History of Dravida Style Ancient Indian Temple Architecture



Bruhadeshwar and shore temple

Dravida Style Temple Architecture 

India is rich in cultural diversity and architectural marvels that tell stories of ancient craftsmanship and spiritual devotion. The Dravida style is one of the many styles that have adorned the subcontinent and is a monument to the creative excellence and cultural importance of South Indian temple architecture. Dravidian architecture employs shorter, more pyramidal towers over the garbhagriha, or sanctuary, known as a vimana, in contrast to North Indian temple designs, which have higher towers, known as shikhara, that typically bend inward as they climb. But as their standout feature, place a tall gopuram or gatehouse at the compound's boundary. We explore the origins and distinctive characteristics of Dravida-style temples in this investigation, revealing the fundamental elements of this marvel of architecture.

Origins and Historical Context:

Dravida-style architecture has ancient roots and rose to prominence in the 7th century during the Pallava dynasty. The Dravida style, which flourished in southern India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, developed over centuries under the support of several rulers, including the Cholas, Cheras, and Vijayanagara Empire. Three temples have inscriptions from approximately 100 BCE to 100 CE, the oldest of which is the Srirangam Ranganathaswamy Temple, which dates from 5 CE to 5 BCE. hence, "making it one of the oldest surviving active temple complexes in South India" . Another such temple is the three-layered Subrahmanya Temple in Saluvankuppam, which was discovered in 2005. The lowest layer is the oldest shrine found devoted to Murukan and is made up of one of the earliest brick shrines in South India. It is one of the state's only two brick shrine pre-Pallavi Hindu temples; the other being the Lord Vishnu-focused Veetrirundha Perumal Temple at Veppathur.

Pallava Period: (6th–9th centuries CE)

The rock-cut cave temples of Mahabalipuram, particularly the Shore Temple, are early examples of the Dravida style. During this time, the Pallava kings helped shape the Dravida style.

Dynasty of Chola (9th–13th centuries CE):

The Chola empire greatly aided the development and popularization of the Dravida style. Notable instances of Chola Dravida architecture include the temples Brihadeshwara in Thanjavur and Airavatesvara in Darasuram.

Empire of Vijayanagara (14th–17th century CE):

Notable temples like the Virupaksha Temple in Hampi exemplify how the Vijayanagara Empire carried on the Dravida legacy. The blending of Dravida and other architectural styles is another result of the empire's impact.

Nayak Period (16th–17th century CE):

The Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai is one of the magnificent temples built by the Nayak dynasty, who ruled over Thanjavur and Madurai. With further ornamental features, these temples carried on the Dravida style.

Post-Vijayanagara period (17th century onward):

Following the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire, the building of colossal temples decreased, although smaller temples and regional monuments continued to be built in the Dravida style.

Rangnathswami temple

Important Aspects of Dravida Style:

Vimana (tower):

The vimana, the tower over the sanctum sanctorum, is the most notable feature. Dravida vimanas are made out of several stacked tiers and have a pyramidal form. There is a stepped or pyramidal appearance since each layer is smaller than the one behind it.

Shikhara (Spire):

Dravida shikharas are usually pyramidal and have a square base, in contrast to the curved shikharas of the Nagara style. They show a clear, progressive increase in size, and are frequently capped with a finial or kalasha (holy pot).

Mandapa (Hall):

The mandapa, a pillared hall used for assembly or meetings, is a feature of Dravida temples. Typically, the mandapa is located in front of the main temple.

Gopurams at the entrance:

Dravida temples include imposing entry towers called gopurams and are frequently surrounded by compound walls. These gopurams, which act as entrances to the temple complex, are decorated with elaborate sculptures.


Wall sculptures and pilasters:

Dravida temple walls are decorated with intricate sculptures and pilasters featuring depictions of dancers, deities, and legendary creatures. These beautiful engravings tell tales from Hindu mythology.

Prakara (Enclosure):

Prakara walls enclose Dravida temples, defining a specific sacred area. There might be narrative panels, reliefs, and sculptures on the exterior walls.

Kailasanathar temple

Overall, the Dravida style of Indian architecture is a witness to the creativity and dedication of the builders who created these enormous temples, adding to the vast fabric of Indian architecture. The architecture of the Dravida style is still revered today, drawing pilgrims and fans alike to marvel at its ageless beauty. Features of the style include towering vimanas and exquisite carvings that tell tales of gods and goddesses. Not only do these temples have amazing architecture, but we also feel a strong connection to India's rich cultural and spiritual past as we walk through their hallways.








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