Art and Architecture in India – 2

  • South Indian temple architecture, also called Drāviḍa Style, architecture invariably employed for Hindu temples in modern Tamil Nadu from the 7th to the 18th century, characterized by its pyramidal, or kūṭina-type, tower. Variant forms are found in Karnataka (formerly Mysore) and Andhra Pradesh states. The South Indian temple consists essentially of a square-chambered sanctuary topped by a superstructure, tower, or spire and an attached pillared porch or hall (maṇḍapa, or maṇṭapam), enclosed by a peristyle of cells within a rectangular court. The external walls of the temple are segmented by pilasters and carry niches housing sculpture. The superstructure or tower above the sanctuary is of the kūṭinatype and consists of an arrangement of gradually receding stories in a pyramidal shape. Each story is delineated by a parapet of miniature shrines, square at the corners and rectangular with barrel-vault roofs at the centre. The tower is topped by a dome-shaped cupola and a crowning pot and finial.
  • The origins of the Drāviḍa style can be observed in the Gupta period. The earliest extant examples of the developed style are the 7th-century rock-cut shrines at Mahābalipuram and a developed structural temple, the Shore Temple (700), at the same site.
  • The South Indian style is most fully realized in the splendid Bṛhadīśvara temple at Thanjāvūr, built about 1003–10 by Rājarāja the Great, and the great temple at Gaṅgaikoṇḍacōḻapuram, built about 1025 by his son Rājendra Cōla. Subsequently, the style became increasingly elaborate—the complex of temple buildings enclosed by the court became larger, and a number of successive enclosures, each with its own gateway (gopura), were added. By the Vijayanagar period (1336–1565) the gopuras had increased in size so that they dominated the much smaller temples inside the enclosures.


The Dravida Architectural style is associated with the temples of southern India or Deccan. The earliest traces of Dravida architectural features go back to Gupta period and are not restricted to the far south i.e. in Gupta period these traces occur in northern and central India along with Deccan, like in the Parvati temple at Lad Khan, Kont Gudi and Meguti temples at Aihole.

  • The outstanding and the common characteristics of the Dravida style isthe pyramidal elevation of the tower (vimari), which consists of a multiplication of storey after storey slightly reduced than the one below, ending in a domical member, technically known as the stupi or stupica.
  • The storeyin the later period became more and more compressed so much so that they are almost hidden under a profusion of details which became characteristic of the subsequent evolution of the style. In plan the Dravida temple presents a square chamber as the sanctum cell within the square enclosure serving as the pradakshina (circumambulatory passage).
  • The pillared halls and corridors, and the immense gopurams (gateways) are the additions of the later date to the Dravida temples.
  • The two most important characteristics of Dravida temple architecture is:
    Temples of this style has more than 4 sides in the sanctum and
    • Tower or Vimana of these temples are pyramidal.
  • Pillars and pilasters are vastly used in this architectural style.

Art and Architecture in South India:     

In South India, the most famous temples are built in the Dravidian style, marked by structures in stone, tall towers, sculptures and intricate inscriptions. They often differ in design and style from one era to the next due to the diverse influences of several ruling dynasties.

From early cave temples that were carved from sandstone hills, the architectural design of South Indian temples slowly evolved to rock cut temples and finally, standalone structural temples that grew larger, both in terms of the area of the complexes as well as the height of the towers or vimanas. The best examples of these can be seen in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The origins of the Dravidian style can be observed in the Gupta period. In South India more than the architecture, it is the Hindu temples linked to history and Hindu mythology that are famous and are major pilgrim centres even today. The history of South India reveals the several significant rulers and dynasties which have ruled over it, such as, the CherasCholasPallavasChalukyasPandyas and the western Ganga dynasty.

Pallava Architechture:

Under the ablest kings such as Mahendravarman, Pallavas extended their territories to the Tamil Nadu. From the time of great Mahendravarman, finest examples of Pallava art were created in Tamil Nadu such as Shore Temple and 7 pagodas of  Mahabalipuram. Today’s Mahabalipuram was known as Mamalai (Green Hill) in ancient times. Pallava King Mahendravarman successor Narsimhamvaraman was known as “Mamalla” or “The warrior”. This port city was name “Mamallapuram” after Narsimhamvaraman. This was one of the greatest ports of ancient times and here was a “cosmopolitan’ culture where people rubbed their shoulders with the Romans. This is evident from the roman coins found here and traces of a roman colony located here.

  • Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram, 59 Kms. south of Madras, was founded by Narasimhavarman I Pallava who ruled over the area in the 7th Century A.D.  There are a number of cave temples with beautiful mandaps and figures of lions – the symbols of the Pallava Simha Vishnu prominently displayed.

The Seven Rathas were excavated during the reign of Narasimhavarman 1.  The Dharmaraja Ratha is the largest of the group and is 12.8 mtrs. long.  Its height is 12.3 mtrs feet.  Built on a square base, it has a 3-tier pyramidal superstructure with a stupa adorn it on top.  The Draupadi Ratha is the smallest and most elegant.  Dedicated to Saivism, these rathas have around them images of lions, elephants and bulls carved on rocks as symbols of Durga, Indra and Shiva respectively. The 7th century chariot or ratha style of temples in Mahabalipuram (another UNESCO site) in Tamil Nadu is one of the oldest monolithic rock-cut structures. Built by the Pallava kings, there are five of these marvels, each cut from a single stone. They are named after the Pandavas (from the epic Mahabharata) and their wife Drapuadi.

  • The temples, mostly pyramidal structures have either a square or rectangular base.  The superstructure of the Bhima Ratha is different and is semicircular in shape like the vaulted roof of a wagon.  The mandaps and Rathas are adorned with beautiful sculptured figures and panels.  The most beautiful and well-known of these is that showing the ‘penance of Arjuna’ or as described by some artists the ‘Descent of Ganga’.

The 8th century Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram is the earliest free standing structural temple made from stone, which was also built by the Pallavas, who are credited with developing Dravidian architecture as we know it today. Its pyramid-shaped tower with five stories and a dome or shikara at the top, became the trademark of Dravidian temple architecture with large complexes within which multiple shrines were located. The temple has three shrines, two of which are dedicated to Lord Shiva, while the third has the deity of Lord Vishnu in a reclining pose.


The Kailasanath Temple in Kanchipuram was also built in the 8th century by a Pallava king, but with a more evolved style than the Mahabalipuram Shore Temple. It has larger dimensions, a pillared hall, a vestibule and an inner sanctum, around which nine smaller shrines are located.


As the years went by, temples in South India became larger both in terms of the height of the gopuram or entrance gateways as well as the size of the complex. Notable among this is the Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur, which was built in the 11th century and has one of the tallest vimanas or towers (66 meters high).


Salient Features of the Pallava Architecture

  • The Pallava architecture shows the transition from the Rock Cut Architecture to the Stone built temples.
  • The earliest examples of the Pallava art are the rock cut temples of the 7th century AD, while the later examples are of structural temples built in 8th and 9th
  • The rock cut reliefs of the Pallavas are the earliest surviving royal portraits after the Kushana images.
  • The Dravidian or Pallava style was introduced during the Pallava Rule.  The earlier form of this style is seen in the rock cut temples or Rathas of Mahabalipuram.  Known as the Seven Rathas and named after Ganesh, Draupadi and the Five Pandava brothers, these temples are cut out of solid rock, have mandaps and pillared halls.  They are monolithic shrines.
  • The Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram, built during the reign of Narasimha 11 is on the seashore.  Facing east, the temple has a small gopuram with a pradakshina path between the temple and the outer wall.  The main shrine contains a broken fluted Shiva linga.  Opposite the gopuram is the dwaja sthamba.  The outer walls of the temple are covered with carved panels separated y lions.  Many of these have been destroyed by the dashing waves of the sea.  Behind this shrine is another cell with a figure of Vishnu reclining on the serpent sesha.  Next to this and facing west is another shrine dedicated to Shiva.  Opposite the Temple is the Balipitha or altar.  The courtyard is surrounded by rows of Nandis.  Rocks carved with the eight-armed Durga on a lion can also be seen near the temple.

Chola Architecture:

The Imperial Chola rulers of Tanjore developed the Dravidian style of temple architecture almost to perfection.  Their works taken up on a stupendous scale include irrigation schemes, embankment of artificial lakes, dams across the Kaveri and well planned cities. A special feature of the Chola architecture is the purity of artistic tradition.  The two magnificent temples at Tanjore and Gangaikonda Cholapuram in Tiruchirapalli District built in early 11th century A.D. show the best of Chola art.

The Brihadeswara or Rajarajeswara Temple of Shiva in Tanjore built by Rajaraja Chola in 1010 A.D. is the largest and highest of Chola temples and stands as a symbol of Chola greatness. The temple Shiva at Gangaikonda Cholapuram built by Rajendra 1 Chola (1018 to 1033 A.D.) is another line piece of temple architecture.  Massive grandeur and huge structures decorated with minute sculptures are characteristics of Chola art.  A new development was the addition of a gateway or gopuram to the walled enclosure of the temple.

Another achievement of the Cholas is the plastic art of Chola bronzes.  Exquisite idols of Hindu gods and goddesses exhibit the superb workmanship of the craftsmen. The most famous of these is the figure of Nataraja or dancing Shiva portraying the Cosmic dance of Shiva.


Spread over 156 acres, the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam is the largest functioning temple complex in the world and was built by an early Chola King. It’s considered one of the most important temples of the Vaishnavites.