Thrikodithanam Mahavishnu Temple, Pandava Temple at Kerala
Kerala architecture(gift of viswabrahmin) is a kind of architectural style that is mostly found in Indian state of Kerala and all the architectural wonders of kerala stands out to be ultimate testmonials for the ancient vishwakarma(വിശ്വകർമ്മജർ) sthapathis of kerala. Kerala's style of architecture is unique in India, in its striking contrast to Dravidian architecture which is normally practiced in other parts of South India. The architecture of Kerala has been influenced by Dravidian and Indian Vedic architectural science (Vastu Shastra) over two millennium. The Tantrasamuchaya, Thachu-Shastra, Manushyalaya-Chandrika and Silparatna are important architectural sciences, which have had a strong impact in Kerala Architecture style. The Manushyalaya-Chandrika, a work devoted to domestic architecture is one such science which has its strong roots in Kerala.
Elements and features of Kerala Temple
The circular Sreekovil style of Kerala temples
The inner sanctum sanctorum where the idol of presiding deity is installed and worshiped. It shall be an independent structure, detached from other buildings with no connections and having its own roof shared with none. The Sri-kovil does not have any windows and have only one large door opening mostly towards east (sometimes it happens towards west, whereas a few temples have north facing door as its specialty, while no temples will have a south facing door).
The Srikovil may be built in different plan shapes – square, rectangular, circular or apsidal. Of these the square plan shows an even distribution throughout Kerala state. The square shape is basically the form of the vedic fire altar and strongly suggest the vedic mooring. It is categorized as the nagara style of temple in the architecutural texts. The rectangular plan is favoured for the Ananthasai Vishnu (Lord Vishnu in reclining posture) and the Sapta matrikas (Seven Mother Goddesses). The circular plan and the apsidal plan are rare in other parts of India and unknown even in the civil architecture of Kerala, but they constitute an important group of temples. The circular plan shows a greater preponderance in the southern part of Kerala, in regions once under the influence of Buddhism. The apsidal plan is a combination of the semi-circle and the square and it is seen distributed sporadically all over the coastal region. The circular temples belong to the vasara category. A variation of circle-elipse is also seen as an exception in the Siva shrine at Vaikkom. Polygonal shapes belonging to the Dravida category are also adopted rarely in temple plans but they find use as a feature of shikhara. As per the Thantrasamuchayam, every Sreekovil should be built either neutral or even sided.
For the unitary temples, the overall height is taken as 13/7/ to 2 1/8 of the width of the shrine, and categorised into 5 classes as i.e.; santhika, purshtika, yayada, achudha and savakamika – with increasing height of the temple form. The total height is basically divided into two halves. The lower half consists of the basement, the pillar or the wall (stambha or bhithi) and the entablature (prasthara) in the ratio 1:2:1, in height. Similarly the upper half is divided into the neck (griva), the roof tower (shikhara) and the fonial (Kalasham) in the same ratio. The adisthana or foundation is generally in granite but the super structure is built in laterite. The roofings will be of normally taller than other temple structures. The structural roof of the shrine is constructed as the corbelled dome of masonry; however in order to protect it from the vagaries of climate it was superposed by a functional roof, made of timber frame covered by planks and tiles. This sloping roof with its projecting caves gave the characteristic form to the Kerala temple. The fenial or Kalasham, made of copper, provided the crowning spire denoting the focus of the shrine wherein the idol was installed.
The flag post normally seen in all Kerala Temples
Normally the Srikovil is on a raised platform and has a flight or 3 or 5 steps to be. The steps are called Sopanapadi and on sides of the Sopanapadi, two large statues known as Dwarapalakas (Door Guards) are craved to guard the deity. As per Kerala rituals style, only main priest (Thantri) and second priest (Melshanti) only allowed to enter into Sri-kovil.
The namaskara mandapa is a square shaped pavilion with a raised platform, a set of pillars and a pyramidal roof. The size of the mandapa is decided by the width of the shrine cell. The pavilion in its simplest form has four corner pillars; but larger pavilions are provided with two sets of pillars; four inside and twelve outside. Pavilions of circular, elliptical and polygonal shapes are mentioned in the texts, but they are not seen in Kerala temples. The Mandapams are used to conducting Vedic-Thantric rites.
The outer grounds of Temple, called Chuttuambalam
The shrine and the mandapa building are enclosed in a rectangular structure called the nalambalam. Functionally the rear and side halls of the nalambalam serves for various activities related to the ritualistic worship. The front hall is pierced with the entry, dividing it into two parts. These two halls; Agrasalas which used for feeding Brahmans, performing yagas and while Koothuambalam are used for staging temple arts such as koothu and temple murals. In few cases, Koothuambalams are separated as an individual structure outside Nalambalam.
The Dwajasthampam or flag post of temple, located in Chuttuambalam
At the entrance of Nalambalam, a square shaped raised stone altar called as Balithara can be seen. This altar is used to make ritualistic offerings to demi-gods and other spirits. Inside the Nalambalam, several small stones, called Balikallukal can be seen, meant for same purpose.
The Gppuram or Gate houses of temples
The outer structure within the temple walls, is known as Chuttuambalam. Normally Chuttuambalam has main pavilion known as Mukha-Mandapam or Thala-mandapam. The Mukha-Mandapam will have the Dwajastambam (Sacred Flag-post) in center of it and has several pillars supporting mandapam. The temple is now fully enclosed in a massive wall (Kshetra-Madillukal) pierced with gate houses or gopurams. The gopuram is usually two-storeyed, which served two purposes. The ground floor was an open space generally used as a platform for temple dances such as kurathy dance or ottan thullal during festivals. The upper floor with wooden trails covering the sides functioned as a kottupura _ (a hall for drums beating). The Chuttuambalam will normally has 4 gates from outside to entrance at all sides. A stone paved walk-way will be seen around the Chuttuambalam to allow devotees circulate around the temple, which for some large temples are covered with roof supported with massive pillars on both sides. The Chuttuambalam will have Dwajavillakku or giant lamp-posts in several places, mostly in Mukha-mandapams.
The temple pond or Ambala-Kulam at Ambalappuzha Sri Krishna Temple
Every temple will have a sacred temple pond or water lake located within temple complex. As per Vastu-rules, water is considered as source of positive energy and synthesis balance of all energies. Hence a temple pond or Ambala Kulam will be made available within the temple complex. The temple pond is normally used only by priests as holy bath before start of rituals as well as for various sacred rituals within the temple. In few cases, a separate pond will be constructed to allow devotees to bath before entering in temple. Today several temples have Mani-Kenar or Holy Well within the Nalambalam complex to get sacred waters for purposes of Abisekham.
The Koothuambalams are prime venues for conduct of temple dances and other art forms. The height of Koothuambalam's roof are much similar to Pyramids, makes it more majestic and gives a distant feeling from temple
Normally within Nalambalam, a separate complex will be constructed for cooking foods meant to serve for the deity and distribution among devotees as holy prasadam. Such complexes are called Thevarapura, where the holy fire or Agni is invoked.