Article: Maṇḍapa-line temples

Contributed by Julia A. B. Hegewald

The most common type of Jain temple construction in India is the maṇḍapa-line temple, raised by followers of the image-worshipping sects. Built by both the principal Jain sects of Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras, these temples are typical of all periods and can be found in all regions of the subcontinent.

In maṇḍapa-line temples the three core building elements – porches, halls and shrines – that form most Jain temples in India are arranged more or less in one long line. This line runs from the entrance to the principal image-chamber at the far end of the building.

While other Jain temple types also combine these three basic architectural elements, they do this in a distinct and not primarily linear fashion. Although other religions in India also use these elements in their temples, the architecture of Jain temples represents distinctive Jain principles and beliefs.

Worshippers enter the temple by ascending the platform on which it sits and going through the porch at the front, then progressing though one or several temple halls to the image-chamber, which is the sacred heart of the building. This may symbolise the journey to enlightenment that is the ultimate goal of Jainism, an aim that is also represented in other aspects of the temple.

Maṇḍapa-line temples are frequently composed of many examples of these three elements, which were often added to the original structure over time. How many entrance porches, halls and shrines a maṇḍapa-line temple has depends on its size, its fame and particular importance, its age and the present or past wealth of the religious community supporting it.

There are often numerous shrines and images as well as the main temple icon, which is housed in the image-chamber. The multiplicity of building elements that make up the temple and the smaller, simpler shrines outside the main structure combine to form an often elaborate temple complex. This mirrors the complex nature of the universe and Jain cosmology, and allows space for the large number of donated images, and more abstract symbols, venerated in Jain temples.

Building elements

The main hall – maṇḍapa – of the Ādinātha temple at Ranakpur, which is renowned for its beauty and artistry. Like most Jain temples, regardless of size, it uses three chief architectural elements – porch, hall and image-chamber.

Hall of Ādinātha temple
Image by Antoine Taveneaux © CC BY-SA 3.0

The elements out of which maṇḍapa-line temples are assembled are simple.

The majority of Jain temples in India consist of the three core building elements of:

The followers of other religions in India, such as Hinduism, also use these elements for their own religious architecture, yet Jain temples are designed to support and reflect distinctively Jain beliefs.

The diverse ways in which these three elements can be arranged and multiplied are endless. Jain sacred architecture is particularly well known for its complex arrangements of entrance porches, halls and shrines, all raised on a moulded plinth. This characteristic organisation of building elements leads to a distinct structuring of space in Jain temples.

Religious ceremonies are usually performed within specific spaces in the temple. For example, offerings are made to images of Jinas and deities in dedicated image-chambers while hymns are sung and recitations performed in the temple halls.

Temple platform

The Odegal Basti at Shravana Belgola. It is notable for its tall platform or terrace – jagatī or vedī. The terrace raises the temple structure above the ground and creates an upward approach towards the icons inside. This symbolises the path to liberation

Terrace of the Odegal Basti
Image by Anks.manuja © CC BY-SA 3.0

All building elements in a Jain temple are elevated above the ground on a platform or terrace – jagatī or vedī – which is normally decorated. The terrace has a symbolic role as well as a functional purpose, underlining the Jain notion of effortful progress towards liberation.

The temple platform, which may be quite low or up to a few metres tall, is usually ornamented with abstract mouldings or floral and vegetal motifs. Especially tall and prominent platforms can be seen in the Odegal Basti at Shravana Belgola, Karnataka, and in the modern Jaina Temple at Bakara Road, Rajasthan. Some plinths are adorned with rows of geese and elephants, processions of horses and riders, battle scenes and lines of dancers and musicians. Such elaborate decorations can be found at the Neminātha Temple at Kumbharia and the Pārśvanātha Temple at Mirpur, both in Rajasthan.

The aim of the terrace is to raise the sacred temple structure from the dusty ground and to create an upward approach towards the holy icons housed inside.

In some instances, the terrace varies in height under different parts of the temple. In these cases the platform is lowest beneath the porch while it rises below the hall, reaching its highest point underneath the shrine. This creates the feeling of a slight upward climb towards the most important image-chamber, which is at the end of the succession of architectural elements. This can be seen in the Neminātha Temples at Nadol in Rajasthan and in the Neminātha Temples at Tirumalai in Tamil Nadu.

The platform may be wide enough to allow worshippers to use it for the ritual circumambulation – pradakṣiṇā – of the temple. See, for instance, the Ādinātha Temple at Kundalpur, Bihar and the Cintāmaṇī Pārśvanātha Temple at Hastinapur in Haryana.

Porches and halls

To enter a Jain temple, visitors go up the steps built at the front or cut into the terrace at the entrance. Larger temples usually have a porch leading to a hall.

The generic term for a temple hall Is maṇḍapa while a porch is commonly known as an ardha-maṇḍapa.

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