The Dravida or the south Indian style of architecture had its foundations laid under the Pallava rulers, who ruled from the sixth to the ninth century CE. A definite architectural and iconographical vocabulary had developed in south India under the Pallavas by the seventh century CE.
This is clear indicated in the rock cut structures that the Pallavas created at Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu). It was also under the Pallavas that the first structural temples were created in south India.
The Shore temple at Mahabalipuramis considered the first structural temple built in south India.
The temple is constructed out of blocks of granite and was constructed under the patronage of the Pallava king Narsimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE).
The temple has an unusual plan with three distinct worship areas constructed on a same platform; the primary worship area faces east and is dedicated to Shiva. This worship area has the highest pyramidal superstructure.The second, smaller shrine is also dedicated to Shiva and consists of a smaller superstructure. The third shrine is located at the western edge and is dedicated to Vishnu as Anantashay in and has no superstructure. The figure of Anantashayin was carved out of existing rock at situ.
The Pallava rulers were succeeded by the Cholas in south India and these had established themselves firmly by the ninth century CE. The Cholas first appeared as a ruling family during the Sangam period in the first two centuries AD. They re-emerged around 850 AD when a chieftain named Vijayalaya, possibly a feudatory of the Pallavas, captured Tanjavur and established the Vijayalaya line of Cholas.
The religious and artistic activities ofthe Cholas centered in and around Tanjavur. The distinctive and elegant Chola temples are products of architectural and sculptural features which coalesced during the reigns of Vijayalaya’s successors, Aditya I (c.871-907 CE) and Paratntaka I (c. 907-955 CE).
By the 10th centuries, the Cholas, being the greatest imperial power in South India, had reached borders of the Rashtrakuta Kingdom in the north, replacing brick temples with grander stone ones as they went.
Chola art andarchitecture was most definitely the product of a prosperous, highly efficient empire during the period of its greatest territorial expansion.
Features of Dravidian Architecture
The temple is surrounded by a high boundary wall that separates it from the rest of the site.
The high entrance doorway in the center of the front wall is known as a gopuram.
The temple grounds were designed in the panchayatan style, with a main temple and four subsidiary shrines.
Vimana: The main temple tower’s form. It’s a geometrically rising stepping pyramid (unlike the Nagara style Shikhara that is curving).
In Dravidian architecture, there is only one vimana on top of the main temple. In contrast to Nagara architecture, the subsidiary shrines lack vimanas.
The word shikhara is used in the Dravida style to describe the temple’s crowning aspect (which is shaped like a stupika or octagonal cupola).
A vestibular tunnel known as antarala connected the assembly hall to the garbhagriha.
The garbhagriha’s entrance was adorned with sculptures of Dwaarpal, Mithun, and Yakshas.
The presence of a water tank inside the temple enclosure was a distinguishing feature of Dravidian architecture.
Subsidiary shrines might be found both within and outside of the main tower.
The garbhagriha is usually found in the lowest tower of a temple. With the passing of time and the growth of the temple population, the town’s further boundary walls were built. The highest gopuram would be found in the most recent building.
There are seven concentric rectangular enclosure walls with gopurams at the Sriranganathar Temple in Srirangam, Tiruchirappalli. The garbhagriha is located in the central tower.
Kanchipuram, Thanjavur (Tanjore), Madurai, and Kumbakonam are famous temple towns in Tamil Nadu.
From the eighth through the twelfth century, temples were not only religious centres, but also governmental centres with enormous swaths of territory.
Classification of Dravidian Temples
There are basically five different shapes:
Square, also known as kuta or caturasra;
Rectangular, also known as shala or ayatasra;
Elliptical, also known as gaja-prishta or elephant-backed;