The South Indian temples have made a rich contribution to temple architecture in India. The development of the Bhakti Cult in the form of Saivism and Vaishnavism resulted in the worship of idols and construction of temples. Starting with the rule of the Pallavas in the 7th Century A.D. temple architecture gradually continued to develop during the Chola Period, the Chalukya and Hoysala Period, the Pandya Period, the Vijayanagar Period culminating in the final phase of the Dravidian style during the rule of the Nayak rulers of Madurai.
Among the massive amount of Hindu temples in India there are two main types of temple styles, a specific temple style seen in the north and one in the south. Southern temples normally have an octagonal overall shape to them, something not seen in northern temples. Also, the Dravidian style temples usually have a small top concave dome whereas the top of the northern style temple tends to be more complex and elaborate.
The start of Dravidian temples was created by the Pallavas dynasty. This dynasty ruled from about 550CE to about 890CE in the Tamil region or southern region of India. Historical remains of more than sixty Dravidian style temples can be traced back to this dynasty.
The origins of the Pallava rulers are unclear, but they seemed to have come from the north and taken advantage of a power vacuum in southeast India during the third or fourth centuries C.E. They ruled from the nearby capital at Kanchipuram while utilizing Mamallapuram as a port city and for religious monuments and rituals. Pallava rule peaked in the seventh and eighth centuries C.E. During this time, the ruler Narasimhavarman I commissioned the monuments at Mamallapuram. He was a devout Hindu as well as a lover of the arts and was also known as Kala Samudra, “Ocean of the Arts.”
The Pallava architecture shows the transition from the rock cut temples to the stone built temples. The earliest examples of the Pallava art are the rock cut temples of the 7th century AD, while the later examples are of structural temples built in 8th and 9th century were different. The lasting monolithic temples known as rathas and mandapas provide superb skill of sculptors of Pallava period. The monolithic temples gave way to structural temples like the Shore temple in Mammalapuram.
The temples, mostly pyramidal structures have either a square or rectangular base. The superstructure of the Bhima Ratha is different and is semicircular in shape like the vaulted roof of a wagon. The mandaps and Rathas are adorned with beautiful sculptured figures and panels. The most beautiful and well-known of these is that showing the ‘penance of Arjuna’ or the ‘Descent of Ganga’.
Penance of Arjuna
It shows the devotion of the archer Arjuna, hero of the epic Mahabharata. The conflicts between the cousins of Arjuna (the Kauravas) and his brothers (the Pandavas) are legendary and form the focal point of this grand tale.
Descent of Ganga
It is a well-loved Hindu story about the origins and religious significance of the sacred Ganges river. The story tells how the gods allowed the Ganges to descend from the heavens to reward a sage named Bhagiratha, who had practiced many years of spiritual devotion.
Well, After the Pallavas and Chalukyas’ eras of southern temples, the Rashtrakutas started to further develop the southern style from the eighth to tenth century. The use of rock cut temples grew in popularity again in this era, whereas the Pallavas began to step away from this type of architecture during the end of their reign.