Sacred architecture (also known as religious architecture) is a religious architectural practice concerned with the design and construction of places of worship and/or sacred or intentional space, such as churches, mosques, stupas, synagogues, and Temples. Many cultures devoted considerable resources to their sacred architecture and places of worship. Religious and sacred spaces are amongst the most impressive and permanent monolithic buildings created by humanity.

Sacred, religious and holy structures often evolved over centuries and were the largest buildings in the world, prior to the modern skyscraper. While the various styles employed in sacred architecture sometimes reflected trends in other structures, these styles also remained unique from the contemporary architecture used in other structures.

Sacred geometry, iconography and the use of sophisticated semiotics such as signs, symbols and religious motifs are endemic to sacred architecture. Entering into a religious building can be taken as a metaphor for entering into a spiritual relationship with the indwelling Self.

Indian architecture is related to the history and religions of the time periods as well as to the geography and geology of the Indian subcontinent. India was crisscrossed by trading routes of merchants from as far away as Siraf and China as well as weathering invasions by foreigners, resulting in multiple influences of foreign elements on native styles. The diversity of Indian culture is represented in its architecture. Indian architecture comprises a blend of ancient and varied native traditions, with building types, forms and technologies from West, Central Asia, and Europe.

Hindu Temple architecture is based on Sthapatya Veda and many other ancient religious texts like the Brihat Samhita, Vastu Shastra and Shilpa Shastras in accordance to the design principles and guidelines believed to have been laid by the divine architect Vishvakarma.


Divine Architect Vishvakarma

 
Hindu Temple architecture which evolved over a period of more than 2000 years conforms to strict religious models that incorporate elements of astronomy and sacred geometry. In Hindu belief, the Temple represents the macrocosm of the Universe as well as the microcosm of inner space. While the underlying form of Hindu Temple architecture follows strict traditions, considerable variation occurs with the often intense decorative embellishments and ornamentation.

A basic Hindu Temple consists of an inner sanctum, the garbhagriha or womb-chamber, a congregation hall, and possibly an antechamber and porch. The Hindu Temple represents Mount Meru, the axis of the Universe. There are strict rules which describe the themes and sculptures on the outer walls of the Temple buildings.

The two primary styles that have developed are the Nagara style of Northern India and the Dravida style of Southern India. A prominent difference between the two styles are the elaborate gateways employed in the South. They are also easily distinguishable by the shape and decoration of their śikharas. The Nagara style is beehive-shaped while the Dravida style is pyramid-shaped.

 
Śikharas – Mountain Peaks


Śikharas
Śikhara, a Sanskrit word translating literally to "mountain peak", refers to the rising tower in the Hindu Temple architecture of North India. Like mountains these structures are larger at the bottom than at the top. They were built of stone and brick and were capped with a bulb-shaped top called an amalaka. The Śikhara over the sanctum sanctorum where the presiding deity is enshrined is the most prominent and visible part of a Hindu Temple of North India.

In south India, the equivalent term for "Śikhara" is "Vimanam". These are not to be confused with the elaborate gateway-towers of south Indian Temples, called "Gopurams", which are perhaps the most prominent features of those Temples.

Vimana is a term for the tower above the Garbhagriha or Sanctum sanctorum in a Hindu Temple. A typical Hindu Temple in Dravidian style may have multiple gopurams, typically constructed into multiple walls in tiers around the main shrine. The Temple's walls are typically square with the outermost wall having four gopuras, one each on every side, situated exactly in the centre of each wall. The sanctum sanctorum and its towering roof (the central deity's shrine) are also called the Vimana. Generally, these do not assume as much significance as the outer gopurams, with the exception of a few Temples where the sanctum sanctorum's roofs are as famous as the Temple complex itself. The structure of Vimana are generally believed to be the docking zone for celestial vehicles in which gods travel.

The photo below was taken during the recent Kumbhabhiskheam at Adiannamalai. The photograph shows the ceremony in which Divine Power is transferred back to the deities by performing an abhishekam (salutary bathing) to the Vigrahas and Vimanas (pinnacles) on the roof with the sanctified holy waters from the kalasas accompanied by Vedic chanting and special rites. On that day at the designated auspicious time, when the Kumbha is bathed with the charged and sanctified holy waters contained in the sacrificial pots, consecrated and sanctified pranic powers trickle down a silver wire and enter the Deity installed inside the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple.

 
Anointing the Vimana

It is not only the mountain Arunachala which is a significant factor in the spirituality connected with this site but also the presence of Arunachaleswarar Temple. The construction of the Temple and its situation magnifies the energies of its surroundings as it was built in strict observance of the sacred geometry of mathematical repetition in natural patterns.