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Kandariya Temple in Pradesh and How it Represents ShivaEssay

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¶ … Function in the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple

"Form ever follows function" was the phrase of American architect Louis Sullivan who wrote it in his 1896 essay on how to aesthetically create a pleasing office building.[footnoteRef:1] The idea is that structures should be both purposeful and appealing to the eye. This idea can be found in the architecture of the Hindu temples in India, specifically the Kandariya Mahadeva temple dedicated to Shiva in North India. This paper will discuss how form follows function in this monument to religious experience. [1: Louis Sullivan, "The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered," Lippincott's Magazine (March 1896), 403.]

The relationship between form and function is evident in the Kandariya Mahadeva temple in Madhya Pradesh, India. India's predominantly Hindu culture is home to a religion that has many gods and goddesses, each of whom receives a special honor among the Hindus. The temple in Madhya Pradesh is a prime example of the adoration which the Hindus give to their god Shiva, who holds a main or high position among the various Hindu denominations.

Shiva is described as eternal and without form, who yet sometimes takes various forms in Indian expression. He is sometimes represented as an all-knowing Yogi, other times as a domestic, married to Parvati, and father of Ganesha and Kartikeya. Sometimes he is represented as a foe to devils, and also as the guardian of the art of yoga.

In most representations, Shiva is illustrated as a having a third eye placed above his brow, with a snake over his shoulders, the Ganga pouring forth from his hair, and the iconic new or crescent moon nearby. In any case, the fact that Shiva has different representations corresponds with the fact that the Hindu religion itself contains many representations of the divine spirit. As far as form is concerned, the eternal formlessness of the divine is given a representational form by the Hindus in various expressions, as can be seen in the different Shivas. In the Kandariya Mahadeva temple in North India dedicated to Shiva, these many different representations are seen in the statuary that swarms the outside of the temple or is etched into the columns in bas-relief. The temple is like an overwhelming ant-hill come to life, full of Hindu expression, pulsating with life and a myriad sensations, both sensual and fearful and ultimately overwhelming.

The temple rises out of the earth like an explosion of religious zeal. Its earthy tones and claylike facade give it an organic appearance which absolutely follows the function of the temple. As it is a place of worship dedicated to Shiva, the appearance of the grand temple is one that reminds the worshipper of his own nature and points him to the divinity which takes so many forms and is represented in so many ways in the Indian culture.

The spires of the temple are numerous and pile one atop the other, giving one the sense that the temple itself has ballooned out of the earth, as though there were no constraining it. Rows of spires lead upward towards the big spires at the crest of the temple. The tallest spire reaches high into the air on one end and then the next three main domes descend from it, like a step ladder, each one less high than the one before. The tallest spire represents Mount Kailash, which is where Shiva is said to live in the Himalaya mountains. The smaller spires that rise around and below it are like those many peaks of the Himalayas. On the temple there are 84 of them. They each seem to fall away from the main spire, and pop out of the temple wherever they can, as though the temple were pulsing with life.

The temple is not without its symmetry, however. It is lined with verticals, flats, and horizontals, as well as columns, that give the temple a uniformity even as its bubbling spires and asymmetrical top give it a spontaneous feeling as though it were literally bursting at the seams to reach heavenward. However, the temple also has an aura that leaves one with a slight feeling of uneasiness. Seeing as in the function of the temple is to give the Hindu a place to worship and to leave offerings to the gods, the temple itself takes on almost dark and mysterious aspect in that it has no windows, as one would find in the cathedrals of the west. Midway up the temple's enormous structure is what appears from the distance to be an open airway from one end to the other. Here, the temple is opened to some light but only in sections. It is the main floor of the temple, where the ceremonies are conducted. The top half of the temple is supported by columns within this open space. Portions of this level are without walls so that the length of it is like an outdoor patio. But overhead the second half of the temple looms so that the airiness is both alleviating and simultaneously suppressed by the top half of the temple. In short, it has a secretive, almost subterranean character to it, yet at the same time it is inviting and open in a way so that if you dare you can access its secrets. It is in many ways like a cave, as its name "kandara" implies. Or, as Gregory Alles notes, the spatial dimensions of the temple are meant to reflect the purpose of the temple, which is to honor and serve as a "gate" to Shiva.[footnoteRef:2] [2: Gregory Alles, "Surface, Space, and Intention: The Parthenon and the Kandariya Mahadeva," History of Religions, vol. 28, no. 1 (1988), 1.]

So how does this form follow the function? The function of the temple is to provide access to Shiva, who has many guises. Thus, on the outside of the temple are many hundreds of guises -- over 600 statues, many of them in erotic poses, which symbolize the vitality or virility of Shiva. Paul Johnson's observation of Indian statuary is worth quoting in full because it gets to the heart of the mysterious and overpowering nature of these many shapes, which are found one after another on the outer facade of the temple, giving it an undulating, writhing appearance, as though these figures were literally living on the outside of the temple, making it to further resemble the ant-hill. Here the temple's walls are covered with an infinity of statuary, often repetitive, whose variations lack obvious meaning, and getting to grips with their religious and aesthetic import is like, say, trying to understand a fifteenth-century Manuelesque facade without any knowledge of, let alone sympathy for, Christianity. And without understanding, Westerners and many Indians too tend to find the proliferatin of forms over huge surfaces oppressive, sometimes repulsive."[footnoteRef:3] [3: Paul Johnson, Art: A New History (NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2003), 473.]

Johnson's assessment is particularly compelling when one compares the Kandariya Mahadeva temple with Temple 17 at Sanchi. This much smaller temple has a much more ascetic, almost bare and pure character about it. It is as though the religious character of the small temple at Sanchi were evident in its sparseness: it is meant to be a house of worship only, with no other purpose than for the individual to meditate and come into contact with the divine. The Kandariya temple on the other hand is large and meant as much to be admired and studied as it is to serve as a house of worship. Additionally, its form itself is meant to honor Shiva, which is why the main spire stretches so high above the others and resembles the jutting bulbousness of a mountaintop. Shiva is the reason for the hundreds of erotically posed statues along the temple's walls. At Sanchi, Temple 17 is simpler, more basic, less pompous in one sense, and in another sense almost more spiritual in its simplicity. So there are two different ways in which form follows function for these two very different Hindu temples.

The elaborate nature of Kandariya Mahadeva allows it to be the monument that it wants to be. It was erected with this purpose in mind, to draw attention to itself, which it still does today, serving as one of India's most famous cultural landmarks and tourist destinations. Its spatial dimensions serve to provide a large place of worship for many people, making it the complete opposite of the Temple 17 at Sanchi, where the smallness of the temple makes it seem more personal and private and less public. Temple 17 is restrained in its dimensions. Kandariya Mahadeva is unrestrained, piling upwards like Shiva himself, boasting in a sense of its own accomplishments, full of vigor and life and sensuality.

In conclusion, form ever follows function and this is as true for the Kandariya Mahadeva temple as it was for Louis Sullivan and his American architectural works. The temple in North India has served to provide the Hindus of India for hundreds of years… [END OF PREVIEW]

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