Temples by the Shore

Updated: Jun 4, 2018

India, a country boasting of its evergreen beaming diversity in culture, is praised by many scholars and thinkers around the world. One of the features that has defined India and lies at the root of all cultures, belief systems, religions, castes and diversities is the Temple. Temples stand as resplendent symbols of the heritage and immense spirituality of our country.

“India has two million gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.” – Mark Twain.

We abide by this statement even today. From the pages of the country's rich mythology, we often come across tales that narrate the destruction and reconstruction of these temples, for instance, the mighty Somnath Temple, a sea shore temple in Saurashtra in Gujarat, that was reconstructed eight times. It is said that a Shiv-ling (an abstract or an iconic representation of the Hindu deity, Shiva) was found floating in its garbha griha (the innermost sanctum of a Hindu temple where the idol or icon of the primary deity of the temple resides). But what makes this temple so special architecturally, is not just the shikharas (a spire on a Hindu temple) or the intricate ornamentation of shrines on it, but also its location by the gigantic sea that adds to its beauty.

Since the ancient times a holy water-body around a temple was an absolute need because the temples were homes to many sages and saints and water was a necessity for the performance of various rituals and rites. Having a nearby source of water was also very practical when it came to its usage in daily life and was considered sacred.

It also filled the abodes of Gods and Goddesses with peace and holiness, by magnifying the silence and creating a theatrical experience through the chanting of prayers and ringing of bells. The reflection on the water added to the beauty of the temples, and the play of lamps and lights added more drama to the surrounding, thereby, putting more focus on the temple and making it eminent in the site surroundings.

Arch-Q brings to you four such temples that stand majestically by a water-body and are must visits when one is in India.

1) Harminder Sahib or The Golden Temple, Amritsar

It stands till today as the most important shrine in Sikhism. It is built around an artificial water-body, the Amrit Sarovar, measuring approximately 150 sq.metres, thrice as more as the actual area of the temple. The architectural prototype of the temple was envisioned by combining a dharmashala (a building devoted to religious or charitable purposes, especially a rest house for travellers) and a tank. Thus, instead of a plinth (which is the observed norm in Hindu architecture) it was made in a depression, thereby making the worshippers go down in order to enter. Its four entrances are symbolic to the openness and new faith of equality. The presence of water around all sides of the gold plated temple enables a picture-perfect view with its reflection on the water and causes the exterior to shine and look divine. The water also adds to its eminence making it even more beautiful at night. It makes one feel it is literally God's abode with the divinity and serenity the entire structure provides.

2) Yamunotri Temple, Uttarakhand

This temple, dedicated to Goddess Yamuna (the Goddess of rivers), is situated on a high altitude of about 3291 metres in the cradle of the Himalayas and flanked by the river Yamuna. The beautiful vista of mountains, waterfalls, rapids and hot water springs paves way to a peaceful abode for the worhsippers. After a tiresome steep climb to reach the temple, the visitors are welcomed by two hot water springs – the Surya Kund and the Gauri Kund, that provide relief to the much-tired worshippers and also serve as ready sources of water for rituals. Here the water body acts as a more significant aspect functionally than aesthetically.

3) The Sun Temple, Modhera, Gujarat

Out of the many sun temples in our country the one in Modhera, Gujarat, gets particular attention because of its grand Surya Kund. The magnificent temple overlooks a pond, essentially a rectangular tank, that replicates a step-well and is locally called ‘vaav’ with uniquely constructed steps. It has 108 shrines around all four sides of it representing the various gods of the Hindus and is primarily dedicated to the solar deity, the Sun God. Not only is this piece of architecture a representation of the culture of the state that bears many step-wells, but also a display of hierarchy, given the intricately carved stone structure that oozes of grandeur as it stands there reminding us of its glorious age while proudly showcasing the sun rays through its brilliantly carved body.

4) Sea shore temple, Mahabalipuram

Just a few kilometres away from the city of Chennai lies the temple of Mahabalipuram famous for its architecture and stone carvings. It comprises of many temples, caves, monuments and mandapas (In the Hindu temple the mandapa is a porch-like structure through the gopuram or ornate gateway, leading to the temple. It is used for religious dances and music and is a part of the basic temple compound), namely Arjuna's Penance or Descent of the Ganges, Krishna Mandapam, Pancha Rathas, and many more. But the rock-cut sea shore temple is the most illustrious. Situated just a few metres away from the Bay of Bengal, this structural temple gets its name from its location and is called the Shore Temple. The compound comprises of shrines and temples which have been carved out of granite blocks dating way back to the 8th century. Standing right there, one would feel as though the temple connects the elements of nature – Earth, Ocean and the Sky and sings of their glory, dedicating the three sanctuaries to the Hindu preserver, Vishnu and the Hindu destroyer, Shiva.

Out of the thousands of temples in our country, these are some of the most prominent ones and their grandeur still surpasses any recent construction. Not only is it about the gods they are dedicated to, or the periods they were built in or the myths and stories connected to them, or not even just the style of architecture, but the gorgeous water-bodies around them that add to the eminence, giving them that extra bit!

Do you know of any other temple with a water-body? Let us know!

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