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Dodda Basappa Temple at Dambal, a unique 24-pointed, uninterrupted stellate (star-shaped), 7-tiered dravida plan, 12th century

Vesara is one of a number of terms for a distinct stylistic tradition of Indian Hindu temple architecture primarily used in the Deccan, parts of North India and Central India, between the Vindhyas and the river Krishna (VK Agnihotri, Indian History, p. B-34). The two other prominent modes or styles are the Dravida or Dravidian of South India and the Nagara of North India. Vesara is a combination of features from these two temple styles, and its own original characteristics.[1]

The term was used by ancient writers, but possibly not with the same meaning as in modern usage. For this and other reasons, it is avoided by some writers, such as Adam Hardy.[2] Alternative terms for the whole time span of the tradition, from the 7th to the 13th century CE, include Karnata Dravida (Hardy's choice),[3] 'Central Indian temple architecture style', 'Deccan architecture', or for shorter periods, terms referring to local dynasties, such as "Chalukyan architecture", or more precisely Early Chalukya or Badami Chalukya architecture and Later or Western Chalukya architecture,[4] and Hoysala architecture (see the more detailed articles on these).

Among those who do use "vesara", there is some disagreement as to what periods to use it for. Such disagreements are very largely restricted to matters of nomenclature: whether the term is useful, and if so, what it should cover, in particular whether the Early as well as the Later Chalukya is included in "Vesara". There is general agreement about most aspects of the actual surviving buildings.

The term "vesara"Edit

Etymologically, the term vesara is believed by some to have been derived from the Sanskrit word vishra meaning an area to take a long walk. The quarters of Buddhist and Jain monks who left urban areas to live in cave temples were called viharas.[5] Alternatively, it derives from a word meaning mule, in reference to the hybrid nature of the style.[6]

Like Nagara and Dravida, the term is used in both north and south Indian ancient texts for a major type of temple design, but it is now generally agreed that the south Indian texts do not refer to non-Dravida styles, but to particular types of floor plan, all in southern Dravida temples. It is in the north Indian texts that Nagara and Dravida refer to different modes, languages or styles of temple architecture, found respectively in north and south India. These two terms are very widely used in modern sources. But what the original meaning of Vesara was in such texts remains somewhat unclear.[7]


The three shrines of the late 11th-century Kedareshvara Temple, Balligavi, from behind the main shrine; the two side shrines are seen side-on. Miniature northern shikharas used as motifs.

The Vesara style (if defined as beginning only with the Western Chalukyas in the late 10th-century) contains elements of both Dravida and Nagara styles. In particular the shape of the superstructure over the sanctum is usually pyramidal in profile, and shorter than the northern shikhara tower. In plan the walls and superstructure are broadly circular, or a straight-sided cone, though its geometry is based on rotating a square imposed on a circle. It has rather different decoration and motifs to either. One common motif is in fact miniature shikharas, often of the bhumija type, showing that the architects were well aware of northern styles.[8] Like the southern vimana superstructure, the Vesara equivalent is strongly divided into storeys or steps, but there are more of them, and the kapota roof motif that is so common in contemporary southern vimanas is less dominant.

George Michell describes a characteristic feature as "the obscuring of the outer profile of the building by multiplying the projections of the walls and superstructure; these move restlessly from one plane to another, relying upon effects of light and shade to lend the building its solidity and shape."[9]

There are generally prominent sukanasa projections from the tower on the roof over an antarala antechamber to the sanctum. The mandapa is generally larger than the sanctum and its vimana. Further open mandapas may be larger still. Temples with more than one shrine develop, especially those with three.[10] These are usually with three entrances off the same mandapa, as at the Chennakesava Temple, Somanathapura and Kedareshvara Temple, Balligavi; the two side shrines are at 90° to the central, main one.


The Kesava shrine at the Chennakeshava Temple, Belur

Historians agree that the vesara style originated in what is today Karnataka. According to some, the style was started by the Chalukyas of Badami (500-753AD) whose Early Chalukya or Badami Chalukya architecture built temples in a style that mixed some features of the nagara and the dravida styles, for example using both the northern shikhara and southern vimana type of superstructure over the sanctum in different temples of similar date, as at Pattadakal. However, Adam Hardy and others regard this style as essentially a form of Dravida. This style was further refined by the Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta (750-983AD) in sites such as Ellora.

Though there is clearly a good deal of continuity with the Badami or Early Chalukya style, [11] other writers only date the start of Vesara to the later Western Chalukyas of Kalyani (983-1195 AD),[12] in sites such as Lakkundi, Dambal, Itagi, and Gadag,[13] and continued by the Hoysala empire (1000-1330 AD).

The Hoysala temples at Belur, Halebidu and Somnathpura are leading examples of the Vesara style.[14] These temples are now proposed as a UNESCO world heritage site.


  1. ^ Harle, 254
  2. ^ Hardy, 8
  3. ^ Hardy, 8, referring to the very early Karnata Kingdom, which occupied roughly the north of the modern state of Karnataka.
  4. ^ Hardy, 8: "Chalukyan" is used by the pioneering Victorian historian James Fergusson. Early and Later Chalukya are used by George Michell, who avoids "vesara". See Michell, 146-149
  5. ^ "Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent -- Glossary". Retrieved 2007-01-11.
  6. ^ Hardy, 8
  7. ^ Hardy, 7-8; Harle, 254
  8. ^ Harle, 254
  9. ^ Michell, 146-147
  10. ^ Harle, 256
  11. ^ Michell, 149
  12. ^ Harle, 254
  13. ^ Harle, 256-261
  14. ^ Harle, 261-263


  • Hardy, Adam, Indian Temple Architecture: Form and Transformation : the Karṇāṭa Drāviḍa Tradition, 7th to 13th Centuries, 1995, Abhinav Publications, ISBN 8170173124, 9788170173120, google books
  • Harle, J.C., The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, 2nd edn. 1994, Yale University Press Pelican History of Art, ISBN 0300062176
  • Michell, George (1988), The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226532301

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