Architecture of Kerala Temples
The architecture of temples in Kerala is different from the other areas in India. The architectural style of Kerala temples has an inherent simplicity. Kerala temples have a distinct style of their own by the lavish use of wood, stone and metals. Temples in Tamil Nadu are famous for their marvellous stone works. But in Kerala wood is used for making Temples because of rich forest cover. The base structure of the temple is made using granite and laterite. The roof may have one, two or even three stories. The shape of the roof depends on the plan of the sanctum below. A circular plan has a conical roof, while a square plan has a pyramidal roof. The steep and needle like roof is made of wood and is covered with copper plates in order to protect the inner skeletal framework from the vigorous monsoons. Sreekovil roof of Sabarimala Temple and Guruvayoor Temple are covered with Gold plates. The sreekovil walls are usually decorated with murals and roof is decorated with different wood works.
Thiruvanathapuram Sree Padmanabha Swami, Kumaranalloor Devi, Ettumanoor Mahadeva, Kazhakkoottam Mahadeva, Kaviyoor Mahadeva, Irinjalakkuda Koodalmanikya Swami, Kodungalloor Sree Kurumba Bhagavathy, Thiruvanchikkulam Shiva, Kudamaloor Vasudevapuram, Parumala Panayannarkavu, Thirumandhamkunnu, Thrissur Vadakkumnatha, Aranmula Parthasarathy, Thuravoor, Kadinamkulam Mahadeva, Vaikom Mahadeva, Pazhoor Perumthrukkovil Mahadeva, Udayamperoor Ekadasi Perumthrukkovil Mahadeva, Kidangoor Subrahmanya, Arppookkara Subrahmanya, Chiravammuttam Mahadeva, Cheriyanadu Balasubrahmanya, Pundareekapuram Vishnu, Navaikkulam Shankaranarayana and Kandiyoor Mahadeva temples are famous for murals and wooden sculptures.
There are five classes of temples in Kerala. A village temple ("Graama Kshethram") in every village; A "Desa Kshethram" in every "Desam", within a village; Private family temples, where their "Paradevatha" (family deity) is worshipped. (Not every family has one.); Sacred groves ("Kaavu"); and Transplanted deity temples ("Kudiyiruthukal").
Tantrasamuchayam, Manushyalaya Chandrika of fifteenth century, and the Shilparatna of Srikumara of sixteenth century are the standard shilpa texts on the architecture of Kerala temples. Three different styles Paadabandham, Kapothabandham and Praathibandham are adopted for making the foundation of the temple. Paadabandham is used for Sreekovils and Praathibandham is used for Namaskaramandapam. The temple shrines have been built in square, rectangular, circular, apsidal and elliptical ground plans. The dominance of the circular shrine is a unique feature of temple architecture in Kerala. The southern half of the State has a preponderance of circular shrines. Kumaranalloor, Trikkodithanam, Triprayar and Ettumanoor temples have circular shrines. The apsidal temples lay scattered all over the west coast up to Thiruvananthapuram but there is a concentration of this type in central Kerala. The Shiva temples at Trikkandiyur and Triprangod and Ayyappan shrine in Karikkad have apsidal shrines. The rectangular and elliptical ground plans can be seen only in a few temples in Kerala. As the rectangular plan was more suited for enshrining Vishnu as Anantasayanam, the Sree Padmanabha Swami temple in Thiruvananthapuram, follows this type. Kidangoor, Thirunakkara, Guruvayoor and Sabarimala temple shrines are also rectangular in shape. The Shiva temple at Vaikom is built on the elliptical plan .The Madhur Temple in Kasaragod district has a three tiered Gajaprishta Sreekovil and resembles the back of an elephant.
"Deho Devalaya Proktho Jeevo Deva: Sadasiva:" (Kularnava Tantra)
According to Kularnava Tantra human body itself is a temple and Sadashiva or Paramathma is the diety in this temple. This sidhantha(theory) is adopted in the construction of Kerala Temples. Sreekovil or Garbhagruham (sanctum sanctorum) is considered as the head of the diety, Antharalam or inner Balivattom is considered as the face of the diety, Mukhamandapam or Namaskara mandapam is considered as the neck of the diety, Nalambalam is considered as the hands of the diety, Pradakshinaveethi is considered as the Kukshi pradesa (stomach) of the diety, compound wall is considered as the legs of the diety and the main Gopuram is considered as the foot of the diety. That means Panchaprakaras (Prakaram or compound wall, Bahyahara or Sheevelippura, Madhyahara or Vilakkumadam, Anthahara or Nalambalam and Antharalam or inner Balivattom) of the Temple is the Sthoola Sareera (visible part of the body) of the diety. The Deva Prathishta or idol inside the Sreekovil or Garbhagruha and the Shadaadharas (Aadharashila, Nidhikumbham, Padmam, Koormam, Yoganaalam and Napumsaka shila) under the prathishta is the Sookshma Sareera (soul) of the diety. The Dwajam (flag staff) or Kodimaram is the spinal code of the diety. Hence a typical Kerala temple resembles a human body in all aspects.
The major parts of a typical Kerala temple
Deva Prathishta or Idol
Deva Prathishta or idol of the God or Goddess is the most important part of a Hindu temple. Idols made of Granite, Panchaloha, or Wood is usually installed inside the Garbhagruham or Sreekovil. Idols are made according to the Dhyana Slokams. Apart from the normal daily worship rituals for propitiating the deities, there are many Thaanthrik rituals aiming at increasing the glory and power of the deities and sometimes for atonement for any fading of such power. Image shows the idol of Kathyayani Devi in Kumaranalloor Devi Temple.
Sreekovil or Sanctum Sanctorum:
The part of the temple where the idol of the God or Goddess is situated is referred to as the Sreekovil. Position of Sreekovil in the temple is equivalent to the position of Sahasrara Padmam in a human body.
Sreekovil may be in square, rectangular, elliptical or circular shape and may have one two or even three stories covered with copper or gold. The image shown are the gold covered rectangular sreekovil of Guruvayoor temple, Gaja prishta sreekovil of Madhur temple and copper covered circular sreekovil of Thrikkodithanam temple.
A Sreekovil or Garbhagruha having two walls and a corridor in between these walls is of Sandhara style. If the Sreekovil has only one wall it is of Nirandhara style. The top of the sanctum has a pointed bronze or Gold structure called Tazhikakkudam or sthoopika.
The holy steps in front of the sanctum sanctorum is called Sopanam. In many temples the sopanam has stone idols of guards of the God called as Dwarapalakas. Usually sopanam is covered with Gold or Bronze. Image shows the gold covered Sopanam and Dwarapalakas of Sabarimala Temple. Only temple priests are allowed to enter through this holy steps.
Pradakshinavattam or Akathe balivattam:
It is located just outside the sanctum. The Ashta-Dik-paalakas (Indra, Agni, Yama, Nruryathi, Varuna, Vaayu, Soma and Isaana), Saptha Mathrukkal (Brahmani, Maheswari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamundi) , Veerabhadra, Ganapathy, Sastha, Anantha, Durga, Subrahmanya, Kubera, Nirmalyadhari and Brahma the guards of the main deity are represented here by using stones of different shapes and are generally called Balikkallu. Usually these balikkallus are covered with bronze sheets. image show the Pradakshinavattam of kazhakuttom mahadeva Temple and Balikkallu representing Yama of Anandavalleeswaram Temple Kollam.
Mathrusala is located in the South side of Sreekovil. It is an extended portion of Nalambalam towards Sreekovil to cover the Saptha Mathru balikkal. Hence the name Mathrusala. Usually the Utsavabali ritual is performed in the Mathrusala. The image shows the Mathrusala of Chengamanattu Mahadeva Temple near Aluva in Ernakulam district.
Namaskara Mandapam is located in front of the sopanam facing the sanctum. It is used by the priests for Sashtanga Namaskara after poojas like Usha pooja, Pantheeradi pooja and Ucha pooja. Hence the name Namaskramanadapam. It is generally square in shape and has a roof hung by four pillars and usually has a Tazhikakkudam made of gold or copper. Usually Veda Japam and Kalasa Pooja is done at the Namaskara Mandapam and so it is also called Kalasa Mandapam. In Shiva temples it is called Nandi Mandapam because of the presence of Nandikesa and in Vishnu temples it is called Garuda Mandapam because of the presence of Garuda. Image shows the Namaskara mandapam of Kumaranalloor Devi Temple near Kottayam.
Nalambalam and Valiambalam:
Nalambalam is also called chuttambalam. Their function is to protect the temple as they cover the temple on all sides. They are less broad on the surrounding three sides and are called chuttambalam. The one facing the sanctum is very broad and is called valiambalam. Between the two valiambalams there is a passage for devotees to enter and exit.
Thidappally is the kitchen of a temple. Thidappally is constructed to the left side of the Namaskara Mandapam as an enclosure in the south eastern corner of the Nalambalam. Nivedyams to be offered to the deity is prepared in the Thidappally. None other than the priests and Tantri of the temple is allowed inside the Thidappally.
Mulayara is a special room of the chuttambalam and is used for Mulapooja on special days like Utsavam, Sahasra Kalasam and Ashtabandha Kalasam.
A well is a must in a temple. Its position is at the North-East, of the Nalambalam. Its water has to be exclusively used for abhisheka or preparation of nivedya. Image shows the well of Navayikkulam Shankaranarayana Temple near Kallambalam in Thiruvananthapuram district.
Another distictive feature of Keralite temples is the use of Vilakku maadam, or the multi-tiered brass lamps in front of temples. Lakshadeepam is a spectacular celebration of traditional lighting where tiers of small oil lamps lining the outer walls of the inner prakaram are lit. It is located outside the Nalambalam. In between the Nalambalam and Vilakkumaadam there may be an open area. Only Maha Kshetras will have seperate Vilakkumaadam. In small temples multi-tiered brass lamps are fixed on the Nalambalam itself. Image shows the Vilakkumadam of Ettumanoor Mahadeva Temple.
It faces the sanctum and is the extended portion of the passage in between the valiyambalams. The large, Valiya Balikkallu (principal bali-peeta) is located here. Size of the Valiya Balikkallu depends on the size and height of the Sreekovil. The roof of the Balikkalpura may have the wooden sculptures of Ashtadikpalaka and Devi. Valiyabalikkallu is also decorated with sculptures. But in temples like Koodalmanikyam there is no Balikkalpura for Valiya Balikkallu. image show the Balikkalppura of Kollam Anandavalleeswaram Temple and Valiya Balikkallu of Irinjalakkuda Koodalmanikya Temple.
Dwaja or Kodimaram:
This tall pillar is visible from a distance. It bears on the top the deity’s vahana as emblem and one can identify the deity of a temple by seeing it. Shiva temple has Nandi, Vishnu temple has Garuda, Durga temple has Lion, Kali temple has Vethala, Sastha temple has Horse, Subrahmanya temple has Peacock, Ganapathy temple has Mooshika and Saraswathy temple has Hamsam on top of the dwaja. Ashtadikpalaka idols were placed at the bottom part of the dwaja. Kodimaram is used for hoisting kodi or flag during festivals. It is located outside the balikkalpura and is usually made of wood and covered with copper, panchaloha, silver, bronze or gold. Image shows the Golden Dwaja in Sabarimala Temple.
Anakottil facing balikkalpura is located in front of the Dwaja . It is the place where elephants stand during festivals. It is also used for functions like marriage, choroonu, parayeduppu, thulabharam and bhajans. Image shows the Anakkottil of Truppadapuram Sree Mahadeva Temple near Kazhakkutam in Thiruvanathapuram district.
Sheevelippura and Pradakshina Vazhi :
Sheevelippura or Shreebalippura is not so common in Kerala Temples. This is the place used for Kazcha Sreebali. Padmanabha Swami Temple and Guruvayoor Temple have beautiful Sheevelippuras. The image shows the Sheevelippura of Guruvayoor Temple. In other temples instead of Sheevelippura there will be a Pradakshina Vazhi in the Thirumuttam.
Ootupura is the dining hall of a temple. In the past only Brahmins were allowed to take food from Ootupura. Now a days they are used for Annadanam and Varasadya. It will have a large kitchen. In some temples like Vaikom and Ambalappuzha the Ootupura is as sacred as the temple Sreekovil. Image shows the Oottupura of Vaikom Mahadeva Temple.
The Koothambalam or the theater hall of the Keralite temple is located on the south east corner of Nalambalam. This is the site where the performance of Chakkiyarkoothu and Koodiyattom art forms is held. Koothambalams are usually in rectangular shape and has three parts. Ramgapeedam or stage raised from the rest of the floor,backstage area Nepadhyam or green room and a Prekshaka gruham for viewers. Koothambalams are often decorated with large number of wood sculptures. Thus the koothambalam plays a role in educating visitors on the rich legends of the Indian cultural fabric. Koothambalams in Temples like Thrissivaperoor, Thirunakkara, Thiruvarppu, Harippad, Kidangoor, Arpookkara and Irinjalakkuda are famous for their sculptures. In some temples like Trippunithura Sree Poornathrayeesa temple, Koothambalam is a part of Nalambalam. The image shows the Koothambalm of Koodalmanikya Swami Temple Irinjalakkuda near Thrissur.
Major temples will have four Gopurams in East, West, South and North. Thiruvanathapuram Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple is the only temple in Kerala having a huge Gopuram with stone works. The four Gopurams of Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple and Thrissur Sree Vadakkumnatha Temple are examples of typical Kerala style. The four Gopurams are connected to the outer compound wall of the temple. There is the typical Kerala style of architecture of temple towers and it varies from single to multistoried.
Mathil or Outer walls :
These are the outermost protective coverings of the temple. Major temples are well protected with huge compound walls in Anappalla Mathil style if the temple compound is more than 4 acres. The image shows the Anappalla style compound wall of Thiruvegappura Temple in Palakkad district.
Nearly every temple has a sacred pond or Theerthakkulam and kulappura outside the temple wall if there is no river nearby. Normaly the temple pond is located on the North - East corner of the temple. The water of the temple pond is used for washing one’s hands and feet before going into the temple, bathing, and sometimes for the Arattu cerimonies. Some temple ponds are as sacred as the temple like Kuleepani Theertham in Koodalmanikya Swami Temple Irinjalakkuda and Padmatheertham in Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple Thiruvanathapuram. The image shows the Theerthakkulam of Sree Subrahmanya Swami Temple Harippad in Alappuzha district.
A temple having all these elements is referred as a Mahakshetra (great temple) or Perumthrukkovil (like Vaikom Perumthrukkovil Mahadeva Temple in Kottayam).