"The following works of art ...are among the most
remarkable contributions of the Tamil creative genius to the world's cultural treasure and
should be familiar to the whole world and admired and beloved by all in the same way as
... the cathedrals
of France and the sculptures of Greece ...... Dravidian temple architecture, of which the chief representatives are perhaps the temples of
Contribution to World Civilisation - Czech Professor Dr. Kamil Zvelebil in Tamil
Culture - Vol. V, No. 4. October, 1956)
From T.V.Mahalingam, Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology,
University of Madras on
Tamil Art &
Architecture paper presented at
Second International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies, January 1968
"Before sketching in outline the evolution of architecture it is necessary to acquaint ourselves with the major types of extant structures. These basic shapes are fivefold, viz., square (caturasra), rectangular (ayatasra), elliptical (vrittayata), circular (vritta) and octagonal (astasra). Generally speaking the plan of the temple was conditioned by the nature of the consecrated deity. The shrine of the reclining Ranganatha, for
example, can only be rectangular. The basic shapes are amply reflected in the superstructure of the vimas . Though square and rectangular shrines are frequently met with, circular and octagonal shapes are very rare. However these forms are
represented in the sikhara of the vimana. The apsidal form, a derivative from Buddhist architecture, was popular up to the 10th century in the
Tondaimandalam, after which it declined
Mention should also be made here of the temples which have more than one shrine in the vertical order. This is to be found in a handful of Vaisnava temples as those at
Uttiramerur, Madurai, Tirukkostiyur etc. Three shrines, one above the other, are found in these and are intended for the seated, standing and reclining forms of Visnu.
Unlike other parts of India the architectural history of the Tamil country starts only with the beginning of the seventh century A.D., the monuments built before that period having perished. In early Tamil literature we hear of such structures as
koyil, maddam, nagaram, palli, pali. etc., which are apparently references to temples or religious edifices. Presumably they were built of impermanent materials which have succumbed to the ravages of time.
The earliest extant monuments in the Tamil country are the rock-cut caves scooped out under the Pallavas, and following
them by the Pandyas, Muttaraiyars, and Atiyas. In his inscription in the cave of Laksitayatana at Mandagappattu, South Arcot district, Mahendravarman I (610-630 A.D.) declares that he caused the construction of the temple for
Siva, Visnu and Brahma without the use of conventional building materials like brick, timber, metal and mortar; and the tenor of the language has been taken to indicate that the king was introducing a new mode of architecture by scooping out the cave.
Many other cave temples are definitely attributable to Mahendravarman
on the authority of his inscriptions in them. These include the excavations at Pallavaram, Mahendravadi, Mamandur, Tiruchirapalli, Slyamangalam and Dalavanur. The Vasantesvaram at Vallam was also excavated in Mahendravaraman's reign by a feudatory of his.
Besides these caves of definite authorship, those at
Kuranganilmuttam, Vilappakkam, Aragandanallur and the Rudravahsvara cave at Mamandur are stylistically attributable to the period of Mahendravarman. These caves of Mahendra are simple in plan and consist of a
mandapa with one or a few shrines. The sculptural decoration of the caves is inconspicuous. The pillars in them are equidistant and have square sections both on base and top with the portion in between chamfered octagonally. In the square section are seen delicate carvings of lotus medallions. The pillars and pilasters carry on top massive corbels with beams.
This 'Mahendra style' was continued by his son and successor Mamalla, the famous Narasimhavarman I, who, however, introduced certain variations in some of his caves. In these the entablature is almost completely finished, unlike in those of the Mahendra variety. Besides
kudu arches in the cornice, it carries salas, karnakutas and alpanasikas. The pillars in Mamalla's caves are not only taller but also more slender than those of his father. The strutting figure of a lion ro vyala as the base of the pillar is a notable feature. Again in Mamalla's caves one can also find large bas-reliefs on walls in striking contrast to their plain nature in all but one of Mahendra's caves. The Konerimandapam, Varahamandapam,
Mahisamardanimandapam, Trimurti cave, Adivaraha cave, Ramanujamand. apam, etc. -
all at Mahabalipuram - are typical examples of the Mamalla types of rock architecture.
The Pandyas, who were ruling in the extreme south of the Tamil country, appear to have soon adopted the rock-cut technique and developed certain interesting variations in their excavations. It is possible that the cave at
Pillaiyarpatti is one of the earliest Pandya attempts in the rock medium as evidenced by the archaic
palaegraphy of the inscription in Vatteluttu characters in it. The Siva cave shrine at Malaiyadikurichi is assignable on the basis of an inscription to the second half of the seventh century and the Narasimha cave at Anamalai and the Subrahmanya cave at Tirupparankunram are on the same ground datable respectively to 770 to 773 A.D.
At Tiruttangal, Piranmalai, Kudumiyamalai and Sittannavasal are to be found other caves of the
Pandyas. Though similar to Pallava caves in plan and design, the Pandya examples differ from them in their adoption of certain Calukyan features such as the introduction of the rock-cut linga and Nandi and sculptural representations of Ganesa and Saptamatrkas. The pillars are large and reminiscent of those of the Mahendra variety with corbels generally with a plain level.
In this movement of scooping out live rocks for divine abodes minor dynasties like the Atiyas and Muttaraiyars also participated, though stylistically their excavations are much akin to those of their political master. The cave at Namakkal is evidently an Atiya enterprise while Muttaraiya involvement may be seen at Tiruvellarai,
Narttamalai, Kunrlandarkoil etc.
Under Narasimhavarma I, Pallava rock-architecture took a new turn. besides cutting into rocks for caves, attempts were made to cut out monoliths from rocks. The rudiments of this practice are to be found in the carved-out stupas in the caves of Western India and the
vimana-form in the Tawa cave at Udayagiri but it was at
Mahabalipuram under the Pallavas that it found a full and eloquent expression.
Architecturally they depict the external aspects of contemporary brick and timber structures. There are as many as nine monoliths at Mahabalipuram of which the five, named after the Pandavas and Draupadi, are a well-known assemblage of contiguous excavations, the other examples are the Ganesa ratha, Valayankuttai ratha and the two Pidari rathas. As they represent varying architectural designs they are of primary importance for any study of the plan and different zones and the details of the Yima-nas.
Dharmaraja-ratha is three-storeyed with a square viguana and an octagonal dome. Though the
Arjunaratha is similar to this it is two-storeyed. The
Bhimaratha has a wagon-top roof and is single-storeyed unlike the Ganesa ratha, another example of wagon top roof, which is double-storeyed. The Draupadiratha
is hut-shaped and is square in plan and its roof is domical. The
Sahadevaratha represents the apsidal form with its back resembling that of an elephant, a feature high-lighted by the carving of a huge elephant by the side of the monolith.
The only non-Pallava monolith in the Tamil country is Kalugumalai which was cut-out under the Pandyas. This has been cut out, like the Rastrakuta monoliths in the Deccan, by entrenching all round and not by free cutting of standing rocks as in the Pallava domain.
Though the rock medium appears to have continued for some more time it was soon replaced by structural temples. This movement, as available evidences indicate, appears to have first started under Narasimhavarman I's grand-son Paramesvaravarman (669-691
A.D.), though it is not unlikely that the practice was still older. A few pillars in the typical Mahendra style, one of them with an inscription of Mahendravarman
I, found in the Eltamranatha temple at
Kanchipuram seem to suggest that even at the beginning of the seventh century structural
mandapas were built. The presence of Pallava pillars at Sivanvayil, Kuram, Vayalur, Tirupporur etc., is enough to confirm this.
The Vidyavimta Pallavesvaragriha at Kuram built by Paramesvaravarman I is an early structural edifice. The provision of a series of vertical and horizontal slabs instead of a full bAitti is an interesting and early feature in this temple. While this is a small temple and reflects the modest nature of the enterprise, the temples of the next reign are large in size, elaborate in plan and rich in architectural and sculptural decorations. With the accession of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha the history of Pallava architecture enters upon a new and eventful phase.
Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram
While the temples of
Kailasanatha at Kanchipuram, Talagirlsvara at Panamalai and the
Shore temple at Mahabalipuram are indisputably
assignable to his reign on epigraphical grounds, a large number of other smaller temples are also stylistically akin to them. The temples of Vaikuntanatha, Muktesvara and Matangesvara at
Kanchipuram are said to be slightly later and belong to the reign of Nandivarman Pallavamalla.
Kailasanatha Temple at Kanchipuram
The Kailasanatha is four-storeyed and is an example of sandharaprasada containing two walls providing an ambulatory. The storeys are decorated with architectural designs like kutas, kostas and panjaras. The pillars in structural temples are with rampant lions generally and with elephants,
nagas and bhulas at times. Niches are to be seen in both the rock-cut and structural temples and have a makaratorana decoration on their top, the makaras in them having floriated tails overflowing on the sides. The corbels are generally curved in profile with the taranga (wave moulding) ornament and a median band. The gopuras are absent in these early temples.
In the Kailasanatha at Kanchi and the
Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram there are faint but unmistakable suggestions of
gopuradhvaras which were to evolve into towers. Another feature of these early structural temples is the almost prodigal sculptural embellishment of the exterior walls. The carvings are invariably those of deities, a few of which appear to be fresh inceptions from the Calukyan area.
The Colas who supplanted the Pallavas about the middle of the ninth century as a political force continued the latter's artistic
activities. For about five centuries a large part of the Tamil country besides peripheral regions in contiguous areas in Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala were under their sway which they studded with hundreds of temples. On the basis of certain accepted notions regarding the evolution of temple architecture and on the authority of numerous inscriptions it is now fairly possible to determine the dates of most of the
Chola monuments. Though the periodisation of South Indian art-history is even now a subject of debate it is conceded by most scholars that the
Chola temples are broadly divisible into three groups:
the first group belonging to the period from the accession of Vijayalaya to the accession of Rajaraja I (i.e., 850-985 A.D.);
the second group assignable to the period from the accession of Rajaraja I to the accession of Kulottunga (985-1070 A.D.); and
the third group comprising the period from the accession of Kulottunga I to the decline and fall of the
Chola empire under Rajaraja III and Rajendra III (1070-1270
The temples of the first group are many which in stylistic characteristics break away from the structural temples of the Pallavas. In the Pallava temples the lowermost tier of the
vimana is extended to the vestibule in front of the shrine, while this is not found
in early Chola temples,
the only exception being the Vijayalayacolisvaram at Narttamalai
Takeo Kamiya - Architecture of the Indian Sub Continent] which according to recent researches is not a Chola but a Muttaraiya edifice. The torus moulding in the basement which is chamfered in Pallava temples continues to be so in the
Chola period for sometime but soon gets a rounded shape. The cornice in
Chola temples is no longer a projecting tier as it is in Pallava monuments but gets a flexed shape. The old lion and
vyala motifs in pillars are also dispensed with, though they linger for sometime in a few temples. Further, the corbels in pillars get an angular profile and are bevelled, resulting in a triangular, tenon-like projection. The absence of extravagant sculptural decoration on the exterior of the shrine walls is another distinguishing feature.
Though typical early Chola examples are numerous, special mention must be made of those at
(Koranganatha), Kumbhakonam, Erumbur, Pullamangai, Punjai and Kodumbalur. The introduction of
sub shrines for attendant divinities (parivara-devatas) noticed in these temples reveals elaboration and development of the temple complex.
In fact the beginnings of this practice are to be discerned even in the latter Pallava temple of
Virattanesvara at Tiruttani built under Aparajita. This temple, though Pallava in name, is
Chola in design and style and chronologically almost coeval with some of the
Chola monuments enumerated above. The parivdra shrines, usually eight in number, were meant for attendant deities like
Ganesa, Subrahmartya, Surya, Candra, Saptamatrkas, Jyestha, Candikesvara and Nandi. The gopuras of this period continue to be inconspicuous,
the vim„nas, dominating the temple complex.
Generally speaking, temples built under Aditya and Par„ntaka contained only three niches in the shrine walls, one on each wall, and two niches in the walls of the
ardhamandapa, again one on each wall. While the niches in the southern and northern walls of the
ardhamandapa carried respectively carvings of Ganesha and Durga, those of the main shrine were intended for
Daksinšmurti and Brahm„. The niche in the rear wall offered scope for variation, the enshrined deity being either Lingodhbhava or
Visnu, Harihara or Ardhan„risvara.
But even in two very early temples - those at Srinivasanallur and Kumbhakonam - the tendency to multiply the niches is found, the additional niches carrying what looks like portraits. This tendency has been developed in the temples built by Sembiyan
Mahadevi, mother of Uttamacola at such places as Tirukkodikk„val, Sembiyan
Mah„devi, Anangur, Aduturai, Tirunaraiyur, Kuttšlam, etc., where the additional niches carry such iconographic types as
Natar„ja, Bhiksštana and Ardhanri besides Agastya.
These early Chola architectural traditions are carried to those of the later
Chola period by the temples built under the illustrious Rajaraja and his son RšjŽndra. Many are the extant examples assignable to this middle phase, the most famous among them being the
Brihadisvara temple at Tanjore and
Gangaikondacolapuram. Other temples of this period are those at Tiruvaji,
MŽlpadi, TiruvalaŮjuli, Tirumalavadi, Tiruvarangulam, Dadapuram, etc. In most of these temples the
basement is ornamented with pilasters which carry a cornice. The walls have a greater number of niches and a semi-circular arch (tiruvacci) the centre of which is identical with that of’ the
kŁdu which appears beneath the architrave and over the niche. The introduction of the kumbhapaŮjara in between the niches is another feature.
The Tanjore temple is undoubtedly the grandest achievement of the age. It was more a monument of triumph than a strict example of temple architecture. It is in this temple that one notices for the first time two gopuras oriented in the same direction. They are architecturally coeval with the main vimana and are referred to in inscriptions as
Rajar„jan tiruvasal and Keral„ntakan tiruvasal In spite of the massive size of the gopuras the vim„na, rising majestically to a height of 190 feet, continues to dominate and it is only in the subsequent period that a change in the gradation of magnitude takes place.
The multiplication of pariv„ra shrines and the introduction of a separate shrine for the goddess are the two significant changes in the temple complex effected during this period. Even in the Tanjore temple the Devi shrine is not contemporaneous with the main cella but was built later. The earliest Devi shrine which appears to be definitely chronologically coeval with the main shrine is the one at
The Devi shrines, known as Tirukkdmakkottams, were thus largely a feature from the reign of RšjŽndra. In the temples representing the final phase of
Chola architecture a
discernible maturity of style is evident.
Notable examples of them are to be found at D„ršsuram, Tribhuvanam,
Chidambaram and Jambukesvaram. Of the stylistic improvements made in these temples mention must be made of the torus moulding in the basement which is rounded and has a smooth surface, though in a few cases it is orna≠mented with vertical grooves or ribs. The
makaratoranas become tall with narrow reverse curves on each side; the
kumbhapanjaras are also developed and carry on top over the abacus the superstructure of a
panjara. The phalaka in the pillars are thinner than those of earlier periods and the padma below it, which is inverted and smooth in early temples, now has petals. The pillars in the
mandapas have attached pilasters on their sides, known as Aniyottikal.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the temples of the late
Chola phase is the increased height of the gopuras. The five-storeyed gopuras at
Tiruvenkšdu, Uyyakondan-Tirumalai, Tiruccengštt„ngudi and Kumbhakonam must belong to this phase. Besides the gopura, pillared
mandapas were also built within the temple complex, some of them being shaped in the form of a chariot by the addition of wheels and horses and elephants.
Generally speaking, the characteristics of the early and late
Chola temples are shared by
Pandya monuments of the respective periods, though minor variations are present in them.
The next stage of development is, however, seen only in the temples built under the Vijayanagar rulers. The Vijayanagar kings not only built many new edifices, but made many additions to the already existing temples. Such additions are to be found in many places, the most noteworthy among them being
Srirangam, Vellore, etc.
The mandapas become large and conspicuous adjuncts during this period due to the multiplication and elaboration of religious rituals and ceremonial observances. The
Kaly„namandapa, Sop„natmandapa, Davana≠mandapa, Sndpanamandapa,
AlaŮk„ramandapa, etc., are the usual mandapas in addition to the ardha,
mukha and mah„ mandapas of earlier times.
Some of these mandapas are, however, not entirely unknown under the late Colas. A few of them were built outside the temple circuit but not much away from it. These
mandapas are essentially pillared halls, open or closed, and contain either a shrine or a raised platform over a huge tortoise either in the centre or behind. They are also notable for their pillars which are rich in sculptural work and to which are attached riders on horse or lion or y„li. The fluted type of simple pillars becomes rare and huge and monolithic ones are often seen. They have ornamental brackets forming their capitals, below each of which is a pendant. This pendant has been
in many examples elaborated into a ‘volute which terminates as an inverted lotus bud.’
The niches in the walls are not surmounted by tor„nas as in Pallava and
Chola temples but have a simple paŮjara design over them. What is more, the niches are empty, without any image in them. Their old functional character has been lost and they remain a simple ornamental design on the exterior of the wall.
The increase in the height of the gopuras and in the number of pr„karas is yet another feature. The gopuras are generally seven≠storeyed and are large and tall, especially in the
Pandya region. The most typical gopuras of this period are to be found at
Tiruvannamalai. These are rich with architectural designs like salas, karnakutas and alpanasikas rather than sculptural decoration.
The Vijayanagar mode of architecture was continued by the Nayak rulers of Madurai. In the temples renovated or rebuilt by them, as the ones at
R„mesvaram and Tirunelveli, the corbels in the pillars show at their ends a plantain-flower-like motif. The gopuras continue to be slender and tall, the typical example being the Vatapatrasayi gopura at
Srivilliputtur which is eleven-storeyed. The corridors in these temples, unlike those of earlier periods, are provided with ceilings which are at times painted.