Temple Architecture: Dravidian Style in South India

In the last post we have read Nagara Temple Architecture. Nagara Temple Architecture was prevalent in North and Central India. Now in this post, we will discuss South Indian Temple Architecture. We call it as the Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture. The Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture is the oldest style of architecture. This style developed in many stages. Here are the following one.

Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture

During the reign of Pallava Rulers Dravidian Style developed. It has two sub styles too. One is Nayaka Style and other is Vijayanagara Style, which developed during the reign of Vijayanagar Kings.

Though initially, Rock-Cut architecture was present in South India. But later temples started into existence. As rulers of South India was mainly of the Hindu origin so, we found temples of Hindu Deities in South India. South India is also culturally rich as compared to India. And till now South Indians have very much affection and attachment to their culture. So, they follow it religiously and consistently.

Initially, Mandap word used to indicate temple in Dravidian Style of Architecture. Slowly and steadily the Mandap became Rathas. The biggest Ratha was Dharamraj Ratha and smallest was Draupadi Ratha. The basic architectural diagram of the Dravidian Style is shown below.

Dravidian Style of Architecture Diagram
Dravidian Style of Architecture Diagram


Description of Dravidian Style of Temples

The Shikhara is a crowning element of the temple that is the head of the temple was Shikhara. The shape of the Shikhara was octagonal. And Vimana was the name for the Dravidian Shikhara. The Vimana of the Dravidian Temples is usually in the shape of rectangular branched pyramid.

Kailashnatha Temple at Kanchi
Kailashnatha Temple at Kanchi

Temple building in South India got patronage from the Pallava and Chalukya dynasty in the early ages. The best example of the early temples is Shore Temple of Mamallapuram and Kailashanatha Temple of Kanchi. The later on the Temple Architecture of South India got patron from the Chola Rulers.

So, the temple architecture reached its peak during the Chola Empire. The Rajaraja the Great and Rajendra Chola built many magnificent temples in South India. The example of the magnificent temples is Gangaikondacholapuram near Kumbhakonam, Temple of Shiva at Thanjavur (Tanjore).

Gangaikondacholapuram Temple
Gangaikondacholapuram Temple

It is evident that the Pallava Rulers started building temples in Southen India but the Dravidian Style flourished during the rule of Cholas.

Features of Dravidian Style

In the Dravidian Style of architecture, the chief shrine of the temple as in the Nagara Style had the chief deity. From the 12th Century onwards it was seen that the temples were fortified with three square concentric walls and with gates on the four sides.

The entrance gate of the temple was Gopuram. The Gopuram also had a tower like Vimana which was smaller than the Vimana over the chief shrine of the temple. This was due to the influence of the Pandyan Kingdom after the Cholas Kingdom. Now, the Temples became more and more splendid.

Functions of Temples

The temple was the centre for the religious meetings. They were also the centre for the Education. So, the rulers of the State usually donated the land for the temples and patronised temples.

Sub Styles of Dravidian Architecture

Nayaka Style

Meenakshi Temple Madurai
Meenakshi Temple Madurai

The famous example of this style is Meenakshi temple of Madurai. All the features of this temple are same as the Dravidian style with an additional feature called Prakarms. Prakarms are huge corridors along with roofed ambulatory passageways of Temple.

Vijayanagara Style

Vitthala Temple of Vijayanagara
Vitthala Temple of Vijayanagara

There were some variations from the Dravidian Style in temple architecture. And these were,

  • Enlarged Gopuram that is the entrance of the temple.
  • High enclosure walls.
  • More intricate decoration.
  • Sculpture of motif of supernatural horses.

The school of Vijayanagar Style reached its apogee in the 16th Century. The most important feature of the Vijayanagara Style was that the Amma, the God’s chief wife’s Shrine was also present there. The Vitthala Temple at Hampi is the finest example of the Vijayanagar Style of Temple Architecture.

This was a brief for the Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture. In the next coming post, we will complete the temple architecture by covering the last remaining Vesara and Hoyasala Style.

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