For the first time a temple design proposal was presented in a University in New Zealand. Master of Architecture student, Bobby Banerjee, from Unitec presented his design proposal for a contemporary Hindu Temple in Auckland as a part of his final examination. This was the culmination of 2 years of intense research and design development. About 25 people including Auckland temple committee members, academicians, students and architectural professionals attended this event that lasted about an hour. Bobby presented his proposal from 1 to 1.30 pm followed by a round of question and answer sessions not only from the judges but also from the public at large.

The design explores the traditional Temple Planning principles and interprets them in his contemporary Temple design proposal. It is not a duplication of the traditional architectural forms as is usually done today, but a synthesis of the sacred architectural elements used innovatively in NZ conditions. Kalasamvara Das, the Temple president of ISKCON, who has been an integral part of the temple design and construction at Kumeu, found the presentation quite impressive.

The Temple

A Hindu Temple is designed as per the traditional planning principles with an element of acceptable variation in the overall design. The early Temples in India have been documented by various scholars to understand the translation of these principles with respect to the final design. Over the years there seems to be a deviation from these principles, whereby the focus has been merely to produce an exterior skin with the imagery of a temple. The lack of correct understanding of the validity of these principles have resulted their being watered down or completely lost. However there has not been any notable research of the contemporary Temples in India or abroad to substantiate or deny this point of view.

This research investigated the use of the traditional planning principles for a Hindu Temple, the local variants and its application to a new Temple design in Auckland. The focus was to understand the importance of sacred spaces and compositional elements in the modern context. The purpose of visiting the Temple is to behold the beauty of the deities and worship them. The temple is designed as a sacred space to facilitate communion between the created (human being) and the creator (Supreme Being). The essential elements that facilitate this contact come from the ancient texts that have the directions and the regulations for Temple architecture.

All the existing ones that stand today were built in various styles from the fifth century A.D. The scriptural injunctions were compiled to provide a ritual validation for Temple design intended for all craftsmen. Researchers in the past have analysed the temple in their specific contexts and have explored the sociology of their use. The studies have also explored the evolution of the architectural morphology and its symbolism. It was accepted that the iconic symbolism was very valuable in the way it impacted the emotions of the worshipper.

Traditional Temple worship

The worship patterns, celebration of festivals and the activities performed in the Temple have evolved over the years. Traditionally the entrance was ceremonial and one could see the Shikhara directly in line with the entrance and the roof over the hall signifying a feeling of movement towards the heavens. Upon entering the Temple precinct into a semi enclosed area one had to remove their footwear and wash their feet. After this physical purification, one came to the entrance porch which in turn took one to the hall with openings and decorative features. Usually the Temple was located on a high platform.

This act of climbing towards the supreme along with the hierarchy of spaces gave it its sacredness. This in turn takes one to the transitional threshold between the hall and sanctum and finally into the sanctum itself. The altar was always a dark sanctum large enough to accommodate a family. There were no decorations or fenestrations in this area. The focus was on the Deity. The early Temples did not have electricity and even the later ones had minimal lighting facilities.

They depended on natural light for indoor lighting and all activities concluded before sunset. The enclosed areas were primarily assembly areas for worship and fire sacrifices. All other congregational activities including discourses, cultural programmes, and study classes were conducted in the open or semi enclosed areas within the temple precinct. The shops selling devotional items and offerings were located just outside the Temple near the entrance. It was indeed a landmark and a feeling of pride to reside close to one.

Like any other public architecture, Temple design has always been evolving and adapting itself to the local site conditions, building materials and construction techniques.

The changes in worship pattern and its influence on design

The worship pattern has changed over the years with changes in the lifestyle of the worshippers along with the introduction of electricity and new building materials. Some areas have been added while some traditional areas have been modified of shifted. Some of the outdoor activities have been accommodated indoors. With a comparatively busier life than before, people visit Temples either early morning, late evenings or during weekends. The pre-sunset activities conducted in the Temple earlier are now conducted in the evening to ensure people can participate in it after coming back from work.

The Sanctum that was meant for personal worship earlier has now become part of a big hall where every assembled devotee can worship the Lord simultaneously. As a result the dark small sanctum is now a part of a big hall with bright lights and a display of artwork or ornamental elements. The traditional hierarchy of space design has been maintained in most temples; however the spaces in themselves have undergone transformations. However it seems that this has not been documented in any form. Bobby has identified these changes and re interpreted them in his design proposal.
Bobby in his presentation remarked “This study helped me assimilate the essential characteristics of a Temple and its importance in imparting the feeling of sacredness in the mind of the worshipper. It helped me analyse the hierarchy of sacred space in the plan and its inter-dependence of the use of the traditional planning grid. Keeping these research parameters in mind helped me use their vocabulary and evolve my own language to express the inherent qualities of the Temple in contemporary context in New Zealand.”

The Final Design of the temple is the formal sanctum and the worship area along a strict axis at an elevated level. 2 huge skylights are inserted in the roof to accentuate this visual movement and enable the worshipper to be visually connected to the Shikhara even after entering the hall until one reaches the sanctum.The marriage of a New Zealand vernacular and the formal Hindu Temple becomes a strong design statement and a landmark in its own way. Grant Watson, one of the committee members of ADNZ (Architectural Designers New Zealand), enjoyed the presentation and remarked “It was fantastic. This must be presented to the Architectural designers”

Bobby Banerjee is the director of Tarzan Design, a company that offers specialised architectural services for renovations, new homes and commercial refurbishments. He has just completed his two year Master of Architecture degree from Unitec. He can be contacted on (09) 8360576 or email Bobby.

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