Dravida style of temple architecture

The Dravidian style of temple architecture of South India was pioneered by the Pallavas who reigned in parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and northern Tamil Nadu until the ninth century. Although they were mostly Shaivite, several Vaishnava shrines also survived from their reign.

The early buildings are generally attributed to the reign of Mahendravarman I, a contemporary of the Chalukyan king, Pulakesin II of Karnataka. Narasimhavarman I, also known as Mamalla, who acceded the Pallava throne around 640 CE, is celebrated for his architectural works.

Shore temple, Mahabalipuram

The main features of this style of temple architecture are:

  • The Dravida temple is enclosed within a compound wall.
  • The front wall has an entrance gateway in its centre, which is known as a Gopuram.
  • The shape of the main temple tower known as vimana in Tamil Nadu is like a stepped pyramid that rises up geometrically rather than the curving shikhara of North India.
  • In the South Indian temple, the word ‘shikhara’ is used only for the crowning element at the top of the temple which is usually shaped like a small stupika or an octagonal cupola— this is equivalent to the amalak and kalasha of North Indian temples.
  • Fierce Dvarapalas or the door-keepers guarding the temple adorn the entrance to garbhagriha
  • It is common to find a large water reservoir, or a temple tank, enclosed within the complex.
  • At some of the most sacred temples in South India, the main temple in which the garbhagriha is situated has, in fact, one of the smallest towers. This is because it is usually the oldest part of the temple


Layout of Dravidian temple


  • It is common to find a large water reservoir, or a temple tank, enclosed within the complex.
  • Subsidiary shrines are either incorporated within the main temple tower, or located as distinct, separate small shrines beside the main temple
  • Kailashnath temple at Ellora is a famous example of a temple built in complete Dravidian style

Classification of Dravidian temples:

  • Just as there are many subdivisions of the main types of Nagara temples, there are subdivisions also of Dravida temples.
  • These are basically of five different shapes: square, usually called kuta, and also caturasra; rectangular or shala or ayatasra; elliptical, called Gaja-Prishta or elephant-backed, or also called vrittayata, deriving from wagon-vaulted shapes of apsidal chaityas with a horse-shoe shaped entrance facade usually called a nasi; circular or vritta; and octagonal or ashtasra
  • The above classification is a simplistic one since several different shapes may be combined in specific periods and places to create their own unique style.

Famous Dravidian temples in India

  • The magnificent Shiva temple of Thanjavur, called the Rajarajeswara or Brihadeshwara temple, built in the Dravidian style was completed around 1009 by Rajaraja Chola, and is the largest and tallest of all Indian temples
  • Other famous Dravidian temples in the south are- Annamalaiyar Temple in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, Meenakshi temple, Tamil Nadu, Airavatesvara temple etc

The contribution of Pallavas to Dravidian architecture

  • In the south the Pallavas created beautiful monuments in th 7th CE AD
  • Mahendravarman and his son Narasimhavarman were great patrons of art and architecture (Their contribution to rock-cut architecture will be discussed elsewhere)\
  • The shore temple at Mahabalipuram was built later, probably in the reign of Narasimhavarman II, also known as Rajasimha. It has shrines dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu

Shore temple

The contribution of Cholas to Dravidian architecture

  • The Cholas perfected the Dravidian temple style inherited from the Pallavas. During this time, the architecture style became more elaborate by moving away from the early cave temples of the Pallavas
  • Stone came to be used as the predominant material for the construction of the temples during this time
  • Gopurams became more prominent. They were decorated with carvings representing various Puranas
  • The Vimanas attained a greater grandeur during the Chola period. Ex: The temple tower of Brihadeshwara temple is 66 metres
  • Greater emphasis was given for the use of sculptures in the construction of the temple

Brihadeshwara temple

Dravida Style

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