India | Kerala

Kerala Temple Architecture

Temples in Kerala have a distinct architecture of their own. Although there are many elements borrowed from the temples in other parts of the country, some aspects stand out on their own.

A temple in Kerala is usually referred by the term 'ambalam,' 'kshetram' or occasionally 'tali.' The term used in the olden days was 'mukkalvattom.' The overall structure of the temple is simple, lacking the exquisite complexity of the temples belonging to the neighboring states.

The central structure is the ‘shrikovil,’ the sanctum sanctorum housing the main deity. The sanctum sanctorum is usually aligned in the east-west direction. A path surrounds it, through which the devotees can walk around in a symbolic gesture of revering the deity.

A hall, called ‘namaskara mandapam,’ is situated in front of the sanctum to accommodate the devotees. There is usually a kitchen located in the south-eastern corner outside the sanctum. A ‘dwaja stambham’ or flagstaff is located outside the sanctum. The outer courtyard of the temple complex houses smaller shrines for other deities. There is also a stage for showcasing various musical concerts and cultural programs associated with the temple. A major feature of a Kerala temple is the ‘vilakku maadam,’ the multi-tiered brass lamps, which are lit during festivals.

The overall shape of the temple complex may be square, rectangular, circular, elliptical or apsidal. Of these structures, the circular style is a unique feature of a Kerala temple. In these temples, there is an outer wall enclosing the circular inner shrine. The outer walls boast of functional doors on all sides. This kind of circular temple contains a conical roof.

A striking feature of a temple in Kerala is the use of a sloping roof. This style has been adopted taking in consideration the constant and heavy rainfall in this region. The roof, which is usually four sided, rests directly on the walls. The raw-materials used in the construction also show the tendency to adapt to the local climate. The roof is constructed from wooden planks, tiles or timber frames covered with sheet metals. The base is usually built of granite, while the walls are made from wood, laterite or brick and stucco.

Updated on 7th June, 2005


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