Art and Architecture of Tamil Nadu
To understand the evolution of temple architecture in South India
To gain knowledge about the cultural heritage of Tamils
To know the contribution of Pallavas, Cholas, Vijayanagara and Nayak rulers to
the development of temple art in Tamil Nadu
architecture is of indigenous origin. It advanced over time by a process of
evolution. The earliest examples of the Tamil Dravidian architectural tradition
were the 7th century rock-cut shrines at Mahabalipuram. The absence of
monuments in South India prior to the 7th century is attributed by scholars to
temples ought to have been built in wood, which were eventually destroyed by
forces of nature. In Tamil Nadu, the evolution of temple architecture took
place in five stages: (1) The Pallava Epoch (A.D. 600 to 850); (2) Early Chola
Epoch (A.D. 850 to 1100); (3) Later Chola Epoch (A.D. 1100 to 1350); (4)
Vijayanagara/ Nayak Epoch (A.D. 1350 to 1600); and (5) Modern Epoch (After A.D.
Pallava epoch witnessed a transition from rock-cut to free-standing temples.
Rock-cut temples were initially built by carving a rock to the required design
and then rocks were cut to build temples.
The Pallava king Mahendravarman was
a pioneer in rock-cut architecture. Mandagapattu temple was the first rock-cut
temple built by him. The rock-cut cave structure has two pillars in the front
that hold it. All the cave temples have simple sanctum cut on the rear side of
the wall with a frontage-projecting mandapa (pavilion).
On either side are two dwarapalas
(gatekeepers). This cave architecture reached its decadent phase after A.D.700
and gave way to the large structural temples probably because the structural
temples provided a wider scope to the sculptor to use his skill.The
Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram, also called the Seven Pagodas, was built by the
Pallava king Narasimhavarman II. It is the oldest structural templein South
India. The structural temples were built using blocks of rock instead of a
whole block as earlier. Narasimhavarman II, also known as Rajasimha, built the
Kanchi Kailasanatha temple. The Vaikuntha Perumal temple at Kanchipuram was
built by Nandivarman II. Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) is built of cut stones
rather than carved out of caves. It has two shrines, one dedicated to Siva and
the other to Vishnu.
Tamil Dravida tradition is exemplified by rock-cut monuments such as Pancha
Pandava Rathas, namely Draupadi ratha, Dharmaraja ratha, Bheema ratha, Arjuna
ratha and Nagula-Sahadeva ratha. The outer walls of the rathas, especially of Arjuna, Bhima and
Dharmaraja, are decorated with niches and motifs. The niches have the
sculptures of gods, goddesses, monarchs and scenes from mythology. The Arjuna’s
Penance, carved on the face of a granite boulder, is a magnificent
relief, measuring approximately 100 ft long by 45 ft high.
The Mamallapuram monuments and temples, including the Shore
Temple complex, were notified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
Pandya Temples in the Pallava Epoch
Pandyas were the contemporaries of the Pallavas. Unlike the Pallavas, Pandyas
installed deities in the sanctums in their cave temples. More than fifty cave
temples have been found in different parts of the Pandyan Empire. The most
important of them are found in Malaiyadikurichi, Anaimalai, Tiruparankundram
and Trichirappali. These caves were dedicated to Siva, Vishnu and Brahma. In
the Siva temple of Pandyas, the linga is carved out of the mother rock.
The figure of Nandhi is also carved out of the rock. The Siva lingam in the
sanctum is installed in the centre with enough space all around it. The sanctum
also has a drainage canal. The pillars are divided into three parts and are of
different sizes. The pillars have no uniform ornamentation. The back side walls
are divided into four niches on which the bas- relief images of Siva, Vishnu,
Durga, Ganapathy, Subramanya, Surya, Brahma and Saraswathi are carved out. The dwarapalas
figure on either side of sanctum.
and structural temples are significant part of the Pandya architecture. The
illustrious example for rock-cut style is unfinished Kazhugumalai Vettuvankoil
temple. The Vettuvankoil, a monolithic temple at Kazhugumalai, is hewn out of a
huge boulder on four sides. At the top of the temple, sculptures of Uma
Maheswarar, Dakshinamoorthy, Vishnu and Brahma are found. Meenakshi Amman Temple
in Madurai and Nellaiappar Temple in Tirunelveli represent examples of Pandyas’
walls of the caves are decorated with the bas relief of the gods and goddesses.
In the case of structural temples, the walls of the sanctums are free from
image decorations. Instead the superstructures and the pillars have the
sculptures. The sculptures look majestic, having elaborate shoulders, slim
bodies, beautiful ornaments and high crowns.
Tiruparankundram, Anaimalai and Kazhugumalai
have the bas reliefof many deities: Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, Parvathi, Subramanya,
Ganapathi and Dakshinamoorthy. These are some remarkable images of the cave
temples. Many early Pandya images unearthed from Madurai and its surrounding
areas are now in Tirumalai Nayakkar museum at Madurai.
Caves at Sittanavasal, 15 kilometres
away from Pudukkottai, and at Tirumalapuram in Sankarankovil taluk,Tirunelveli district,have
outstanding early Pandya paintings. Sittanavasal was a residential cave of the
Jain monks. They painted the walls with fresco painting. Unfortunately, we have
lost many of those paintings. Among the surviving ones, the lotus pond is
notable for its excellent execution of colours and exposition of the scene. The
image of lotus flowers, leaves spread all over the pond, animals, elephants,
buffalos, swans and a man who plucks the flowers look brilliant.
Sittanavasal paintings have similarities with the Ajantha paintings.
Tirumalaipuram, from where we get early Pandya paintings, are in a damaged
The Early Chola Epoch
Cholas came to limelight in A.D. 850 under Vijaylaya Chola and continued to
govern the region for about four hundred years. For the Early Chola epoch, the
temple at Dadapuram, near Tindivanam in TamilNadu, is worth mentioning.
early Chola architecture followed the style of Sembian Mahadevi. Temples with
the increased number of devakoshta (niche) figures can be classified as
belonging to the Sembiyan style. Tiruppurambiyam is an illustrious example of
early temple that was re-fashioned in the days of Sembiyan Mahadevi.
Later Chola Epoch
maturity attained by Chola architecture is reflected in the two magnificent
temples of Thanjavur and Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
magnificent Thanjavur Big Temple dedicated to Siva, completed around A.D.1009,
is a fitting memorial to the material achievements of the time of Rajaraja.
Thanjavur Big Temple
the time the Big Temple of Thanjavur was constructed, it was a huge temple
complex. The 216 feet vimana (structure over the garbhagriha) is
notable as it is one among the tallest man-made shikaras of the
world. Due to its massive height, the shikara is called the Dakshina
Meru. The huge bull statue (Nandi) measures about 16 feet long and 13 feet
height and is carved out of a single rock
Cholapuram served as the Chola capital for about 250 years, until the decline
of the Cholas and the rise of the Pandyas. The Brihadeeshwara temple of
Gangaikonda Cholapuram, built by Rajendra Chola, is undoubtedly as worthy a
successor to the Brihadeeshwara temple of Thanjavur. The height of the temple
is 55 metres. The sanctum has two storeys as in the big temple at Thanjavur.
The outer wall has many projections with niches and recesses on three sides. In
the niches there are the images of Siva, Vishnu and other gods.
This temple complex has the shrines
of Chandeeswarar, Ganesa and Mahishasura Mardhini.
Dharasuram, near Kumbakonam, is a
Later Chola period temple, rich in architectural splendour, dedicated to
Iravatheswara (Siva as god of lord Indira’s elephant). Rajaraja II constructed
this temple. This temple is another landmark of the Chola architecture. The Mahamandapam
is an elaborate structure. The entire structure looks like a ratha
because it has four wheels at the Mahamandapam. The sanctum and pillars
have many sculptures, which are miniatures of various mythological figures. A
compound wall runs round the temple with a gopuram.
The contribution of Later Pandyas to
South Indian art was significant. A case in point is the cave temple at
Pillayarpatti (near Karaikudi, TamilNadu) belonging to 13th century. This
temple is important both for its sculptures and for an inscription. A beautiful
Ganesha is carved facing the entrance. The importance of the figure, referred
to Desivinayaga in the cave inscription, is that there are two arms with
the trunk turning to the right
During the Vijayanagara epoch, a new
form of construction emerged. It is the mandapam (pavilion) to where the
gods are carried every year. Pillared outdoor mandapams are meant
for public rituals with the ones in the east serving as the waiting room
for devotees, which adorn the large temples. These mandapams attract
attention for its monolithic pillars. On these pillars are sculptured horses,
lions and the gods. The kalyana mandapam at Kanchipuram (Varadaraja Perumal
temple) and at Vellore (Jalagandeshwar temple) are notable examples. The most
celebrated of these mandapams in temple of Madurai is the Pudumandapam.
The main features of the Vijayanagar
and Nayak architecture are decorated mandapas, ornamental pillars, life-size
images, gopuras, prakaras, music pillars, floral works and stone windows during
the 15th to 17th centuries. Tanks are attached to the temples. Gateways to
temple are constructed from four directions with massive gopurams.
The practice of fitting the niches
with sculptures continued during the Nayak period. There was an increased use
of major sculpted figures (relief sculpture) as found at the Alakiya Nambi
temple at Tirukkurungudi (Tirunelveli district) and the Gopalakrishna temple in
the Ranganatha temple complex at Srirangam. The southern festival mandapam of
Adinatha temple at Azhwar Tirunagari and the porch of the Nellaiyappar temple
at Tirunelveli are other notable examples.
TamilNadu, the image of deities attached to composite columns gradually freed
themselves from the core column. The 1000-pillar mandapam of the
Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple, Pudumandapamat Madurai, Rathi Mandapam at
Tirukkurungudi and Vanamamalai Templeat Nanguneri are illustrious examples for the
mandapam architecture of this period.
The pillars of this period are more
decorative than the previous period. Monolithic gigantic yazhi pillars,
horse pillars with life-size portraits of mythological and royal family
members, common folk, animals and floral works were made. Musical pillars were
the peculiar feature of this time. A sitting lion at the top of the pillars is
a common feature in the mandapams. The windows are carved out on the
walls of the sanctum and mandapams.
The Jalagandeshwara temple at
Vellore, the temples at Thadikompu near Dindugal and Krishnapuram near
Tirunelveli and the Subramanya shrine in the Big Temple Thanjavur are most
remarkable edifices of this time. Vijayanagar and Nayak paintings are seenatVaradharajaPerumal
templeat Kanchipuram, Kudalazhagar Temple at Madurai and the temples of
Srivilliputhur, Tiruvellarai, Azhaharkoil, Tiruvannamalai and Srirangam. The
paintings mostly have the stories from Ramayana, palace scenes and mythological
Modern Period (After
The Sethupathis, as the feudatories
of Madurai Nayaks, ruled Ramanathapuram and contributed to the Ramanathaswamy
temple architecture. In the temple of Rameswaram, the predominance of corridors
is striking. It is claimed that this temple has the longest set of corridors in
the world. The temple has three sets of corridors. The outer set of the
temple’s corridors has a height of almost 7 metres and stretches for about 120
metres in both the eastern and western directions. The corridors to the north
and to the south, on the other hand, are about 195 metres in length. The outer
corridor is also remarkable for the number of pillars that support it, which is
over 1200 in number. Moreover, many of these pillars are decorated by ornate
carvings. The innermost set of corridors is the oldest of the three.
In sum, the Pallava period featured
sculptural rocks. The early Chola period was marked by grand vimanas.
The Later Chola period was known for beautiful gopurams. Vijayanagar period’s
unique feature was the mandapam and the modern period was when corridors
were given prominence.
K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India: From Pre-Historic Times to the
Fall of Vijayanagar Empire (Oxford University Press, 1997) - with an
introduction by R. Champakalakshmi.
Burton Stein, A History of India, Oxford University Press, 2004.
Crispin Branfoot, “The Architectural Sculpture of the South Indian Temples,
1500-1700,” Artibus Asiae, vol. 62, No.2, 2002.
Crispin Branfoot, “The Tamil Gopura: From Temple Gateway to Global Icon,” ARS
Orientalis, vol. 45, 2015.
indigenous native சுதேசம்,
epoch era, age சகாப்ம்,
sanctum a sacred place set apart in
a temple கருவறை
decadent corrupt, a state of moral
exemplified illustrated, represented
niche a cavity, especially in a wall
to display a statue சிலைவைக்ப்படும் இடம்
7. motif a decorative design forming a
pattern in an artistic work கலைப்பண்புக
boulder a very large rock பெபரிய
contemporaries living or occurring
at the same time சமகாலத்தைச் சேர்ந்வர்ள்
hewn cut out and shaped செதுக்ப்பட்ட
bas-relief a sculpture carved into a
carrying out செயல் திறன்,
hollowspacesinsidethewall or a structure உட்பகுதிகள்,