prasadam: Seat or platform of God
  • Devagruham: House of God
  • Devalayam: Residence of God
  • Mandiram: Waiting or abiding place

The sanctum sanctorum within which the main deity is installed and worshipped is called the Garbagraha (literally the womb chamber) representing the kernel, signifying the essence. Rituals and ceremonies that form the core of Hindu worship have influenced the forms of temple architecture.

Styles of temple architecture

The earliest surviving brick and stone temples date back to the fifth and sixth centuries. They are divided into the “northern” (nagara) and “southern” (dravida) styles. The northern styles covered a vast area comprising the Himalayas to the Deccan plateau, Gujarat to Orissa and Bengal, which clearly differentiated regional variations. The Southern style was more homogeneous and consistent in its development. The two styles are not mutually exclusive. For example a mix of styles evolved in the Andhra. This broad classification does not include temples in peripheral areas such as the Himalayan valleys, Bengal, Kerala and certain sub-styles in the Deccan.

The term “classical” refers to the architecture created up to the seventh and eight centuries, characterized by simplicity in charm and virtuosity in technique; the “neoclassical” period extends up to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries characterized by large buildings with clear artistic embellishments. SSVT represents both classical and neoclassical art forms. The Main Entrance (Makara Thorana Vayil) The artistic yet simple architecture surrounding the middle entrance door is drawn from an early style, inspired by MAYA, considered to be the original temple architect.

The Pallava style

Developed mostly in the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries, Pallava architecture progressed from rock-cuttings to monolithic phase to structured temple construction. Rock-cut temple architecture began in many locations in Tamil Nadu under the patronage of the Pallava king, Mahendra. The general features consist of a pillared hall serving as a portico for one or more small sanctuaries cut deep into the interior wall. The next stage of evolution found in the cave temples of Mahaballipuram, developed under the patronage of the ruler. Marnalla saw distinct innovations, for example there are rudimentary parapets or moldings which rise above the overhanging eaves, and the lower parts of the pillars are fashioned into heraldic lions, a royal symbol. This style includes a molded plinth above, which the walls divide into a number of projections and recesses created by pairs of shallow pilasters. Sculptures of deities are set in rectangular niches. The curved brackets of the wall pilasters and the porch columns support eaves with carved arched windows framing a face. Examples of these are seen in the SSVT in the Subramanya and Sharada shrines. Rising above the level of the curved brackets is a series of moldings culminating in a parapet. This structure is created in a series of ornamental miniature roof forms arranged in rows around the building, and repeated in the form of receding stories or levels which are capped with a vimana (curved roof form) either square, rectangular, octogonal, or apsidal ended.

Stone constructions were encouraged by the Pallava King, Rahasimha. Ambulatory passageways were created around the principal shrine. The doorway to each shrine was emphasized by a prominent barrel-shaped roof form. The superstructures rise sharply and proceed in a series of repetitive schemes to be capped with an octagonal or pot-shaped vimana. The Kailasanath and Vaikuntapemmal temples at Kanchipuram, where the shrines connected to large courtyards, the “mukhamantpam” and “mahamantapam” are typical of this stage of development.
The Subramanya shrine has a unique perspective with the entire structure representing a decorated chariot drawn by elephants.

The Chola Style

The Chola style, evolved mostly in the tenth and eleventh centuries reflects the impact of the major political force. Beginning with modest single stoned shrines with square or octagonal towers, this style was characterized by multi-faceted columns with a projecting square capital. Sculptural work adorned the walls. Note the highly stylistic forms of the dwaarapalakas or “doorkeepers” at the entrance to the Siva, Subramanya and Ananthapadmanabha shrines

The first great Chola building projects were initiated under the patronage of Rajaraja at the beginning of the eleventh century. The famous Brihadeswara Temple in Tanjore, completed around the year one thousand is an example. In this temple several structures – the sanctuary, the Nandi pavilion, pillared hall and assembly hall- were aligned axially in the center of a spacious walled enclosure-. The walls were divided into projections and recesses by pilaster with deeply cut sculptures. The whole structure is capped with an octagonal vimana (domed roof form). A similar structure was built in Gangaikondacholapuram, the prominent feature being a 150 -pillar assembly hall. The vimana of the Ganapathi and Parvathi shrine have square vimanas (Pallava style), whereas the Sharada shrine has an octogonal vimana (Chola style). The rooftop vimana on the Siva shrine, visible from the outside, has a square shape.

The Vijayanagara Style

The Pandya, Vijayanagara and Nayaka rulers provided the impetus for temple architecture from the twelfth to the seventeenth century, until the Muslim and European invasions. The integration of the temple into urban environment was a major theme during this era. -Influence of the temple on the city life has been dominant in the Vijayanagara empire of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Structures created in earlier periods were enlarged by the addition of successive enclosure walls. Expression of existing temples rather than construction of new ones reflected the belief that sanctity cannot be transferred.

The major architectural feature of these expansions is the elaborate embellishments of all parts of the temples. The typical gopura has a rectangular plan with a central opening at the ground level. The tapering tower rises usually with a concave profile. The tower has a number of stories, which repeat richly ornamented sculptured figures on a diminishing scale from the lowest level. The summit is capped with a vimana in a barrel shaped roof form. This type of vimana can be seen at SSVT from the outside, on top of the Ananthapadmanabha shrines. Inside the temple, the Rama and Hanuman shrines also have similarly ornamented vimanas.

The principle of repetition and continuous expansion led to a tendency to multiply the elements of the vertical profile of the wall. The plinth, for example, was split into a greater number of subdivisions. Particularly under the Vijayanagara rulers, the “thousand-pillared halls” embellished with exquisite work became popular. The pillars in the SSVT although not as richly ornamented as in these “originals”, are characteristic of this style. The Andal and Mahalakshmi shrines have ornamental superstructures inspired by the Vijayanagar style.

Temple Styles of Kerala and Coastal Karnataka

Temple styles in these areas real another facet f the impact of the environment. The heavy tropical rainfall in these regions has led to the creation of unique roof systems, consisting of low and overhanging eaves with a series of diminishing gables covered with tiles. The plans for these temples have a variety of shapes- square, circular and apsidal-ended. – sometimes in combination with columned halls. The Ayyappa and Krishna shrines at SSVT are examples of this style of architecture.

Recent past

Muslim invasion since the sixteenth century saw a mix of suppression of Hindu temples and tolerance or reverence by some enlightened Muslim rulers. The British, on the other hand, had a policy of benign neglect. In either case temple architecture did not flourish to any significant extent. Since Independence. and more recently in the past few decades, a vigorous return to this art form is discernible; many temples are being constructed or renovated in India and overseas, and architectural talent is again being nourished.


Down the ages, temples and humans had an influence on each other. There is a continuity of philosophical and social purpose in these successive changes in architectural styles. The emotional commitment and desire to retain Hindu values of life always persist. This is universal. It is interesting to note several themes that emerge in the construction of the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple that are similar to the historical perspective described in the above paragraphs-. Temple architecture has been adapted to local environmental conditions; the immigrant-inspired SSVT follows this idea. Temples have always received patronage and support from kings, and. later, from rich landlords. SSVT receives its support from the generous congregation. Temples were also influenced by a relatively homogeneous demographic composition.

Depending upon a wide and democratic base of support, responding to the needs of the congregation, SSVT continues the tradition of the to the ancient Hindu temples- service to the congregation. The SSVT calendar has a variety of observances to meet the requirements of a congregation grown out of different family traditions and ishtadevatha worship. There are other similarities: SSVT has assimilated cultural characteristics of modern times, and not only provides a place for community worship but also is a forum for several cultural events and fine arts.

The goal is to provide current and future generations a center for community worship and for the maintenance and development of Hindu culture in United States.

Sri Narayanachar Lakshminarasimha Digalakote

Sri Narayanachar is a vaishnava pancharatra aagama priest at SSVT. He hails from Digalakote, Karnataka. He is the disciple of Shri Savyasachi Swamigal, Vaishnava Acharya of SSVT. He has been trained in Pancharatra Aagama and has training in satras including Poorva Pryogas, Srardha Pryogas, and Aparaprayogas. He joined SSVT in May 1992. He performs all the aagamic activities at SSVT and always involves devotees in when he performs either archanas or kalyanotsavams. He has been awarded Vaishnava Dharma Bhushana, Paancharatragama Vithunmani. He was the first priest representing SSVT during White House Deepavali celebration initiated by President Obama.He is fluent in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Sanskrit and English


Easwaran Nampoothiri

Sri. Easwaran Nampoothiri hails from Allapuzha, Kerala. He is Tantrik priest trained in Kerala Tantrik pujas through a family hereditary system under his grandfather and father. He has performed Thanthrik pujas and prtishtapanams in many states in India. Melsanthi at Sabarimalai Temple in 1996-1997 and at Sabarimalai-Mallikapuram temple in 1985-86 are something he cherishes. He joined SSVT in September 2000 as Tantrik priest. He performs all the pujas at the Ayyappan sannidhi and serves other deities as well. He leads the congregations during the Ayyapa Mandala time. He will do personal services in Kerala Tantrik tradition. He is fluent in Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi and English.

Sri. Janakiram Sarma Marthi

Sri. Janakiram Marthi hails from Andhra Pradesh, India. He is smartha vaidhika priest who had his veda paatam at “Gayathri Smaartha Vedapaatashaala” at Srisailam, Andhra Pradesh under his father Shri Venkatarama Sarma and later under Sri Sailam Nitya Agnihotri Satyanarayana Somayajulu. Prior to joining SSVT in October 2005 he was a vaidika priest in Narasaropet, Andhra. He has participated in Kotivarthi Sahit Lakshminarayana Deepotsavam, Varanasi and in Rudra Yagam & Subramanya Prathishta, Rameswaram. In addition to all the temple abhishekams and homams at SSVT, he also does personal vaidika karmas at both the temple and devotees houses. He is fluent in Telugu,Tamil, and English.

Sri. Ramesh Babu Potukuchi

Sri. Ramesh Babu Potukuchi hails from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India. He is smartha vaidhika priest trained in Krishna Yajurveda under his Guru Sri Mahalinga Ganapatigall from Sri Kanchi Kamakoti sankara Matam, Bengaluru, Karnataka. He served as a vedic teacher at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in Delhi for 5 years and then in Netherlands for 3 years. For over 6 years he was a self- employed Vaidhika priest for another 6 years before joining SSVT in December 2005. He participates in all temple rituals, and does vaidika karmas at devotees’ requests. He is fluent in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and English.

Sri Narayana Bhattar

Sri. Narayana Bhatter hails from Andhra Pradesh, India. He is trained in Pancharatra Agama and Krishna Yajurvedham from his gurus Srinivasa Bhattacharya and Ranganatha Bhattacharya at Sriman Maharaja Samskritha Maha Patashala, Mysore. Prior to joining SSVT in March, 2010 he served at Wilson Garden Ram Mandhir, Bengaluru, S. V. Temple, Pittsburgh, and Sri Lakshmi Temple, Boston. He performs Venkateshwara and Anantha padmanaabha Abhishekams among other rituals in SSVT. He also performs personal samskaras. He is fluent in Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu

Sri Sivasubramaniyan Ganesa Gurukkal

Sri Sivasubramanyan Ganesa Gurukkal hails from Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. He is trained in Saivagama under his Guru Dr. Somasundara Sivachariyar from Sri Lokambika Vedha Sivaagama Vidyalaya, Tiruppalaivanam, Tamilnadu. He is trained in Poorva Prayoga and Shraddha Prayogas. He served the deities in Sri Shishta Gurunadhar Temple, Sri Arunachaleswar Temple in Tamilnadu for over 15 years. Before joining SSVT in July 2011 as Sivaagama Priest he was with Sri Lakshmi Temple in Boston. He was given Veda Sivagama Vidya Bhooshanam award by Sri Lokambika Veda Sivagama Vidyalaya and Veda SivagamaVichakshana by Indian Institute of Indology. He is fluent in Tamil, and English.

Sri Shankara Gurukkal

Sri Sankaran Gurukkal hails from Tiruveezhimizhalai, Tamilnadu. He is trained in Saivagama under his Guru Sivasri Visvanatha Sivachariyar from Sri Vedha Sivaagama Patasali, Allur, Tamilnadu. He is trained in Poorva Prayoga and Shraddha Prayogas. He has served the Deities for more than 17 years in Mangala Vinayagar Temple, Tambaram before serving Murugan Temple (MTNA) Lanham in 2008 - 2009. After a small break In India he joined SSVT as saivagama priest in March 2010. He was given Sivaagama Siromani award by Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. Tamil Nadu and Saiva Siddhantam award by Indian Institute of Indology. He is fluent in Tamil, Hindi and Sanskrit.

Sree Venkatacharyulu Kumanduri

Sri Venkatacharyulu Kumanduri is a vaishnava pancharatra aagama priest at SSVT. He hails from Kesavaram Andhra Pradesh. He finished his veda aagama studies from Sri Pancharaatra Aagama kSalashaala, Jeeyar Educational Trust, Jaggayyapet, Andhra Pradesh under his Guru Srinivasacharya Samudrala. He also has a B.Com degree from Andhra University. He has served in different temples in Hyderabad for 10 years before joining SSVT in May 2011. He participated in Yagnas and Prathistas with His Holiness Sri Tridandi Chinna Jeeyar Swami. He does all the Vaishnava Aagama rituals, Kalyanotsavams etc at SSVT. He is fluent in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and English

Sri Rakesh Bhatt

Sri. Rakesh Bhatt hails from Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. He is Madhwa priest trained in Rig Veda and Tantrasaara (Maadhva) Agama, under his Guru Sri Pejavar Swamiji of Udupi Ashta Matha. In addition he has a Bachelors and Masters degree in three languages:Sanskrit, English and Kannada. He obtained his English and Kannada degrees from Osteen College, Bengaluru and the Sanskrit degree from Jaychamarajendra College. He was given the award “Satshastra Vidwan” from Mantralaya, Uttaradi Matha and Udupi Ashta Matha. After working in Udupi Ashta Matha for a few years he worked for a short period in Badrinath and Salem Raghavendra Swami Koil he joined SSVT in July 2013. He is fluent in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, English, Tulu and Sanskrit

Sri Roopesh Acharya

Sri Roopesh Acharya hails from Mangalore, Karnataka. He studied shivagama tantram Pravara Praveena at Kunjibettu Sharada Temple situated at Udupi, a branch of Sri Shankaracharya Samsthana From 2006 studied Shastras and Vedas for 9 years at Pejawara Mutt, Udupi and Studied Sanskrit Literature along with Jothisya Shasthra as a part of Vedanga at Sri S.M S. P Sanskrit research Center. He has an MA in Sanskrit from Karnataka Sanskrit University and is awarded the title “Vidwan”. He has worked as a priest in Pejawar Matha performing Yaga and Poojas. He has participated in Kumbhabhisheka and other rituals in various temples in India as well as abroad for example Myanmar, Dubai and Malaysia. He is fluent in English, Sanskrit, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Tulu. He understands Telugu, Malayalam, Konkani and Marathi. He is working in SSVT since December 2014

Sri Ashwin Sivam

Sri Ashwin Sivam hails from Karamadai, Tamilnadu. He is trained in Saivagama under his Guru Dr. Sundaramurthy Sivam Sivachariyar from Sri Sri Ravishankar‘s Veda Agama Samskrutha Patashala. Tiruppalaivanam, Tamilnadu. He has completed six years of integrated traditional course of of Veda, Agama & Shastras in Veda Agama Samskrutha Maha Pathasala (Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living International Center) in Bengaluru, Karnataka and was awarded the title of “Sivagama Vidyanidhi”. He is trained in most of the Poorva Prayogas. In addition he has successfully completed Samaskrutha bharathi trust Praveesha, Parichaya, Shiksha, Kovida and Bhashapraveesha exams and Govt.of Karnataka shaivagama pravara public exam, Govt.of Tamil Nadu temple rituals& mahotsava exam. He is a Ganapathi Thalam Specialist. He worked in Arulmigu Nanjudeswaraswamy temple in Karamadai, Tamil Nadu for two years. He is fluent in Tamil, English, Sanskrit, and Kannada and understands Hindi. He joined SSVT in May 2015

Sri Sanjeev Mahajanam

Sri Sanjeev Mahajanam is from vayalapadu, near Tirupathi. He was trained as Naivedyam Acharya in Tirupathi Devasthanams. He worked for Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthaanam temples at Sri Kariyamaikya swami Temple and Sri Annapoorna sametha Sri Kashi Vishweshwara Swami temple, Chittoor District, Sri Kalyana Venkateshwara Swami temple and Sri Chandramouleswara Swamy temple at Rishikesh and Sri Venkateshwara swamy Temple at Panchakula, Haryana. He joined SSVT in September 2015

Sri Murali Shankar Shastri

Sri Muali Shastri comes to us from Chennai. He is a Rigveda Vaidika Priest. He has studied Rigveda Samhita for five years at the Sarvaignyatmendra Saraswathi Swamigal Rigveda padasalai in Brahmadesam; studied Kramantham for two years at Sankara Gurukula Veda Padasalai, Hyderabad; studied Ghanantham for two years at Shridevi Veda Vidyalaya Padasalai in Shriselam, Andra Pradesh; studied Veda Bhasyam for seven yearsat Bhramasri Maha Mahopadyaya Krishna Murthi Shastrigal at Brahma Vidya Gurukulam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Additionally, he has also studied Vaithikha Purva Apara Prayogam and has been performing Prayogam for 11 years. He is knowledgeable in Tamil, Sanskrit, English and knows Telugu. He joined SSVT in February 2016.