Chapter 02: The 5 Elements
Every deep-rooted Hindu tradition has a structured backing and base. Just like a well oiled machine, the whole is divided into a set of orderly components. The Temple design of Kerala follows this idea. On a visual and structural basis we can divide it into 5 enclosures. Precisely known as Panchaprakaras
The below explanation will lead you to a list of technical terms that may appear new to you, but the purpose is to set the stage for what to come in detail in the next couple of sections. So, brace yourselves and lets doe breakdown of the various levels of a temple structure:
- Antar Mandalam / Akathe Balivattam: Comprising mainly of the Srikovil where the deity resides, the Namaskara Mandapam, balikkals, and altar stones. The Srikovil itself has different shapes, with most of them being square shaped. However, circular, or apsidal shapes are also found, albeit rarely. The base of the Sreekovil is prominent with strong granite foundations. The Akathe Baliovattam also includes smaller shrines for the sub- deities.
- Chuttambalam and Nalambalam: Technically referred to as the Antahara, this structure encloses the inner courtyard and consists of Valiambalam, Thidappalli, nilayara, sub-shrines, and stores, etc. A major part of the Naalambalam is the Thidapally, the main temple kitchen where divine delicacies are cooked and served for the deity. I still cherish memories of waiting in front of the Thidapally of our family temple, for the Athazhapooja to collect our share of the Prasada.
- Vilakkumadam: The Vilakkumadam is more prominent in mid and larger temples and is a mix of brass lamps arranged in a calculated pattern around the temple.
- All the elements outside the Vilkkumadam and inside the outer wall of the temple comprise the Purathe Balivattom, from the pathway across the temple used for processions or siveli, to the Balikkals, Koothambalam, subsidiary shrines, anakkottil, etc.
- Outer Wall: Also known as Maryada, this is the outer wall of the complex, including the gateway to the temple house, which is also known by the usual term, Gopura.
If you have read through the above list, I’m sure you must have gone through a long list of terminologies that lead you to assume any structure that you may be aware of. That segway to the next chapters, where I will take the liberty of getting into the details of each of these five sections and cite more intricate details of each of them. The 5 enclosures or Panchaprakaras are:
- Antharmandala (Akathe Balivattom)
- Bahyahara (Purathe Balivattom)
- Maryada (Puram Mathil)
In the next chapter let’s start outside inwards, i.e., with Maryada that comprises of its prominent aspect the Entrance, the Gopuram. Right from there I will point out the difference between Kerala Architecture and other temple architectures. So, let’s catch up more on it in the next chapter.
- Lecture Series on Temple Architecture of Kerala, Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts. https://ignca.gov.in/events/webinar-on-temple-architecture-of-kerala/
- Temples of Kerala, K.R. Vaidyanathan
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