Torana, known as vandanams, is an arched or free-standing arched gateway often seen in the traditional Indian, Buddhist and Hindu architecture of India, Thailand, Indonesia and parts of east Asia. The name Torana comes from Sanskrit meaning 'large structure'. This is because it is quite large and is generally made up of multiple levels and is one of the largest temples in the world.
Originally built in India, the ancient temple in Khajuraho (modern day Khajuraho, India), was destroyed by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century and its construction resumed only after King Ashoka's reign. A small portion of this originally large temple was used by a Buddhist monastery to serve as a religious sanctuary. Over time, a community of Hindu monks, known as Bauddhavans, moved in and started renovating and restoring the temple. It became a major center of Hindu religious ceremonies and rituals and in time became a center of pilgrimage as well.
The original structure of the Torana is unique in its Indian architectural style and even the present day structures are still the same in design. This includes the entrance gates. The architecture of the original temple and all the structures that have been added on are the same.
There are two main types of entrances to the Torana: internal and external. The interior gate was designed in such a way that the inner part of the temple was covered with a single roof and there was an opening for the passage of the sacred Ganges. The external entrance has a single flat roof which extends over the entire length of the temple. This is where the 'gurudwara'temple house' is located.
The 'gurudwara' is the place where the 'Bhasma' or the holy water is collected and distributed to the monks and the devotees who perform the worship at the Nandigiri or the holy Ganges. The temple house and the Ganges are considered sacred and are guarded by the monks. The 'gurudwara' is the site where the 'Gurudawara' is kept during the ceremony. The 'Gurudwal' is usually very high and elevated from the ground. The temple is built at the edge of a hill and the entrance is made close to a natural river which provides a good view to the holy Ganges.
The main 'gura' of the Torana has nine sides and is surrounded by four sides of pillars which hold the temple in place. The temple is divided into two halves by a long and a short section of wall.
The Torana is surrounded by many smaller pillars which hold the image of deities. These are known as 'chinaras' and are dedicated to various deities and are the most popular of these.
The most important buildings at the Torana are the 'guggulu' or the temple stores, the 'gopura' or the treasury, the 'panchana' or the granary, the 'sakta' or the shrine, the 'sahasthra' or the fire temple, the 'bala' or the cremation ground and the 'kurumba' or the fire temple hall. These buildings are maintained by monks and they use them in accordance with their requirements. There are a number of shops selling jewelry, perfumes, embroidery, textiles, medicines, books and herbal medicine and a couple of small restaurants and inns.
It is said that at the centre of the temple is the 'Rupam' or the spiritual hearth, which is said to be the place where the soul of Lord Siva or the Lord of the Universe was incarnated. From the hearth there emerges a smoke called 'guggulu' which is believed to be the same smoke that is seen in the temple during the sanctified ceremony.
The Torana is a small shrine but it has all the facilities of a larger shrine. There is a pool, called the 'kapalbhati' which is used for performing 'guggulu'. There is a small garden that was once an ashram for the Lord. But, it has been converted into a gurudwara, the main temple building where most of the rituals and ceremonies take place.
At the back of the building is the 'darpa' or the 'guntur' which is the main gateway to the temple. The gate to the gate is also known as the 'Darpa gate'.
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