The Temple that Kanvinde Built

The ISKCON Temple, East of Kailash, New Delhi

Kanvinde, Rai and Chaudhary, 1998.
My Mom is a firm believer; she goes to this temple every few months and likes it a lot. She brings back pastries and biscuits from there :). Other than that, having started this blog with a post on a young upcoming architect, I felt it would be best to take up one of modern India’s first architects. So, although I do Kanvinde today, you could look forward to seeing Habib Rehman here soon. They’ve left behind some beautiful buildings- would be a shame not to learn something from them.. And, if that seems boring- you could always look for the interesting facts- like about Rehman’s wife. She won Miss India back then: married, with kids. Architecture should remain a glamorous profession…

Coming back to architecture :p

Not being much of a believer myself, and having forgotten much of what was taught on the history of temple architecture in India, I must warn you about the analysis that follows. Thankfully, the Hindu temples have been well documented, and many examples still exist and quietly witness the evolution of their own form. The ISKCON temple is *very* different from the other temples- both old & new ones. And this is why- although it has all the needed architectural elements that would qualify it a complete temple, it goes one step further. And in what direction- that’s up to you to figure.

Source: The Modern Architecture of New Delhi, Rahul Khanna & Manav Parhawk

The temple, for starters, faces west 😮 Everyone knows that a temple should face east, and a Mosque must face Mecca. But, if you consider the site- Hare Krishna hill as it’s called, you’ll see that this is the most logical direction to orient the temple to, if you want to utilize the entrance, and let the hill dictate the pathway leading up to the temple (maybe this model pic will make that clear)

Now, moving on to the foremost requirement of a temple- a Shikhar. The ISKON temple has three, topped with the Amalakas (ribbed circular motif), and pot finial. The Shikhars look nice- rotated (are you allowed to do that? :P), as you look up at them. If I have my history right, I remember traditional Hindu temples built in the Nagara style started off being linear in plan- grew in a linear manner. I think it was the Jain temples- that had their shikhars in a line, perpendicular to direction of approach. With Ankor Wat, constructed thousands of miles away in the 12th century, you had another iteration of the geometry of shikhar placement, but we won’t get into that.

A point that must be made here is- Kanvinde probably thought many Vaastu principles were irrational, (as suggested by this Outlook article). But, I personally like it, makes the temple more dynamic. As does the circular opening through the shikar. And, the corners are removed, with a slit instead. I liked how the old temples never had any sharp edges emphasized: they beveled and sub-divided their corners. The edge detail of these shikharas is a clever way of achieving a similar quality. It could also be to acheive a ventilating mechanism/lighting. That isn’t as unlikely is it might seem. You could look at this temple, the initial concept design for which was by Kanvinde, as the article says.

Choice of materialsSpeaking about materials- this temple has an interesting choice. Brown Dholpur stone with white Marble. Seen the Jama Masjid? Humayun’s Tomb? The two tone scheme has been carried out beautifully. The materials have been handled carefully, each given its due respect. The marble has been used only for cladding, while the dholpur stone has been carved, and used to highlight the edges. Very neat. Frankly, I didn’t like the entrance much. It’s treated with only dholpur stone- with some very angular geometric carvings. And, the entrance on the road-side, is a little like an amusement park. With the huge ISKON logo hanging and figures to welcome you on either side 😛 (excuse my not having a better photograph 😦 will replace soon)

To recap, these are what set the ISKCON temple apart from the rest:

  • West facing
  • Shikhar- orientation and form
  • Materials
  • The Branding
  • The architect

There is much more to the place. The auditoriums for shows such as the Vedic Light and Sound show, the guest rooms, offices and such. Maybe for now, this is enough.. Bored?? Hope not.

About the architect:

Kanvinde studied at the JJ School of Art and passed out in 1941. The institute was headed by Claude Batley then. Employed at CSIR, he then attended the Harvard School of Design, which had Gropius as its Director. The firm Kanvinde and Rai was formed in 1955. A brief timeline of his work is given below:

Based on observations on his work, you could say that despite most of them being distinctive, they are all very similar. They appear to be built with a large amount of thought having been given to making them as functionally efficient as possible, and practically feasible. This coupled with his humble character, and preference to keep a low profile might be the reason for his work to not have received the same attention as the works of his contemporaries. His works appear raw and unemotional. But, this observation could be because of analyzing them almost forty years after they were created, although, maybe for the time they were built, his buildings might have been highly inspirational, and emotional.


The Birla Mandir, and Akshardham are the more popular temples in Delhi. Maybe if this was located somewhere else, it might have been more popular. I’m not saying that it’s only because of the location that it isn’t as popular. I do consider it to be a well thought out temple, much like Kanvinde’s other work.

Do visit, and if you don’t happen to like it- there’s always the nice little bakery (with its pastries)- Govinda’s, and the restaurant along side 😀


Further Reading:
  • Menon, AGK. The Contemporary Architecture of Delhi: A Critical History.
Online at
  • Lang, J. (2002) A Concise History of Modern Architecture in India.
 Online excerpt at
7 Responses to “The Temple that Kanvinde Built”
    • just did..thanks.. i think i saw this in some magazine somewhere.. can’t place which.. talking about modernist temple designs- Sai Mandir, by Mindspace is worth a look too… i liked the way they did the shikhar.. but cant say the same for the rest of the site..
      The sameep padora one reminded me of Zumthor- the Brother Klaus Chapel..

  1. Medha Roopam says:

    Wow….. I never knew all this….!! :O awesome!!!!
    The pictures are brilliant.. And so are the observations… Coool..! A layman (or laywoman :O) like me would never have thought in this direction… Eye opener!!! Brilliant Job!!!!!
    (why do you require an account to like the post?)
    Anyway great piece of work! ^_^ N nicely written!!! Keep at it!! 😀

    • Thank you! 😀
      I want the blog to remain simple to read. No jargon. (The part about the amalakas, and kalash might have gotten a little boring.. maybe sketches needed)
      sorry about the like thing. will remove.. not needed anyways, unless connected to fb..
      Thanks again- and hope you follow it!

  2. Arti says:

    I loved visiting the temple.. But never knew so much about it in detail. Thanks for sharing your link and for putting up mine as well! And yes, I too loved the Govinda’s 😉

  3. Gautham says:

    Great posts man, but pace yourself so that you can keep them coming

  4. amit singh says:

    its great to know interesing thigs about kanvinde as he get padma sri award and section of temple. i visited house of chaudary of kanvinde rai chaudary.

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