The gatekeeper - dvarapalas in temple architecture

Going back into history, we can take this ancient tradition of temple gatekeepers to village guardians in ancient indian times which goes straight to the Yaksha cult. They have been through a couple of political cult changes along the way both buddhist as well as shaivite before they entered into a phase where they were finally defined as "Dvarapalas" in temple architecture.

The earliest creative examples of a decent dvarapala as we know it were carved by Baladeva, a chalukyan sculptor who belonged to a guild or artists who indulged in temple architecture around Aihole Badami and Pattadakkal. These artists did various things, for example, one sculptor was responsible for just the jali windows that adorn closed mandapas in temples. Another sculptor just carved ceiling panels for the great rulers depending on which cult the temple was to be dedicated. Yet another carved only lintels and assisted in planning on how all this was going to be put together and hoisted up to form the final structure - a temple in dravida or nagara style.

Lets take Baladeva. He specialised in dvarapalas, making them lean on the pillar and hold a club during his time. So if he were to dedicate a dvarapala to a shaivite temple he would give the dvarapala the same pose, but add a club to his hand and a third eye to his forehead. During his time, dvarapalas were incidentally human size and normal, soldier like. What happened with his contemporaries in the south was a little different. The pallavas also made them, some fierce, some gentle holding lotuses in their hands and inviting you home, for a cup of tea maybe. They were slender in true Pallava style.

Now came the big imperial guys, the Cholas who wanted to really show they are BIG. Their dwarapalas were giant size, snarled down at you making you feel real small when you entered the Brihadeshwara temple for example, or even larger and fierce when you tried to enter Gangaikondacholapuram temple. The are true giants, massive with fangs towering up and leaning on the walls leading up to already high cielings showing true Chola imperialism in their art. They also had a yali accompanying them at the bottom.

Back again during the late chola early vijayanagara time they became shade smaller, but more ornate, didnt lean on anything but stood kinda cross legged, this time with sharp fangs. Now they were demons for all practical purposes with a "dare not enter" look to their faces. The nayakas had learnt the art of chiseling stone very well and got the dvarapalas their muscles in better shape with more ornate jewellery to suit their rich exterior.

Finally, Marunthiswar Shiva temple at Thiruvanmiyur, brought about a drastic shift in the thought process of the generation of people who learnt temple architecture in their time. The same dvarapala, never shall die, the same pose, the same club, the same fangs but without any sign of the lost Chola imperialism in their form. They cover all of 10 by 10 inches of the gateway that leads into this temple. Crisp sculpture i should say, just so small that you have almost missed the dvarapala in the act of guarding the temple gate.

So much for a dying practise of guarding the diety. The dying of not just the dvarapala himself, but the very idea with which he even took birth in the Indian architects mind. He will always remain there, just ignored, unwanted, and forgotten...


JC Joshi said...

As per Hindu belief, formless or Nirakar Vishnu has Anantnaga/ Sheshanaga to act as His bed, as well as to guard Him while He reclines in the middle of the ‘Kshirsagar’ or the milky ocean, in ‘yoganidra’ or a superconscious state. It is the churning of this milky ocean from time to time that believably results in the apparent innumerable temporary physical forms that go into the making of the ever changing universe - through Yugas or long duration of time that flows like a perennial river.

As microcosm is found to be functioning like the macrocosm, similarly, all other demi-gods or Vishnu’s infinite reflections are depicted as having their own guards too. For example, Shiva-Parvati had the mace (a superior club) wielding son Ganesha, with an elephant head grafted over human body, to protect His parents in the Satayuga. Rama had mace wielding vanar Hanuman (say, a reflection of Ganesha, with ape’s head over human body) for Rama & Sita’s help during the Tretayuga... In Dwaperyuga, Krishna had His brother Haldhar (meaning the one who holds the plow that was generally used by attaching those to bulls in the farms in India, as a reflection of Nandi, the powerful vehicle of Shiva) i.e., Balarama in human form, believably a reflection of Sheshanag to protect Him. Whereas, Arjuna-Draupadi had the mace wielding Pandavas’ brother Bhima for that purpose.

All the club wielding guards for the Devatas (selfless men)/ Demons (selfish people) apparently reflect models of the planet Mars/ Venus, as symbols of physical strength in the Mooladhar (base at tail-bone end)/ Vishuddhi or purification (Throat) respectively. Higher location in throat is provided to Shiva-Parvati’s eldest son Kartikeya, as reflected in the human form also as the essence of the planet Venus that is supposed to be responsible for material prosperity in humans - due to its easy accessibility to Bholanath or easily exploitable Earth, (like Ravana in tretayuga and Kauravas in Dwaperyuga) which is next in the hierarchy to Venus, generally through hoarding by selfish people. Whereas Mars (models Indra, Ganesha, Hanuman, and so on) is believably associated with Moon (Sahasrara) or Vishnu’s Mohini form - the source of Amrit or Nectar - that does not retain any material, and like the selfless Sun ever provides reflected energy for sustenance of life on planets. It has no atmosphere of its own and also reflects the entire light it receives from the Sun.

I would like to ad that as per the reported belief prevalent among the tribals, Andaman islands are parts of the whole mountain that had the ‘sanjeevani booti’ or the medicinal plant that Handuman (as they called Hanuman) had brought to revive Rama’s brother Lakshamana when he was ‘struck by a poisoned arrow’ by Ravan’s son Meghanada, for he couldn’t identify the specific plant due to non availability of time and expertise. He later on threw the mountain in the ocean where they came to be called as Andaman islands over the time - from Handuman! With the aforesaid in mind and also the recent major tectonic movements in this region that might indicate some proposed change in rechurning by Nature, one can now imagine ‘India’ lying in the direction Southeast-Northwest with Andaman at its Mooladhar, and Gomukh, the source of sacred River Ganga, at Sahasrara while the resultant ‘churning of the ocean’ due to the Panchbhoots - sunrays (fire) in the Arabian sea (water)/ Indian subcontinent (earth) that gets reflected in the form of monsoon clouds, which form a currrent in the ‘sky’ due to monsoon winds (‘air’), South-west to North-east of India annually, resulting in the ‘green revolution’ together with droughts/ devastating floods in certain regions, the three aspects of life on earth!

abhilash warrier said...


This is a really well written post. I loved reading it. Now, ancient Indian temples are so much inside your world that you ooze every part of it.


I just loved reading this.

And man, some goddesses really, really need imperial, dare-not-enter dwarapalas! Hmmm.

krishna said...

nice attempt to guard the guarding deities and the creator from being forgotten..liked it

kavitha said...

thanks krishna. hopped by to your blog. interesting one you have got there.

krishna said...

thnks ..

do keep checkin ..

JC Joshi said...

I could not reach ‘Krishna’s blog’ referred by Kavitha, and therefore am not in a position to comment on it.

As a finishing touch to what I had commented earlier, I would add that One could now visualize why in Hindu mythological stories there is reference to ‘Brahma (i.e., a reflection of Sun) sitting on lotus that grows out of Vishnu’s navel’. For, with the orientation of energy centres in ‘India’ as indicated above with Mooladhar in the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, and Sahasrara at the origin of River Ganga, the location of energy centre for planet Jupiter would lie inside water in the bed of the Bay of Bengal. Also, now one can appreciate why the ancients built the Sun Temple at Konark in Orissa, which would be found to lie on this line, together with Kashi (the location of Adi Shiva) or the present day Varanasi and so also Haridwar and many other places in India on the banks of the river considered as holy places.