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South Indian Temple Architecture

In this article, we will take a look at the architecture of some of the greatest architectural achievements of South India: its temples.

South Indian temple architecture, also called the Dravida Style, is a form of architecture widely employed for Hindu temples in modern Tamil Nadu from the 7th to the 18th century, characterized by its pyramidal tower. Variant forms are found in the 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 (mandapa, or mantapam), 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 kutina type 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 Dravida style can be seen in the Gupta period. The earliest extant examples of the developed style are the 7th-century rock-cut shrines at Mahabalipuram and a developed structural temple, the Shore Temple (c. 700), at the same site.

The South Indian style is most fully realized in the splendid Brihadeeswara temple at Thanjavur, built about 1003–10 by Rajaraja the Great, and the great temple at Gangaikondacholapuram, built about 1025 by his son Rajendra Chola. 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.

Temples started becoming the focus of urban architecture. Kanchipuram, Thanjavur or Tanjore, Madurai and Kumbakonam are the most famous temple towns of Tamil Nadu, where, during the eighth to twelfth centuries, the role of the temple was not limited to religious matters alone. Temples became rich administrative centres, controlling vast areas of land.

These are basically of five different shapes of temples: square, usually called kuta, and also caturasra; rectangular or shala or ayatasra; elliptical, called gaja-prishta or elephant-backed, or also called vrittayata, deriving from wagonvaulted shapes of apsidal chaityas with a horse-shoe shaped entrance facade usually called a nasi; circular or vritta; and octagonal or ashtasra. Generally speaking, the plan of the temple and the shape of the vimana were conditioned by the iconographic nature of the consecrated deity, so it was appropriate to build specific types of temples for specific types of icons. It must, however, be remembered that this is a simplistic differentiation of the subdivisions. Several different shapes may be combined in specific periods and places to create their own unique style.

I hope this article has been both informative and entertaining!


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