Art and Architecture in India – 4


The Emperors of Vijayanagar whose empire compromised of almost the whole of peninsular India, were great builders and spent lavishly on works of public utility, i.e. tanks, reservoirs, lakes, palaces and temples. In temple building they continued the traditions and styles of the Chalukyas, Cholas and Pandyas. These temples in Andhra Pradesh and Deccan show marked traces of Chalukyan style, whereas their temples in the south show Chola and Pandya influence. Built of hard stone, the Vijayanagar temples are large structures with spacious mandapas and lofty gopurams.

One of the splendid temples of the time is the famous Harasa Rama Temple at Vijayanagar built in the reign of Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1550 A.D.).  It is considered to be “one of the most perfect specimen of Hindu Temple architecture”.   The temple does not have a gopuram. The four central pillars are finely polished and decorated with beautiful sculptures, Panels of the entire life of Rama and episodes from the Ramayana are delicately sculptured on the exterior of the temple.

Harasa Rama Temple, Hampi

The temple of Vithala also in Vijayanagar dedicated to Vishnu is another gigantic structure started by Krishna Deva Raya in 16th century AD.  A large well built complex, it is on the pattern of the southern temples. It has axial mandapas and small shrines and gopurams. It has a highly ornamented main mandap with intricate picture compositions painted on the ceiling. This shows that the art of sculpture and painting had attained a very high degree of excellence during that period.  The typical lofty gopuram is covered with excellent sculptures.   Other features of the temple are the exquisitely carved pillars and the massive solid granite rathas with three huge wheels in the open courtyard.

Belur and Halebid

The Hoysala temples in Belur and Halebid, which were built in the 12th century, have influences of southern Dravidian as well as Aryan architecture from the north. They are renowned for the sculptures that adorn the temples from the floor to the ceiling.

Visiting the ancient temples of South India is as much of a lesson in history as it is in architecture. Besides the stylistic influences of the architects of each era, who received royal patronage, they also depict the religious history of the region – the progression from early Buddhist influences to the Hinduism, and the subsequent struggle for power between the Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects. As each ruler tried to outdo his predecessor, temples evolved from simple structures to larger complexes bound by walls with several shrines and halls within. The resulting grandeur is a splendid sight and has placed South Indian temples among the top architectural wonders of India.

Temple Architecture in South India – Dravida Style

Four stages of temple architecture had been observed in South India – Mainly during the Pallava’s rule, around 6th century AD which are as follows:

Stage 1 Mahendra Group 

  • Marked the beginning of Rock cut cave architecture
  • Word Mandap was used instead temple.

Stage II–Narsimha Group

  • Major development during this period was initiation of Decoration in rock cut cave structures
  • The architecture is represented by Monolithic rocks
  • Mandap’s now became ‘Ratha’s’ which is a refined cave, famous for beauty.
  • The biggest Ratha was called as Dharamraj Rath and smallest one was called as draupadi Rath.
  • Dharamraj Rath is considered as precursor of Dravidian style of temple making.

Stage III–Rajsimha Group

  • At this stage the real structural development of temple’s started and it moved outside the cave, earlier temples were part of caves.
  • ExampleShore temple at Mahabalipuram, (TN) Kailashnath temple at Kanchipuram largest single work of art ever undertaken in India

Stage IV – Nandivarman Group

  • It is said to be the declining stage of south Indian temple architecture and only small temples were constructed in this period.
  • Notable examples Vaikundaperumal temple, Tirunelveli and Mukteswara temple


Dravida Style

  • Deployed for Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu from the 7thto 18th century, characterized by its pyramidal tower
  • Unlike the nagara temple, the dravida temple is enclosed within a compound wall.
  • The front wall has an entrance gateway in its centre, which is known as Gopura/ Gopuram
  • Consists of a square-chambered sanctuary topped by a superstructure or tower (Vimana)
  • Consists of an attached pillared porch or hall (Mandapa) which precede the door leading to the nucleus cell
  • The vimana is like a stepped pyramid that rise up geometrically rather than the curving shikhara of north India.
  • Each story is delineated by a parapet of miniature shrines, and barrel-vault roofs at the centre.
  • The tower is topped by a dome-shaped cupola and a crowning pot and finial.
  • A large water reservoir or a temple tank enclosed in the complex is general in south Indian temples.

Brihadeshwara temple at Thanjavur

  • The origins of the Dravida style can be observed in the Gupta period.
  • The earliest examples include 7thcentury rock-cut shrines at Mahabalipuram and a developed structural temple, the Shore Temple at the same site.
  • Finest examples are Brihadeshwara temple at Thanjavur, built about 1010 by Rajaraja 1, & temple at Gangaikondacolapuram, built about 1025 by his son Rajendra Chola.
  • Subsequently, a number of successive court enclosures, each with its own gateway (Gopurams), were added.
  • By the Vijayanagar period (1336–1565) the Gopurams had increased in size so that they dominated the much smaller temples inside the enclosures.

Sub Styles of Dravida Temples 

Vijaynagar Legacy

  • They introduced the concept of enlarged high enclosure walls and more decoration on these high enclosure walls and Gopuram’s.
  • Sculpture or motif of supernatural horses was used very frequently.
  • They also introduced the concept of secular buildings (Example-Lotus Mahal).
  • Typically Vijaynagar period structures in the temple are the Amman Shrine (male deity of temple)

Nayaka Style

  • The Nayakas rose on the fall of Vijayanagara empire
  • The most famous architectural landmark of this period is the Meenakshi- Sundareswara temple at Madurai.
  • The great temple complex has actually two shrines; the first one dedicated to Shiva as Sundareswara and the second one to his wife Meenakshi.
  • Have all the features of Dravidian style with an additional prominent feature known as ‘Parakram’s
  • Prakram’s are huge Corridore’s along with roofed ambulatory passageways. It served to connect various parts of temple while enclosing certain areas.
  • Intricate carvings are seen all across the temple walls.
  • The large tank set slightly off the axis to the main temple is another impressive feature of the temple.
  • Surrounded by steps and a pillared portico, the tank was used for ritual bathing.
  • The culmination of the Dravidian style is to be seen in the period of the Nayak Rulers of Madurai who continued the building style and technique of the Pandyas and improved on it.  The notable features of the Nayak architecture are the hundred pillared mandapas, the lofty gopurams embellished with figures in their minute detail, the closed prakarams with huge pillars on either side, the beautiful corbel brackets as in Ramanatha temple in Rameshwaram and full-sized figures of animals and riders on rearing horses in the Srirangam temple.
  • Mandapa, Srirangam  Temple
  • The best examples of this style is seen in the temples of Madurai and surrounding areas.  The Madura style as it is called is marked by high concentric boundary walls around the temples, intervening courtyards called prakarams which contain pillared halls, store rooms, other smaller shrines and square water tanks for ritual baths.  The tank is surrounded by a pillared cloister and has steps leading down to the water.
  • East Gate, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
  • Famous temples of this type are the temple of Vishnu or Ranganath at Srirangam near Tiruchirapalli, the Shiva temple at Chidambaram and the temple at Rameshwaram.
  • The Meenakshi Temple at Madurai built by the Nayak Rulers is the most beautiful example of 17th century style of temple architecture.  Containing two separate sanctuaries – one dedicated to Sundareswara and the other to his consort, Meenakshi, the temple is a massive structure and is enclosed by four walls with four large gopurams.  The gopuram of nine storeys is ornamented with elaborate sculptures.  On the top is a vaulted roof.  A water tank in front and large pillared halls are its other features.
  • The Rameshwaram temple has richly carved pillared corridors.

Chola Sculpture: NATRAJ

  • Shiva’s dancing position is associated with the end of the cosmic world
  • Shiva has been shown balancing himself on his right leg and suppressing the apasmara, the demon of ignorance or forgetfulness, with the foot of same leg.
  • Shiva raises his left leg in bhujangtrasitastance, which represents tirobhava that is kicking away the veil of maya from the devotee’s mind.
  • His four arms are outstretched and lower right hand is posed in Abhayahastamudra
  • The upper right hand hold & Damaru
  • The upper left hand is held in dola hasta and connects with the Abhaya hasta of the right hand.
  • His Hair flocks fly on both the sides touching the circular jwala mala or the garland of flame, which surrounds the entire dancing figuration.


Vesara Style/Chalukya Style/Karnataka Style

  • This style has features of both Nagara and Dravidian style.
  • It consists of two principle components like Dravidian style i.e. Vimana & Mandap.
  • Departing from Dravidian style it does not have covered ambulatory around the sanctum.
  • ExampleLad Khan temple at aihole, Temples at Badami, Virupaksha temple – Pattadakal, Hoysala temples at Karnataka