Pancha Prakaras (Five enclosures)

Generally the temple complex of Kerala falls under the Pancha Prakara (five enclosures around the Sanctum Sanctorum). They are:-

  1. Akathe Balivattom (inner-most part) consisting of Sree Kovil, Anthar-mandala (inner chamber), Namaskara Mandapa, shrines of sub-deities;
  1. Chuttambalam or Nalambalam (second enclosure);
  1. Vilakkumadam (third enclosure);  
  1. Purathe Balivattom or Sivelippura (place where Bali Peetas and subsidiary deities are installed); and
  1. Maryada or  Puram Mathil (outer wall) including Gopura.

Each Prakara keeps a specified distance from the Sree Kovil (Sanctum sanctorum). Only great temples have all these five prakaras. Very few temples have Vilakkumadam as a separate structure.

Conceptually, each Prakaras (enclosures) represents the deity’s body part as below:

Akathe Balivattom

Girbha Graha

Head of the deity


Face of the deity

Namaskara Mandapam

Neck of the deity

Chuttambalam or Nalambalam

Hands of the deity

Vilakkumadam and Purathe Balivattom

Belly of the deity

Maryada or Outer-wall

Knees and Ankles of the deity


Feet of the deity

Sree Kovil (Sanctum Sanctorum)


Sree Kovil (Sanctum Sanctorum) is the most sacred structure where the presence of God is believed. As the Sree Kovil is considered as the abode of God, utmost care is taken for its construction.

Apsidal-single storied

Rectangular-single storied

There are five types of Sree Kovil based on shape. They are (i) Square, (ii) Rectangle, (iii) Circular, (iv) Elliptical, and (v) Apsidal.  Of these five first three are common in Kerala. Apsidal types are common in northern and central districts of Kerala. The Mahadeva temple at Vaikom is the only known temple in Kerala constructed according to Elliptical style.

Apsidal-double storied

Rectangular-double storied

Sree Kovil consists of three major portions viz., Girbha Graha, Sopana and Namaskara Mandapa. Girbha Graha is the centre of the Sree Kovil fixed based on certain measurements with a raised peetha (platform) to consecrate the idol. It is the innermost sanctum. An inner wall and an external wall may enclose the Girbha Graha.


Rectangular- three storied
The approach to Sree Kovil is through Sopana (steps). It is built in the front portion of Sree Kovil from the ground level to the front door of the Mukha-Mandapa of the Sree Kovil. The Sopana is generally made up of granite.

Sopana (direct)

Circular-single storied

Two types of Sopanas are common in Krala. They are (i) those having direct steps with balustrades on both side; and (ii) those having lateral steps. The banisters are in the shape of elephant’s trunk (Hasthi-hastha) or lion’s head with long tongues (Makara-simha). Some Sopanas have carvings of images of gods or flowers in front or sides.

Sopana (lateral)

Circular-double storied
Namaskara Mandapa is a pillared hall at the front portion of Sree Kovil, square in shape. It is smaller than the sanctum sanctorum. Certain structures are simple platforms without any pillars. Usually this is seen only in those temples where idols are installed in an elevated platform. It is the place for prostration by the temple priests. Though this is not an essential part of the temple complex, it is seen in almost all temples.

Namaskara mandapam


Chuttambalam or Nalambalam

Chuttambalam or Nalambalam is a separate structure and contains Valiambalam, Thidappalli, nilayara, sub-shrines, store etc. Both sides of the main entrance of Nalambalam are known as Valiambalam. Thidappally is located at the north or north east of Nalambalam. It is the place where specified cereals and pulses are germinated after tantric rites during Ulsava bali. Thidapally is kitchen. According to Vasthu Sasthra, Thidapply should be located at the Northeast of Nalambalam, which is the position of the Agni Devatha (Lord of Fire). All the cooking of Nivedya (offerings for the deity) is done here and authorised priests alone are allowed to enter Thidapally and cook.


It is a structure with column fixed with innumerable lamps. It is located 5 or 10 feet from the inner side of the wall of Nalambalam. Generally, the lamps are made up of brass or iron and fixed at equal distance. Vilakkumadam is not seen generally in all temples though several lamps are fixed on pillars and walls of Chuttambalam as there is no circumambulatory space between Nalambalam and its outer wall where lamps are fixed.

Purathe Balivattom or Sivelippura

Purathe Balivattom or Sivelippura comprises of Agra Mandapa containing Valia Balikkal and ganadevathas of main deity, outer pradakshina veedhi, Dwajasthambha, Kshethrapalakas, Koothambalam, shrines of oher deities etc. In short it covers all bali peetas and structures in between the Vilakkumadam and the outer wall.

Valia Balikkal or Principal Bali Peeta

Valia Balikkal is at the front of the main entrance of the deity. The position of the Valia Balikkal is at the prescribed distance from the centre of the Sree Kovil. Bali peeta is a platform for offering to the deities.

Outer Bali Peetas and Kshethrapalakas

In addition to the principal bali peeta there are other seven bali peetas at important points. It is believed that these seven bali peetas represent dwaja with asta-dik-palakas and ganadevathas of the principal deity.

Outside of the bali peetas there is pradakshina vazhi or circumambulatory path at a prescribed distance from the centre of the Girbha Graha. Thebali peeta and Kshethrapala are positioned outside the north-east corner of the pradikshina vazhi for the protection of sanctum.

Dhwaja Sthambha (Flag Staff)

Dhwaja Sthambha is erected in front of the Sree Kovil on the pradikshina vazhi at the prescribed distance from the centre of Girbha GrahaDhwaja Sthambha symbolises the Kundalini Sakthi. Its base is considered as Mooladhara and the top Sahasrara. The Vahana at the top of the dhwaja sthambha represents the Sahasrarachakra. It is believed that worshipping the dwaja is equal to worshipping of the main deity of the temple.

Koothambalam (Temple Theatre)

Koothambalam is the large hall constructed in front at the right side of the principal deity where various temple arts such as Koothu, Koodiyattam, Ottamthullan, Krishnattom, Kath kali etc. are performed.

Maryada (Outer Wall)

The fifth prakara is Maryada or Puram Mathil (outer wall). There may be temples with or without outer wall.


In Kerala, gopura is normally constructed in the outer wall of the temple. The temples of Kerala are having very few numbers of floors except in very few temples like Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple at Thiruvananthapuram.

Sacred Trees and Plants

From the very ancient period, people worshipped trees, plants, animals, birds and serpents. Even now this form of nature worship can be seen in Kerala. Sacred groves, Althara (a platform made around the Arayal tree), temples exclusively dedicated to serpents, worship of certain animals asvahana of deities are some of the examples.

Among sacred trees, Arayal (Peepul tree) and Peral (Banyan tree) are most important. The Arayal is worshipped as it represents Trimoorthees,Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva. It is believed that Lord Brahma represents the root, Lord Vishnu the middle portion and Lord Siva the top of tree. Taking pradikshana around the Arayal tree is considered auspicious. Planting an Arayal is an act of devoutness and any attempt to destroy it is a great sin.


Buds of Peral (Banyan tree) are used for pooja and homa (sacrificial rite). Koovalam (Bilwa or Bael tree) is another sacred plant planted in temples. Its leaves are used for pooja of Lord Siva but prohibited in temples of Lord Vishnu. Tulsi (sacred basil) leaves are used in all temples. Tulsi is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. Being a sacred plant, Tulsi leaves should not be plucked before watering the plant. The leaves may be plucked while doing pradakshina.

Asterisk / Constellation trees

Each asterisk of the zodiac is associated with a tree.  In olden days, temples used to plant these trees. Trees corresponding to each asterisk are given below. It is believed that planting a tree associated with one's star will bring good luck to him.

Asterisk / Constellation
Name of trees
Malayalam English Botanical Name
Aswathy Kanjiram Strychnine Tree Stychnos nux vomica
Bharani Nelli Indian Gooseberry Phyllanthus emblica
Karthika Athhi Country Fig Ficus racemosa
Rohini Njaval Jamun / Rose Apple Eugenia jambolana
Makeeram Karingali Cucth / Khadira Tree Acacia catechu
Thiruvathira Kumbil Cashmere Tree Diospyros candolleana
Punartham Mula Bamboo Bambusa arundinacea
Pooyam Arayal Pipal Tree Ficus religiosa
Ayilyam Nagapoo Messua Tree Musua ferrea
Makam Peraal Banyan Tree Ficus benghalensis
Pooram Chamatha Flame of Forest Butea monosperma
Uthram Iththi Indian Laurel Ficus microcarpa
Atham Ambazham Hog Plum Tree Spondias mangifera
Chithira Koovalam Beal Tree Aegle marmelos
Chothi Maruthu Arjuna Tree Terminalia arjuna
Vishakham Vayyankatha Governor's Plum Flacourtia cataphracta
Anizham Elanji Bullet Wood Tree Mimusops elengi
Ketta Pachotti Bodh Tree Aporosa lindleyana
Moolam Vella Kunthirikkam White Dammar Boswellia serrata
Pooradam Samudrakai Fish Poison Tree Alstonia scholaris
Uthradam Plavu Jack Fruit Tree Artocarpus heterophyllus
Thiruvonam Erukku Gigantic Swallow Calotropis gigantea
Avittam Muringa Drumstick Tree Moringa oleifera
Chathayam Kadambu Kadam Tree Anthocephalus indicus
Pururuttathy Veppu Neem Tree Azadirachta indica
Uthrittathy Mavu Mango Tree Mangifera indica
Revathy Ilippa Butter Tree Madhyca longifolia

Well and Temple pond

A well or a tank (pond) is an important part of the temple for drawing water. The Maha Vishnu Temple, Thirunelli in Wayanad district has no well or tank. In earlier days water was drawing from the nearby river. Later, a granite water channel that brings water from the nearby mountain has been constructed. Perhaps this may be only temple in Kerala that has no well or tank.  Normally the position of well in a temple is at north-east part within chuttambalam.


In all the important temples, there are Oottupura or dining hall with attached kitchen.  Formerly, it was used to serve food to Brahmins and devotees on festival days.

Temple layout

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