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South Indian Architecture of Pallavas and Vatapi Chalukyas c. C.E.


Introduction: Two somewhat distinct architectural styles particularly manifested in
temple architecture developed within the peninsular India. In the upper Dravida Desa a
mixed style, Besara and in the lower Dravida Desa the quintessentially south Indian style
Dravida style began during this period. The building art was already taking a distinct
shape in the lower part of the peninsular India when we start our discussion. Dravida
style saw continuity and change in several successive phases, conveniently divided into
five consecutive phases associated with succeeding dynasties i. Pallava (600-900), ii.
Chola (900-1150) iii. Pandya (1100-1350) iv. Vijayanagara (1350-1565), v. Madura (from
1600 onwards)1. Among all the phases the Pallava period witnessed the genesis of the
distinctive Dravida style but is also noteworthy for its achievements.
History phases and the monuments related with each phase: The Pallava period can
be further divided into two main phases
The first phase comprised of Mahendra group and Mamalla group which were
completely rock cut. While Mahendra group comprised only of pillared halls (mandapas)
which were excavated caves or open pavilions taking the shape of columned halls with
one or more than one cells at the backside. Mamalla group comprised of both mandapas
as well as monolithic structures (rathas).
The second phase comprised of Rajasimha Group and Nandivarman Group which were
only structural, with rock cut monoliths totally abandoned.
Provenance: Mahendra group comprised of fourteen extant structures at Dalavanur,
Trichinopoly, Mandagapattu, Pallavaram, Mahendravadi, Vallam, Singavaram,
Tirukkalukkunram, Bezwada, Mogalrajapuram, Undavalli etc places. This phase
demonstrated the primitive/earliest phase of the Pallava architectural style. Each of the
mandapas was a pillared hall forming a portico to the cellas deeply recessed into the
interior wall. The pillars averaging seven feet in height with a diameter of two feet were
of simple rail post type, square in section with the exception of the middle which was
chamfered into an octagon. The capital had an immense abacus though in the earlier
examples cornice was missing. Later as in Pallavaram roll-cornice was added and later at
Mogolrajapuram the roll-cornice was ornamented with an ornamental motif known as
kudu (acroteria) being derived from the Buddhist chaitya.
Towards the end of this phase particularly at Bairavakonda a more sophisticated
design of the capital was found. The lower part of the shaft the lion motif was carved
which with future refinements came to constitute the leitmotif of the Pallava architectural
design which came to be known as the Simhapada beam.
Structures of the second half known as the Mamalla group comes entirely from the
Mamallapuram (Mahavalipuram) mainly constructed during the reign of
Narasimhavarman I Mahamalla. Mamallapuram was situated on a rocky outcrop at the
coastline on the confluence of Palar river and was the maritime port of the Pallavas. The
rock-cut sacred edifices were all excavated and sculptured on this rocky outcrop. Apart
from architectural remains there are an enormous amount of sculptural motifs adorning
the edifices as well as the famous sculpture of Arjunas Penance or Gangavatarana motif
which demonstrate the skill of the Pallava sculptor. In Mamallapuram there are ten
P. Brown, Indian Architecture p. 77
mandapas Dharmaraja, Kotikal, Mahisasura, Krishna, Pancha Pandava, Varaha,
Ramanuja, Five celled Saivite and there are two other unfinished mandapas. The
mandapas as discussed earlier were relatively shallow halls and therefore significant not
for their size but for their design and execution. The Pillars had the leogriff motif, the
heraldic lion where the shaft was supported by the animals head. The other parts of the
stambam (pillar) was the refined necking (tadi), the elegant curves of the melon Capital
(kumbha), its lotus form above (idaie) and the wide abacus (palagai) which together
produced a competence yet unknown.
There was another type, very different from the mandapas constructed during the
Mamalla Phase the monolithic rathas altogether eight in number Valalyankuttai and
Pidari on the north-west and Draupadi, Arjuna, Bhima, Dharmaraja and Sahadeva in the
south with Ganesa ratha on the north. Draupadi ratha was the smallest and simplest
among the series. Among the other five pertain to the Buddhist vihara style. Originally
the viharas were square cells organized around a square courtyard which was covered by
a flat roof over pillars when a second storey came into existence. In the monolithic
structures the cells lost the functional aspect and were converted into ornamental turrets.
On the elevation the square portion was with pillared verandahs below with a pyramidal
shape sikhara (tower) above. Dharmaraja Ratha was the best known example of this type
with three storeys with diminishing width giving a pyramidal elevation. The other three
rathas Bhima, Sahadeva and Ganesh all had an oblong plan, with barrel roof with
chaitya gable end.
During the second phase the religious architecture was entirely structural, free standing
structures built by using stone blocks rather than excavating the stone hills. Rajasimha
phase had six examples/ extant sacred edifices i.e. Shore Temple situated at the extreme
point of fore shore at Mamallapuram, Isvara and Mukunda temples also at
Mamallapuram; a temple at Panamalai in south Arcot District as well as the famous
Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram. The Shore temple was built on the same
architectural scheme as that of Dharmaraja Ratha with some major changes
incorporated. The most noticeable was the change from monolithic approach (where the
sculptor cuts the stone from the top and naturally had to be overcautious because any
mistake will force abandonment of the site) to a freestanding structural one. In principle
the Dharmaraja ratha and the Shore Temple was the same a square lower storey with a
pyramidal tower in diminishing tiers. The Shore temple situated on the shoreline and as
facing eastwards so that the shrine may be illuminated by the first rays of the sun had the
entrance gateway at the backside (Westside). However apart from the main building
there were two additional and subsidiary shrines attached rather asymmetrically to its
western end with the western most one with a smaller spire giving an impression of the
main gateway, with two towers. This central structure with three shrines was surrounded
by outer rectangular enclosure which contain many interesting features difficult to
Not long after the erection of the Shore Temple another important sacred edifice came up
in Kanchipuram Kailasanath Temple which was the capital city of the Pallavas. Kanchi
was an important intellectual centre of the lower Dravidadesa with the Buddhist, Jain,
Saivite and Vaisnavite ritual centres all vying for space. Features of Kailasanath is ought
to be studied as here all the components of the Dravidian style was perfected/assembled
to form an ensemble. The temple comprises three separate parts the sanctuary, with the
pyramidal superstructure known as vimanam, a vestibule (antarala) leading to the
pillared hall (mandapa) the whole being enclosed within a rectangular wall of
considerable height. From the ground plan as well as the elevation it is seen that the main
building was the tall sanctuary on the eastern side which conforms to the monolithic
prototype of Dharmaraja ratha. The pyramidal tower had all the distinctive features of the
Dravidian sikhara. Apart from the main building the entrance attached during the time of
Mahendravarman III is noteworthy as it contained the kernel of the future gopuram, the
ceremonial gateway to any south Indian temple which gradually gained height so as to
overshadow the main shrine during the subsequent Pandyan and Vijayanagara period.
The Vaikuntha Perumal temple was built during the time of Nandivarman II Pallavamalla
and is an important testimony of the important political change that took place prior to
the accession of Nandivarman himself. The temple is square in plan and yet is different
from Kailasanath in that all three different components of the shrine sanctum sanctorum
and the spire on it, the vestibule and the central mandapa have been accommodated
within a structural whole. The outer wall is embellished with heavy decoration which
blends smoothly with the spire. The vimana is square in plan with four stories each with a
passage round the exterior, a cella in the center and a corridor encircling for
With the Pallava power already in wane the temples built in the ninth century two
temples at Kanchipuram i.e. Muktesvara and Matangesvara; the Vadamallisvara temple at
Orgadam; Virattanesvara at Tiruttanni and Parasuramesvara at Gudimallam all are of
small size and mere reproductions of the previous examples. The originality and flourish
of the imagination evident in the previous examples were missing.
Specific features of some select sacred edifices: According to the basic plan of a
representative Dravidian temple architecture there are some distinctive sections/parts. If
the structure is a small one Alpavimanam it is a simple structure as we find in the
Draupadi ratha a simple hut like and the dome which actually represents a thatched roof
has superstructure known as kutagara-vimanam. For the full fledged structures like the
Dharmaraja ratha, which is the prototype for the more monumental structures like the
Shore Temple, Kailasanath or Vaikuntha-Perumal temples, the sanctum and the
associated superstructure generally known as the vimanam there are six parts which
lends the name of such structures as sadavargam (comprising of six parts or vargam).
They are i) Adhisthanam (the base); ii) Padam (the wall, which also comprises of the
columns stambham); Prastaram (roof) the other three parts are components of the finial
structure iv) griba (neck); sikhara ; kalasa (the corresponding portion in the north Indian
architecture is known as stupi). In the more monumental structures or some times used
otherwise as we find the platform shared by Draupadi and Arjuna ratha, there is another
part upapitham below the adhisthanam built to give additional support and is optional in
The Dharmaraja ratha represents a tritala vimana. The three talas in the superstructure
represents a functional storey. It is square up to the prastara of the third storey but
octagonal in the griva and sikhara, making it a Visnucchanda-misraka vimana. The
temple was intended to stand on an upapitha available only at places. The adhisthana is
the general kapotabandha class. The colonnaded openings on each sides show pair of
Simhapada-Visnukanta pillars flanked by SImhapada-Brahmakanta pilasters. The temple
was seemingly intended to be a caturmukha shrine with main opening on the west.
All the ratha structures present the enigma regarding their purpose none seem to be
ever used for religious purpose, actually never complete and many theories abound
regarding their sudden stoppage or for what purpose they were erected in the first place.
Chalukyas: The unique location of their kingdom made them a kind of cultural
magnate. Their kingdom comprised parts of Deccan, Lata (Gujerat), Vengi as well as
southern Kosala and Kalinga also fell inside their sphere of influence and as a result there
was a bewildering variety of temple forms and architectural sculptural styles which were
encountered in the sacred edifices erected by the dynasty. Problems abound particularly
regarding the origin of early Karnata style. There are several cave temples at Aihole as
well as Badami (Vatapi) patronized by the royal family. The existing Chalukya structural
temples do not seem to predate the cave temples and the earliest do not seem to date
before the later years of Mangalesa and Pulakesi II.
By the end of the seventh century Chalukyas constructed four temples at Pattadakkal