Almost all the temples constructed in India during the golden period of construction are out of stone. Stone was normally procured from nearby stone quarries
-Dr Ujwala Chakradeo
It is astonishing to note the variety and the types of stones available in India. The temple of Brihadeshwara at Tanjore is made up of granite stone, and its Shikhar is said to be the highest Shikhar in India. This temple is also called ‘Meru’ after mount Meru. The temple was constructed from 1003 to 1010 A.D. for many years, and this temple was probably the tallest man-made building in the world. How was the construction of this 317’ feet high building (as high as 18 storied building) carried out with limited resources is a matter of research.
Sun temple of Konark is constructed out of Khondalite stone, which is sandstone procured from mount Khandagiri. The construction technique is dry masonry; mortar is not used in the construction. Stone blocks are just placed on top of one another. They remain in place only because of self-weight. However, metal clamps are used someplace to hold them in position. Khandagiri mountain was slightly away from the construction location. It is difficult to comprehend how these huge blocks of stone were brought to the site.
On the Shikhar of this temple at the height of 170 feet, a monolithic sculpture of a lion is placed. The stone out of which this lion is carved out is 45 tons in weight, and the cupola of Shikhar weighs 2000 tons. The height of the temple is 230 feet. One wonders how these stones could have been elevated to that height without the availability of mechanical means of today.
Kopeshwar mandir near Sangli in Maharashtra is made out of locally available black basalt. Basalt is supposed to be a hard stone for carving. However, the detailing and complexity of construction technology used are amazing.
These are just a few mentions out of numerous examples of temples in different types and colours of stone constructed all over India. Each temple is a potential field of research. The possibility of exploring hidden construction principles and new construction technology cannot be denied.
(The columnist is Principal of SMM College of Architecture, Nagpur and specialises in Bharatiya Architectural Heritage)