''Dwarapala'' Sculptures, (Temple guards) - an integral element in Hindu temple architecture

Dwarapala in Gangaikonda cholapuram temple, TN.

Dwarapala Viruipaksha temple,KA. dreamstime.com

Above image:  Bagalakote, Karnataka.  Pattadakal temple complex. Giant gray stone sculpture  of dwarapala guard at entrance to  Viruipaksha temple...........

There is no Hindu temple in India, in particular, southern regions that does not have a pair of  giant sculptures of Dwarapalas, supposedly the sentinels of gods and goddesses at entrance gate(s). It is a combination of two words: Dwaram meaning door or entrance and Palakas meaning  guardians). They are official gate keepers and guards on duty, protecting the presiding deities in the sanctum or garbagriha or simply the  entire temple itself. Often depicted as a giant warriors larger than life - may be gentle looking with a smile or fierce looking with protruding curved teeth (similar to canine teeth) armed with weapons mostly mace - gada;  doing duty round the clock ever in the service of the lords, they are  parivara devatas  and their  massive size, look  and other attributes are in tune with the majesty and power of the presiding deity  in the grabagriha. Besides, their regalia, posture and things  they carry in their hands reveal  the affiliation of the temple - Shiva, Vishnu,  and Shakthi tradition.  Mostly made of monolith stone, preferably granite, the ones on the entrance tower of many temples are not made of hard stone.
Often  looking robust with absorbing look  they are mostly in standing posture on either side of the entrance gate of the temple or shrine. They may be made of stone or metal, but  are mirror images of the other.  In the  latter case depictions of dwarapalas in metal are rare. The huge dwarapala sculptures are an integral part of temple architecture and iconography found  throughout Hindu, Buddhist and Jain  cultures, as well as in areas influenced by them in certain parts of SE Asia. Each is endowed with four arms.is  adorned with Kirita (headgear), Bhuja –kirti (shoulder ornaments), karna-kundala (hanging earrings). They seldom wear garlands, nor are they bejeweled. The Dwarapalas in the Hoysala temples of Karnataka are particularly graceful wearing  ornate jewelry and  gently holding lotuses as if inviting the devotee to God’s abode. Such facial expressions are rare.

There are female dwarapalas as well and are assigned to  guard the abode of goddess or lord's consort in a separate sanctum on the same temple premises. They  do have names -such as Chanda,Prachanda, Jaya, Vijaya,Harabhadra and Subhadra   Nandi  Mahakala are also Shiva's guards. So are  Jaya and  Vijaya for Sri Vishnu. Goddess Shakthi has Shankhanidhi and  Padmanidhi. 

Dwarapalas are placed on the gopurams- towers facing all four cardinal directions. Apart, inside the temple complex you may find them guarding the gates facing all the four directions around the hall and sanctum. 

Kapaleeswar temple, Chennai.dreamstime.com dreamstime.com

kapaleeswar temple, Chennai.dreamstime.com

Above image:  Dwarapalas on Gopuram, Kapaleeswarer temple, Chennai dedicated to Shiva.................

a dwarapala, Srirangam Ranganathar temple.dreamstime.com

Dwarapalas at the 2nd entrance gate, big temple, Thanjavur

Dwarapala &elephant, Tiruvannamalai temple, TN.dreamstime.com

Dwarapalas, Tiruvannamalai temple, TN.dreamstime.com

Above images: A rare image of Dwarapalaka,  guarding  the door and is flanked by an elephant. Detail of Eastern Gopuram at Thiruvannamalai Shiva temple dedicated to Arunachaleswar, as seen from inside the temple complex.......

Dwarapala on north  gopuram, Madurai Meenakshi temple. 

Dwarapala on gopuram, Madurai Meenakshi temple. 

Almost all  temples in southern India dedicated to Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Parasakthi  feature  dwarapalas at the entrance of sanctum or other places.   They also guard the abode or sanctum of the main deity's consort  in a separate shrine.  In many historical temples large size dwarapalas are placed at the entrance gopurams or towers. Example; Thanjavur big temple- the second entrance has tall sentinels in stone on either side facing the east direction. The first entrance has dwarapalas at higher levels. The appearance of the Dwarapalas differs among  the temples based on Agama shastras being followed by the temples and  equal importance is given to  them in most of the temples. Almost all  offerings made  to the prime  deity are also offered to the Dwarapalas. Further, when the temple priests open or close the sanctum each day, they silently pray to the guards on either side. 

Female dwarapalas in a temple dedicated to goddess.istockphoto.com

female dwarapalas , Mariamman temple (Sakthi), Singapore. dreamstime.com/

Chidambaram temple tower,dwarapalas on different tiers

Dwarapala left side, Hoysaleswara temple, KA voyage361.com

Dwarapalas, Hysaleswara temple, KA voyage361.com

Above image: The Dwarapalakas and the lintel work above at the south entrance. The most beautiful sculpture in Hoysaleshwara temple of Karnataka  are the two sculptures of Dwarapalas. Unfortunately, the hands are damaged by vandals. It is rare to see  bejeweled  dwarapalas .............. 

Vishnu's dwarapalas. upload.wikimedia.org

Above image: Jaya-Vijaya - the Dwarapalas of the god Vishnu's abode Vaikuntha are often depicted as guarding the doors. Here they are guarding the sanctum of the Vishnu temple, Chennakesava Temple, Karnataka................

 Dwarapala, Madurai Meenakshi temple,TN.flicker.com
The depictions of dwarapalas in Shiva and Vishnu temples differ. In the case of Vishnu  temple they wear the symbols of  the lord like ''Thirumun''(namam) on the fore head, etc.,  and carry in their upper hands the conch (shankha) and  mystical discus (chakra); and in the lower hands, the mace (gada) and a noose (pasha, coil of rope).  Standing erect, cross-legged leaning on their mace as if they are resting. Their look and gestures of their fingers caution the people behave properly in the presence of the divinity. The nature and appearance of the Dvarapalas of Vishnu are described in the Agama texts: Isvara Samhita and Pushkara Samhita.

Similarly, the Dvarapalas in a Shiva temple take after Virabhadra, the ferocious aspect of Shiva. They look fierce with  eyes popped up, protruding curved sharp canine teeth, horns (at times). They have thick mustaches and  wear the emblems of Shiva, such as the stripes of ash, animal hides, long flowing unkempt hair etc. They carry a trident, mace, broad-sword and a noose. They look fearsome with intimidating stance and  gestures  cautioning the people  to focus on the divinity inside the shrine.   The features of the Dvarapalas of Shiva are mentioned in  Uttarardha  -Kashyapa Shilpa Sastra 

In the Shakti tradition the Dvarapalas of the female deities  are fearsome looking females with  wild unkempt hair, long protruding teeth and tongue spread out of the open mouth, carrying tridents, etc. Quite often they are portrayed with flashy eyes, long protruding teeth The female Dvarapalas  have attributes of the presiding goddess and are destroyers of evils and protectors of the good. 

The hand mudras displayed by dwarapalas silently convey certain message to the devotees entering the holy premises. Tarjanit mudra: It indicates that we must enter into holy place with reverence and pay respect to the deity by focusing our mind on him. Chanting matras on  the deity is well and good or simply meditate on him.  Suchi Mudra: The hand gesture is such that one of the hands is directed  towards the god inside the temple implying go inside, pray to god with devotion. Repose trust in him and seek his blessing to get rid of your sins and negative thoughts.  Vismaya hasta: This particular mudra indicates the astonishment on the part of the devotee.  Leaving all your problems and worries at the feet of the lord, you feel sort of elated. A positive thought permeates through your body that the ''Almighty'' will fulfil your desires and you will see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Image Credit: dreamstime.com