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Chandragupt Temple

Shuchi Mathur

The modestly sized Chandragupt temple mimics closely the Kashi Vishwanath temple in plan and form. While the temple suffers from a lack of sculptural garniture, its elegant proportions more than make up for it and add to the delicate charm of the building. It is also known as Manokameshwar Mahadev temple as all prayers of the devout are answered here.


Shri Chandragupt Mahadev temple is one of the 3300 shrines that grace the sanctified land of Kashi. Archaeological evidence in the form of architectural remains, statuary and coinage from the Gupta dynasty indicate that the ancient city was part of the flourishing Gupta empire. Local lore has it that the foundation of this temple was originally laid by King Chandragupta himself, marking it as a shrine of antiquity and appreciable historicity. The temple is also known as Manokameshwar Mahadev temple as all prayers of the devout are answered here.


No. 28 on map


The modestly sized temple is designed in the North Indian Nagara system of temple architecture characterized by a gently tapering curvilinear spire, the latina shikhara. It mimics closely the Kashi Vishwanath temple as reflected in the twin sanctums with tall shikharas that flank a single, pillared hall, the mandapa. While the temple suffers from a lack of sculptural garniture, its elegant proportions more than make up for it and add to the delicate charm of the building.

Elevation of Chandragupt Temple showing the mandapa and twin sanctums with curvilinear spires

Mandapa - Elevation

The entrance is through the mandapa, a mukhachatushki (as it is fronted by four pillars), open on two sides. The mishraka pillars emerge from square bases with their shafts divided into four sections. The lowest part of the shaft is a chamfered square. Each face has a diamond motif carved in relief, which encloses a fleuron radiating with leaves. The top of the diamond terminates in a flower and leaf motif. The chamfered edges are decorated with bead and reel pattern running along the length. The next part of the shaft is octagonal with a plain surface and thereafter sixteen-sided. The sixteen-sided section is referred to by James Prinsep, as the solahwan, in his essay ‘Elevation of a Hindoo Temple’ and it is crowned by a scalloped edging called the jhalar. The topmost section is again octagonal with ghantamalas (bells suspended on chains) separating each facet. The top of the shaft is festooned with patrabandhas. The shaft supports a cushion capital (amalaka), octagonal bands and a kalasha with overflowing leaves. The corbelled brackets are of the pushpapottika kind with lotus bud pendants. The prastara or entabulature is plain and has no decorative ornament although it is finished with a band of highly stylized patravalli. An overhanging eave-cornice (chhadya or chhajja) runs along the roof.

The mandapa is covered by an unusual conical dome. The dome is an octagonal pyramid rising from a moulded octagonal base. The surface is bereft of ornament but for two bands of sculpted striae in low relief that girdle it. It is crowned with a ribbed amalaka or disc-stone, an inverted padma (lotus) and topped with a kalasha finial.

Pillared mandapa with pyramidal roof

Garbhagriha - Elevation

The mandapa is flanked by twin garbhagrihas (sanctums). The whole edifice rests on a short adhisthana (plinth) with a projecting padmabandha moulding. The janghas (walls) of the two shrines are enlivened with a series of projections and recesses which divide the wall vertically. The projections are five in number and therefore mark the structure as a pancharatha type. The central broad offset is called the bhadra, on either side of which are pratibhadra offsets. At the corners are karna offsets. Each ratha in Chandragupt temple is further divided into five minor projections. Adding to the dynamic character of the temple walls, are a succession of horizontal fillet mouldings called panch sthula (called so due to the arrangement of typically five courses). They divide the temple walls into two unequal parts. The central and upper most bands are prominent while those on the base of the wall are pared down considerably. Apart from mouldings, the walls are plain and lack sculptural carvings. Even the bhadra offsets are not marked with characteristic niches or devakoshthas.

The projections on the jangha are carried to continuity in the spires which are also pancharatha. Interestingly, the rathika (the centrally projected framed niche on the base of the spire) has an oriel or jharokha window in place of the sukanasi. The design of the jharokha is particularly compelling as it reflects the aesthetics of Shahjahani period of Mughal architecture. The arched window is framed with engaged Shahjahani baluster columns and the corbel supporting it, is composed of undulating acanthus leaves. These motifs suggest that they were possibly later additions as stylized vegetal motifs of a European Classical style were seen in Mughal period during the reign of Shah Jahan. Despite its distinct Mughal flavour, the jharokha appears in harmony with the whole edifice.

Over the garbhagrihas, rise latina shikharas of the shekhari kind. The shekhari shikhara is a further development of the basic latina. The main tower or mulashringa or mulamanjari is multiplied in diminishing sizes and projected outwards, giving a sense of movement to the whole structure. Half spires called urahshringas mushroom around it. At the corners are the quarter spires, the karnasringas. Each miniature spire is also capped with a ribbed disc-stone (amalaka), a kalasha (pot-finial) and a bijapuraka (literally translated as citron fruit). The tapering shikhara is truncated at the top by the skandha (or shoulder) above which is the griva, the neck. It is surmounted by a ribbed stone in the shape of the amalaka fruit with a downturned padma. It is further crowned by a succession of amalasarakas and kalashas. The crowning element is the ayudha, the weapon or the mark of cognizance of the main deity, which is the trishul (trident) in Chandragupt temple.

The cluster of peaks symbolize stages in the journey of the soul towards the Godhead and the many obstacles which lie on the path. The entire superstructure is redolent of the sacral peaks of Mount Meru. The shekhari style offers a rhythmic harmony to the temple structure while adding to its verticality.

Shekhari shikharas with urahshringas

Jharokha with corbels on rathika


The floor plan of the temple is of the dvikuta type, with two spires over twin sanctums which share a common mandapa. Each sanctum is based on a tri-anga (with three planes of offsets) plan. Such a plan is also referred to as pancharatha, as there are a total of five offsets in three planes.

Chandragupt Temple with twin sanctums flanking a single pillared mandapa

Mandapa - plan

The outwardly square mandapa encloses an open, pillared hall with a domical ceiling. The dome has a padmashila or lotus pendant at the center of the ceiling. The pillars are identical with those at the front with corbelled pushpapottika brackets. The entablature is plain. The sanctums are on the east and the west of the hall, approached by means of a short vestibule or antarala. Outside each garbhagriha, sits Nandi, the vahana of Shiva, facing the sanctum opposite. The bulls are delicately carved with ornaments and elaborate caparisons carved in low relief. Remnants of polychrome paint are still visible.

A moon-shaped stepping stone, the chandrasila is placed in front of an udumbara or threshold to the sanctum. The threshold has a semicircular projection on the front on which a kirtimukha is carved. The door is framed by stambhasakhas (door jambs in the form of engaged pillars) which are similar in design to the pillars of the mandapa except that here the capital comprises a purnaghata, the auspicious vase-of-plenty with overflowing leaves. The lower part of the column houses dvarapalas in a niche. Here the Guardian deity is in the form of Bhairava, identified by the presence of a heeling dog. A band of floral scroll emerges from the stambhashakhas to frame the lintel or lalata which is square in shape, larger than usual and pronounced. An image of Ganesha serves as the lalatabimba (the tutelary image on the door lintel) and is placed within a miniature temple shrine. An elaborate torana archs over it. Two large rosettes adorn the top corners while two sun motifs occupy the bottom corners. Flanking a chaturbhuja Ganesha (four-armed Ganesha) are two attendant figures bearing chauris (fly-whisks). The second sanctum has an identical dvarshakha except that the floral scroll is replaced with a geometric floral band.

Open pillared mandapa, Chandragupt Temple


Like the mandapa, the garbhagrihas of Chandragupt Mahadev Temple are of an unusual design. The sanctum is square with a dome over it. The drum of the dome is octagonal and contains four arched clerestory windows. Interestingly most Banaras temples have several deities gracing the sanctum; the principal deity is the focus of devotion and is typically placed at the centre with images of other deities placed in niches along the walls. Mahadev is the Great Lord of Kashi, but the city is also special to other gods of the Hindu pantheon. Kashi Khanda narrates how Banaras came to be the abode of Brahma, Vishnu and of the Chaunsath (Sixty-four) yoginis, dwadasha Adityas (twelve Suns), Chhappan Vinayakas (fifty-six Ganeshas), sixty-four Bhairavas and many others. And so, it is only fitting that every temple in Varanasi honors these gods by enshrining their images in their sanctums.

At Chandragupt temple, the sanctum houses a Shiva linga, the nirguna or unmanifest form of Shiva. The linga is set on a pitha (pedestal). The pitha here is composed of circular slabs of stones arranged in tiers with carefully moulded edges. The walls of the sanctum contain niches that house images of parivara-devatas carved on steles. The niches have bangla roofs and are capped with three pot finials. Acanthus leaf brackets support them.

Images of Ganesha, Surya, Vishnu and Lakshmi and Devi are placed in niches in the walls of the sanctum.

Shiva linga in sanctum

Domed ceiling of garbhagriha with clerestory windows

Domed ceiling of garbhagriha with clerestory windows

Chandragupt Temple - Image Galley 


Vishnu and Lakshmi



Domical ceiling of mandapa

Doorway to sanctum

Nandi, vahana of Shiva

Antarala and lalatabimba with Ganesha image

Corbeled brackets of pillars (mandapa)

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