In the olden days, life revolved around the temples. The temples were not just places of worship, but administrative centres and a place where arts and crafts were nurtured and displayed. They were the heart and soul of the land and the rulers ensured that these monuments had a distinctive style that suited the region. The South Indian temple architecture follows a distinctive style that is very different from the style followed by their contemporaries in North India.
The South Indian style also known as the Dravidian style dates back to the Gupta period and has seen a huge amount of modification from the 7th to the 18th century. But architecture in Tamil Nadu dates back to the Sangam Age. It is said that pieces of evidence of burnt brick buildings have been unearthed. During the Pallava, Pandya and the times of the later dynasties, temple architecture had grown by leaps and bounds. They were towering structures. Characterized by its pyramidal tower, or the 'kutina' in architectural terms, the Dravidian or the South Indian style has variations too. The base design, however, follows the same pattern.
*The square chambered inner sanctuary with a superstructure or tower
*Attached pillared porch or hall enclosed in a rectangular structure
*The external walls with niches for sculptures and smaller shrines
*One or two tanks depending on the area the temple sits in
*A pyramidal shape in different stories. The Gopuram or the entrance gateway in the centre of the front wall.
*The ornate dome-shaped cupola or a design element topping the whole structure.
There are simple variations to this base pattern that falls under the south Indian temple architecture style too. The shapes change, from square to octagonal to elliptical.
The best examples of the classic traditional temples can be seen at the rock-cut temple at Mahabalipuram and the Brihadeeshwara temple, at Thanjavur. Built during the reign of Pallava king Narasimhavarman II, (700 – 728 AD) the rock-cut temple at Mahabalipuram has three shrines. Each distinct in architecture which the experts say were added over the years.
The Brihadiswara Temple also known as the Rajarajeswara Temple was completed around 1009 AD. One of the largest temples in India, it has a pyramidal multi-storied vimana that is almost 70 meters high.
Each of these temples is a work of art and a student of architecture should definitely pay a visit to these monuments.