Monuments: Southern India

views updated

Monuments: Southern India

South Indian monuments of the premodern period represent two distinct regional styles of temple architecture: the Deccan style, which spread over the plateau of peninsular India; and the Dravida, or Tamil, style, which developed mainly in the Tamil region but which had a significant impact on the later phases of architecture in the Deccan and in Andhra Pradesh. The Deccan style in its early stage (6th–8th centuries a.d.) marks an initial attempt to use either the Nagara style or the Dravida style, but in its later stage develops into what may be called the Deccan style by combining some of the major elements of both. The main features of the Deccan style are a shrine with a sikhara (pyramidal roof), pillared halls, perforated stone screens, sloping roofs of passages around the shrine, and porches with sloping seat backs, all of which are evident in the later Deccan monuments of the eighth to the seventeenth centuries. The Dravida style evolved with a clear focus on the vertical ascent of the square shrine, or vimāna, with a pyramidal storied sikhara and a series of mandapas (columned halls) in an east-west alignment, enclosed by a prākāra (wall) with a rectangular entrance, or gopura. These two styles developed in the early medieval period (6th–12th centuries) in two phases, the twelfth century marking the apogee of both, together with their design and iconographic program. Their further elaboration took place in the period from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. While in the first period the focus was mainly on the plan, design, and elevation of the architectural components (such as the shrine with its tower and the pillared halls aligned with it), the emphasis in the later period was on the horizontal magnification of the temple and its precincts, to serve the increasing ritual, festival requirements and iconographic developments. As the social and economic outreach of the temple expanded, so did the community's participation in its architectural expansion and in ritual worship. The temple's art and architecture served as the symbols of political authority as well as social and economic integration, thus becoming the focus of rural settlements and urban complexes.


Situated on the banks of the Malaprabha River, Paṭṭadakal is one of the three sites (Aihoḷe, Bādāmi, and Paṭṭadakal) with magnificent early Chalukya temples of the seventh and eighth centuries, built of gray-yellow sandstone, with several additions made during the Rashtrakuta period (9th–10th centuries). The Virūpāksha and Mallikārjuna complexes mark the culmination of the early Chalukya series.

Of the early Shiva temples (7th–8th centuries) with a rudimentary Nāgara plan (a pyramidal superstructure with curvilinear top), the ruined Galaganātha (7th century, reign of Vijayāditya) is the earliest of the Paṭṭadakal temples, similar to the early Chalukya temples in Ālampūr. Its tower is more sophisticated and refined in design than the others. Raised on a broad terrace, it follows the Deccan style in all its components. A marked feature of the Galaganātha temple is the eight-armed figure of Shiva in the gavāksha (windowlike projection/niche on the first tier). The Sangamesvara temple, patronized by Vijayāditya, has the usual plan of aligned structures of the Deccan style, while the Kāshivishvanātha temple combines a Nāgara sikhara with Dravida architectural motifs. The small Chandrashekhara temple is the only Rashtrakuta period structure within the same compound.

The Virūpāksha temple (a.d. 745), commissioned by Lokamahādevi, the chief queen of Vikramāditya II, to commemorate her husband's conquest of Kānchīpuram, is a grand complex with an entrance gateway, Nandi pavilion (a pillared structure for placing the nandi or bull), a porch, a mandapa, and a liṅga sanctuary, all aligned on an east-west axis with subsidiary shrines. It represents the climax of the early Chalukya series in terms of layout, exterior treatment, and sculptural décor. Its square pyramidal tower has three diminishing tiers or stories, a potlike finial, 57 feet (17.5 meters) above ground level, and a large gavāksha (a horseshoe-shaped window or niche for an icon or some decorative figure) in front with a dancing Shiva. Not only in its architectural aspects, which combine the Nāgara with Dravida elements, but also in its sculptural decoration, wall panels, column reliefs, and ceiling compositions, the temple surpasses in number and variety those found on any other religious monuments of the period; its rich repertoire of iconography includes a large number of Shiva and Vishnu and other deities, richly sculpted mythological narratives, and epic scenes from the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata on the mandapa walls and columns, which are striking for their dynamic composition. Flying Mithuna couples (amorous couples usually shown in erotic postures) and lyrical figures of river goddesses on the sanctuary doorway, elaborate ceiling panels in the porches, and figures of musicians and dancers are other decorative features. The thirty-five panels on the outer walls, finished by different hands, along with the images in the minor shrines of Gaṇesha and Mahishāsuramardini, represent masterpieces of early Chalukya style. Ornamental parapets, perforated stone windows, porches and balconies, elephant torsos and lions, animal friezes and foliate devices provide a rich exterior.

The Mallikārjuna temple, built by Trailokyamahādevi, the younger queen of Vikramāditya II (Trailokeshvara), is a matching monument to Virūpāksha, and the two are laid out in unique diagonal formation. It is a smaller version, complete with its own walled compound, entrance gateways and subshrines, with a greater three-dimensional massing of volumes. Its iconographic scheme shows Shiva and Vishnu in various forms. The Kirātārjunīya story, the Panchatantra, and Rāmāyaṇa scenes are sculpted on the columns of the mandapa.

A short distance from the main group is the Pāpanātha temple, completed in the reign of Kirttivarman II (r. 634–645), in a mixed architectural style; Nāgara features mingle with Dravida elements like kūḍus (horseshoe-shaped windows) marking the cornice (kapota). The Rāmāyaṇa reliefs of this temple represent the most complete cycle on any early Chalukya monument. This is the only temple with a pair of interconneting mandapas, due to three succesive phases of construction.

The rich iconography of these temples shows a variety of Shaiva and Vaishnava forms in their interior and exterior, creating a rich repertoire of Purāṇic deities (the Hindu pantheon) and their mythology. Some distance west of the main group is the Jain temple, a well worked but somewhat austere structure, with a tower containing an upper chamber with a Dravida kūṭa roof. Its basement carries extraordinary life-sized torsos of elephants and makaras (crocodiles).

Belūr and Haḷebīḍ

Situated 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Hassan in southern Karnataka, the Hoysaḷa temple of Chennakesava at Belūr, built in the reign of Vishnuvardnana in 1117 with a revolutionary design, represents the beginnings of a new tradition in architecture. The ground plan of the Hoysaḷa temples is stellate, or star-shaped, the one at Belūr being a half star for the main shrine, with a vestibule and an open mandapa (navaranga) in front, later closed with stone screens. It is a towerless eka-kūṭa shrine (a single shrine with a single story), measuring 34 feet (10.5 meters) corner to corner at its exterior. The length of the entire structure is 138 feet (42 meters), and the width of the open hall is 95 feet (29 meters). It is a pancharatha (a shrine that has five exterior projections) with Bhumija superstructures over the multiaedicular Nāgara shrines.

Standing on a 3.3-feet (1-meter) high platform, the whole temple is accessible through three flights of steps and three entrances, each flight flanked by miniature shrines with Nāgara roofs. The elevation has three main parts: the base, the wall surface, and the tower. The base is decorated with friezes of elephants, horses, and lions in horizontal rows, a forerunner of all other Hoysaḷa temples. In the mandapa, the perforated stone screens rise above the half pillars, resting on a parapet. Madanika (female) figures decorate the top of the pillars below the protruding chadya (eave) and are purely ornamental. The sculptured wealth is extraordinary, covering the surface from the base to the cornice (kapota), including mythological stories of Krishna and icons of Vishnu in various forms, with floral canopies. The interior has rich decorative carvings, especially the ceiling and the pillars. The large two-story wall shrines located in the middle have mixed Dravida and Nāgara elements, but without a Dravida or even a clear Nāgara structure

Haḷebīḍ (Dvārasamudra, the Hoysaḷa capital) is 9 miles (15 kilometers) northeast of Belūr. Here the temple design is innovative and introduces the typical Hoysaḷa style. Unequaled in size and extent, it is a double temple with a dvikūṭa Dravida vimāna, with both towers missing and with a half-star plan. Two open halls, linked together, have two additional shrines at the connection of the two. The pillars appear to be lathe turned. Facing the open halls are Nandi pavilions and a Sūrya shrine, all of which share a large platform following their outline. The ground plan is more detailed and schematic, with each vimāna measuring 26 feet (8 meters), the vimāna and the hall together 108 feet (33 meters) long, and the two halls 154 feet (47 meters) wide. Both vimānas are pancharatha and have staggering projections and recessions, notably at the back, with six wall shrines. The temple has two entrances in front, and two lateral entrances to the open halls, all flanked by miniature Dravida shrines.

The base has eight lavishly sculptured friezes with horizontally arranged figures (elephants, horses, lions, and epics) and above, the wall surface has large images, representing almost the full Hindu pantheon and mythological scenes. The antarāla (vestibule) doorway decoration is equally rich, and the interior on the whole has decorative carvings on the ceiling and other surfaces. The decorative carvings have a fragile filigree effect, and no space is left uncarved. The Hoysaleshvara at Haḷebīd. undoubtedly influenced the architecture of all later Hoysaḷa temples, of which the Somanāthapura triple shrine, with well preserved towers, pillared navaranga, base friezes, and decorative sculptures, is the best example.

Shravana Beḷgoḷa

The most celebrated Digambara Jain center in South India, Shravana Beḷgoḷa, in southern Karnataka, has a long history, starting from the Mauryan period to the present day. The early name of the town was Gommaṭapura, but after the twelfth century, the names Beḷgoḷa (white pond) and Jinanāthapura seem to have come into use, while the name Shravana Beḷgoḷa is not known before 1810. It has the largest number of Digambara Jain temples (33), located on two hills, known as Vindhyagiri/Indragiri (Doḍḍabeṭṭa/Pēr-Kaḷvappu) and Chandragiri (Chikkabeṭṭa/Kaḷvappu), and the surrounding areas. The monuments range in date from the ninth to the nineteenth century, but the most important ones were erected from the tenth through the fourteenth centuries under the Hoysaḷas and their subordinates, the Gangas, and under the Vijayanagara rulers of the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries. Its inscriptions number 579, the largest for a single center, although many of the early ones are nisidhi (memorial) inscriptions of those who followed the sallekhaṇa, or the ritual of death by fasting.

The chief monument is the famous Gommaṭa (Bāhubali) statue, the colossus within an open quadrangle on the Vindhyagiri. The statue is 58.8 feet (17.7 meters) high, the largest consecrated monolith anywhere in the world, and was commissioned by Chāmuṇḍarāya, the Ganga general of the Hoysaḷa kingdom, in 981. Endowed with a physiognomy that suggests an unmatched serenity, with half-closed eyes, the image re-creates a superhuman personality. An anthill at the base, with hissing snakes and a creeper that climbs the figure of Gommaṭa, are characteristic of a renouncer's stance, while a circular stone basin, called lalita sarovara, at the foot of the image, collects the ceremonial water, when the ceremonial bath (abhisheka) for the image is performed.

The Bhaṇḍara Basti (Chaturvimsati Tīrthānkara Basti), the largest temple of the complex, was consecrated in 1159. Along with the cloister around Bāhubali (Gommaṭa), it enshrines the images of the twenty-four Tīrthānkaras of Jainism. The ceilings of the cloister have carvings of the eight guardians of the directions, with Indra holding a pot to anoint the image of Bāhubali. While the Gommaṭa statue is of the Ganga style, nearly all other images in the Suttālaya are of the Hoysaḷa style. Subsequent renovations added a gopura (gateway) tower, a high walled outer enclosure, a pillared porch (mukha maṇḍapa), and an ornate doorway. The Sarasvatī mandapa in front was added by Mahāpradhāna Bukkarāya in 1527.

The small hill, Chandragiri-Chikkabeṭṭa (Kaḷbappu or Kaṭavapra), has 13 temples, 7 mandapas, 2 freestanding pillars, a crude enclosure on the top of the hill, and a few ponds. Tradition associates it with the migration of Jains from the north, led by Bhadrabāhu, accompanied by Chandragupta, the Mauryan king. The natural cavern, housing the footprint of Bhadrabāhu, has great sanctity and was converted into a temple after the eleventh century, with a porch added in the seventeenth century. The Chandragupta Basti, a small temple at the summit of the enclosure, enshrines Pārshvanātha, Kushmāṇḍini, and Padmāvati in three chambers opening from the vestibule. Its twelfth-century doorway, with stone screens on each side, carries the stories of Chandragupta and Bhadrabāhu in relief.

Of the several Jinalayas (Jain temples) on these two hills and the surrounding areas, the architecturally and historically significant ones are the Chāmuṇḍarāya Basti on the smaller hill and the Bhaṇḍara Basti on the larger hill, which are built of granite, while most of the others are in brick and mortar. The Akkaṇa Basti (A.D. 1181) in the town and the more ornate Shantīsvara Basti (A.D. 1200) in Jinanāthapura, both built in dark blue schist, are perfect specimens of the Hoysaḷa style. The reliefs of Tīrthānkaras, yakshas (nature spirits), and other attendants in these temples are of considerable iconographic significance.

Archways and mandapas, housing commemorative columns, were memorials, or nisidhis, of Jain teachers and royal members. The Mahānavami mandapa of the twelfth century, on the larger hill, and the Nisidhi mandapa of the Rashtrakuta Indra IV (built in 982), and the Gangaraja mandapa (erected in 1120–1123) on the smaller hill, are such memorials. Historically important are the freestanding pavilions like the Tyāgada kambha (pillar of abandonment), of tenth-century Ganga workmanship, and the freestanding Yaksha pillar, both on the larger hill, the latter with an inscription of 1422, recording gifts made to Gommaṭa by Irugappa Daṇḍanāyaka, the Vijayanagara general. The Kuge Brahmadeva pillar of 974 is a fine specimen of Ganga workmanship, a commemorative column with a 113-line inscription giving a glowing account of King Mārasimha.

Jain nisidhi stones are numerous in the period from the sixth to the tenth centuries, but there was a significant decrease in nisidhis and an increase in bastis, attracting pilgrims to the center from the tenth century. As a pilgrimage center, a large number of temples, ponds, and villages similar to the agrahāra (Brahman settlements) emerged.


Hampi, or Vijayanagara, is one of the largest medieval cities in Asia. As the capital of the Vijayanagara rulers (14th–16th centuries), it is the earliest site with remains of both religious and secular (courtly) architecture. The remains of nearly 150 shrines and temples are found in the site, on the hills near the site, and in the valley. More important, the remains of a complex hydraulic system in the royal center reveal the importance given to irrigation and water supply under Vijayanagara.

The pre-Vijayanagara temples are located mostly in the hills (Rishyamukha, Hemakūṭa, Matanga, and Malyavanta) and date from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries, with some additional structures of the Vijayanagara period. They follow the Deccan style in general, but also include the Dravida type of sikhara, as in the Rashtrakuta temples of the tenth century. The Shaiva temples on the Hemakūṭa hill are of the Kadmaba-Nāgara style (10th–14th centuries). They are of the dvikūṭa (double shrine) and trikūṭa (triple shrine) variety, with niches of the Kalinga, Dravida, and Nāgara types. Phāmsana towers (pyramids of deeply cut tiers) appear over both Hindu and Jain temples of the Deccan style on the Hemakūṭa hill. The Jain mānastambha (ceremonial pillar) is an additional feature. The Kalinga-style sikhara with the stepped pyramidal form in diminishing tiers, is also common.

Other temples in the area and its suburbs (like Kamalāpura and Ānegondi), including the Jain temples, of the period from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, combine the Dravida sikhara with the Deccan style features of the pillared mandapas, with rich carvings. The entrance gopura with a brick and mortar superstructure and with high prākāra (enclosure wall) emerged as the major Vijayanagara components.

The Vijayanagara temples in Hampi represent the Karnāṭa-Andhra style in three phases. The first two phases—the early Sangama phase of 1336–1404 and the second Sangama phase of 1404–1485—have temples that are modest in scale and decoration. A highly ornate sculptured idiom emerged with the Rāmachandra temple, and predominantly Dravida architectural components appear in the elevational treatment and columns. The third phase of the Karnata-Andhra style, under the Sāḷuvas and Tuḷuvas (1480–1570) was mainly inspired by Chola models. A coordinated layout of temple complexes as seen in the remodeling of the Virūpāksha temple under Krishna Deva Rāya (r. 1509–1529), became the paradigm for all subsequent architectural developments, showing further stylistic evolution in the mandapas, as in the the Mahā mandapa of the Viṭṭhala temple (1534). Intricate decorative schemes on the mandapa ceilings became the hallmark of the Vijayanagara temples.

The single prākāra scheme, with gopuras on two sides, is the most popular. Yet more elaborate temple complexes, sometimes with double shrines, huge mandapas, and multiple subsidiary shrines, contained within one or more rectangular prākāras, and larger and more ornate gopuras, continued to evolve. A unique aspect of temple planning in this era is seen at the capital, where some temple complexes (Virūpāksha, Tiruvengalanātha, and Viṭṭhala) are provided with long colonnaded streets leading up to the main gopuras. The use of local granite was common in temple architecture, while statues, like the gigantic Narasimha monolith (22 feet [6.7 m] high) near the Krishna temple, were shaped out of gray-green schist.

The site of Hampi may be divided into the sacred and royal complexes, the royal complex also having a number of temples in and outside the fortified area. The Virūpāksha temple, dating from the seventh century a.d., was already an important religious center and became the focus of the sacred complex, housing the tutelary deity of Vijayanagara. Renovations and additions made it into a fairly large structure by the Vijayanagara period (by the 16th century). The temple has a Garbha griha (sanctuary), and three antechambers, a sabhā mandapa or navaranga (pillared hall for sacred congregations, rituals and discourses) and mukha mandapa (front hall), pillared cloisters, entrances, and small shrines; the main entrance is the east gopura of nine stories, 173 feet [52.6 m] high. It combines Dravida features in its sikhara and plan, but carries distinct characteristics of the Deccan style in its navaranga with rich carvings of Shaiva themes, while the mukha mandapa, or ranga mandapa, has thirty-eight pillars, carved with scenes from the epics Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, and ceiling paintings, of which the sage Vidyāraṇya's procession is well known. Significant additions made in the Tuḷuva period are the maharanga mandapa (hall with highly decorative elements) and porches, and a one-hundred-columned hall, the gopura, and the painting on the ceiling of the mahā mandapa (outer hall).

The Hazāra Rāmachandra temple in the northwest. corner of the palace complex, built in the fifteenth century under Devarāya I, has the usual plan of a square sanctuary, a Dravida style vimāna with a storied sikhara, a sabhāmandapa, an eight-pillared porch, a ranga mandapa, and two antechambers. The sabhāmandapa has reliefs of Vaishnava themes, the Dasavatāra, and even Shaiva deities, Gaṇesha and Mahisamardini. The temple is a veritable picture gallery, as its outer walls are richly carved with bas-reliefs of the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. The external face of the enclosure wall contains five friezes of a unique series of royal processional scenes—elephants, horses, soldiers, dancers and musicians, with royal figures within pavilions, depicted as if watching these parades. On the inner face of the wall, between the north and east gateways, are the panels of relief carvings of the entire story of the Rāmāyaṇa, repeated again on the outer walls of the mandapa of the principal shrine. The east-facing goddess shrine is situated north of the main temple. Under Krishna Deva Rāya, the Kalyāṇa mandapa, a high prākāra with two entrances, east and north, were added in 1521.

The Viṭṭhala temple (originally enshrining Viṭṭhala and Rukmiṇi), built on the south bank of Tungabhadra in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in the Tuḷuva period, has the usual plan with a garbha griha, antarāla (vestibule), pradakshiṇā patha around both, sabhā mandapa (navaranga), and mahā mandapa. To these were added several shrines, a high-walled prākāra, and gateways (east, north, and south), the whole complex measuring 500 feet X 310 feet (152.5 by 94.5 meters). The spacious mukha mandapa has fifty-six pillars, fashioned out of large blocks of granite, each forming a distinct sculpted group. Of particular interest are the clusters of delicately shaped columns, 4 or 5 feet (about 1.5 m) across, with animal motifs interposed between them, half natural and half mythical. With molded pedestals below and massive capitals above, these closely spaced columns have a bewildering intricacy. The pillars also contain large sculptures of deities, forms of Vishnu, and musicians and dancers. The mandapa has three entrances and is the finest example of religious architecture in Vijayanagara. The ornate basement of this mandapa has friezes of horses with attendants and miniature shrines housing images of the ten incarnations of Vishnu. There are the so-called musical pillars and yāḷi (a mythical monster) pillars, the latter being a favorite motif. The ceiling has elaborate lotus designs and other motifs. This structure stands out as a masterpiece of both Vijayanagara architectural technique and sculptural art. The Garuda shrine in the form of a chariot in front of this temple is an interesting and unusual structure as the only vāhana-shrine built like a chariot.

The Achyutarāya (Tiruvengalanātha) temple in the valley at Achyutapura enshrines Venkatẹsa. Built in 1534, it has the usual plan, but with two prākāras and a large Kalyāṇa mandapa, the main gopuras being those on the north and west.

Hampi has the earliest known secular architecture of South India in its remains of the royal center, including the palace complex, other courtly structures, and miltiary fortifications. Some of the structures with a definite ceremonial purpose are the great platform known as the Mahānavami dibba, the throne platform, and the hundred-columned audience hall. These seem to have had stone basements, probably with a wooden or brick superstructure. The annual royal festival of Mahānavami symbolized the imperial status of the Vijayanagara rulers, when all their subordinates and royal functionaries assembled at the capital to pay their tributes and homage to the king. The basements of the platforms preserve interesting moldings and a series of horizontal friezes of sculptured decoration consisting of floral and geometric devices, animals (elephants), and figures of human couples and dancers. The balustrades to the steps leading to the platforms are an interesting study in animal and mythical or hybrid creatures as decorative motifs.

More important are the Islamic-styled forms. These are the square water pavilion, which has a central basin constituing a square courtyard, around which is a corridor of twenty-four vaulted bays; two octagonal fountains, which have a central basin and arched entrances and pointed arched openings; the nine-domed structure, perhaps a reception hall; and the multidomed structure overlooking the approaches to the royal center. All of these show typical Deccani-Islamic features. The most monumental of all the Islamic–styled structures is the colossal building identified as the royal stable (for elephants). Apart from arched entrances, its eleven square chambers have domes of varying designs, with a ruined two-story structure in the middle of the roof. Another celebrated monument is the Lotus Mahal, a two-story pavilion, symmetrically laid out as a series of projecting squares to create thirteen bays and a staircase tower on the northeast. The superstructure consists of nine separate towers. It has a complex but impressive facade and a varied vaulting design.

Mahābalipuram (or Māmallapuram)

Māmallapuram (Kadal Mallai or Mallai), about 37 miles (59 kilometers) south of Chennai, is the famous seaport of the Pallavas, where the early phases of Dravida architecture evolved, as seen in the rock-cut caves, monoliths, and structural temples of the seventh century a.d. Narrative sculptures of epic and Purāṇic myths of great artistic merit also make this center aesthetically the most remarkable of the South Indian sites.

The caves, carved out of rock, are found mostly in the hill area. These are called mandapas, because of their plan and design, which consists of a single or multiple cells with a pillared veranda in front or a pillared hall on the three sides of the cell. Of these, the most architecturally and sculpturally interesting are: the Ādi Varāha cave, with portraits of the royal family, in addition to powerful representions of the Varāha avatāra of Vishnu; the Varāha cave, with episodic narratives in dynamic compositions of the stories of Vāmana-Trivikrama avatāra and Varāha; the triple-shrined Mahishmardani cave, with huge panels of Vishnu as Anantasayi and Durgā (Mahishamardini) in combat with Mahishāsura; the Trimūrti cave, with three shrines for Shiva, Vishnu and Brahmā; and the Krishna mandapa, with a large relief composition of the Govardhana scene. Many such caves carry the characteristic features of a Dravida shrine, with a facade marking the tiers with rows of miniature kūḍus, shālas, and panjaras. The pillars invariably have the characteristic lion base, with multifaceted shafts and ornamental brackets. Sculptures of Gajalakshmi also form part of the panel decoration in the caves. The iconography of the caves is a fascinating study in the evolution of various forms of Shiva and Vishnu, drawn from Purāṇic mythology and depicted as per Āgamic tradition, predominantly the avatāras of Vishnu and several forms of Shiva as metaphors for power and benevolence. The Somāskanda is perhaps the most important, symbolizing royalty, as it finds a prime position on the shrine's rear wall and is a composite icon evolved under the Pallavas.

The Panchapāṇḍava rathas are freestanding monolithic shrines found in one group of five, with a few more scattered in the periphery. The Gaṇesha ratha at the southern end has a wagon-topped sikhara and is one of the finest monolithic temples, with a three-story, elaborately worked roof topped by nine vase-shaped finials; it is a precursor of the later gopura. The huge open-air rock sculpture, often described as Arjuna's Penance in the story of Kirātārjunīya, is carved on two large boulders with a narrow fissure between. The composition is bewildering in its variety, with gods, goddesses, celestial beings, wild animals, monkeys, and elelphants, and nāgas (hybrid serpents combining human and serpent forms). The cleft between the rocks, through which the river water (Gaṇgā) must have been shown as descending from the hill, would suggest that the theme of the huge rock relief may well be Bhagīratha's penance, which is supported by the presence of a four-armed Shiva and an emaciated man doing penance.

The Shore temple, built by Rājasimha, has two shrines, facing east and west, with a separate perambulatory for the east-facing, larger shrine. Both shrines house the relief of the Somāskanda group. Rampant lions, characterisitic of the Rājasimha temples, and sculptured panels are found on the exterior walls. Panels depicting scenes from the history of the Pallavas, as in the Vaikuṇṭha Perumāl. temple, also lie scattered. Between the two Shaiva shrines is the reclining form of Vishnu, in a rock-cut oblong cell.


Once ranked as one of India's seven most sacred cities, Kānchīpuram is on the banks of the Vēghavati River. As the Pallava capital, it had wide contacts with the Southeast Asian region, transmitting Indian civilization into Thailand, Cambodia, Java, and Vietnam. A major center of Sanskrit learning and culture, Kānchīpuram had a heterogenous tradition, representing Jain, Buddhist, Shaiva, and Vaishnava religions. It became a temple town with seventy-two temples, big and small, of which the most significant are those of the Pallava, Chola, and Vijayanagara periods. Several early shrines praised by the Shaiva and Vaishnava hymnal literature were built probably of brick and mortar, and were later rebuilt in stone or merely enlarged under the Cholas and Vijayanagara rulers.

Incessant temple building in stone began under the Pallavas. The Kailāsanātha (700–728), the first royal temple built by Rājasimha (r. 690–728) in the structural mode, is the most significant, both for its impressive architecture and iconography. The vimāna is a unique double-walled structure with three stories and with lateral and corner shrines attached to the main shrine. The shrine is preceded by an antarāla and mandapa, and the whole temple is surrounded by a series of small shrines along the cloistered enclosure, each with a single tiered roof. All of them, like the main garbha griha, enshrine a Somāskanda relief, a composite icon symbolically representing the royal family. The liṅga could well be a later addition or, together with the Somāskanda relief on the back wall, may stand for a conceptual equation between Shiva and the royal family. Another smaller shrine was added by Rājasimha's son Mahendravarman in front of the main shrine facing east and abutting the enclosure wall. Traces of mural paintings still remain in the shrines of the cloister.

The temple is a veritable treasure house of iconography, establishing Shiva as a major Purāṇic (Brahmanical Hindu) deity, central to the Āgamic form of temple worship. Vedic deities, such as Agni, Indra, Varuṇa, and Vāyu, become subsidiary or attendant divinities (dikpālas) to Shiva, who is here shown as Somāskanda. A variety of Shiva's forms are sculpted on the temple walls and the shrines, while Vishnu and Brahmā are shown in a subordinate position.

The Vaikuṇṭha Perumāl. temple, built by Nandivarman II in the eighth century, is a different architectural experience. Its vimāna has three vertical sanctums and a mandapa in front. More interesting is the covered veranda, which runs along the enclosure wall, its pillars carved with lions facing inward. This corridor has a two-tiered sculpted history of the Pallava dynasty up to the accession of Nandivarman II Pallavamalla. The vimāna walls have sculpted panels signifying cosmography and Vishnu's Vyuhas (emanatory forms which are repetitions or a variety of a god's own godhead), avatāras, and feats as related in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and praised by the Vaishnava saint Tirumangai Alvar.

The Varadarāja temple on the southeast of the city also dates from Pallava times, although the present structure is not older than the Chola period. The sanctum of Vishnu in the inner prākāra is raised on a hill-like terrace and has a two-story oblong tower of the wagon vault type. The base or terrace has a low masonry sanctum fronted with a hall to signify a cave in the "hill," enshrining the icon of Narasimha as a yogi. The "hill" is encircled with a two-story cloistered veranda with colonnades, with a Chola style gateway on the west, the open courtyard within having shrines of Lakshmī and Sakti.

In the fourteenth century, a larger open courtyard was created, with an encircling wall to enclose the bathing tank and gardens; its western gateway was topped with a seven-story tower in the late Chola–Pāṇḍya style. The Vijayanagara rulers developed that area and built structures with minute carvings and embellishments, mostly in the early sixteenth century, including shrines for a Malayāḷa goddess and for Āṇḍaḷ. The fourth courtyard has a Kalyāṇa mandapa of 5,974 square feet (555 square meters) on a 6.6 feet (2-meter) carved plinth. Its ninety-six monolithic pillars have geometric designs, yāḷis, and rampant horses. This outer enclosure has on the east a slender 164 foot (50-meter) gateway of nine stories, topped with eleven vase finials.

The Kāmākshi temple, where the Kamakoṭi Pīṭha (Yantra-Shri Chakra) is believed to have been established by Adi Shankara in the ninth century a.d., was built probably in the eleventh century amid or replacing Buddhist structures. Its disoriented layout began in the fourteenth century, with the present Shri Chakra installed in the sixteenth century, along with a four-armed Lalita Kāmākshi. The Ēkāmranātha temple on the northwest of the city has a similar history; a small shrine of Pallava times was renovated and elaborated with several prākāras and gateways under the Chola and Vijayanagara rulers.


Tanjāvūr, 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of Chennai, on the southern bank of Vaḍāvāṛu, a distributary of the Veṇṇāṛu (Kaveri delta), was the capital of the Cholas, the Nayakas, and the Marāthas. The Brihadīshvara (Rājarājeshvara) temple complex is situated within the Sivaganaga "litle fort," surrounded by a moat on the west, north, and east, and the Grand Anicut (dam) canal on the south. The total area of the Sivaganga fort is over 45 acres (nearly 18 hectares), of which the temple itself covers 7 acres (2.85 hectares).

The Tanjāvūr temple is a stupendous imperial project, which marks the apogee of the Dravida style of architecture. The plan follows a ratio of 1:2 (790 feet east to west and 395 feet north to south), with a low two-story cloistered structure against the outer walls. This inner prākāra is further enclosed by another surrounding wall, which in turn is enclosed by a vast brick fortification known as the Sivaganga "little fort." Its imposing vimāna of thirteen tiers, rising to a height of over 200 feet (61 m), is a sāndhāra prāsāda, or double-walled structure, with a māḍkkoyil, a shrine on the terrace. The inner ambulatory between the two walls is well known for its Chola frescoes representing stories of the bhakti saints and iconographic forms of Shiva, including Naṭarāja, Tripuraāntaka, Dakshiṇamūrti, and others. The first story of the vimāna has a series of sculptures representing Shiva in various Bharata Natya poses.

In alignmant with the shrine are the ardha mandapa (front hall) with huge Dvārapālaka (doorkeeper of the god) images usually represented on either side of the entrances of the shrine, a mahā mandapa, and an entrance porch, all with plain pillars and no interior decoration. The exterior of the vimāna and the aligned structures are organized into niches flanked by pilasters, with different forms of Shiva and other deities (Tripuraāntaka occupying a special position, repeated on the second tier of the vimāna walls). The temple's iconographic program marks the most creative period in Chola art and in South Indian iconography.

The Rājarājeshvara represents a ceremonial complex, symbolizing Chola sovereignty through cosmic structures. The various aspects of the temple, including its architecture, sculpture, painting, and inscriptions, collectively provide an integrated view of this synthesising role. The temple had an impressive economic outreach under the Cholas. The architecture of the temple was planned and designed to represent the cosmos, in keeping with the Chola ideology, which equated the temple with the cosmos at one level and with territory at another level. Well conceived and majestic, the temple's architecture is the product of an imperial vision. The entire temple complex was designed to achieve a perfect balance between architecture and sculpture. The temple is conceived of as Dakshiṇamēru, or the axis of the universe, while the dikpala shrines, located at the cardinal points of the pillared cloister running on all four sides of the temple courtyard, complete its cosmic symbolism.


Unique among the southern Dravida style temples, the Chidambaram Naṭarāja temple is a rare example of the coexistence of two shrines dedicated to both Shiva and Vishnu in a single (central) prākāra with a common dvajastambha (pillar which carries the god's flag). It developed into a major Shaiva pilgrimage center and as the symbol for the whole Shaiva community under the royal patronage of the Cholas from the tenth century, with Vishnu receding into the background.

Chidambaram (also known as Tillai, Perumbaṛṛappuliyūr, Puliyụr, and Chambalam) is the center for the worship of Naṭarāja, king of dancers, the Sabhanayaka. In Chidambaram, Shiva performed the cosmic dance (ānanda tāṇḍava) to celebrate his victory over the ritualistic ascetics, representing the panchakrityas of creating, preserving, and destroying the visible universe. Among the five elements—earth, water, fire, wind, and ether—represented by the liṅga, the ākasha (ether) is manifest in Chidambaram's liṅga and hence invisible.

The temple, in fact, consists of five sabhās located in different prākāras. In the first is located the Chit sabhā, or Naṭarāja shrine, enshrining the akasa liṅga (ether), which is invisible, hence the Cidambara rahasya is represented by a string of vilva petals in gold, hung over the prabhā, with a black curtain of ajnāna over it. The shrine is believed to have been gilded by Pallava, Chola, and Pāṇḍya rulers. The Chit sabhā has wooden walls, its roof being supported by twenty-eight freestanding wooden pillars. The exterior of the Chit sabhā has a double colonnade of round columns of highly polished black stone. The original Tiru Mūlasthāna (main) shrine of Naṭarāja, facing east, is located in the second prākāra and is of the same style. This became secondary at the time of the temple's enlargement, to six times its original size under Kulottunga I (r. 1070–1112) and his successors.

The Edirambalam (Kanaka sabhā) was built opposite the Naṭarāja shrine within the first enclosure. The Kanaka sabhā, opposite the dvajastambha, is built in the form of a tērkkoyil, or wheeled chariot. The roof of the Kanaka sabhā is supported by eighteen wooden pillars, with copper-plated wooden doors between the pillars. They have rectangular, curvilinear roofs resembling that of the Draupadi ratha at Māmallapuram. The Chit sabhā, Kanaka sabhā, and Vishnu shrine of Govindarāja are the principal sanctums of the innermost enclosure.

The Deva sabhā is located within the second enclosure, where the dīkshitars who control the temple's worship and administration meet. In the second enclosure are located the shrines of the Vaishnava goddess Puṇḍarika Nacchiyār. The western gateway of this enclosure is called the Akaḷankan Tiruvāsal of Vikrama Chola.

The Raja sabhā, the thousand-pillared hall in the third prākāra, where the first exposition of the hagiographical work, the Periya Purāṇam, was held under Kulottunga II, is one of the most striking monuments in the temple. Measuring 194 feet by 331 feet (59 meters by 101 meters), it has huge pillars and brick vaulting with radiating arches. The abhisheka ceremony of Naṭarāja and Shivakāmasundari, the culminating session of the two great festivals, is held here. The hundred-pillared hall is is another mandapa located in this enclosure.

Under Vijayanagara, considerable remodeling occurred in the temple structure and administrative control with the restoration of the worship of Govindarāja. The four gopuras, each 138 feet (42 meters) high, have granite bases and brick and mortar superstructures. The western is the oldest, started by Vikrama Chola and completed by Kulottunga II (12th century). The southern gopura is of the period of Kopperunjinga and Sundara Pāṇḍya (13th century) The gopura on the north is of the period of Kulottunga II (12th century), of which the superstructure was begun by Krishna Deva Rāya and completed by Achyuta Deva. Beyond the gopuras are coconut groves and flower gardens. The gopuras are richly sculpted with forms of Shiva, the Navagrahas, and other celestial beings and sages, like Patanjali and Vyāghrapāda. Dance poses based on the Nātya Shāstra are carved on the doorways of each gopura, with labels in Grantha script.


Madurai, on the Vaigai river, is one of the oldest Tamil cities, dating from the early centuries a.d. as the political center of the Pāṇḍyas down to medieval times, when Nayaka rule was established. It is also known as Tiru Ā lavāy in Shaiva religious literature. The central core of the city was constructed mostly under the Nayakas, with the Mīnākshi temple as its focus. Mīnākshi is believed to be a Pāṇḍyan queen who married Shiva, from whom the Pāṇḍyas descended. Following the classical Hindu design of a square mandala, a grid with concentric squares, the temple covers a vast rectangular area, 843 feet by 787 feet (257 meters by 240 meters).

Built in three periods—the Pāṇḍya, Vijayanagara, and Madurai Nayaka—Pāṇḍya survivals of the temple's structures are few in number. The temple is a classic example of the Vijayanagara–Nayaka style. Its double shrine, large pillared halls, twelve towered gateways and large tank, and the layout and location of different deities are defined by a sacred architecture that is too complex to be described here. Under the Nayakas, it developed into a huge temple complex, especially under Tirumala Nayaka, the great builder, and Vīrappa Nayaka (r. 1572–1593), when significant additions were made.

The goddess Mīnākshi's special prominence is a later development of the fourteenth century, with Mīnākshi emerging as the chief deity, after the Muslim invasions of 1310; the temple's restoration changed the focus of the temple to the goddess. Yet Sundareshvara, the god of the main shrine in the first prākāra, is still the main deity, the sovereign at the center, represented as a liṅga in the shrine but as a Somāskanda image for procession. All ritual activity centers around the relationship between Mīnākshi and Sundara. The royalty of the deities is particularly striking, as they are identified as the Pāṇḍyan queen and king, with the city the microcosmic image of the kingdom and the universe, in a symbolic representation of Madurai as a sacred royal space.

The present extent of the temple is 720–729 feet north to south (219–222 m), and 834–852 feet (254–260 m) east to west. It has three major prākāras and a double shrine for the god and the goddess. The shrines are small Dravida style vimānas with the usual mandapas in alignment, but it is in the horizontal elaboration, through mandapas and prākāras with gopuras, that the architectural importance of the temple lies. The first prākāra, measuring 250 feet by 150 feet (76 m X 46 m), has the Sundaresvara shrine, called the Indra vimāna, followed by a mahā mandapa and mukha mandapa. Images of Shiva in various forms, along with eight dikpāla figures and stucco panels of the Tiruviḷaiyāḍal Purāṇam (divine sports of Shiva) on the mahā mandapa walls, are the decorative and iconographic features of the Shiva shrine.

The second prākāra, measuring 420 feet by 320 feet (128 m X 98 m), has the Mīnākshi shrine, with its ardha mandapa and Shakti images in the niches, datable to the first half of the fifteenth century. The most remarkable of the structures here is the Golden Lily (poṛṛāmarai) tank east of the Amman (goddess) shrine, with several mandapas around the tank and four gopuras in the outer walls. The north and east walls of the Chitra mandapa have murals, modern (post-seventeenth century) paintings of the sixty-four lilas of the Tiruviḷaiyāḍal Purāṇam. The most ornamental Kiḷikaṭṭi mandapa, in front of the gopura of the goddess shrine, is a single corridor with richly carved pillars, statues of various deities, and painted ceilings. The Mandapa Nayaka mandapa, a hundred-pillared hall, has a Sabhāpati (Naṭarāja) shrine. Stucco figuress of Tirumala Nāyaka and his queen are found in the northeast corner.

The second prākāra has several mandapas, including the Kalyāṇa, or Kolu mandapa for the Navaratri festival and a thousand-pillared hall. This hall, built under Vīrappa Nayakain 1572, is a huge edifice (240 ft. X 250 ft., or 73 m X 76 m) with a Sabhāpati (Naṭarāja) shrine and beautifully carved icons. The Kambattaḍi mandapa in front has a Nandi shrine of Vijayanagara style and monolithic pillars with icons. Images of the sixty-three Shaiva saints are found in the southeast corner. Other shrines include that of the Navagraha within the nave of the mandapa. In the Vijayanagara style mandapas of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, apart from a few "musical" pillars, the yāḷi and equestrian pillars are favored. The characteristic Vijayanagara pillars, with groups of slender columnettes, are absent in Madurai. Several shrines (Īshvarams) exist in the first two prākāras, dedicated to Vigneshvara and to Kumāra or Subrahmaṇya. There are a number of subsidiary shrines to folk deities, such as Karuppaṇṇa Svāmi and Madurai Vīran, in the outer prākāra.

The Madurai temple has both styles of gopuras, the straight-edged pyramid and the more ornate style with a concave outline. The outer gopuras are of stone but with brick and stucco superstructures. All have nine stories, with a height of 150 feet (46 m) each. The high gopuras date from the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries (east), fourteenth century (west), and latter half of the sixteenth century (south), with later Vijayanagara and Nayaka characteristics. The superstructures are straight-edged pyramids; the south gopura near the Golden Lily tank, however, has a concave sweeping curve, more elegant than the rest.

Axially in front of the east gopura is the Pudu mandapa (330 ft. X 105 ft., or 101 m X 32 m) built by Tirumala Nayaka (r. 1626–1633), and remains in an unfinished stage. The Rāya gopura, east of the Pudu mandapa, nearly twice the size of the east gopura, a stupendous structure, is the largest but is also incomplete. Its origin is dated to the time of Tirumala Nayaka, and it has monolithic lion-based pillars 50 feet (15 m) high. This mandapa is highly ornate, with massive carvings and large-scale ornamentation on the jambs. There are also reliefs of Tirumala Nayaka and his queen in the Madura style. There are several other gopuras, built in the period from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, making a total of twelve gopuras in the Mīnākshi temple.

The twelve-day Chittirai festival celebrates Mīnākshi's conquest of the world, or Digvijaya, with her coronation on the eleventh day. On the ninth day, the defeat of the goddess by Sundara in battle and their subsequent wedding transforms a warrior queen into a gracious bride. Involvement of Vishnu as Kaḷḷaḷagar at Aḷagarkoyil and Subrahmaṇya from Tirupparankuṇṛam in the marriage in Madurai forms part of the festival. The city is ritually represented as being much more closely integrated with its surrounding area. The entire city and the region around it, between Alagarkoil to the northeast and Tirupparankuṇṛam in the southwest, become one vast sacred royal space, whose focal point is the Mīnākshi temple itself.

R. Champakalakshmi

See alsoChola Dynasty ; Temple Types (Styles) of India


Devakunjari, D. Madurai through the Ages. Chennai: Society for Architecture, History and Archaeology, 1979.

Doshi, Sarayu, ed. Homage to Sravana Beḷgoḷa. Mumbai: Marg, 1981.

Foekemo, Genard. Hoysaḷa Architecture: Medieval Temples of Southern Karnataka during Hoysaḷa Rule. New Delhi: Books and Books, 1994.

Harle, James C. Temple Gateways in South India. The Architecture and Iconography of the Chidambaram Gopuras. Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1963.

Maity, S. K. Masterpieces of Hoysaḷa Art. Mumbai: Taraporevala, 1978.

Michell, George. The Vijayanagara Courtly Style. New Delhi: Manohar, 1992.

——. Paṭṭadakal: Monumental Legacy. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Michell, George, ed. Temple Towns of Tamil Nadu. Mumbai: Marg, 1993.

Natarajan, B. The City of the Cosmic Dance. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1974.

Pichard, Pierre. Tanjāvūr Brhadisvara: An Architectural Study. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 1995.

Settar, S. Sravana Beḷgoḷa. Dharwad: Ruvari, 1981.

Suresh, K. M. Temples of Hampi and Its Environs. Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan, 2003.