Shiva Temple at Hatkoti


in the BREAST of the HIMALAYAS

The Ladakh region, which was treated in the former chapter, is the northernmost part of India and located in highlands of an altitude of 3,000 to 4.000m. When descending to the south from Ladakh, one comes to the state of Himachal Pradesh, which reaches from the breast to the foot of the Himalayas.
It is entirely a mountainous region without any plains. In contrast with the Ladakh Region, where it hardly rains under a desert-like climate, Himachal Pradesh is a rainy area throughout the year and covered with forests of cedar and pine, remarkably different from the lowlands of the Indian plain.

The transportation in this region is extremely inconvenient, since the railroad has hardly been constructed even now and most roads wind along gorges and ravines. It takes a long time to actually reach a place that looks quite near on a map. Due to these facts, no large cities have grown here, leaving this entire area a quiet remote region, as opposed to the western neighboring regions of Kashmir and Punjab, which have been important stages in history.
Himachal Pradesh has not become tourist zone even until now, preserving its traditional rural culture of mountain villages. In addition, the people are easygoing and affable.

Raghunatha Temple at Vashsht

Historically, when King Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty (c.317 B.C.E. -293 B.C.E.) conquered most of India, the Himalayan regions also came under his rule and Buddhist culture flourished in the Kashimir region. But the rule did not fully reach the mostly inaccessible region of Himachal, where various tribes lived as mountainous peoples.
As each tribe undoubtedly paid tribute to the Maurya and Kushana Dynasties, Buddhism must have been brought here, but indigenous folk faiths might have been practiced more than Buddhism and Hinduism. There are no structural remains from those times, and only excavated coins give us an idea of the relationship with the Kashmir region and the Indian plain in some degree.

Its later history is also not clear. Chandragupta II of the Gupta Dynasty (c.320-c.550) seems to have ruled the Himachal region at the end of the 4th century, but Huna (Ephthalite) people invaded the Punjab and Gandhara regions after the 5th century and destroyed the Gupta Dynasty.
It is from the Pratihara Dynasty (5th -11th century) that one can clearly see the culture and religions of the Indian plain brought extensively into Himachal Pradesh.

The Pratihara Dynasty of the Gurjara people, which had been established in the 8th century based on the capital Kannauj, subjugated much of Northern India and became a powerful empire that ruled as far as the Himalayan region in the 9th century.
The Himachal region, which is thought to have been permeated by Hinduism around the 1st century, accepted the Hindu culture of the Pratihara Empire and began to construct Hindu temples ardently after the 9th century.

Small temple
A small wooden temple, Naggar


As Himachal Pradesh is covered with deep forests and is abundant in timber, this region must have constructed wooden religious buildings (whether Hindu or other) from before the advent of the method of constructing stone temples. However, scarcely any old wooden temples remain, because they have been lost to fire, earthquake, thunderbolt, and decay.

On the other hand, stable and incombustible stone architecture probably symbolized the advent of a new civilization for Himachal people. It began about 800; first of all, a group of bold stone temples were carved onto existing rock at Masrur near Kangra. Although no cave temples were excavated in the Himalayan region, a trial of rock carved temple was implemented suddenly here. This is the first attainment of Pratihara architecture, which included the vestiges of Gupta art, in the Himalayan region.

Rock carved temples at Masrur

Subsequently, in the early 9th century, the small Gauri Shankara Temple at Jagatsukh and the Vishveshvara Temple at Bajaura brought the full-blown technique and aesthetics of stone architecture to Himachal.
Though the latter at Bajaura is a single-room-type temple without a Mandapa (hall), it has a high Shikhara (tower) over the Garbhagriha (sancatuary) with a large fluted round disk called an Amalaka on the top, the entire figure of which fully shows the Northern Style of Hindu temple. The sanctuary enshrines a Linga, a phallus symbolizing Shiva.

Temples at Bajaura and Udaipur

After that, shikara-type Hindu temples (whether large or small) were constructed at various places in Himachal Pradesh. The largest is the Vaidyanatha Temple at Baijnath, which was venerated through the generations as the most imporatant spot for the faith in Shiva in this region.

On the other hand, there is a tradition of wooden architecture in the Himalayan region, a tradition in which a lot of wooden temples were constructed. However, there are only three extant medieval wooden temples: the Lakshana Devi Temple at Bharmaur (Brahmaur), the Shakti Devi Temple at Chatrarhi, and the Markula Devi Temple at Udaipur, each of which was dedicated to a goddess (devi).
The temple at Bharmaur is the oldest and its interior goes back to about 700 C.E. The interior wooden sculptures, which are considered to be intact in their originally carved state, show the Pratihara style influenced by Gupta art. This indicates that such a style and technique were introduced before the advent of the method of stone architecture.


In the Himalayan region, native wooden temple architecture came to coexist with classic stone temple architecture, which was brought from the Indian plain. Although they would gradually get blended into one, when comparing details of a pure wooden temple and a stone temple, one can find unexpectedly strong resemblances between them. The stone architecture in the Indian plain was originally derived from the wooden structure, using stone as if it were timber and developing a trabeated-like stone architecture.
When the styles of Gupta art and Pratihara architecture arrived and their carving style was applied to wooden components, the detail of Himalayan wooden architecture also came to resemble stone carvings in the Indian plain.

Bharmaur___ Baijnath
Left : Wooden ceiling of Mandapa, Lakshana Devi Temple at Bharmaur
Right : Stone ceiling of Mandapa, Vaidyanatha Temple at Baijnath

The pictures above are from the oldest wooden temple in the region, the Lakshana Devi Temple at Bharmaur, and the stone temple at Baijnath in the Kangra Valley, the Vaidyanatha Temple. The former preserves the original interior from around 700, though the outer walls were renovated in a later period. The latter temple is said to have been established either in the 9th century or 12th, but the photo shows the interior of the Mandapa extended around the 13th century.
Both of them are made with a post-and-beam structure, and their carvings of ‘pot and foliage’ motif on columns, the bracket system under beams, and the designs of their ceilings are all quite similar.

These ceilings are composed from a system in which one puts corner beams diagonally on a square made by the main beams to make a smaller square above, this is repeated up to the top and the central part is covered with a plank at the end. This system is called ‘Laternendecke’ in German, meaning lantern ceiling. It was widely used from India to western Asia, and it is unknown whether it originated in wooden structure or stone.
However, as it is basically impractical to use stone, which is weak in bending, as beams, the stone beams of the Baijnath Temple have gotten cracks, and are now supported by steel frames.

Lakshmi Narayana Complex, Chamba


Thanks to much rain and snow and an abundance in timber, buildings in the Himalayan region, like in Japan, have generally been constructed of wood and covered with sloping roofs. As for roofing, slates of schist have been used like tiles.
In rainy areas, not only wooden buildings but also stone buildings are vulnerable, if not protected by eaves. Therefore, in Himachal Pradesh, the stone temple style brought from the Indian Plain came to be crowned with a timber roof. As seen in the Lakshmi Narayana Temple Complex in Chamba, they were sheltered by conical slated roofs, just like sedge hats in Asia, to protect their walls.

Although their appearance can look quite strange to eyes accustomed to the sight of stone temples in the lower plain, it can be said that this style engendered an unexpected artistic effect.
A sedge-hat-type temple’s roof plan is square, hexagonal, or octagonal, and its form augments complexity when the Shikhara is roofed in two steps, on the Shikhara itself and on the Amalaka. It occasionally takes a deeper form like a balcony, probably under the influence of the form of folk houses.

Such mixing of stone and wood developed a more positive fusion of them. The Shiva Temple at Hatkoti, going beyond the simple sedge-hat-type form, seems to have been intended to make a stone Garbhagriha together with a large wooden roof from the very outset. The formation of its concave roof with deep eaves is highly fascinating.
In the case of the Shiva Temple at Balag, a gable-roofed wooden Mandapa was built just in front of the stone Shikhara with a sedge-hat-type square roof, displaying a unique composition as a whole.

A wall of Ukha Devi Temple at Sungra


As there are not a few earthquakes in the Himalayas, buildings must be quakeproofed. The necessity to do this also led to wooden and stone structures being united in an unexpected way in this region. That is the use of timber in the horizontal to make a wall by piling it alternately with a row of stone. Like reinforced concrete that is combined with iron bars, one can garner by combining horizontal timber and stone layers, a much stronger wall than with simple masonry.

Wooden frame
A Sketch of Wooden frame by William Simpson
(From "Architecture in the Himalaya" by William Simpson)

As the above sketch by W. Simpson shows, a carpenter first makes a timber frame piled alternately in a right angle, and then stones are packed inside. Though the corner part looks like a pillar from a distance because of the piling of timber, actually there are no columns. The palace of Naggar, now converted into a hotel, is an old example of this system. This system came to be used from general houses to castles and temple towers, making itself a fundamental element of buildings in the Himachal region, which will be treated in the next chapter.

Sainj___ Sainj
Palace of the Theog Kingdom at Sainj

Another method or fusion is, as seen in the palace of Theog, the combination of the lower part of a firm stone structure and the upper part of a light wooden structure. Though this is also a quakeproof method, there are few examples of such system. This Theog Palace was originally a building for festivals, making the space composition including the central high ceiling hall quite attractive.


© Takeo Kamiya