hindu-architecture

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Galwar Bagh (Galtaji) - Monkey Temple
Ramgopalji Temple, Galtaji, Jaipur, India (via Instagram: bobyrock)

Galtaji is an ancient Hindu pilgrimage site in the town of Khania-Balaji, about 10km away from Jaipur, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The site consists of several temples and sacred kunds (water tanks) in which pilgrims bathe. It is believed that a Saint named Galav lived here, practiced meditation, and did penance.

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The Bayon Temple is a stone temple located in present-day Cambodia. Built sometime in the late 12th or early 13th century, it served as the official state temple of the Khmer empire and of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. Originally called “Jayagiri” (“Victory Mountain”), it was later renamed to Banyan Temple when the French occupied Cambodia due to the religious significant of the Banyan Tree in Buddhist imagery (the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment under such a tree). But when local Khmer began renovating the temple, they mispronounced it as Bayon. The name has since stuck.

The temple is famous for several reasons, one being its tall, curling towers, the other being the shear amount of bas-reliefs carved into practically every single surface.

Depending on where you are in the temple, the carvings will have different themes. For example, the outer walls of the outer gallery all depict historical events and everyday life in the Khmer Empire. Most of the former include troop maneuvers and set-piece battles, whereas the latter tended to include a combination of performers (musicians, acrobats, athletes) and ascetic monks sitting alone in forests.

The inner gallery, however, is much different. Raised above ground level, each section is decorated with scenes from Hindu mythology and includes figures such as Siva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Another section tells the somewhat obscure story of The Leper King, a man who contracted leprosy from the venom of a serpent he had killed with his bare hands. Less obscure stories are also included too, but, all told, there is still no sense of why some stories are depicted over others, and their relationship to one another in the temple itself.

But perhaps most noticeable, above all else, are the 216 stone faces carved into dozens of the temple’s pillars, smiling serenely.

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Illustrations by Robert de Jager in Michael W. Meister, “Prāsāda as Palace: Kūṭina Origins of the Nāgara Temple” [ Artibus Asiae, Vol. 49, No. ¾ (1988 - 1989) ]

Top: Rajim, Rajivalocana temple, axonometric drawing.

Bottom: Alampur, axonometric drawing of hypothetical structure based on the Svarga-Brahma and Visva-Brahma temples (ornament is removed from upper storeys).

Akshardham, New Delhi, built 2001-2005. By most measurements the largest Hindu Temple in the world.

It is dedicated to Swaminarayan (1781-1830), the founder of the Swaminarayan sect of Vaishnavism, who is considered an incarnation of Purushottama (the supreme deity) by his followers. The name Akshardham refers to the divine abode of Swaminarayan, where the soul goes to attain moksha (liberation).

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Rājā-rānī Temple

In Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Odisha, stands the lovely Rājārānī temple, so named after the red and yellow sandstone which is locally called Rajarani.

Surprisingly, the temple has no images inside the sanctum and hence is believed by some to be incomplete or never consecrated. Dated around the 11th century CE, the Rajarani Temple is a textbook example of Orissan temple architecture complete with a towering vimāna or deūl housing the sanctum, and preceded by a porch the jagamohan often used as an audience hall in some of the larger temples for performances of the Odissi dance.