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Shiv Temple by sP+a, Wadeshwar, Maharashtra, India

Padora donates his time and expertise to build a temple for the Hindu community of Wadeshwar. Photography by Edmund Sumner

In stark contrast to the chic-boutique of his Creo project (AR June 2010), Sameep Padora’s Shiv Temple responds to an entirely different social and physical context. It was built for the Hindu community of Wadeshwar, a village around 70km east of Mumbai in Maharashtra state.

At weekends, Padora swaps his urban apartment for a modest farmhouse near here, and was approached by the client for a donation to the local temple’s building fund. Seeing the opportunity to make a more meaningful contribution, however, Padora offered his time for free, and started working alongside the priest and members of the local community to find a suitable site and develop the design.

Padora’s donation of expertise fitted well with the premise on which this and many other community projects are brought to fruition in India - the principle of shramdaan, in which people donate labour for free. Consequently, with work being done outside normal hours, it took nine months to build, taking advantage of stockpiles of laterite fieldstone donated by a local quarry.

‘This is basically what stone temples in India are like,’ says Padora. ‘However, we did away with traditional embellishments to avoid the need for skilled labour and to keep material costs within budget.’ The components of a traditional temple were also stripped away, and the landscape used to maximum advantage. ‘Typically, a temple would comprise an inner sanctum, the garbhagriha, where the deity is kept,’ he explains, ‘and then you have a pillared hall in front, where people sit and pray.’

Shiv Temple sits on a neatly clipped plateau overlooking Andhra Lake

In this spectacular landscape context, however, on a wooded hillside overlooking Andhra Lake, the architect saw a way to save resources and make the most of nature’s own enclosure, with the woodland forming the pillared hall or mandapa, described by Padora as ‘a room, with trees becoming walls and the sky becoming its roof’.

This not only reduced the scale of the build, but architecturally rendered the stone tower or shikhara even more special, allowing it to sit, uncluttered, with a sense of sacred isolation and solitary elegance within a neatly clipped plateau. With the landscape playing a vital role in the ceremony, views of the temple are limited.

Visitors first process through the woods on a path that winds between white oak trees. They then pause between two basalt stone walls before turning onto the east/west axis of the shikhara, from where they can finally proceed towards Padora’s distinctive porch. This is the only real signal that this is a new temple, exhibiting as it does a stripped-back contemporary aesthetic, lined in timber and framed in stainless steel.

‘It’s basically a threshold device,’ Padora explains, ‘made purposefully low so people bow their heads upon entry’. The relationship between the two elements, however, is of course much more sophisticated than Padora is suggesting, imparting a timeless quality to the ensemble.

One reading of the project suggests a mythical history whereby the ruined tower was discovered, repaired and adapted for the present community.

While respectfully adapting traditional motifs, Padora has succeeded in producing an undeniably contemporary piece of modern architecture. Anchoring this place to its lakeside context, the porch also defines a framed view of the lake. Light is brought into the heart of the traditionally dark garbhagriha through a discreet roof light. On top of the roof sits the kalash, a finial cast from ashtadhatu, an amalgam of eight different metals (gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, tin, iron and mercury). Hindus believe that the presence of ashtadhatu truly makes this a sacred place.

Architect Sameep Padora & Associates, Mumbai, India
Design team Sameep Padora, Vinay Mathias, Minal Modak

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