Article: Maṇḍapa-line temples

Contributed by Julia A. B. Hegewald


The small 12th-century Akkan Basti is in the pilgrimage town of Shravana Belgola. Especially prominent in this temple, the porch is a central element in most Jain temples.

Akkan Basti
Image by HoysalaPhotos © CC BY-SA 3.0

A porch is a roofed structure outside a building's entrance, attached to the external wall and projecting outwards from it. A porch may have open or closed sides and more than one storey. Porches are essentially very small, simple halls and provide access to shrines and larger maṇḍapas. Porches create spaces for people to pause before entering or leaving the building proper.

Porches are frequently called ardha-maṇḍapas but other terms can be used, depending on the region and style of the porch. Amongst the most common are:

  • agra-maṇḍapa
  • prāggrīva
  • balana-maṇḍapa
  • balānaka
  • mukha-maṇḍapa
  • mukha-catuṣkī
  • mukha-catuṣkya.

Porches provide shelter against sun and rain and allow devotees to prepare themselves for the religious experience inside the temple.

In addition to the main entrance, through a porch, many temple halls have two side entrances, which frequently also have porches. Clear examples are the Sambhavanātha Temple at Sravasti in Uttar Pradesh and the Ādinātha Temple at Kulpak in Andhra Pradesh.

Temple hall

The colourful Digambara temple in Thirupanamur, Tamil Nadu. Although Jain temples vary greatly in style, most are constructed from three main architectural elements. Here, the wide, open-sided porch leads to the hall, where religious rituals take place.

Thirupanamur temple
Image by Rishi Vandavasi © CC BY-SA 3.0

The temple hallmaṇḍapa – is a fundamental element in Jain religious buildings. It can take different forms, including being several storeys high or a free-standing structure. All temple halls in maṇḍapa-line temples, however, lead the devotee to the sanctum at the heart of the building, which contains the main image and is the centre of worship.

Larger halls can be open – raṅga-maṇḍapa or nr̥tya-maṇḍapa – with columns marking their boundaries at the sides. Such halls are particularly typical of central India, where they can be seen in the Caubārā Dehrā at Un. Looking into pillared halls from the outside, they are airy and flooded by sunlight.

Halls can also be closed – gūḍha-maṇḍapa – rooms, with walls at the side. Light and air is only admitted to such halls through one or several porches. A good example is the Pārśvanātha Temple at Khajuraho.

The space inside the halls, whether open or closed, is usually pillared. The pillars support the roof and structure the internal space into distinct areas. There are specific terms for halls with certain numbers of pillars or bays, such as the popular nine-bayed halls, referred to as trika-maṇḍapa, nava-caukī and nava-catuṣkī. Examples include the Mahāvīra Temples at Osian, Ghanerao, Sewadi and Kumbharia, all in Rajasthan.

There are also multi-storeyed temple halls – meghanāda-maṇḍapas – connected to raised image-chambers. These can be seen in the Ādinātha Temples at Ranakpur in Rajasthan and in the Bālā Bhāī Tunk on Mount Shatrunjaya in Gujarat as well as in many of the Jain temples in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

Noteworthy are the detached open halls – sabhā-maṇḍapas. A prominent example can be seen in front of the Pārśvanātha Basti at Halebid, Karnataka. Although they are free-standing, they visually extend further the line of elements that are arranged along one axis in large maṇḍapa-line temples.

Temple halls create an approach to the shrine and house additional religious statues and ritual paraphernalia. They are used for ritual activities – pūjā – and the recitation of sacred texts. During larger gatherings, the devotees sing hymns and watch ceremonial dance performances in the temple hall.

Image-chamber and vestibule

The plain appearance of the Jina figure contrasts with its ornately carved image-chamber in the Digambara temple at Lakkundi, Karnataka. The principal temple icon is within the image-chamber – garbha-gr̥ha, literally 'womb chamber' – the holiest area.

Jina figure in the image-chamber
Image by Dinesh Kannambadi © CC BY-SA 3.0

The innermost sanctum in which the main icon of a temple is housed is referred to as the garbha-gr̥ha – 'womb chamber'. In temples with more than one shrine, the main image-chamber is usually referred to as the mūla-garbha as it contains the principal statuemūla-nāyaka or adhi-nāyaka.

The cella of maṇḍapa-line temples is usually square and has no windows that let in natural light. In its simplicity and dimly lit state it resembles a cave inside a mountain, a model which the superstructure of the temple aims to copy.

Based on perceptions of ritual purity, sometimes not all devotees are allowed to enter the shrine, which is the purest and most sacred area of the temple. For this reason, a small vestibule – antarāla or kapilī – sits between the image-chamber and its adjacent hall. Worshippers can stand in this intermediate compartment to:

  • perform the rite of darśana – gazing at the icon
  • communicate with a priest
  • make offerings
  • follow the rituals conducted within the shrine.
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