The Khajuraho temples are a pinnacle of the North Indian Nagara architectural style. 

The Nagara style's primary feature is a central tower (shikhara) whose highest point is directly over the temple's primary deity.  This is often surrounded by smaller, subsidiary towers (urushringa) and intermediate towers; these naturally draw the eye up to the highest point, like a series of hills leading to a distant peak.  Setting the temple on a raised base (adhisthana) also shifts the eye upward, and promotes this vertical quality. 

The true arch (in which the parts of the arch are supported in tension with each other) was unknown in classical India.  The arches in Khajuraho's temple are made by a technique known as corbelling, in a dome or arch is created by overlapping masonry courses (this accounts for the step-like construction over the three right parts of the building below).  This particular image shows the Vishvanath temple.

Click on each term for further information

Amalaka: a stone disk, usually with ridges on the rim, that sits atop the temple's main tower.  According to one interpretation, the amalaka represents a lotus, and thus the symbolic seat for the deity below.  Another interpretation is that it symbolizes the sun, and is thus the gateway to the heavenly world.  The amalaka itself is crowned with a kalasha (finial), from which a temple banner is often hung.

Entrance Porch (Ardhamandapa): The entrance porch formed a transitional area between the outside world and the mandapa or hall.  Most temple buildings have some sort of transitional space between the central shrine (garbhagrha) and the outside world, but only the largest, most developed temples will have all of these elements.

Hall (Mandapa): A hall in the temple, forming a transitional space between the ardhamandapa  and mahamandapa.  In smaller or less architecturally developed temples, this was usually omitted.

Great Hall (Mahamandapa): The temple's main entrance-hall, separated from the central shrine (garbhagrha), by a short vestibule named the antarala.  Just about every temple has some sort of entrance-hall between the central shrine (garbhagrha) and the outside world, but only the largest and most developed temples have all of the transitional members.   At Khajuraho, a mahamandapa is often distinguished by transepts (bumped-out portions perpendicular to the temple's main axis).

Vestibule (Antarala): a transitional space between a temple's main hall and the inner sanctum (garbhagrha) where the image of the temple's primary deity would be housed.  The antarala was found only in the largest temples, and in many smaller ones was omitted entirely.  This architectural element marks the liminal space between the exterior world and the divine world, and at Khajuraho the exterior panels on these elements are the primary sites for large panels with sexually explicit scenes (particularly on the Vishvanath and Kandariya Mahadev temples).  This placement cannot be accidental, although observers differ about what these mean.  At the very least, it could indicate that sexuality and encountering the divine are both liminal experiences that force us out of ourselves. 

Inner Sanctum (Garbhagrha):  The temple's inner sanctum, containing the image of the temple's primary deity.  The basic function of a Hindu temple is to serve as the deity's dwelling-place (the most common word for temple, mandir, simply means "house"), and  devotees come there to interact with and worship the resident deity (often in family groups).  In this respect, Hindu temples are very different from places of worship in many other religious traditions, which serve as centers for congregational worship.  The word garbha can mean either "womb" or "embryo;" both meanings connote potentiality, hiddenness, and a sense of development.  The garbhagrha was located directly below the summit of the highest tower, with the primary deity directly under the highest point.  Smaller temples may only have a small shrine room at the back end of the temple (a "womb" in the metaphorical sense), but larger temples often also have a processional pathway ("ambulatory") around the central shrine, via which devotees can circle around the deity (always clockwise) as a gesture of respect and worship.

Secondary Tower (Urushringa): smaller towers on the temple's exterior to lead the eye up to the highest point.  Their shape often replicates that of the tallest central tower, and serves to draw the eye upward toward it.

Base Platform (Adhishsthana): The raised base on which a temple was built.  These are particularly high in the temples at Khajuraho, and by their height accentuate these temple's upward thrust. 




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