The Medieval World, C. 400–1300

India and Southeast Asia

What does a Hindu temple look like?

Hindu temples are one of the primary examples of Hindu architecture in India and Southeast Asia. They are usually built of cut rock, and although there is a great deal of stylistic diversity, are generally placed within two categories: northern and southern style.

Hindu temples are raised on a podium (somewhat like an Etruscan temple), called a plinth. Temples in the northern style feature a large tower in the shape of a beehive, called shikhara (which means “mountain peak”). Atop the tower is a rounded form known as an amalaka because of the similarly shaped amala fruit. These amalakas are used to decorate lower portions of the shikhara as well. The halls of a northern-style temple have a series of halls called mandapas, which lead to the garbhagriha, an inner sanctuary used to house a sacred image. The halls are themselves decorated with smaller, tower-like roofs. An example of a northern-style Hindu temple is the Kandarya Mahadeva temple in Khajuraho, India, which was built around 1000 C.E.

Southern-style Hindu temples feature a pyramid-like tiered tower called a vimana, and this is topped with a round capstone. The halls of a southern-style temple also lead to an inner chamber, but have flat roofs and pillared mandapas. An example of a southern-style Hindu temple is the Rajarajeshvara Temple in Thanjavur, India, which was built around 1010 C.E.

Angkor Wat, a UNESCO Heritage site, is a large Hindu temple complex located in Cambodia in Southeast Asia and was built between the ninth and fourteenth centuries.


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