Temple Architecture in South India – Dravida Style

Four stages of temple architecture had been observed in South India – Mainly during the Pallava’s rule, around 6th century AD which are as follows:

Stage 1 Mahendra Group 

  • Marked the beginning of Rock cut cave architecture
  • Word Mandap was used instead temple.


Stage II–Narsimha Group

  • Major development during this period was initiation of Decoration in rock cut cave structures
  • The architecture is represented by Monolithic rocks
  • Mandap’s now became ‘Ratha’s’ which is a refined cave, famous for beauty.
  • The biggest Ratha was called as Dharamraj Rath and smallest one was called as draupadi Rath.
  • Dharamraj Rath is considered as precursor of Dravidian style of temple making.


Stage III–Rajsimha Group

  • At this stage the real structural development of temple’s started and it moved outside the cave, earlier temples were part of caves.
  • Example: Shore temple at Mahabalipuram, (TN) Kailashnath temple at Kanchipuram largest single work of art ever undertaken in India
Shore temple at Mahabalipuram

Shore temple at Mahabalipuram

Kailashnath temple at Kanchipuram

Kailashnath temple at Kanchipuram

Stage IV – Nandivarman Group

  • It is said to be the declining stage of south Indian temple architecture and only small temples were constructed in this period.
  • Notable examples Vaikundaperumal temple, Tirunelveli and Mukteswara temple


Dravida Style

  • Deployed for Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu from the 7th to 18th century, characterized by its pyramidal tower
  • Unlike the nagara temple, the dravida temple is enclosed within a compound wall.
  • The front wall has an entrance gateway in its centre, which is known as Gopura/ Gopuram
  • Consists of a square-chambered sanctuary topped by a superstructure or tower (Vimana)
  • Consists of an attached pillared porch or hall (Mandapa) which precede the door leading to the nucleus cell
  • The vimana is like a stepped pyramid that rise up geometrically rather than the curving shikhara of north India.
  • Each story is delineated by a parapet of miniature shrines, and barrel-vault roofs at the centre.
  • The tower is topped by a dome-shaped cupola and a crowning pot and finial.
  • A large water reservoir or a temple tank enclosed in the complex is general in south Indian temples.

brihadeeswarar_templeBrihadeshwara temple at Thanjavur

  • The origins of the Dravida style can be observed in the Gupta period.
  • The earliest examples include 7th century rock-cut shrines at Mahabalipuram and a developed structural temple, the Shore Temple at the same site.
  • Finest examples are Brihadeshwara temple at Thanjavur, built about 1010 by Rajaraja 1, & temple at Gangaikondacolapuram, built about 1025 by his son Rajendra Chola.
  • Subsequently, a number of successive court enclosures, each with its own gateway (Gopurams), were added.
  • By the Vijayanagar period (1336–1565) the Gopurams had increased in size so that they dominated the much smaller temples inside the enclosures.

Sub Styles of Dravida Temples 

Vijaynagar Legacy

  • They introduced the concept of enlarged high enclosure walls and more decoration on these high enclosure walls and Gopuram’s.
  • Sculpture or motif of supernatural horses was used very frequently.
  • They also introduced the concept of secular buildings (Example-Lotus Mahal).
  • Typically Vijaynagar period structures in the temple are the Amman Shrine (male deity of temple)

lotus mahal

Lotus Mahal

Nayaka Style

  • The Nayakas rose on the fall of Vijayanagara empire
  • The most famous architectural landmark of this period is the Meenakshi- Sundareswara temple at Madurai.
  • The great temple complex has actually two shrines; the first one dedicated to Shiva as Sundareswara and the second one to his wife Meenakshi.
  • Have all the features of Dravidian style with an additional prominent feature known as ‘Parakram’s
  • Prakram’s are huge Corridore’s along with roofed ambulatory passageways. It served to connect various parts of temple while enclosing certain areas.
  • Intricate carvings are seen all across the temple walls.
  • The large tank set slightly off the axis to the main temple is another impressive feature of the temple.
  • Surrounded by steps and a pillared portico, the tank was used for ritual bathing.

Dravida Style Meenakshi- Sundareswara temple

Meenakshi- Sundareswara temple

Chola Sculpture: NATRAJ

  • Shiva’s dancing position is associated with the end of the cosmic world
  • Shiva has been shown balancing himself on his right leg and suppressing the apasmara, the demon of ignorance or forgetfulness, with the foot of same leg.
  • Shiva raises his left leg in bhujangtrasita stance, which represents tirobhava that is kicking away the veil of maya from the devotee’s mind.
  • His four arms are outstretched and lower right hand is posed in Abhayahasta mudra
  • The upper right hand hold & Damaru
  • The upper left hand is held in dola hasta and connects with the Abhaya hasta of the right hand.
  • His Hair flocks fly on both the sides touching the circular jwala mala or the garland of flame, which surrounds the entire dancing figuration.

Chola Natraja

Vesara Style/Chalukya Style/Karnataka Style

  • This style has features of both Nagara and Dravidian style.
  • It consists of two principle components like Dravidian style i.e. Vimana & Mandap.
  • Departing from Dravidian style it does not have covered ambulatory around the sanctum.
  • Example: Lad Khan temple at aihole, Temples at Badami, Virupaksha temple – Pattadakal, Hoysala temples at Karnataka
Pattadakal Virupaksha

Virupaksha temple – Pattadakal

 Hoysala temple

Hoysala temple

India Yearbook English India Yearbook Hindi Economic Survey 2017


  1. Temple architecture, is well written and is all new information.
    Where can i find more about – Srirangam Lord Ranganatha Temple architecture. It’s absolutely amazing architecture & sculpture at this biggest temple in the world. They must have been a different breed of Indians, because Indians today are finding it impossible to build roads, drainage, and town planning.

    Thank you so much for the article. -Vidya

  2. please include “hoysala temple architecture” in the temple art of south India section……!.

  3. #Respect :) :)

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