Vimana in Temple is the structure present over and around the main shrine or garbhagriha, the place where the temple deities are present. It is not just the upper dome like structure over the sanctum but also includes the walls and the base of the Garbagriha.
This structure is constructed using several measurements called mana, so got the name Vimana.
Vimana is a characteristic feature of the south Indian Hindu temples and some parts of Orissa.
A temple complex can have one, two, or more Vimanas depending on the number of deities, and upalayas.
Irrespective of the Agama used in the temple construction, these Vimana occupy an important position in the temple architecture.
Importance of Vimana
As per the Agamas, seeing the Vimana in temple and seeing the face of the deity is considered the same.
Only when a temple structure contains a Vimana and several other elements like Dwajasthambam, and Balipeetam, then only it is considered as a Temple. Otherwise, it is regarded as Mandir.
One must also see and pray to Vimana before they enter into the main shrine as it symbolically represents the face of the god as per the Vastu and Shilpa shastras.
The Shikhara and the Kalasha parts of Vimana hold special importance in several temples. Seeing the Vimana and Shikhara parts gives enormous amounts of Punya and can lead to salvation.
Types and Parts of the Vimana in Temple Architecture
The design of the temple Vimana is related to the human body or the body of divine.
Single storeyed or the Ekatala Vimana
A simple ekatala Vimana or single-storeyed one has six main parts: Adhisthana or basement, pada or pillars, prastara the architrave part, and griva the neck part, Shikhara indicating the head, and the Kalasha.
Ekatala style is the most commonly seen Vimana in temples.
Multi Storeyed ones
The addition of other storyed structures or talas and prastara parts to the Vimanas lead to dwitala, tritala, chatushtala (four talas) and so on up to 16 talas. The number of talas varies from temple to temple and depends on the agamas followed in that temple construction.
In these types of Temple Vimanas, From its base, they contain the parts like Upapeetha, which is the sub-base. Adhisthana, which is a plinth.
Above that plinth are the padas and bhitti, which refer to pillars and walls. These walls include subparts like Kostas, where the kosta devatas are placed.
Above to walls are Prastara, Hara, and Griva parts which indicate the shoulders and neck parts of the structure. On the Griva or the neck part lies the Shikhara. Above that is the Kalasha.
Between the Shikhara and Hara parts lies the parts called Talas. which are nothing but storeyed buildings.
The Vimana in its shikhara part contains four openings called Nasikas. The Nasikas contains the sculptures of the deities. There can also be small Nasikas. The Griva or the neck part may also have idols of the deities in its four directions. They are called Vimana devatas.
On the corners of the griva part, statues of Vahanas like Nandi, Lion, or Garuda may also be installed according to the Agama shastra.
Several types of temple Vimana’s are explained in Devalaya Vastu shastras based on their design like the Parvata Vimana, Kalyana Vimana, Swastika, Chavalasundara, Manohara Vimana, and so on based on differences in measurements and design
The differences in Dravida and Nagara styles of construction
In all the styles of temples, like the Dravida, Nagara, or Vesara, this dome like structure plays the key role.
In Northern India, where the Nagara style of temple construction is predominant, the word Shikhara is used in the place of Vimana to denote the structure present above the sanctum sanctorum.
However, in the South, where the Dravidian architecture is followed Shikhara indicates the top structure present on the Vimana just below the Kalasha. All the structure present on and around the Garbhagriha is considered Vimana.
Shiva and Shakta agamas on Vimana
Both the Shivagamas and Shakta agamas gave a special place to the construction of Vimana in the temple.
Some of the Shaivagamas considered that the prana of the deity lies in five main elements of the temple, the idol of the presiding deity, the Gopura, Vimana, Balipeetam, and Archaka.
Vimanas of the Devi temples contain Devi images and exhibit several other images and features of the Shakta tradition like the symbols of Lion etc.
Vaishnavagamas and the Ashtanga Vimana temple
Vishnavagamas also gave special importance to the design and construction of Vimana in temple architecture. Some Vaishnava temples have a very special Vimana called Ashtanga Vimana that’s peculiar in its structure and shape.
This Ashtanga Vimana temple has three statues seated one above the other inside Vimana in standing, sleeping, and seated positions signifying the upliftment of life to the devotees. Ancient temples like Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu have this type of Vimana.
In the Dravidian style of temples, Brihadeeshwara temple located in Tanjore has the tallest Vimana with a height of 216 feet and 16 storyes, following it is the Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple with 182 feet.
whereas in Nagara style, the Chaturbhuj temple in Orchha has the tallest Vimana measuring 344 feet. following it are New Vishwanath Temple Varanasi, Puri Jagannath Temple, and Lingaraj Temple located in Bhubhaneshwar, Odisha.