Teli ka Mandir

7th Century Temple

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Teli ka Mandir, also known as Telika Temple, is a Hindu temple located within the Gwalior Fort in Madhya Pradesh, India. Dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Matrikas, it has been variously dated between the early 8th and early 9th century CE.

It is the oldest part of the fort and has a blend of south and north Indian architectural styles. Within the rectangular structure is a shrine with no pillared pavilions (mandapa) and a South Indian barrel-vaulted roof on top. It has a masonry tower in the North Indian Nagari architectural style with a barrel vaulted roof 25 metres (82 ft) in height. The niches in the outer walls once housed statues but now have chandrashalas (horseshoe arches) ventilator openings in the north Indian style. The chandrashala has been compared to the trefoil, a honeycomb design with a series of receding pointed arches within an arch. The entrance door has a torana or archway with sculpted images of river goddesses, romantic couples, foliation decoration and a Garuda. The vertical bands on either side of the door are decorated in a simple fashion with figures that are now badly damaged. Above the door are a small grouping of discs representing the finial (damalaka) of a Shikhara. The temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu, destroyed during a Muslim invasion, restored into a Shiva temple by installing a linga while keeping the Vaishnava motifs such as the Garuda . It was refurbished between 1881 and 1883.

It is an unusual Hindu temple, as it has a rectangular sanctum instead of the typical square. It integrates the architectural elements of the Nagara style and the Valabhi prasada that looks like the Dravidian wagon-vault topped gopuram superstructure. The temple is based on a Pratihara-Gopagiri style North Indian architecture.

The temple is a classic example of a design based on “musical harmonics” in architecture, one that Hermann Goetz called as a masterpiece of late Gupta era Indian art.

The Teli ka mandir is unusual in many ways, and its complex design has led to many contesting proposals for what influenced it or which temples it influenced. Proposals range from it being influenced by Buddhist architecture, or by South Indian temples, or it being an independent masterpiece innovation of the late Gupta era Hindu artists.

The temple sanctum plan seems rectangular rather than the typical square, one that makes it the oldest surviving Hindu temple with a rectangular plan in Central India. According to Michael Meister, a professor specializing on Indian temple architecture, the temple is actually a study in squares nevertheless because its rectangles are formed by combining squares. The extensive damage and dislocation of its ruins before the 20th-century has led to misidentification and misclassification of the temple. According to Meister, and Hermann Goetz, the temple was broadly assumed in the colonial era to have been a Vishnu temple that was later converted into Shiva temple, the temple may have actually started as a temple dedicated to the Matrikas (mother goddesses), but one that included the motifs of Vaishnanism and Shaivism. The evidence for these are now in the ruins held by the Gwalior Museum and Delhi National Museum. Similarly, the assumed “southern influence” is likely an incorrect hypothesis as well, proposed by those who saw something similar in the South Indian majestic gopuram or the vaulted roofs at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. However, the influence could have been the other way around or possibly the result of collaboration between pan-Indian artist guilds. Post-colonial era studies have identified similar ruined barrel-vault capped historic temples in many places in north and east India, including those in Odisha. Closer study of the keel vault details suggest that the ideas are markedly different expressions of an idea, rather than a copy.

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