Generally speaking, a temple is a 'Place of Worship'. It is also called the 'House of God'. However, for a Hindu it is both and yet still more. It is the whole cosmos in the miniature form. Stella Kramrisch defined temple as monument of manifestation in her The Hindu Temple. Hence, its morphology is not arbitrary.
Hindu Temple as Virat Purusha
From the top to bottom the Hindu temple seeks to represent everything of which the cosmic world brahmanda (ब्रह्माण्ड), the entire universe, is composed of.
- The earthly world (पृथ्वी)
- The heavenly world (आकाश)
- The astral world (स्वर्ग)
- The world below the waters (पाताल)
That is why on the walls of a Hindu temple one can see the representations of men, women, children, animals, birds, pests, insects, reptiles, trees, rivers, flowers, seas, mountains, houses, forts, places, villages, huts, etc., which constitute the earthly world. It includes even copulation among men and, among animals since it is through this mode of that creation takes place.
Symbolism in Temple Architecture
The Hindu temple architecture, i.e., its morphology, follows the requirements of his vision of the cosmos which he wants to recreate on the earth, it is not the fancy of the architect. Visions differ, therefore forms differ but forms are not experiments of architects. The temple also contains the images of gods and goddesses as well as semi-divine and mythical beings, including half-human and half-animal or half-bird and half-reptile forms, as described in Hindu mythologies contained in epics, Puranas, and kavyas.
The world of waters with fish, tortoise, crocodile, coral, plants, rocks, etc., which constitute the life below the seas is also represented. Underlying the these so simple yet so complex ideas is the water cosmology (origin of the universe) which means that water is the basis of all creation and it sustains all beings. It is for this very reason that from the Gupta times itself the temple pillars are shown emerging from कलश or water-pot, and the finial or top is embellished with a water-pot.