The Shilpa text Shiva-prakasha in its chapter titled vastu-bhumi-bedha, describes sixteen (Shodasha) types of temple layouts: the Square (Chandura); Rectangle (Agatra);Trapezium ( with uneven sides – like a cart – shakata); Circle (Vritta); Elliptical (kritta vritta); triangular (dwaja); diamond or rhombus (vajra) ; Arrow (shara);umbrella (chatra) ; fish (meena);back of a tortoise (kurma);conch (shanka); crescent (ardha-chandra); pot (kumbha);sword (khadga); and lotus (kamala).

Cinque Terre

These layouts have specific applications; and are not to be used generally. For instance: the back of a tortoise (kurma), pot (kumbha), conch (shanka) and lotus (kamala) are recommended only for Vishnu and Shiva temples. Similarly the Square (Chandura), Rectangle (Agatra), fish (meena), diamond or rhombus (vajra) and sword (khadga) are recommended for Devi temples. The rest of the lay outs are for other (lesser) deities.

But all texts generally agree that the square or the rectangular shape of layout are the best and most auspicious. Varaha-samhita calls such layouts as Siddha-bhumi, the best of all. In case the layout is rectangular ,the North South dimension should be greater than East-west dimension. It is also said , it would be better if the elevation on the west or the South is slightly higher.

For the limited purpose of this discussion let us stick to the square or rectangular layout, ignoring the rest. Else, I fear, it might get too complicated.

The drawing of the court yard of the Shiva temple at Thiruvālangādu, by the famous artist Silpi.

Having determined the suitability of the land for constructing a temple, and having drawn up the Vastu Mandala of the town and identified the temple location ; the next stage is to draw up a construction plan .This specifies the location, the size and the orientation of the various temples to come up in the proposed complex. This again involves preparation of another Vastu Mandala.

Cinque Terre

Pada Vinyasa

The land considered suitable for the purpose of constructing the temple (vastu bhumi) and placed at the center (Brahma Sthana) of the Vastu mandala of the township must be in the shape of a rectangle or a square. The ratio between the breadth and the length of the area may be 4:8; 4:7; 4:6; or 4:5. (The square would be 4:4). Shapes of sites to be avoided are: circular (vritta), triangular (trikona), rod shaped (dandakriti), bow shaped (dhanur akara) and other irregular shapes. And, in case it becomes necessary to construct a temple on a land of such “un approved” shape, the area meant for the temple should be demarcated and rendered a square or a rectangle in shape.

The 9th-century Temple at Borobudur , Central Java, Indonesia is built upon six square platforms topped by three circular platforms , resembling the Sri Yantra. Even the ancient temple of Sri Vishwanatha of Kashi that was later destroyed by Aurangzeb , during 1669 CE, was in form a square , with the sanctum at the heart of it.