By Swami Harshananda
Ākāśamaṇḍapa is literally translated as ‘hall open to the sky’.
Places of worship have existed from very ancient times. A temple, though a place of worship, is a replica of the universe, an image of God, an image of man with God in his heart—all rolled into one.
The most essential part of a temple is the garbhagṛha or sanctum sanctorum. It is here that the image or the symbol of the deity is installed. In front of this garbhagṛha there is typically a hall (at least in the big temples) known as maṇḍapa or nṛtta-maṇḍapa or navaraṅga that is used for congregational purposes like singing, dancing, recitation of religious texts or religious discourses. This maṇḍapa can have walls or it can be just a shelter without walls. When the roof of this maṇḍapa is supported on pillars (w/o a wall) it is referred to as ākāśamaṇḍapa.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore