Mains Practice Question


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What is the Nagara style of temple architecture? List out its characteristics.
A Simple Introduction about Nagara style of temple architecture

The Nagara architectural style originated in northern India during the fifth century CE, flourishing during the late Gupta dynasty era. In North India, it is customary to build complete temples on stone platforms with ascending steps, contrasting with the South Indian tradition that often incorporates elaborate boundary walls and gates. Nagara temples are further classified into different types according to the design of their shikharas.


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  • Nagara temples are elevated on a raised platform, with the inner sanctum, known as the garbha griha, situated at the heart of the temple complex, housing the deity idol.
  • The garbhagriha is consistently positioned directly beneath the tallest tower, known as the shikhara, which symbolizes the pinnacle of the temple.
  • The shikhara, often likened to a mountain peak, stands as the most prominent feature of Nagara-style temples.
  • Typically, Nagara temples include a pathway encircling the garbha griha, facilitating circumambulation, along with one or more mandapas (halls) aligned with the main axis. Intricate murals and reliefs frequently adorn the temple walls.


UPSC Mains answer practice — GS 1 (Week 50) 

Modes of Nagara Architecture:

  • According to Adam Hardy's renowned work "The Temple Architecture of India" (2007), Nagara temple architecture manifests in five distinct modes: Valabhi, Phamsana, Latina, Shekhari, and Bhumija.
  • Valabhi mode represents a transition from wooden structures to masonry, often resembling barrel-roofed chaitya halls associated with Buddhist shrines.
  • Phamsana mode demonstrates a formalization of multi-eave towers, achieved through stacking slabs.
  • Latina mode features a single, slightly curved tower with four equal-length sides, evolving into composite forms in the tenth century, giving rise to Shekhari and Bhumija styles.
  • Shekhari style incorporates attached sub-spires or spirelets echoing the main tower's shape, often varying in size and placement.
  • Bhumija mode showcases miniature spires arranged in horizontal and vertical rows, creating a grid-like pattern on each face of the tower.
The recently inaugurated Ram temple in Ayodhya showcases the Nagara style of architecture. This style is characterized by the prominent shikhara dominating the temple's profile, contrasting with the South Indian emphasis on the vimana and gopurams.
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Vimanas of Dravida-style temples are generally smaller compared to the grand gatehouses or gopurams, which serve as the most visually striking architectural features within a temple complex. In southern Indian architectural traditions, shikhara are referenced, but they specifically pertain to the dome-shaped crown positioned atop the vimana.


Other Points to Consider 


Features of Dravida style temples

Examples of Nagara and Dravida style temples

Previous Year Questions
1. How will you explain that Medieval Indian temple sculptures represent the social life of those days? (2022)
2. Chola architecture represents a high watermark in the evolution of temple architecture. Discuss (2013)


21-May 2024