Temple architecture in Kerala is
different from that of other regions in India. Largely dictated by the geography of the
region that abounds in forests blessed with the bounties of the monsoons, the structure of
the temples in Kerala is distinctive. The roofs are steep and pointed, and covered with
copper sheets. The Kerala roof resembles those found in the Himalayan regions and those in
The shape of the roof is in accordance
with the plan of the sanctum below. With a circular plan, one sees a conical roof, while
with a square plan the roof is pyramidal. The roof is constructed with wood and is covered
with copper plates. Most of the temples seen in Kerala today, have undergone several
phases of renovation, given the perishable nature of the construction materials.
The central sanctum of a Keralite
temple is referred to as the Sree Kovil. It is surrounded by a
cloistered prakara, pierced at one or more cardinal points with a gopuradwara.
The cloistered prakaram has a namaskara mandapam located
directly in front of the sanctum. This prakaram also houses subsidiary shrines. A kitchen
is located in the south eastern corner of ths cloistered prakaram. The
mukha mandapam is integrated with the gopura entrance. The flagstaff or dwaja
stambham is located outside of the dwajastambham. The balipitham may be located
in the mukhamandapam or in the outer courtyard. The outer prakaram or courtyard houses
other subshrines, and optionally a temple tank.
The Kuttambalam or
the theater hall of the Keralite temple is located either as a part of the inner prakara,
on the south east corner facing north, or as a separate hall outside the innermost
prakaram, either facing into the temple or facing north. This has a stage, raised from the
rest of the floor, and a backstage area. This is the site of the performance of Kathakali
or Chakkiyar koothu recitals. Thus the kuttambalam plays a role in
educating visitors on the rich legends of the Indian cultural fabric.
The Keralite temple is an amalgam of
stonework, wood work, stucco work and painting - harmoniously blended into a structure
vibrant with traditions of the region. The wood work here is of great importance, and it
gives the essential verve and character to the Kerala temple silhouette. The inner
skeletal framework of the temple is of wood, although the base and the structure above are
of granite and laterite respectively. The roof projects out at several levels, in order to
protect the inner skeletal framework from the vigorous monsoons that inundate the region.
The Kerala temple walls are of coursed
laterite stone masonry plastered in mud and lime. Murals are seen on several of these
Another distictive feature of Keralite
temples is the use of vilakku maadam, or the multi-tiered brass lamps in front of temples.
Lakshadeepam is a spectacular celebration of traditional lighting where tiers of
small oil lamps lining the outer walls of the inner prakaram are lit.
Temples have held an important place
in the life of Keralites. Several temples in Kerala trace their origins to antiquity.
However, they were renovated frequently and the current structures that are seen are
vastly a result of the numerous renovations.
Also see Kerala