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Temple Architecture

Stone Temples

 Architecture under Pallava dynasty is significant because it demonstrates the later development of the Dravidian style of architecture. The architecture of the Pallavas is classified into two periods. The earliest architecture of the Pallavas are the rock cut temples which dates back to 610-690A.D under the reign of the Mamalla rulers and the architecture of the structural temples dates back to 690-900A.D and these flourished under the Rajasimha Empire. The temples were mostly dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The rock cut temples of Mahabalipuram are the most magnificent features of Pallava architecture. It was built under the patronage of king Narasimhavarman I of the Mamalla period and thus it is also referred to as Mamallapuram. The first phase of the Pallava architecture is influenced by the Buddhist monasteries and chaitya halls.

The principal architectural monuments of this period consist of some temples that are free standing sculptural replicas of contemporary structural temples or raths carved from the granolithic outcrops on the shore. These monuments are of the great importance for the later development of Dravidian architecture because they reveal the dependence of the later Hindu style on pre-existing types of Buddhist architecture. Especially revealing for this latter aspect of the style is the Dharmaraja rath which has a square ground-storey with open verandahs that forms the base of the terraced pyramidal sikhara above.

It has been rightly suggested that this typical Dravidian form is an adaptation of a Buddhist vihara, in which successive storeys were added for the accommodation of the monks. The terminal member of the structure is a bulbous sikhara, which is repeated in smaller scale on each of the lower levels of the terraced superstructure. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this and the other raths at Mahabalipuram lies in the open verandahs on the ground-storey. The pillars are of a distinctive Pallava type with the shafts of the columns supported by the bodies of seated lions.

The Sahadeva’s rath, which is classified as the Vesara temple, represents a different type of architecture. The building is of a longitudinal type with a barrel roof. This mausoleum, terminating in the semi-dome of an apse and with the chaitya motif at its opposite end, is very clearly a survival of the Buddhist chaitya-hall that had persisted in such structural temples as the Gupta example at Chezarla and to a modified extent in the Durga temple at Aihole.

The Bhima’s rath has a simple barrel roof with cross section and a chaitya arch on either side. It is crowned by a row of stupikas. Another distinguishing feature of the Pallava style of architecture is perceived in the Gavaksha motif of chaitya arches framing busts of deities that crown the entablature. This architectural feature is typical of the Dravidian style.

One of the raths of Mahabalipuram consists of a one-storey square cell surmounted by an overhanging, curvilinear roof, suggestive in its shape of the modern Bengali huts. This feature is an imitation of a prototype constructed of bamboo and thatch. The resemblance to the sikhara suggests that this most characteristically Dravidian element may also have had its origin in the form of a bamboo hut.

The plastic embellishment of the raths consists of images of Hindu deities set in position on the exterior of the shrine, and also of panels exemplifying legends of Hindu mythology ornamenting the interior of the sanctuaries. The figures appear to be a development from the style of the Later Andhra Period.

The architecture retains the extremely refined attenuation of the forms at Amaravati, and is animated by the same feeling for movement and emotionally communicative poses and gesticulation. A new standard of proportion is prominent in the heart-shaped faces with high cheekbones and the almost tubular overstatement of the thinness of the arms and legs. In the reliefs decorating the raths the forms are not so completely disengaged from the background as in the Andhra Period, but seem to be emerging from the medium of the stone.

The greatest architectural achievement of the Pallava artisans is the carving of an enormous granite boulder on the seashore with a representation of the Descent of the Ganges from the Himalayas. The scores of figures of men and animals, including those of the family of elephants, are represented in life size. The subject of the relief is that of all creatures great and small, the Gods in the skies, the holy men on the banks of the life giving flood, the nagas in its waves, and the members of the animal kingdom, one and all giving thanks to Lord Shiva for his astounding gift to the Indian world. The fissure in the centre of the giant boulder was at one time an actual channel for water, simulating the Descent of the Ganges from a basin at the top of a rock.

In the relief at Mahabalipuram the shapes of the Gods moving like clouds across the top of the work of art, have the graceful, disembodied sophistication of the art of Amaravati. This gigantic, densely populated composition flows unrestrained over the entire available surface of the boulder from which it is carved.

The hallmark of Pallava architecture is also witnessed in the free-standing group of a monkey family in front of the tank below the great relief of the Descent of the Ganges. The understanding of the essential nature of the animals and the plastic realisation of their necessary form could barely be improved upon. This piece of architecture is the very personification of the principle mentioned in relation to the Indian canons of painting. The shapes, although only partially adumbrated, connote the finished form and proclaim the nature of the glyptic material from which they are hewn. In the panel of a cave in Mahabalipuram there is a relief which illustrates Durga fighting the demon buffalo, Mahisha. This episode is adapted from the Puranic legends.

Goddess Durga is seated on a lion in this marvelous example of the Pallava style at its finest. She is eight-armed, and holds the weapons such as the bow, discus, and trident lent her by Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu for the epic struggle. Her ornaments include a lofty head-dress, necklaces, jeweled belt; and her arms are covered with bracelets. This figure, like all Pallava architecture, belongs to the earliest and at the same time classic phase of Dravidian art. The whole conception is invested with a peculiarly dynamic quality that is always characteristic of Dravidian Hindu art.

After the death of the Pallava monarch Narasimha in 674 A.D. there was an end to the construction of raths and other sculptural work of Mahabalipuram. His successor Rajasimha was dedicated in the creation of structural buildings.

The Pallava architecture experiences the transition from rock-cut architecture to stone temples. The Shore temple is an example of the later period of Pallava architecture. The figural canon in the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram varies to a certain extent from the earlier architecture. The figure of the triumphant goddess of the Shore temple has a militant vigor conveyed by the moving pretense and the deployment of the arms in a kind of aureole. This is combined with a proposition of absolute serenity and feminine softness, as is entirely appropriate to the notion of the divinity. The temple was planned in such a way that the door of the sanctuary opened to the east, in order to catch the first rays of the rising sun. This in itself resulted in a rather unusual arrangement, since it required the placing of the mandapa and the temple court at the rear or west end of the main sanctuary. The terraced spires crowning both shrine and porch very visibly reveal an expansion from the form of the Dharmaraja rath. In the Shore Temple, however, the dependence on the vihara type is less marked, owing to the prominence on the height and slender-ness of the tower, like an attenuated version of the Dharmaraja rath. Actually, the characteristic Dravidian form of a terraced architecture with the shape of the terminal stupika echoed in lesser replicas on the successive terraces still prevails, but these recessions are so ordered as to emphasise the verticality of the structure as a whole. Such distinguishing elements of the Pallava style as the pilasters with the extensive lions continue in the decoration of the portico of this structural monument.

The Kailasnatha temple at Kanchipuram is yet another architectural evidence of the Pallava dynasty. It dates back to 700 A.D. The architecture of the building consists of a sanctuary, a connecting pillared hall and a rectangular courtyard surrounding the entire complex. The pyramidal tower of the main shrine is again very obviously a development out of the Dharmaraja rath. The storey’s are manifested by heavy cornices and stupikas echoing the form of the cupola. There are a group of supplementary shrines around the base of the central spire that rhythmically reiterate the form of the terminal stupika. This shape is repeated once more in the row of cupolas crowning the ramparts of the patio. The gateways of the enclosure, surmounted by hull-shaped members of the vesara type repeating the form of Bhima’s rath at Mamallapuram, suggest the form of the temple towers of the last phase of Hindu architecture at Madura. As in the Shore Temple, pillars rising from rampant leonine forms are employed throughout.

The architecture of the Pallava dynasty was noteworthy because of it followed the idiom of Dravidian art and sculpture. The magnificent architecture of Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram establish the foundation of the classical Dravidian architecture.

Rajasimha Style

 The Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram

This is perhaps the monument which gave this town the name of ‘Seven Pagodas’ by earlier mariners. This high rising monument is located at the sea shore, hence the name Shore Temple, and is visible from quite a distance across the ocean.

This monument would have acted as a landmark for the ships to get the right directions and gives the feeling of a pagoda, which European mariners were quite familiar with hence they gave the name ‘Seven Pagodas’ to this town.

It was indeed earlier thought as the work of Chinese or Egyptians, which was only later clarified with extensive study of various monuments of the town.

Locals tell about stories of seven such monuments with gilded top crowns which they were able to see just above the water level, however all were submerged soon.

This temple complex consist three different temples, raised above the same platform. Towers of two temples have survived, but of the one is missing. The temple with smaller tower faces west while temple with the large tower faces east to the sea.

The towers are pyramidal stepped, topped with an octagonal sikhara . The octagonal sikhara puts this into the Dravidian style of temple architecture.

The large temple tower has three recessed storeys. The cornice of each storey has regular arrangement of kudus (horseshoe dormer windows) as seen in the cave temples. An octagonal sikhara is mounted over a circular griva. This sikhara is topped with a kalasa and finial.

The inner cell, garbhagriha, is a square of 12 feet sides and 11 feet high. There is a somaskanda panel at the back wall of this cell, while two similar panels are there in the porch of the temple.

The enshrined Shivalinga is of typical Rajasimha style, made of black basalt stone with multi-faceted sides, sixteen in this case, and slightly fluted at the top such as to form the crown above the top. The upper part of the linga is broken. The total height of the linga would have been six feet, out of this one feet is buried in the ground to fit in the hole to support the vertical shaft.

The garbhagriha is preceded by a ardha-mandapa, in which south wall is sculpted Brahmaand north wall is depicting Vishnu. On outer northern wall of the sanctum, we find two sculptures of interest, Shiva as Tripurantaka and Durga. There is an open circumambulatory path around this shrine. Many of the sculptures on the external walls are in a ruined condition.

The middle shrine, without any tower, is sandwiched in between the smaller and the larger Shiva temples.

This is a rectangular shrine to enshrine the Anantasayana (the sleeping posture of Vishnu over Sesha) image of Vishnu. This image is very mush ruined and the attributes in his hands are beyond recognition. There is an inscription in Pallava Grantha script on the lintel of this shrine which suggests that this is perhaps the earliest shrine of the complex.

The smaller Shiva temple is sculpted in similar design as that of large temple or Dharmaraja Ratha. The tower is stepped pyramidal in design, topped with an octagonal sikharamounted on a circular griha.

The sikhara is topped with a kalasa and finial above that. The cell has a somaskanda panel at the back wall. There would have been a mandapa in front of this temple, however this is missing now.

In recent excavations, a compound has been found near the main shrine, within the complex. This compound has a circular shrine in the middle which has rampant lions on its pilasters. It has a circular sikhara. Inside it is a figure of Ganesha. There would have been a kalasa above this sikhara, which is missing now. Another interesting discovery is an image of Varaha (boar) placed within this compound. This Varaha at Mahabalipuram is in different posture, it is shown with its head down and pressing its hind legs with force such as to plunge into the ocean. As the shrine and the Varaha are constructed at the base of the compound hence when it would have been filled with water, this would have presented a marvellous fascinating scene of Varaha submerged in the water.

Within the compound of this temple is a monolith sculpture of a lion. This is partly carved out of rock and partly sculpted. This majestic lion is seated majestically with a hole in its torso. This hole in its torso is perhaps a representation of a cave shrine.

Inside the back of the hole is carved a miniature image of Durga in Mahishasurmardini posture. Creation of this space near the heart of the lion also represents that concept where Hanuman opened up his heart to shown that Rama with Sita live within his heart. In similar fashion, for the lion being the mount of goddess Durga, it is quite appropriate to carve her image near its heart. A female guardian is shown sitting on the lion’s leg, carrying a bow.

The Airavatesvara temple

The Airavatesvara temple, built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century CE is a UNESCO World Heritage Site .The main deity’s consort Periya Nayaki Amman temple is a detached temple situated to the north of the Airavateshvarar temple. At present, it stands alone as a detached temple with the shrine of the Goddess standing in a single large court.

Here, Lord Shiva is worshipped by Airavata , the white elephant of the king of God Indra. Airavata, while suffering from curse from Sage Durvasa, had its colors restored by bathing in the sacred waters of this temple. The King of Death, Yama, worshipped Shiva.  Yama, who was suffering under a Rishi’s curse from a burning sensation all over the body, was cured by the presiding deity Airavatesvarar. Yama took bath in the sacred tank and got rid of the sensation. Since then the tank is known as Yamateertham.

The renovation of the shrines was undertaken by Kulottunga Chola III. The north wall of the verandah consists of 108 sections of inscriptions, each containing the name and description and image of the Saivacharya listing the principal events in their life. Another inscription close to the gopura indicates that an image was brought from Kalyani, then known as Kalyanapura by emperor Rajadhiraja Chola I after his defeat of the Western Chalukya king Someshwara I, his sons Vikramaditya VI and Someshwara II his capture of the Chalukyan capital.

The temple is the oldest structure in Kanchipuram. It was built from 685-705AD by a Rajasimha ruler of the Pallava Dynasty. The low-slung sandstone compound contains a large number of carvings, including many half-animal deities which were popular during the early Dravidian architectural period.

The Kailasanathar Temple (meaning:“Lord of the Cosmic Mountain”), is built in the tradition of the Smartha worship of Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Surya (Sun), Ganapati and Kartikeya, in Hinduism.

The temple construction is credited to the Pallava dynasty, who had established their kingdom with Kanchipuram (also known as “Kanchi” or “Shiva Vishnu Kanchi”) as the capital city, considered one of the seven sacred cities under Hinduism.

There was an interregnum when the Chalukya rulers defeated the Pallavas and occupied Kanchipuram. However, the Pallavas regained their territory and started expanding their capital city of Kanchipuram and built many temples of great magnificence. The only temple of this period which is extant is the Kailsahanathar Temple.

It is the first structural temple built in South India by Narasimhavarman II (Rajasimha), and who is also known as Rajasimha Pallaveswaram. His son, Mahendravarman III, completed the front façade and the gopuram (tower). Prior temples were either built of wood or hewn into rock faces in caves or on boulders, as seen in Mahabalipuram.

The Kailasanathar temple became the trend setter for other similar temples in South India. According to local belief, the temple was a safe sanctuary for the rulers of the kingdom during wars. A secret tunnel, built by the kings, was used as an escape route and is still visible.

The temple has gone by other names such as Kachipettu Periya Thirukatrali (meaning: Stone Temple of Kachipettu, the old name for the present day Kanchipuram) when Rajaraja Chola I of the Chola Dynasty paid a visit to this temple. Inspired by the architecture of this temple, he built the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur.

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