What is South Indian Temple Architecture

You cannot fully understand the ancient architecture in India without knowing what is South Indian Temple Architecture. Ancient temples of India are marvels of architecture and reflect the glorious cultural and religious history of the country. They are fine examples of the art and culture of the country in ancient times. What makes these structures special is the fact that they were built in a time when no modern techniques and machines were available to build such gigantic structures. Temples in the southern part of India are distinct from the temples in the north in their architecture. They represent a style of architecture called Dravidian architecture. Even under this category, different temples reflect differences in style and design that are indicative of the different dynasties that ruled over this part of India between the 6th and the 16th century.

South Indian Temple Architecture – Facts

Style and Design of South Indian Temple Architecture

The style and design of South Indian architecture reflects influences of different dynasties. The rise of temple architecture in South India coincided with the Bhakti Cult that spread in all parts of South India in 6th century. This led to the construction of grand structures used for worship of idols and performing of rituals. Ancient temple construction started with the rise of the Pallava dynasty in the south in the 7th century and it continued with the Chola dynasty till 1150 AD. Later kingdoms that took forward temple construction were Chalukyas, Hoysala , Pandya, etc. Temple construction in south was perhaps at its peak during the time of the Vijayanagara dynasty that ruled over the whole of south India for three centuries from 1350 SD till 1565 AD.

What is South Indian Temple Architecture

Temples became an important part of the lives of the community

In ancient times, temples in south India were not just places of worship but became a part of the community life as even social, religious, and political matters of importance were discussed here. These structures also became centers for development of performing arts such as dance, music, and drama. These temples were attached to educational institutions and students received knowledge in religion and spiritually life here. Most of the ancient temples received state patronage and they were not only rich in terms of wealth but also powerful to invoke fear in the minds of the common people.

Elements of South Indian Temple Architecture

Architectural elements of South Indian Temples are distinct. Most of the south Indian temples of this period have a square chamber at the base with a conical or pyramidal tower rising to a great height to cover this structure. The earliest south Indian temples were rock-cut temples being monolithic in nature. They had pillared halls and mandaps inside them. The most prominent of ancient south Indian temples in this form of architecture is the Mahabalipuram temple built by Narasimhavarman 1, a king of the Pallava dynasty. The following are the most important south Indian temples of the ancient era.

• Mahabalipuram temple in Tamil Nadu

• Kailasnath Temple in Kanchipuram

• Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur

• Meenakshi temple in Madurai

• Sri Ranganathswamy temple in Srirangam

• Tamnathswamy temple in Rameswaram

The most important aspect of ancient south Indian temples is their decoration that can be seen in the form of not only statues of gods and deities, but also in various architectural elements. All these temples boast of an inner womb chamber called garbha graham that houses the sculptures of the main gods. This chamber always had a passage around these statues to allow for circumambulation. Another distinct feature of south Indian temples of the past is the construction of shrines inside the complexes.

One feature of South Indian temples that distinguishes them from North Indian temples is the grand gateway that leads up to the structures. While the shikhara remains the most important architectural element in the temples of the north, south Indian temples accord great importance to these gateways that are called Gopurams.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Mahabalipuram Montage by Yoga Balaji (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

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