Entrance is not merely an element of any building but a progressive succession through spaces. It is basically an experience rather than a mere element of function. Indian culture has responded to this progressive movement in highly spiritual and creative way that constitutes a language of cultural distinction.

Ancient text on Vastushastra 1 not only suggests the proportions for doors but gives guidelines for its decoration. A plain door was considered as inauspicious and hence came the decorations. This tradition of decorations continued through concepts but changed its form.

Indian building elements have a specific vocabulary pertaining to the prevailing rituals, social concerns, philosophy of life and they are symbolic interpretations of cosmic or metaphysical world. These elements can been categorized as

  • Auspicious representations
  • Nature representations
  • Negative energy barriers

This paper aims at revealing the hidden stories behind use of three major parameters of door imagery viz, the permanent elements, the changing elements and the rituals pertaining to specific occasions on the three major elements of door: the lintel, the jambs and the threshold. It’s an attempt to create an information base for association with Hindu philosophy as represented in symbols and rituals through study of Entrances in Maharashtra, India.

The material and spiritual aspects of culture are represented in the artistic and religious manifestations. The regional geography, flora and fauna, ways of life, aspirations of people, socio-economic setup have their impact on the culture of different areas. (Sharma, 1990: 23)

This is reflected in art also; art is visual expression of culture in tangible and intangible forms. Indian culture has always respected nature and considered it as the supreme. Aryans 2worshipped the five basic elements of cosmos (earth, water, fire, air, sky) as Gods.

Awesome power of these elements gave rise to fear and worship. Ideas of supernatural forces and the divine that can be benevolent when pleased and malevolent when provoked became deep rooted in the psyche of man (Khare 2009: 15)

This Entrance is not merely an element of any building but rather an approach through successive progression of the environment. If we take a broad overview of Indian temple architecture, duringGupta period, (350 AD to 450 AD), even on the plainest temples, the sculptor focused particularly on the gateways to accentuate its symbolic and iconographic content. Later temples were evolved into temple cities during 13th Century. Magnificent Gopurams 3 were erected at cardinal points diminishing in heights as you move inside along horizontal axis. These Gopurams reveal a subsystem of portals. It can be associated with the most evolved system of ‘satyam, shivam, and sundaram’, the concept of the Trinity. The progressive succession through the outer domain of the Satyam i.e., the reality, to the Shivam i.e. purity leads to the inner sanctum of sundaram i.e, the divinity. The reality (Satyam– the outer world) is to be left behind at the outer domain. The cleanliness is next to godliness and hence the purity should be achieved before you meet the god. The washing of feet outside the inner domain, symbolizes the cleansing of mind. And ultimately the essence of beauty is divinity. Once you reach the innermost sanctum i.e. the purest of the pure, everything is considered most beautiful and divine. It is the movement from the materialistic to spiritual world. The entire architectural design is so conceptualized that it acts as a narrative for the observer. This narration is further strengthened with help of extensive sculptures, symbols and motifs, the entrance being the most decorated feature of the precinct. The sense of the place is enriched with the help of the sound of ringing bells and the aroma of the auspicious elements, medicinal herbs used as offerings. This concept holds true for palaces as well as residences. The inside of the house is considered the most pure sanctum, reached by crossing the open court (aangan), covered or uncovered verandah (osari) and the door (dwara). Transitions similar to the temple are achieved here, too. The elements of door decorations of the residences are mostly static. They suddenly transform as an active participants in specific rituals performed at door on various occasions and ceremonies in a very dramatic way.

Entrances to different types of building vary in sizes, proportions and style; they demonstrate the taste on its patron along with socio-economic condition. Main entrance to palace or fort was also huge in size than the others and was located at strategic point. Entry of military animals such as elephants, horses, camels governed its size. The decoration was not just symbolic but defensive too. Entrances to residences were comparatively simpler but bear specific elements of decoration as per vastushastra (the ancient Indian text of building).

Shilpashastra (Ancient texts on Vastushastra) has exhaustively dealt with doors. Rules for orientation, proportion, decoration, etc. are clearly mentioned in all authorative ancient texts such as puranas, samhitas, etc. Decoration of doors as per vastushastra is an age-old tradition in India. This tradition is still maintained in various parts of India. A plain door is considered as inauspicious and therefore manifold objects for decoration are prescribed in the texts.

Many auspicious symbols, negative energy markers are housed on one of these parts of a door. Most of the symbols used here are common for different types of entrances as their root lies in religious philosophy.

Symbol is expression of abstract ideas and human aspirations. They served the purpose of decoration and space filling (Sharma 1990.)They depicts deities, myths and forms from nature in abstract form where as some symbols are region specific. Fear gave rise to negative energy barriers where as worship to auspicious.

They can be categorized as

Cosmic manifestations: The panchmahabhutas 4, stars and planets are considered as Gods. They are represented in various symbolic forms, eg. The Sun, the Moon and Yantras.

Auspicious symbols: Few symbols like Ganesha, Purnakalasha, Swastik and Aum are considered auspicious and found their mention in vedic text. They are used for sanctification, wealth and prosperity.

Myths- Myths are indispensible to religion and life of people and without them art and literature would hardly able to stand (Agarwal n.d.). Some symbols such as horse shoe, coins, etc form part of decoration because of myths about them.

There is a very thin line of separation and overlaps in these three categories. The root belief is representation of these symbols or elements of decoration radiates rays that bless us.

Symbolism has eternal value transcending mythology and art aesthetics.

  • Cosmic manifestations: Symbols of Sun, Moon, Earth and Water are represented in abstract form on main door panel. Water is represented in the form of Kalasha (water pot). Sun is source of life and is worshipped as God so the moon; numbers of rituals are performed in Indian religion to please The Sun God. Both Sun and Moon are used on doorway as cosmic manifestation. Sun is related with Agni (Fire) and Moon with Shom. So Sun gives heat, warmth and light; changes state of matter by heating so considered powerful. Moon is for coolness and mildness of light; changes state of matter by cooling. Balance of these opposing forces is achieved by placing both of them side by side.
  • Auspicious symbols: Samarangana Sutradhara treaty on Vastushastra prescribes following designs as auspicious for decoration of doors. (Shukla, 1993, 18)
  • 1. Kuladevata 5
  • 2. Two Pratiharies-The sentinels, well decorated in variegated and ornaments, bearing staff, swords in their hands, clothed and glowing with beauty, along with lady pratiharinisare placed on both sides of the door.
  • 3. A dwarfishnurse-Dhatri.
  • 4. Shankha and Padmanidhi– emitting coins.
  • 5. The Astamangala-eight auspicious symbols.
  • 6. Lakshmi– Goddess of wealth
  • 7. Cow and calf- Cow is sacred to Hindus and ranked as Gods. It denotes animal wealth.

Motifs of serpents, giants, owl, fight between gods and demons, trees devoid of flowers should not be placed on the main door. It is believed that designs like Rangoli, Om and Swastika stop entry of evil spirit and negative energies in the house and generate positive energies.

Association requires preconditioning and familiarity with the context or the acquired information base (Pandya, 2005: 9)

Indian building elements have a specific vocabulary pertaining to the prevailing rituals, social concerns, and philosophy of life. These elements constitute a language that helps in classifying the culture distinctly.

Entrance consists of a door opening with ancillary elements on sides. Door opening have a double leaf shutter with two vertical members of frame as jambs (shakhas), lintel (Udumbera) and a threshold (umbartha), the lower horizontal member of frame. (Shukla n.d.) These three members of door along with their surrounding elements have been discussed here.

UMBARTHA (The Threshold)

Myths and beliefs

There is a belief that Umbartha absorbs all the negative energies coming from hell (Patala) and reflects back. Hence it is the essential part of the door. Logically, in the ancient times, it made sense to provide threshold to complete the rectangle of the door frame to maintain the plumb. Also it acted as the obstruction for the reptiles.

It is also a belief that sitting on the threshold brings misfortune. This may be associated with the story of Narsimha from dashavatar 6 when lord Vishnu appeared in the form of Narsimha 7 and killed the demon on his lap sitting on the threshold. Hence there is a fear factor associated with it. While going out for work if one trembles over the threshold then it is considered inauspicious. (Joshi, 1962, 46). The horse shoe (Nal) embedded in threshold is believed to stop entry of negative energies in the house. There are also myths associated with the demon (Kirtimukha) 8face placed on the face of the threshold of a temple.

Social

Threshold marks a separation between private and public domain. The threshold helps in defining the territories and notionally denotes the level of accessibility for the outsiders. It also denotes a restricted entry for people of certain caste. The transition between the outside and inside through the sequence of aangan (open court), osari (outside verandah), actual door frame and shutter is indicative of certain levels of privacy and security. Once a person crosses over this threshold, it is expected that the customs of the house be respected and followed religiously.

In rural areas, when the person in the house is not yet arrived home after work/travel, there is a custom of putting an inverted vessel on the threshold till he arrives. This must be an indicator to the others in the house not to close the door as someone is yet to come (the families used to be really very large, up to 40 to 60 people per family)

Symbols and motifs

Tulsivrindavan – a holy basil plant on a raised platform is placed near the entrance signifying the environmental association. The respect for the plant kingdom is expressed by placing Tulsi right at the entrance. This plant is considered as sacred and has number of mythological stories associating with Lord Vishnu and Krishna. This plant was originated in a fight between Gods and demons during Samudramanthana 9. Tulsi is beloved to Vishnu, and their marriage ceremony is celebrated after Diwali. This herb is used in Ayurveda 10 as medicine in many respiratory diseases.

Rangoli is art of decoration that uses floral and geometric patterns. These patterns are the based on the concepts of fractal geometry. The repetition of these fractals in a systematic way gives rise to the yantra concept in Indian philosophy. These yantras are again associated with different deities, and are believed to bring fortune when worshiped on the specific day. It is drawn at the entrance with the help of powder of special type of stone. Many other materials such as rice powder; Geru, etc. are also used depending on availability in the region. The designs are of diverse nature due to regional influences and geographical diversity. The patterns used are closely associated with specific deities to be worshipped. So it is not just form of decoration but expression of Hindu culture and tradition. It is again symbol of prosperity, sanctity and well-being. Few of the symbols used in Rangoli are swastika, lotus, pugmarks of cow, shell, Tulsi vrindavan, shrifal( coconut), fishes, koyari, Tortoise, etc. Each of them has their own significance on certain occasions. Chaitrangan is a famous pattern drawn that consist all these symbols along with Sun, Moon and deities in abstract form. (Llimaye n.d.)

The Astamangala, the eight auspicious symbols, are associated with the lord Vishnu. They areshankha (counchshell), chakra (wheel), gada (mace), padma (lotus), matsya (fish), dhwaja (flag),chamar, chhatra (umbrella). They are usually represented on the threshold with the help ofrangoli patterns.

Shankha is an ordinary counchshell associated with god Vishnu. (Shukla, 1993, 12) It was used to be blown on the battlefield, to inspire the soldiers and it strikes a terror into the hearts of enemies. It represents the sound energy.

The Coins, a symbol of wealth (goddess Lakshmi) are usually found on the threshold. Feet ofLakshmi rendered with the rangoli also express the wealth and prosperity. They are always drawn facing inside the room.

Aum: many times the letter ‘Aum’ is fond on the threshold along with the letter ‘shree’. The syllable Aum is composed of the three sounds a-u-m (in Sanskrit, the vowels a, u combine to become o). Om mystically embodies the essence of the entire universe. This meaning is further deepened by the Indian philosophical belief that God first created sound and the universe arose from it.

Swastika: The swastika is an ancient symbol that is sacred. It literally means well being. Sanskritword svasti [sv = well; asti = is (exists)], seeking good fortune and luck. This figure has two lines crossing each other as a plus sign with clockwise arms at the end of each arm. The right-hand swastika is one of the 108 symbols of the god Vishnu as well as a symbol of the sun and of the sun god- Surya. The symbol imitates in the rotation of its arms the course taken daily by the sun, which appears in the Northern Hemisphere to pass from east, then south, to west. The auspicious symbol of the swastika is very commonly used in Indian art, architecture and decoration. It can be seen on temples, houses, doorways, etc. It is usually a major part of the decoration for festivals and special ceremonies like weddings, prayers (puja) and in rangoli.

Cow is sacred to Indians and ranked as Gods. Its pugmarks are rendered on the threshold facing inside the house. It denotes animal wealth. It is considered pious as we get the milk, also the cow dung (used to render the flooring) which has disinfecting values. In Indian culture the definition of wealth and prosperity corresponds to the possession of animal wealth, agricultural wealth.

Rituals:

Umbartha plays a very significant role in number of rituals associated with entrance. Ritual of first entry of bride to house is performed at Umbartha. When the newly wed couple enters the house for the first time, the bride crosses the threshold by tilting the pot full of rice and enters the house by spilling the rice. This ritual is symbolic of the expected relationship of the bride and the mother in law. Earlier the marriages used to be carried out at a very young age. The spilling of rice from the pot denoted the mistakes made by the young bride which were to be overlooked and corrected by the mother in law, bestowing love and care upon her. Similarly there are certain rituals to be performed at the threshold at the time of entry to a new house, entry of lordganesha’s idol during the ganesha festival, entry of the newly born baby in the house. Duringdiwali, the entrances are decorated with huge rangoli patterns and the oil lamps. Even today these rituals are carried out.

At certain places there is a tradition of worshipping the threshold every morning and evening by lighting the earthen lamp, the agarbatti, offering flowers and drawing rangoli.

SHAKHA (The Jambs)

Myths and beliefs

It is believed that more the number of bhadra (mouldings), superior is the doorway. The distinct numbers of mouldings can be clearly seen in the rich and poor peoples’ doorways.

Social

On both the sides of door opening are niches in the wall to keep lights known as Deoli. Entrance is usually flanked by stone platform for seating. Owner’s socio-economic condition and artistic taste is demonstrated by detailing of the door jambs- shakha. Impressions of palms, swastikas are the manifestations of the celebrations such as weddings, house warming, etc.

Symbols and motifs

Dwarapala, the guardians of the entrance (armed/unarmed), are one of the major elements of theshakhas. In vidyarnavtantra, these deities are mentioned as follows: padma, bharati, durga, dwarshree, kalpak, kam. Most of the temples have dwarapalas in front of the door.

They can be also denoted by the two Pratiharies– The sentinels, well decorated in variegated and ornaments, bearing staff, swords in their hands, clothed and glowing with beauty, along with lady pratiharinis are placed on both sides of the door.

Cow and calf- Again denote wealth and prosperity are carved on the shakha. This is also expresses emotions like love, affection and care.

The other symbols which are used here are Lotus, Aum and Swastika explained already.

Sun and moon-

Vishnukarmavastushastra (Chapter 15, 16) speaks of appropriateness of association of various deities with various structures. Eg. Laxmidwara for prosperity, vishwakarmadwara for longlife,kuberadwara for richness, varuna dwara for health and auspiciousness, indradwara for memory and intelligence, the trinity for worship, the suryadwara for good progeny, Chandra (moon)for health and strength.

If we study the dwara and the shakha decorations, it is seen that prime importance is given to water followed by earth (the 5 elements of cosmos). The set of lines representing waves and depiction of aquatic creatures like the fish, tortoise, crocodile, makara, serpents, river goddesses,yakhshas are denotative of water elements. The river goddesses are usually on the templeshakhas. It is assumed that their purifying waters would cleanse the entrants to the sanctum.

Human figurine form as mother earth or dhatri are indicative of the ‘earth’. Earth is also represented by the wealth it offered, ie, the gems, precious stones, etc. there are further divisions of shakhas based on the elements of composition. If the decorations are completely in the form of palmette, lotus petal borders, then it represents the plant kingdom and is known as patrashakha.Ratnashakha is decorated with precious and semiprecious gems. It can also be symbolized through geometrical patterns of circles, ovals, and beads. Khalvashakha is a fine combination of plant and animal kingdom. It is also depicted through the use of geometrical designs of closely spaced diamond shapes or the scales of the fish or serpent or similar to the surface of pineapple.Vyala represents the diversity of animal kingdom. Vyala is an imaginary hybrid animal form having lion like motif. Roopshakha is expressive of the human emotions like desires, pleasures, grief, solitude, joy and happiness. Dancing postures and gestures carved on the shakhas portray these emotions. (Khare, 2009, 10)

UDUMBARA (LINTEL)

Myths and beliefs

Due to belief in ill influence of negative energies on house and its occupants, many negative energy barriers are housed on door. The horse shoe (nal) embedded in lintel is believed to stop entry of negative energies in the house. A combination of lemon and chilies tied in a typical way (Limbu mirchi) and black doll (bahuli) hung on door frame is believed to prevent entry of evil spirits. Generally it is ensured that the aukshana is not performed under the lintel.

Social

Usually there is a Ganesh patti above the lintel. It is a wooden plank inserted in wall above lintel. This plate is generally most decorated. The level of the intricate carvings used to be the status symbol in earlier times. Now, usually along with all the decorations, the owners name or the house number is also found on this plate.

Symbols and motifs

Lord Ganesha is carved on the ganesh patti along with purna kalasha and floral decorative patterns. Lord Ganesha is worshipped at the beginning of any work to seek blessings for hurdle less activities.

Kuladevata – Image of family deity is placed on lintel for blessings.

Lakshmi – Goddess of wealth, human aspiration for wealth and prosperity always seeks blessing of this goddess.

Lotus: The lotus is associated with Many Indian deities like Brahma, Vishnu, Krishna andLakshmi. It also represents beauty and non attachment (grows in mud but does not carry it). So is the symbol of wealth and centre of consciousness.

Purnakumbha: Purnakumbha literally means a “full pitcher” (Purna = full, Kumbha = pitcher). The Purnakumbha is a pitcher full of water, with fresh leaves of the mango tree and a coconut (Sriphala) placed on the top. The Purnakumbha is an object symbolizing God and is regularly used during different religious rites. Water (Jal) is an important element of panchmahabhuta and is worshipped in the form of Purnakumbha symbolizing prosperity. The element earth is expressed by the earthen or metal pot containing water. Purnakumbha is also connected withIndra, the god of rain who brought with his rain the agricultural prosperity.

Many times the navagrahas as well as the dashavatar of Vishnu are represented above the lintel in the ganesh patti.

Rituals

Toranas: Torana is garland made up of mango leaves and marigold flowers hanged at two ends of lintel. This beautiful element is considered very auspicious and must be their on important occasions such as first entry into the house, important festivals such as Gudhi Padva, Diwali, Dashera and marriages. Leaves used here are always of evergreen trees. It is believed that Tornabrings prosperity, wealth and good fortune. Brightly colored traditional lanterns are hanged at entrance.

Gudhi is erected at entrance door as a symbol of prosperity and divinity on Maharashtrian New Year. Auspicious Torana of mango leaves and marigold flowers is hung at door. Entrance is decorated with rangoli at umbartha. The Gudhi comprises of a copper pot inverted on a bamboo stick (used daily for drying the clothes.) A new cloth is tied along with the neem leaves and garlands. Maximum light waves are radiated on the earth on this particular day of Indian calendar. This arrangement of conductive material of copper and bamboo transfers this light energy in the house acting as a dish antenna. Bamboo (Velu) symbolizes fertility in Indian culture. Neem(Indian Lilac) is a medicinal plant that is offered as Prasad with jaggery as a preventive measure for the epidemics and diseases common in summer. (Kale n.d.)

The above study has been done based on the available ancient and the latest literature and the interviews of the people. This study has led us to a matrix giving a holistic view of all the concepts discussed above.

Threshold (the base) Jambs (the face) Lintel (the top)
Myths

The Horse Shoe
The Kirtimukha

The mouldings on the jambs
The guardians of the temple
The negative energy barrier – combination of chillies and lemon.

The auspicious symbols
– Lord Ganesha
The negative energy barrier – combination of chillies and lemon.
Social significance

The level difference

Defensive gestures
Defining territories for the outsiders
Symbols and motifs

Coins – symbol of prosperity

Elaborate decorations
– symbol of richness
The guardians of the temple

Ganeshpatti- purna kalash, khalva, floral decorations
Ganesh with Mooshaka- its vehicle
Floral patterns- nature representations
Rituals

Rangoli – the fractal geometry- the auspicious yantras
Oil lamps with rangili – decorative elements
Grihapravesh of the new bride
Diwali decorations with lamps
Nature representations – decorationswith flowers, torana etc.

Permanent Toranas as auspicious representationsBright colourful ‘akash kandil’ adding to the festivity. Toranas of Marigold flowers and mango leaves as nature representations.
Gudhi – scientific representations of astronomical events

Credits of all the photographs go to Siddhartha Gokhale, Ameya Wadekar, Ankit Gaidhani from B.V.U. college of Architecture, Pune

Conclusion:

Indian artists have always impregnated the ordinary elements with spiritual significance. After taking the overview of the decorations, symbols and motifs, the rituals, myths and social significance etc, it is evident that even the most ordinary and the day to day objects like the bamboo stick, mapata (measuring vessel), coins have been glorified on specific days or occasions. All these objects are necessarily the ones that are commonly available and affordable by all the sections of the society.

The flora and fauna has been given immense importance and are the basic elements of decorations. The flora and fauna selected for a particular occasion are observed to be concurrent to that particular season.

Entrance, a mere transitional space is converted into a spiritual environment by association of hidden stories through introduction of these elements. These symbols are used for human aspiration of fertility, prosperity, wealth, health and well being. Hindu philosophy ofpanchmahabhutas, anthropometric conceptualization of those super natural powers as deities and fear and worship of them has given rise to many design elements and rituals. Even in the changing context, though the materials are changed as per availability, underlying philosophy is deeply rooted in its culture and remains constant.

Each motif has a reason to be there! They are not randomly placed but it’s a studied expression. Every feature is adopted by realizing their spiritual meaning. Entire Indian art revolves around the concept of the panchamahabhutas, the five basic elements of cosmos; earth, water, light, air, sky. Art can be always expressed as a tribute to these elements.

Even on the plainest temples, sculptor focused particularly on the gateways to accentuate its symbolic and iconographic content. Although exact figures and motifs vary over the time, its fundamental idea remains constant. The repertoire of motifs may be of an organic origin, a structural throwback, or a familiar everyday form or borrowed and adopted design from far off lands. What matters is the ultimate combination and its kaleidoscopic effect!

Notes

(1. Vastu Shastra also known as the Indian geomancy science is the most authentic art of architecture which unifies the astrology, astronomy and art. It has been originated about 8000 years ago, since then our ancient Indian sages and scholars were practicing this art of direction, which evolves the application of some basic code of conduct while construction of any building or house. http://www.sereneinteriors.com/vastu-shastra.html

(2. Ārya‘s meaning of “(speakers of) ārya language” led to its adoption for English “Aryan” to express the same idea, i.e. “Indo-Iranian”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arya

(3. Gopurams are the large ornate structures that adorn a temple’s gateway. They symbolize the varied levels of consciousness that make up the known universe and artfully depict how these diverse aspects of our existence are all part of a common purpose: the evolution of consciousness.http://www.russillpaul.com/page/page/1175539.htm

(4. Ayurveda believes that everything in this universe is made up of five basic elements. These five elements are earth (prithvi), water (jal), fire (Agni or tej), air (Vayu) and ether or space (akash) and collectively they are termed as Panchmahabhuta. Every matter contains all of these five elements. The permutation and combination of these elements and its quantity in a given matter determines its properties. http://www.bestonhealth.com/articles/articles.asp?som=ayur&arttype=elements

(5. Family Deity

(6. Dashavatar, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, were meant for establishing ‘dharma’, whenever ‘adharma’ occurs. Even though it is considered a myth, the scientific facts behind theDashavatar are now under research. It is said that the ten incarnations represent the evolution of mankind. http://www.india9.com/i9show/Dashavatar-46954.htm

(7. Narasinha, man-lion, is claimed to be the fourth avatar of Vishnu, mentioned in epic andPuranic texts, and depicted as a man-lion hybrid.
http://www.themystica.com/mythical-folk/articles/narasinha.html

(8. The hungry demon that was punished by the God to eat the sins (pap) of the people, always placed on the threshold of the temple.

(9. An Epic and Purāṇic myth telling how the gods and demons churned the primeval ocean at the beginning of time to obtain amṛta, the nectar of immortality, and, through the chaos caused, brought about the secondary creation and ordering of the world.http://www.jrank.org/cultures/pages/1396/Churning-Ocean-(samudramathana-samudramanthana).html

References

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Pandya, Ar. Yatin (2005). Concepts of Space in Traditional Indian Architecture (Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing Pvt Ltd)

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