Ancient Temples

The Indian heritage is respected and held in high esteem throughout the world. One of the major features of this rich heritage includes the ancient religious monuments. Especially, the Hindu temples have some of the most exquisite carvings, architectures and styles that are intrinsic to India.

India, historically referred to the territory bound by the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas, is a country full of wonderful temples. These unmatched and artistic architectures contribute richly to the Indian cultural heritage. Temples are found everywhere in India, in villages and in towns. The earliest temples are the rock cut and cave temples in India. Ancient era was the witness when religious practices flourished the most and temples became the world's storehouse of knowledge and culture. The ancient temples are more than mere places of worship. These are sacred buildings of ultimate grace and eternal happiness.

The temples of the Medieval Era were varied architectural styles. The temples and the religious places built then were symbolic of the ruler and his richness and devotion. The seeds of experimentation in religious architecture were sown in medeival temples. India has many splendid temples that have found a place in World Heritage list. These temples are cynosure of all for their marvellous architecture. These pronounce the age old customs and traditions of India. These include Sun Temple at Konark Temple, Khajuraho Temple Temples, Ajanta Caves, Brihadeswara Temple, and Sanchi Stupas.

Here is a detailed discussion on the history, and stylistics of some of the great temples of India. Although battered by the destructive forces of time, weather, and invading forces, the temples of India remain as the greatest legacy of the glory of the ancient Indians. Here is an exclusive list of ancient temples that have been a symbol of faith and religion for ages.

Lingaraja Mandir, Bhubaneswar

Bhubaneshwar the capital of Orissa is a city of temples, several of which are important from an architectural standpoint. The Lingaraj temple - the largest of these is about a thousand years old. Bhubaneshwar, Konarak and Puri constitute the Golden triangle of Orissa, visited in large numbers by pilgrims and tourists.

This 180 feet high grand temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is considered to be the finest example of purely Hindu style of temple architecture. The Lingaraj Temple has a jagamohana, natamandir, bhogamandapa and is surrounded by a massive 7 feet thick wall. The temple's spacious courtyard is filled with more than 100 shrines. The sculptures in this temple date back to 1014 AD to the Somavamsis. Inscriptions from the period of the Kalinga King Anangabhima III from the 13th century are also seen in the temple.

Lingaraja Mandir - the great temple of Bhubaneswar. From the 8th to the 13th century more than 2000 temples were built around Bhubaneswar. Today, about 500 remain but only a fraction of these are of great interest.

According to a custom, pilgrims who wish to go to the Jagannath temple at Puri, must first offer worship at the Lingaraja temple. Bhubaneshwar is also a revered pilgrimage center, referred to in the Bhrama Purana. The Bhrama Purana refers to Bhubaneshwar as the Ekamra Kshetra enshrining a crore Shiva Lingas.

The Lingaraja temple is said to have been built first by the ruler Yayati Kesari in the 7th century who shifted his capital from Jaipur to Bhubaneshwar. Bhubaneshwar remained as the Kesari capital, till Nripati Kesari founded Cuttck in the 10th century. Inscriptions from the period of the Kalinga King Anangabhima III from the 13th century are seen here.

Structurally, the Parasurameswara temple at Bhubaneshwar is the oldest, dating back to the middle of the 8th century, and the Lingaraja is temple is assigned to the 10th century. The nata mandir and the bhog mandir of the Lingaraja temple are of later origin.

Legend has it that Shiva revealed to Parvati that Bhubaneshwar - or Ekamra thirtha was a resort favoured by him over Benares. Parvati in the guise of a cowherd woman, decided to look at the city herself. Two demons Kritti and Vasa desired to marry her. She requested them to carry her upon their shoulders, and crushed them under her weight. Shiva, then created the Bindu Saras lake to quench her thirt, and took abode here as Krittivasas or Lingaraja.

Prambanan Temple

The Prambanan Temple is reputed as the biggest and most beautiful Hindu Temple in Indonesia, and is a group of Hindu temples locally known as Roro Jonggrang.

Candi Prambanan, Indonesia

The temple complex has three concentric square

• Outer square (222 x 390 meters) surrounded by a 1 meter boundary wall.
• Middle square (110 x 110 meters) surrounded by a 1 meter boundary wall.
• Center square (34 x 34 meters) surrounded by a 1 meter boundary wall.

All the three squares have gates to connect the other squares. The outer square do not have temples. Inside the middle square there are 224 Perwara temples which are arranged in 4 rows of temples. The first row consists of 68 temples, followed by the second row (60 temples), the third row (52 temples) and the fourth row (44 temples ). The arrangement of temples is in such a way that shorter temples lies in the outside and getting higher toward the center. Inside the center square are sixteen small and big temples, Some of them are:

1. Ciwa Temple as the main temple.
2. Wisnu Temple in the North of Ciwa Temple.
3. Brahma Temple in the South of Ciwa Temple.
4. Nandi Temple in front of Ciwa Temple.
5. Temple A and B lies in front of Wisnu and Ciwa Temple.
6. Apit Temple lies in the North and the South flanking row of temples {the West and East row (apit = to flank)}
7. Four Kelir Temples in front of each gate of the main square.
8. Four Sudut Temples (sudut = corner) at each of the corner of the main square.

Ciwa Temple

The temple complex could be divided in another dimension. Vertically, the complex of temples consists of three groups of temples, the foot temples, the body temples and the top temples. This grouping is as a symbol of relationship between the heavenly Devine, the earth and mankind. The foot temples expresses the lower world (the commoners), the body temples shows the middle world, (the souls) and the top temples which express the highest world, the place for the Devine, God. The heavenly beings are expressed as human, animals, ornaments, trees and others.

Prambanan Temple complex

All of these pictures showed as the place for the Devines, the Mahameru Mountain (Mahameru mountain lies in East Java, near Malang). Lorojonggrang could be pictured as a replica of Mahameru Mountain which was shown the presence of Lokapala inscriptures at the foot of Ciwa temple which represent as God the guardian of the points of compass.

Ciwa Temples as the main temple had a gate at the East side. The stairs to this gate was wider compared to other stairs (The South, West and the North ). At the left and right side of the gate there were two statues, Nandiswara and Mahakala. These two statues are manifestation of Ciwa, and function as guards of the entrance gate. Ornamentals at the outer side of the wall were of Prambanan type, Kalamakara, heavenly beings in dancing and music playing postures, and other ornamentals representing God's heavenly nature, The base of the temple is surrounded by an open verandah with balustrade in the outer side. The inner side of the balustrade was inscripted Ramayana story as relief. The story of Ramayana is stated from the east.

The main body of the temple consist of four rooms, inside each room lies the statue of Agastya, the Ciwa, the Mahaguru (at the South room) Ganeca as a figure of the Son of Ciwa (at the West room), the statue of Durga Mahesasuramardini as Ciwa the Invulnerable (at the North room), and the statue of Ciwa Mahadewa (Ciwa the Supreme Devine) as the ultimate figure in the temple which occupied the central room. The top of the temple is a multi-story structure, each level is ornamented with diamond-shape figures. The overall dimension of the top temple is 47 meters high and 34 x 34 square meters. The very top part of the temple is a diamond shape structure.

Relief of Ciwa Temple

According to A.J. Bernet Kempers and Sukmono (1974), the inner side of the balustrade in inscripted with the story of Ramayana. In that story, Rama a reincarnation of Wisnu, Sinta his wife and Laksmana, his younger brother went to the wood. Many happenings occurred during their journey in the wood. Sinta was kidnapped by Rahwana, a demonic giant and ran into Rahwana's palace in Alengka. The Rama got a help from the king of the Ape Kingdom, Hanoman. Soldiers of apes leaded by Rama moved to Alengka. The row of the inscripted story ended at the scene where the soldiers of apes were making a bridge connecting to the palace of Rahwana.

The next is the main part of Ramayana story which can be followed by walking along the alley with the main temple at the right. It was told in that story that the Gods visited Wisnu, asking permission to be allowed to descend to earth in the form of Rama.

Inscription of the story of Ramayana
  • 1. Wicwamitra, the priest, asked Rama's father to face the demonic giants who frequently came disturbing his meditation.
  • 2. Rama and Laksmana defeated some giants.
  • 3-4. Rama is marrying Sinta as a prize in a contest using the Ciwa bow.
  • 5. Sinta was carried home. On his way home he met Paracurawa, which Rama was able to extend the bow.
  • 6-7. Due to the intrigues by one of his father's wife, Rama became illegible to inherit the throne. Bharata substituted his position, and then Rama went into the wood.
  • 7. Preparation for the cremation of his father.
  • 8. Bharata announced Rama that he would like to run the kingdom on behalf of Rama. As a symbol he put Rama's sandals at the throne.
  • 9. Rama and his companions entered the wood, having battles with male and female giants.
  • 10-12. Others go for hunting; Sinta was then kidnapped by Rahwana in the form of brahmana. Then Brahmana reformed back to Rahwana, jatayu, the King of the birds tried to save Sinta but was in faint.
  • 13-14. Rama met Hanoman.
  • 15. Laksmana took water and it turned out the tears of Sugriwa, the ape who was ousted from the kingdom by his own brother.
  • 16. Rama showed his superiority in archery to Sugriwa.
  • 17. An-interfere the battle between Sugriwa and his brother. Rama killed Sugriwa's brother by his arrow.
  • 18. Rama received honor from the people of the ape kingdom.
  • 19. An agreement to sent Hanoman to Alengka to spy Rahwana.
  • 20. Hanoman met Sinta.
  • 21. But Hanoman was captured and fortunately he was able to release himself. Finally he burned Alengka, Rahwana's Palace.
  • 22. Hanoman returned to Rama.
  • 23. Soldiers of apes marched toward the coast where Rama received an honor from the God of the sea.

Wisnu Temple

The overall structure of Wisnu Temple could be considered similar to Ciwa Temple but smaller in size 20 x 20 meters square and 23 meters high. This temple has only one stairway to the center of the temple, which is a room with Wisnu statue inside. The base of the temple is surrounded by an open space with balustrade around it.

Wisnu Temple

The inner side of the balustrade was in scripted a story in relief form. The story was about Krisna, an avatar of Wisnu. At the outer side of the foot of the temple were figures of Lokapala Gods in different posture. Other ornamentals were similar to that at Ciwa Temple.

Relief of Wisnu Temple

As has been reported by Bernet and Sukmono (1974), the relief at Wisnu Temple expressed the reincarnation of Wisnu in another form. The story is very popular in India but less well known in Indonesian literature and not known in relief's found in Indonesia.

It has been forecasted that Kangsa the Giant will be killed by Dewaki, the eight son of his cousin. To secure his safety, Kangsa killed all the seven son of his cousin. At that time the eight son was still in the womb of Dewaki's mother. So Kangsa observed the pregnant mother very carefully.

  • 1-4. The child whom will be born was a reincarnation of Wisnu. Kresna was able to save the baby by changing the baby with another. Kresna, so was the name of the baby, was raised among the shepherds.
  • 6. He was so naughty that one time he had to be tied to a stone (which usually used to grind seed grain). A female giant ape tried to feed Kresna, which had been poisoned. But Kresna sucked the milk so hard causing the female giant died. Another giant in the form of a buffalo stroke the shepherds.
  • 7. A big snake.
  • 8. A giant in the form of a donkey.
  • 9. Other giants were also killed. 10-14 while Kangsa was told that two babies were still alive.
  • 26. Krisna carried a big bow.

These reliefs did not show significant relationship between the childhood of Krisna and other stories about Krisna.

Brahma Temple

Brahma Temple

The form and size of Brahma Temples is much similar is much similar to Wisnu Temple. The size of Brahma Temple is 20 x20 meters-square and 23 meters high. Similar to Wisnu Temple, Brahma Temple has one room with one stairway to enter from the east. Inside the room there is four-headed Brahma Statue. At the foot of the temple were found a figure of a priest accompanied by other figures in a position of praying.
The ornaments exist all four sides of the temple. The foot of the temples surrounded by an open veranda with balustrade. At the inner side of the balustrade were relief's which tell the continuation of Ramayana story which were in scripted on Ciwa Temple. At the outer-side of the balustrade were found figure soft priest in the sitting position (praying). Other ornamentals were found at the foot of the temple, similar to that at Ciwa and Wisnu Temple.

Relief of Brahma Temple

According to Bernet Kempers and Sudirman (1974), it was mentioned that the relief at the balustrade of Brahma Temple contained the continuation of Ramayana story, but it turned out that some sequence of the story did not match, so it was not the actual arrangement of the temple stones when the temple was in restoration. Some of the lost stones (with relief) were found nearby the village and were returned back to the original arrangement.


Some of the scene (1-5 of previous paragraph), which showed apes marching, followed by scenes of the battle between the apes and Rahwana. That battle should ended by the death of the giants (6-12). One of Rahwana's brothers, Kumbokarno was woke up and attacking the apes (6-12). Then Kumbokarno died (8-9) and so was Rahwana (10). After this part of the story, the continuation was found elsewhere. In a short time, Sinta returned to Rama. Then Sinta was denied by Rama because she had been in Rahwana's palace. It was pictured she went into the wood, crossing the Gangga River (17). At a meditation site, she delivered a baby. Then she was seen picking up flowers with her child (21). On the relief number 25, two teenagers were in battle with a giant.

The actual story revealed that indeed the two teenagers were the children of Sinta going to the palace as singers to see their father. At that time there was a celebration. This part was called the celebration relief (30). This story is as a satire expressing the luxury life of priests. At the end of the story, Sinta was called into Rama's palace to proof her purity.

Nandi Temple

This temple faced to the west, with a dimension of 15 x15 meters and 25 meters high. This temple has also a single room with the statue of Nandi. Besides the statue of Nandi were found the statue of the God of the Sun and Chandra behind the statue of Nandi. Both Gods drove carriage each dragged by 7 horses (God of the Sun) and 10 horses (Chandra). The ornaments were similar to those found in other temples. In front of Wisnu Temple and Brahma Temple were found empty temples, called Temple A and Temple B. Each temple had the dimension of 13 x 13 meters and 22 meters high.

Apit Temple

Sudut Temple

Sudut Temple (sudut means corner) is located at each corner of the open veranda of the main temple with the dimension of 1.55 x 1.55 square meters and 4.10 meter high. The four Sudut Temple have no entrance stairway.

Apit Temples

Two Apit temples (flanking temple; apit means to flank) stood near the entrance gate, flanking two rows of temples, the West and East row.
Apit Temples had dimension of six times six square meters and sixteen meters high. Each temple had one entrance facing to the North and to the South.

The shape and structure of these temples were similar to other temples at Lorojonggrang complex, however the Apit Temples looked slimmer than the others due to the higher foot part.

The conspicuous feature of Apit Temples is the presence of a lion figure in sitting position and wide-open mouth; one of the front feet is raised.

Konarak, Sun Temple, Orissa
The Sun Temple at Konarak.

Konark is also known as Konaditya. The name Konark is derived form the words Kona - Corner and Arka - Sun; it is situated on the north eastern corner of Puri or the Chakrakshetra. Konark is also known as Arkakshetra.

As the name suggests, the temple worships Surya (the Sun God). Shaped like a giant chariot, the temple is known for the exquisite stone carvings that cover the entire structure. According to local legend, the temple has a great aura of power that comes from two very powerful magnets said to have been built into the tower - magnets that allowed the king's throne to hover in mid-air.

The entire Sun temple is built in black granite and is also known as the Black Pagoda. The temple was built by King Narasimhadeva I who belonged to the Ganga dynasty that ruled Konark from the period of 1236 to 1264 AD. The temple has earned the pride of being one of the World Heritage Sites in the world. This is due to the unique architectural style of the temple, which is completely made out of stone and comprises fine stone carvings.

Divine Beauty

The Sun Temple at Konarak

The entire temple is made in the form of a chariot, which symbolizes the carrier of the Sun God. This chariot comprises of 12 magnificent wheels and is drawn by seven fine horses. This chariot is the highlight of the temple and has maximum carving and artistic finesse. The chariot almost seems real and charms every onlooker.

The Sun Temple at Konarak.

At the entrance of the temple, there are two huge sculptures that show two lions, which are crushing a huge elephant. The Konark Sun Temple, India, also includes a temple known as the Nata Mandir. There are exemplary floral and geometric carvings that adorn the precincts of the Konark Sun Temple, India. The temple continues to amaze the tourists who visit the temple each year. This temple, which worships the Sun God, has been appropriately designed to match the power and aura of the Sun.

The ruins of this temple were excavated in late 19th century. The tower over the Garbagriha is missing, however the Jagmohana is intact, and even in this state, it is awe inspiring.

It is said that the temple was not completed as conceived because the foundation was not strong enough to bear the weight of the heavy dome. Local beleif has it that it was constructed in entirety, however its magnetic dome caused ships to crash near the seashore, and that the dome was removed and destroyed and that the image of the Sun God was taken to Puri.

The Temple

The Konark temple is widely known not only for its architectural grandeur but also for the intricacy and profusion of sculptural work. The entire temple has been conceived as a chariot of the sun god with 24 wheels, each about 10 feet in diameter, with a set of spokes and elaborate carvings. Seven horses drag the temple. Two lions guard the entrance, crushing elephants. A flight of steps lead to the main entrance.

The nata mandir in front of the Jagamohana is also intricately carved. Around the base of the temple, and up the walls and roof, are carvings in the erotic style. There are images of animals, foliage, men, warriors on horses and other interesting patterns. There are three images of the Sun God, positioned to catch the rays of the sun at dawn, noon and sunset.

Interior of the Sun Temple, looking towards the porch.

The Melakkadambur Shiva temple, built in the form of a chariot during the age of Kulottunga Chola I (1075-1120), is the earliest of this kind, and is still in a well preserved state. It is believed that this temple set the pace for the ratha (chariot) vimana temples in India, as a distant descendant of Kulottunga I on the female line, and thefamous Eastern Ganga ruler Narasimha Deva, built the Sun Temple at Konark in the form of a chariot in the 13th century. Kulottunga Chola is also credited with having built the Suryanaar temple near Kumbhakonam. Temples dedicated to the Sun are not a common feature in the Tamil speaking region of the Indian subcontinent.

The Konark Sun Temple takes the form of a huge chariot for the Sun God Surya, with 12 pairs of stone-carved wheels and a team of seven galloping horses (only one of which survives intact).

One of 24 carved wheels.

The temple also symbolizes the passage of time, which is under the sun god's control. The seven horses, which pull the sun temple eastwards towards the dawn, represent the days of the week. The 12 pairs of wheels represent the 12 months of the year and the eight spokes in each wheel symbolize the eight ideal stages of a woman's day.

The main entrance to the complex is on the eastern (sea-facing) side, in front of the Hall of Offerings (bhogamandapa). This was a later addition to the complex and was likely used for ritual dance performances, as its walls are carved with sculptures of musicians and dancers as well as erotic scenes.

The sanctuary tower was once the centerpiece of the Konark Sun Temple, but today it is no more than a jumble of sandstone slabs off the western wing. The imposing structure with the pyramidal roof that now takes center stage is actually the porch (jagamohana).

The roof of the porch has three tiers covered in statues, mostly musicians and dancers sereneding the Sun God during his daily passage through the heavens. Sculptures on the bottom platform include a Shiva Nataraja, performing the cosmic dance. The interior is now blocked up.

Just beyond the porch is a double staircase that leads to a shrine containing a statue of Surya, the sun god. The beautiful image is carved of high-quality green chlorite stone and is one of the masterpieces of Konarak. Surya wears tall riding boots and is accompanied by a small figure of Aruna, the charioteer, at his feet. From here you can climb down into the remains of the inner sanctum, where the deity was originally enshrined.

Other sculptures decorating the temple's exterior include deities, animals, floral patterns, voluptuous women, mythical beasts and aquatic monsters. The 24 giant wheels are beautifully carved and each of the eight spokes bears a medallion containing figurative carvings.

Friezes above and below the wheels depict military processions and hunting scenes, with thousands of rampaging elephants. Look for the giraffe in the top frieze along the south side of the platform - this proves that Konarak traded with Africa in the 13th century.

Source: Konark Sun Temple,; Konark Sun Temple, Sacred Destinations;


Borobudur is a ninth century Buddhist Mahayana monument in Central Java, Indonesia. The monument comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. A main dome is located at the center of the top platform, and is surrounded by seventy-two Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa.

The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument and follows a path circumambulating the monument while ascending to the top through the three levels of Buddhist cosmology, namely, Kamadhatu (the world of desire); Rupadhatu (the world of forms); and Arupadhatu (the world of formless). During the journey, the monument guides the pilgrims through a system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the wall and the balustrades.

The earliest dated stone inscription to be unearthed in Borobudur's general vicinity presents a text that has been composed entirely in Sanskrit. Discovered near the top of a hill located some 10.5 kilometers to the southeast of Borobudur, the inscription of Candi Canggal bears a Hindu calendar date that is equivalent to October 6, 732 CE. The inscription was carved to commemorate the installation of a stone linga by King Sanjaya, who must have been a follower of the Hindu faith. The inscription’s text opens with the following benediction:


"He who is a Sun in the darkness of the world,
who has for his crest jewel the Moon on his matted locks,
which are beautified by the surging waves of the Ganges River,
may Shiva bestow upon you perfect bliss."1

A second inscription dating from 782 CE was discovered on the outskirts of the modern-day city of Yogyakarta to the south of Borobudur that commemorates the founding of a Buddhist temple. Called Kailasa in the inscription, the sponsor of this temple is identified as the "Lord of the Mountain" (Sailendra). Several other Buddhist temples in the general vicinity of Borobudur, which were all constructed within a period of about 75 years, were constructed by members of the Sailendra dynasty. For this reason, historians have long assumed that the Sailendra must also have been responsible for the construction of Borobudur.

The Kailasa inscription commemorates the founding of a temple dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, merchants and other travelers known as the goddess Tara. During the eighth century CE, both Buddhists and Hindus alike worshipped this particular female deity. Among other things, the name Tara means "star." The Buddhist scholar Alex Wayman has suggested that the goddess Tara may have once been associated with an ancient stellar cult. The name Tara is based on the Sanskrit root word "tar," which means "to sail across." Did Javanese sailors once associate the goddess Tara with a particular star that they once used as a night-time navigational aid during their journeys to and from the mainland?

Other Javanese inscriptions have been discovered that allude to the fact that the Sailendra often entertained learned Buddhist monks from India and Sri Lanka, which suggests that the Sailendra were at the time involved in the burgeoning maritime trade between the island and the Asian mainland. The following lines from the Kalasa inscription also seem to suggest that Tara may have once played a stellar role in terms of ancient navigation.

"May She, who seeing the world
immersed in the ocean of existence,
may She, the only guiding star of the world,
grant your desires…"2


A late eighth century inscription has also been discovered on the Malaysian peninsula that commemorates the victories of a Sailendra ruler called Vishnu. "The Sailendra king had the imperial title Rajadhiraja having conquered his enemies and was resplendent like the Sun in the first instance and secondly by his own might, he Vishnu by name, was born of the Sailendra dynasty."3

Dating from the time of the Kailasa inscription (778 - 782 CE), the discovery of the Stone of Ligor at a location on the Malay peninsula that is far removed from its base of power in central Java reinforces the perception that the Sailendra dynasty was once a major naval power in the region. Some additional support for this suggestion comes from the inscriptions of the Hindu kingdom of Champa, which formerly thrived in the area of southern Vietnam. These inscriptions record how black-skinned natives from the islands of the Southern Sea had once conducted raids along the Champa coast on at least three separate occasions during the late eighth century CE.

"In the Saka year 696 (774 CE), ferocious, pitiless, dark-skinned people of other cities whose food was more horrible than that of the vampires and were furious like Yama came in ships; they stole a Shiva linga and burnt the temple….”4

In 787 CE, a second sea raid took place along the coast of Champa that was responsible for destroying a sanctuary located near the modern city of Phanrang. The inscription “…tells in Sanskrit prose and verse a very similar story, but here the interesting point is that the invaders who had come across the sea are distinctly called Javanese…."5

"Indian influence in Indonesia was not primarily the result of Indian efforts to expand their sphere of influence and to export their own culture, but the fruit of Indonesian initiatives to assimilate those Indian elements that appealed to them and that seemed to fit best into the pattern of their own culture. The approach of the Indonesian who visited the Holy Land of Buddhism and Hinduism was an eclectic approach, one of picking and choosing instead of absorbing indiscriminately."

—Jan Fontein


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