The Temple

Description of the temple design

The great temple building tradition that took shape in Karnataka under the Chalukyas of Vatapi, and flourished in the periods of the Rashtrakutas and the Chalukyas of Kalyana, reached its culmination in the magnificent monuments of the Hoysalas. The Sri Kalyana Venkateshwara Temple at Venkatapura will be the first temple rooted in that rich tradition since the waning of the Hoysala dynasty early in the 14th century.

Conceived at the scale of the Hoysala masterpieces at Belur and Halebid, the temple will not be a copy of a particular medieval example but a new and unique variant based on a deep understanding of the architectural principles of the tradition.

Rising on its hill of granite and commanding wide views over the surrounding plains, the temple will stand on a 450 ft x 650 ft platform, surrounded by a prakara wall lined by ancillary rooms and a colonnade, all of granite. Entry to the enclosure will be from the east through a soapstone rajagopura. The entire complex will be ordered by a geometry of circles and squares, and a corresponding grid, originating in the dimensions of the garbhagriha.

The temple itself will be built of soapstone, standing on a 6 ft jagati encircled by seven shrines. The vimana and rangamandapa will be preceded by a fifty-four pillared sabhamandapa, a place for performances, open and visible from all around. This will have a star shaped plan around a central octagon, like the sabhamandapa at Arsikere, but with a central dome of twice the span and surrounded by eight smaller domes.

Beyond the sabhamandapa a flight of steps will lead via an imposing porch to the grand doorway of the rangamandapa. The hall will have solid walls, except at the front, where the doorway will be set in a pillared screen with a kaksasana seat and perforated jalis. Inside, sixteen freestanding pillars will support nine principal ceiling bays, with minor ceiling divisions set at a lower to allow light to enter and glow across the main domes. Two further doorways will lead, via the antarala, to the garbhagriha. The pillars and ceilings of the two mandapas will be infused with a spirit of variety, generated through the figurative and geometrical principles that underlie the temple as a whole.

A comparable variety will be displayed in the dense and interpenetrating compositional elements of the exterior walls. As perennially in Indian temple architecture, and nowhere more consistently than in the temple-building traditions of Karnataka, each component is conceived as a temple in itself, the home and embodiment of a divinity. Guiding the exterior articulation of the rangamandapa is the requirement for the walls to house images of the dashavataras, the ten avatars of Vishnu.

The viamana design grows naturally from iconographic requirements coupled with the possibilities inherent in the architectural tradition. Here it is the vishnuchaturvimshati – the twenty-four names of Vishnu – that need to be represented, necessitating twenty-four visible facets in the wall. Leaving room for the bhadras (cardinal projections), this calls for a stellate plan of twenty-four points, formed by a square rotated six times. In the angles between the main elements emerge re-entrant projections based on an equilateral triangle rotated eight times. Rules of proportion dictate that this plan should generate a viamana of seven talas (storeys). The result is a degree of proliferation not attained by any of the surviving Hoysala works.

The rotational sweep of the star-shaped tower will be complemented by an axial pulse and outward growth imparted by the shala-topped projections that cascade and unfurl in the cardinal directions. This expansion will culminate in complex bhadra-shrines bursting forth at the lowest tier.

Bhadra-shrines and the saptamatrika shrines will be small-scale vimanas, and this principle will extend at a still smaller scale to the miniature vimana models ranged above the sculpted deities in the temple walls. Here, traditionally, the masons of Karnataka demonstrated their mastery of diverse temple forms from far-flung regions of India and their prowess in inventing new permutations and combinations. A comparable display will be created for the new temple.

Through architectural principles which make each part of the building a microcosm of the whole, together with the life invested in every stone by the hands that shape and adorn it, the temple will become a microcosm of the living universe in all its variety and abundance.