The Seven Layers of Temple (Devalaya)

Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

A myriad of sights, sounds, and smells that awaken our senses and a world of spirituality and devotion! This is what we get when we enter sacred temples (Devalayas). But have you ever wondered about the intricate design and symbolism behind the various layers that make up a temple?

Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

Seven Layers of the Temple

Actually, the seven layers of the temple are linked to the seven chakras. These chakras, or energy centers, are believed to be located along the spine and are associated with different physical, emotional, and spiritual qualities.

Level 1: Entrance and Vyaghramukh

Pancha-tattva – Pruthvi (Earth)
Deha – Sthuldeha

The first layer of a temple is the entrance, which is often adorned with intricate carvings and sculptures. This is known as the Vyaghramukh, which translates to “the face of a lion.” The lion is a symbol of courage and strength, and it represents the divine power that resides within us all. As we pass through this gateway, we leave behind the material world and enter the divine realm.

Level 2: Compound and Tulsi-vrundavan

Aihole and Pattadakal Temples –  Bagalkot, Karnataka

Pancha-tattva – Pruthvi (Earth) and Apa (Water)
Deha – Pranadeha
Kosh – Pranamaykosh

The second layer of a temple is the compound, which is surrounded by walls or gates. This area is often filled with lush greenery, including a sacred tulsi plant (also known as holy basil). Tulsi is considered to be a sacred plant in Hinduism, as it is believed to have medicinal properties and is associated with the goddess Lakshmi. The compound also houses various smaller shrines or temples dedicated to different deities.

Level 3: Water reservoir and arrays of lamps

Pancha-tattva – Apa (Water) and Tej (Fire)
Kosh – Manonaykosh

The third layer of a temple is the water reservoir or kund, which is filled with holy water or amrita. This water is believed to have purifying properties and is used for various rituals and ceremonies. The kund is often surrounded by an array of lamps or diyas, which are lit to symbolize the presence of divine light within us all. This layer also represents the element of water (apa), which is associated with purification and regeneration.

Level 4: Kshetrapal Devata and the Mahadwar

Pancha-tattva – Tej (Fire)
Deha -Pranmaykosh
Kosh – Manomaykosh

The fourth layer of a temple is the raised square or mandapam, which serves as a transition point between the outer compound and the inner sanctum. This area is dedicated to Kshetrapal Devata, who is believed to be the protector of the temple. The Mahadwar (or main entrance) leads into this area, which represents the element of fire (tej) and serves as a purification ritual for both the devotee and the deity within.

Level 5: Pathway for Pradakshina (Step) and Sabhamandap (Terrace)

Shri Venkateswara Balaji

Pancha-tattva – Vayu (air)
Deha – Sukshmadeha

The fifth layer of a temple is the pathway for pradakshina (circumambulation), which allows devotees to walk around the inner sanctum in a clockwise direction. This pathway is often lined with steps or gopurams (towers), which represent the element of air (vayu) and remind us to breathe deeply and meditate on our spiritual journey. The sabhamandap (or assembly hall) contains a mirror, bell, and terrace, which are used for various rituals and ceremonies.

Level 6: Garbhagar, Yadnyakund and the Idol of Suryanarayan

Pancha-tattva – Vayu (air) and Akash (Ether)
Deha – Sukshmadeha and Prandeha

The sixth layer of a temple is the Garbhagar (or womb chamber), which houses the main idol or murti. This area represents both vayu (air) and akash (space), as it contains both physical form (pranamay-kosh) and spiritual essence (prandeha). The Yadnyakund (or sacrificial pit) represents the element of fire (tej) and serves as a reminder to offer our sacrifices to attain spiritual growth. The idol itself represents Suryanarayan (the sun god), who symbolizes knowledge, enlightenment, and self-realization.

Level 7: Garbhagruh, Nandadeep, Devalay, Go-mukh, Kalash, and the Flag

Pancha-tattva – Akash (Earth)
Deha – Sthuldeha and Sukshmadeha

The seventh layer of a temple is the Garbhagruh (or inner sanctum), which contains smaller shrines or temples dedicated to various deities. The Nandadeep (or sacred lamp) represents akash (space) and serves as a reminder to let our inner light shine forth. The small Devalay represents go-mukh (cow’s mouth), symbolizing nourishment and abundance. The kalash (or water pot) and the flag on top represents akash (space) that connects us to both heavenly realms and earthly realities.

Each layer of a temple serves as a reminder to connect us with different aspects of our spiritual journey. From courageous beginnings to enlightened endings, these layers represent different elements that help us purify our bodies, minds, and souls. As we move through these layers with reverence and devotion, we are reminded that we are all part of something greater than ourselves.