A basic Hindu temple consists of an inner sanctum, the garbha griha or womb-chamber, in which the image is housed, often with space for its circumambulation, a congregation hall, and possibly an antechamber and porch. The sanctum is crowned by a tower-like shikara. At the turn of the first millennium CE two major types of temples existed, the northern or Nagara style and the southern or Dravida type of temple. They are distinguishable by the shape and decoration of their shikharas (Dehejia 1997).
The earliest Nagar temples are in Karnataka (e.g. Galaganath at Pattadakal) and some very early Dravida-style temples (e.g. Teli-ka-Mandir at Gwalior) are actually in North India. A complex style termed Vesara was once common in Karnataka which combined the two styles.
The Magadha empire rose with the Shishunaga dynasty in around 650 BC. The Ashtadhyayi of Panini, the great grammarian of the 5th century BC speaks of images that were used in Hindu temple worship. The ordinary images were called pratikriti and the images for worship were called archa (see As. 5.3.96-100). Patanjali, the 2nd century BC author of the Mahabhashya commentary on the Ashtadhyayi, tells us more about the images. Deity images for sale were called Shivaka etc., but an archa of Shiva was just called Shiva. Patanjali mentions Shiva and Skanda deities. There is also mention of the worship of Vasudeva (Krishna). We are also told that some images could be moved and some were immoveable. Panini also says that an archa was not to be sold and that there were people (priests) who obtained their livelihood by taking care of it.
Panini and Patanjali mention temples which were called prasadas. The earlier Shatapatha Brahmana of the period of the Vedas, informs us of an image in the shape of Purusha which was placed within the altar.
The Vedic books describe the plan of the temple to be square. This plan is divided into 64 or 81 smaller square, where each of these represent a specific divinity.
Amongst the foremost interpreters of Indian art and architecture are Stella Kramrisch, Vidya Dehija, M.A. Dhaky, Lokesh Chandra and Kapila Vatsyayan. The greatest living traditional temple architect is Dr. V. Ganapati Sthapati (chennai) the only living Shilpi Guru. He is followed by his grand nephew Santhanam Krishna Sthapati of Chennai. Both are associated with The American University of Mayonic Science and Technology.