Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture

Dravidian style of temple architecture commenced during the Pallavas period in the second half of the 7th century AD. This style continued to evolve with the passage of time from the Pallava to the Chola period and to the Vijayanagar Empire. The temples were built in brick or in stone using a bottom-up approach. Metal also used in construction activities.

Temples were built under the patronage of the state as well as under private patronage, the foremen were dominant. In this way, the Dravidian style of Temple Architecture represented both popular art as well as court art. Temples of Dravidian style are mostly dedicated to God Shiva or Vishnu because these were 2 prominent faiths in South India. Temple dedicated to other deities is few.

Features of the Dravidian style of Temple Architecture

The temple was constructed without any raised platform, unlike the North Indian Nagara style. The pyramidic roof of the temple over the grabhagriha is known as “Vimana” was another unique feature. The interiors of Garbhagrha were highly ornamented. The exterior wall of Garbhagrha also ornamented by using images. Large numbers of the image were used on Vimana for ornamentation purposes.

Other elements were similar to the Nagara style such as Amalaka, Kalash, Flag, Peetha, Dwarpala, Antarala, Mandapa, Pond/Well, “Pradikshina Path” (Circumambulatory Path) was also an important feature of the Dravidian style of Temple Architecture. It was built around Garbhagraha. It was a covered (rood) passageway.

Evolution of Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture

Rajasimha Style

This style represented the 1st phase of Dravidian style, a free-standing temple. It emerged during the reign of Narsimha Varmana II. This style flourished from 674AD – 800AD. “Shore Temple” at Mahabalipuram, “Iswara temple” at Mahabalipuram, “Kailashnathar temple”, Kanchipuram, “Vaikuntaperumal temple”, Kanchipuram & “Mukunda temple” of Mahabalipuram is the finest example of this style.

Shore temple has a large number of images of Ganesha, Skanda on its Vimana. A peripheral wall has a large number of oxen. Vaikunthaperumal temple is dedicated to Vishnu. Image found on its wall through light on contemporary life. Its pillars are highly carved. Kailashnath temple represents the climax of the Rajasimha style. This temple is dedicated to God Shiva.

Nandi Varman Style (800AD – 900AD)

This style represents the declining phase of Pallava’s power because around 800AD, the Pallavas power had started declining & their Chola feudatories had started gaining power. The Temple of this style is small in size but the level of ornamentation is much higher. Mukteshwar & Matangeshwar temple at Kanchipuram. Parshurameshwar temple – Gudimallam is the finest example.

Chola Style

Chola rulers were great patron of art and architecture. More than 2300 & temples were built during the Chola period. Out of these more than 1500 is located in Tanjore – Tiruchy belt. The size of the temple at this age is massive but at the same time, the refinement is also a very high level. Because of this art historian, Fergusson commented that Chola artist conceived as giant & finished like jewelers.

Changes in Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture during the Chola Period

The height of Vimanas increased enormously because it indicated the power & prestige of the king. The more was the power of the king the greater the height of his Vimana. Vimana of Brihadeswar temple (Tanjore) is the finest example. This Vimana is 66m high.

Art historian Percy Brown commented that Tanjore Vimana is the touchstone of Indian architecture. A number of additional/subsidiary structures were built near Garbhagrha/main temple during Chola to house the images of kings, queens, other god & goddess. As a result of this, temples got transformed into a big complex.

This horizontal expansion/elaboration of the temple complex was an indication of territorial expansion. (Size of the empire) because whenever the king used to return from a successful military campaign this additional structure was built. The Temple complex was surrounded by a peripheral wall & gateways known as “Gopuram” were built on four directions. At times, the height of Gopuram was even more than Garbhagrha. For example, Vijayalaya Choleshvaram temple constructed by king Vijalaya – location – Nartamalai, Balasubramanya temple (Kannanur) built by Aditya I, Naveshvara temple (Kumbhakaran) by Aditya I, Koranganatha temple (Shinivasanallur) built by Parantaka I, Gangaikonda Cholapuram (Shinivasanallur) built by Rajendra I in memory of a successful military campaign organized against North India in which Pala king Mahipala was defeated, Airavateshwar temple (Darasuram) built by Rajaraja II, Sarabeswara / Kampahareshwar temple (Thirubhuvanam) built by Kulotthunga III, and Brihadeshvara temple built by Rajaraja I at Tanjore.