GUEST POST: Faith Inspires Architecture-The Jalakanteshwara Temple

GUEST POST: Faith Inspires Architecture-The Jalakanteshwara Temple

Located inside Vellore Fort in the city of Vellore, it is approximately 140Km from Chennai.

Temples are the final link in the chain of evolution of religious architecture. One of the first examples is the Pallava rock cut Vimana temples at Mahabalipuram, built by Narasimha Varman Mamalla (630-668 CE). Temples in South India typically belong to the Dravida school of architecture, one of the three schools defined by the southern Silpa and Agama texts, based on the plan and layout, the other two being the Nagara and the Vesara styles.

History of the Jalakanteshwara temple

The temple belongs to the post-Vijayanagar phase of construction. The provincial governors, the Nayakas, asserted their independence after the empire’s decline in 1565 CE, establishing their principalities at Vellore, Gingee, Thanjavur, Madurai and Ikkeri. The Nayaka phase witnessed the addition of elaborate mandapas having numerous pillars, and larger Gopurams with a greater amount of plastic stucco figures on them. The Vellore temple represents this style of architecture.

A.K. Seshadri of the ASI, who restored the temple, suggests two distinct architectural phases for the inner and outer Prakaras of the temple. The inner enclosure was probably constructed during the reign of Vendrumankonda Sambuvarayar (1322 CE -1339 CE). The outer prakara, the Gopura Dwara and the mandapas were constructed during the time of Sadasivadeva Maharayar (1540 CE-1572 CE), when Chinna Bomma Nayaka ruled Vellore. Inscriptions found near the city mention the deity as Jwarakanteshwara or the destroyer of diseases. All of them mention that Chinna Bomma Nayaka had submitted a request to Sadashiva Maharayar for the grant of villages to the temple.


The temple is located in the northern part of the fort. The main Gopura Dwara faces south. The inner prakara is approached through a second gateway. The gateways form part of a rectangular stone wall enclosing the respective outer and inner sections. Though the main shrine faces east, both the gopura dwaras face south.

The main Gopura has a rectangular granite base15m high. Over its roof is the stucco work in brick and mortar with seven talas tapering into the Griva. The tapered structure is capped by a vault hood with mythical creatures Nasika and Yali on both sides. The vault’s middle section has seven Kalashams pointing skyward. All around the Griva are carved images of various deities, the vault appearing to be held up on the shoulders of the bhara vahakas at the four corners.

After passing through the first entrance, the Kalyana Mandapa comes into view in the south west corner close to the outer prakara. To the right, in the south-east corner, are located the madapalli (kitchen) and adjacent to it, the Utsava Mandapa. A cloistered mandapa runs along the perimeter of the outer wall, interrupted at the four corners by structures, as shown in the plan.

The inner prakara is accessed through the second gateway. The main shrine, dedicated to Shiva (Jalakanteshwara), has a Garbhagriha which enshrines the Linga. It has an ardha mandapa and a mukha mandapa, with an east facing entrance and a doorway on the south leading to the pradakshina pada. The main shrine is at a lower level than the pradakshina mandapa and is detached from the cloistered structure. The pillars supporting the mandapa roof have a square base with circular cross section up to the abacus. The lintel beams are plain, without ornamentation. The different pillar design possibly dates to the Sambuvarayar period. To the east of the main shrine, there is a pillared hall known as the Nataraja shrine. It has a rectangular garbhagriha with a stucco vimana as the superstructure. The pillars of the mukha mandapa are elegantly sculpted with scenes from the Dasavatara. Like the outer prakara, the inner prakara has a madapalli and a Yagashala. They suggest the existence of a Shiva-Vishnu temple. The temple, which was not in use since independence, was opened for public worship on 16th March 1981 CE. During this revival phase, it was converted into a Shiva temple. 

The Kalyana Mandapa

The temple’s description would be incomplete without the Kalyana Mandapa. It was completed during the closing years of Sadasivadeva Maharayar’s rule. The late Percy Brown, in his book titled “Indian Architecture-Buddhist and Hindu Periods” says – “…among them, the temple in the fort at Vellore being prominent, its Kalyana Mandapa even excelling in the luxuriant character of its carvings, being considered the richest and most beautiful structure of its kind”.

The structure has a rectangular planwith three sections at different levels, with a total of forty-six pillars. The front section is open, with twenty-four pillars, distributed in three rows of eight pillars each. The 2nd and 3rd levels have eight and fourteen pillars respectively and are enclosed on three sides. The 3rd level has the Kurma platform, so called because the tortoise which forms its base appears to bear the entire load. Its mouth faces east, whilst its feet are shown carved at the bottom corners. At the base of the platform are engraved the cardinal deities of the four directions, all around it.

The pillars deserve special mention for the attention shown to detail by the sculptors. They have a central load bearing shaft, with lateral extensions for engraving animals and human figures.

A front row pillar shows a rider astride his horse, sword unsheathed and the mount rearing up. Just below its hooves are shown warriors, one of them being armed with a hand dagger for use in close combat. The figure on the horse appears to be a noble, from the headgear worn and the cladding on the animal’s back. This panel rests on another, which shows warriors ready for combat.

A second pillar shows a warrior of high station astride his horse, engaged in a tiger hunt. The animal, which is shown in the panel, is attacked by armed men, one of whom is shown sinking his dagger into the animal’s mouth. Above the horse is a structure resembling a ratha, a type of temple shikara design, surmounted by a Bhara Vahaka, bearing the load of the roof.