The south Indian style of temple architecture is very distinct from that of the rest of India. It is convenient to resolve the types of architecture into four periods corresponding to the principal kingdoms which ruled in southern India down the centuries. The temples of South India are not restricted to some pilgrimages only; they carry some ancient Indian heritage, culture, unique rituals, historical facts and unique artifacts. Through the tallest towers situated at the entrance of almost every temple, you can find different ritualistic options and you can find the rich history behind these south Indian temples.

Some of them were founded by the Pallava Dynasty and some of them were made by the Chola Dynasty. You cannot find this rich architecture, thousand pillars engraved with different murals, multi-cultural environment and festivals with Indian traditional dance forms in other temples, which you can easily find in these south Indian temples.

1. MEENAKSHI TEMPLE, MADURAI

Established In: 6th century BC
Established By: Kulasekarer PandyaPrimary
Deity: Parvati & Shiva
Location: Madurai
Architectural Style: Dravidian architecture

Meenakshi Temple, is a historic Hindu temple located on the southern bank of the Vaigai River in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Meenakshi, a form of Parvati, and her consort, Sundareshwar, a form of Shiva. Madurai Meenakshi temple was built by King Kulasekara Pandya (1190-1216 CE). He built the main Portions of the three-storeyed gopura at the entrance of Sundareswarar Shrine and the central portion of the Goddess Meenakshi Shrine are some of the earliest surviving parts of the temple.

The Meenakshi Temple has four entrances toward different directions, and you can find some ancient urban paintings on the walls. The temple is situated in the center of the city, and there are different streets culminating from the temple. The tallest tower of this temple is designed with various sculptures, and you can find some historical and religious facts inscribed on the temple. The hall of thousand pillars is divided into two separate rows of this temple, carved with Yeli (the mythological beast of Nayak Dynasty).

This project Is the power of the Nayak Dynasty. Here the idol of lord Shiva is sculpted as performing the cosmic dance and the idol is designed with several precious stones including emerald, and metals like, gold, silver and copper. More than fifty priests perform the daily puja to lord Shiva during the Shivaratri festival, and the temple is decorated with several lights and natural flowers during the festive seasons.

2. NATRAJA TEMPLE, CHIDAMBARAM

Established By: Pallavas (Tamil Shaivites)
Primary deity: Lord Shiva
Location: Chidambaram, Cuddalore District
Architectural Style: Tamil architecture

Thillai Nataraj Temple, Chidambaram is situated in Tamil Nadu and this Hindu temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This temple is located in the town of Chidambaram situated in East-Central Tamil Nadu.Here some rich architecture, sculptures, scripts and stone idols carved on the walls of this temple.During the Maha Shivaratri, the famous Natyanjali dance festival is conducted inside the temple premises every year.

The temple shows statues ideally performing some Indian classical dance forms which were performed during the Chola period. Here the devi or lord is known as nriytta (dance), Surya shrine was crafted on the chariot wheels and hundreds of pillars stand erect as a symbol of glory and Indian tradition. During the Chola period, there was a dense forest area situated surrounding this temple. These trees founded the stone-studded metal sculpture of Thillai trees on the temple.

3. SHORE TEMPLE, MAHABALIPURAM

Established In: 700–728 AD
Established By: Narasimha Varma
Primary deity: Shiva
Location: Mahabalipuram
Architectural Style: Dravidian architectural style

The Shore Temple (built in 700–728 AD) is so named because it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is located near Chennai in Tamil Nadu. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. At the time of its creation, the site was a busy port during the reign of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty.

According to the Hindu mythology, Prince Hiranyakasipu initiated the seven pagodas of the Shore temple. He refused the worship of lord Vishnu, but his son Prahlada believed that Vishnu is the main lord who exists everywhere. After a long discussion, when Prahlada said that Vishnu also exists on every pillars of this temple, Hiranyakasipu suddenly kicked a pillar, and Lord Vishnu emerged from the temple with a lion head. Afterward, Prahlada became the king and his grandson Bali founded the Mahabalipuram temple in this place.

4. CAVE TEMPLE, MAHABALIPURAM

Established In: 650 AD
Established By: Mahendra Varman
Primary deity: Vishnu & Durga
Location: Mahabalipuram
Architectural Style: Dravidian architecture

Cave Temple of Mahabalipuram is situated on the hillock town, near the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. This is in Kanchipuram District in Tamil Nadu. They are cut and decorated with panels in the Mamalla style of the Pallava period in the 7th century. They are differentiated from the Adiranchanda cave temples which are dated to the Mahendraverman period of the 8th century.

Remnants seen in the caves also indicate that they were plastered and painted when built. One of the most impressive sculpture panels, bas-reliefs, carved on the walls in the caves is that of the goddess Durga who killed Mahishasura the buffalo-headed demon which has a natural beauty with elegance of sense of movement.

5. KAPALESHWAR TEMPLE, CHENNAI

Established In: 7th century
Established By: Tuluva Dynasty
Primary deity: Shiva
Location: Mylapore (Chennai)
Architectural Style: Dravidian architecture

Kapaleshwar Temple is situated in Mylapore, Chennai. This temple is dedicated to lord Shiva and here lord Shiva is encrypted with his consort Parvati. This temple was founded during the 7th century and according to Hindu mythology, Shakti worshiped Shiva in a form of peacock which is also known as Mylai in Tamil language. Here Shiva is worshiped as Kapaleswar and he is represented as the Lingam.

The temple has numerous shrines, with those of Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal being the most prominent. The temple complex houses many halls. The commonly held view is that the temple was built in the 7th century CE by the ruling Pallavas. This view is based on references to the temple in the hymns of the Nayanars. The Kapaleeshwarar temple is of typical Dravidian architectural style, with the gopuram overpowering the street on which the temple sits.

This temple is also a testimonial for the vishwakarmas sthapathis. There are two entrances to the temple marked by the gopuram on either side. The east gopuram is about 40 m high, while the smaller western gopuram faces the sacred tank.

6. BRIHADESHWARA TEMPLE, THANJAVUR

Established In: 1010 CE
Established By: Raja Raja Chola
Primary deity: Siva Peruman / Shiva
Location:Thanjavur
Architectural Style: Tamil architecture

The Brihadeshwara Temple is locally known as the Big Temple, which is situated in Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. This temple is also famous as the Raja Rajeswara temple in Tamil Nadu. It is one of the largest South Indian temples and an exemplary example of a fully realized Dravidian architecture. It is one of the largest South Indian temples and an exemplary example of a fully realized Dravidian architecture. Built out of granite, the vimana tower above the sanctum is one of the tallest in South India.It was, in all likelihood, one of the tallest structures in the world at the time of its construction.[citation needed] The temple has a massive colonnaded prakara (corridor) and one of the largest Shiva lingas in India.

The complex of this temple is designed with several walls made of stones and every wall is designed with several sculptures. People can enter this temple through the five-story gururam (entrance gate), or they can also enter this temple through the huge free- standing second entrance. The complex also includes shrines for Nandi, Parvati, Kartikeya, Ganesha, Sabhapati, Dakshinamurti, Chandeshvara, Varahi and others.

7. AIRAVATESVARA TEMPLE, DARASURAM

Established In: 12th century CE
Established By: Rajaraja Chola II
Primary deity: Airavateshvara (Shiva)
Location: Darasuram
Architectural Style: Dravidian architecture

The Airavatesvara Temple is a great living Chola temple situated in Darasuram in Tamil Nadu. It is the nearest place to Kumbakonam. Rajaraja Chola-II established the temple during 12th century. This temple was recently listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The temple is dedicated to lord Shiva and he was worshiped as the white elephant. This is a symbol of the king of God, Indra and this is known as the Airavata in Hindu Mythology. The Airavatesvara Temple is designed according to Dravidian style of architecture. The stone temple incorporates a chariot structure, and includes major Vedic and Puranic deities such as Indra, Agni, Varuna, Vayu, Brahma, Surya, Vishnu, Saptamtrikas, Durga, Saraswati, Sri devi (Lakshmi), Ganga, Yamuna, Subrahmanya, Ganesha, Kama, Rati and others.

8. GANGAIKONDA CHOLAPURAM, THANJAVUR

Established In: 11th century AD
Established By: Rajendra Chola I
Primary deity: Shiva
Location: Thanjavur
Architectural Style: Dravidian architecture

Gangaikonda Cholapuram is one of the oldest temples, which were built by the Cholas. The king Rajendra Chola-I son and successor of Rajendra Chola built this temple during the 11th century AD.

This temple is dedicated to lord Shiva and the whole temple is structured according to Vastu Shastra where a Vishnu idol is situated at the western part of this place.

9. UCCHIPILLAYAR TEMPLE, ROCKFORT

Established In: 7th century
Established By: Pallavas
Primary deity: Lord Ganesha & Shiva
Location: Tiruchi
Architectural Style: Dravidian architecture

Ucchi Pillayar Temple is a 7th century Hindu temple, one dedicated to Lord Ganesha located a top of Rockfort, Trichy, Tamil Nadu, India. According to legend, this rock is the place where Lord Ganesha ran from King Vibishana, after establishing the Ranganathaswamy deity in Srirangam.

The Rock Fort temple stands 83m tall perched atop the rock. The smooth rock was first cut by the Pallavas but it was the Nayaks of Madurai who completed both the temples under the Vijayanagara Empire.

The temple is situated at the top of the rock. The temple is mystic in its nature with an awe-inspiring rock architecture. The Ganesha temple is much smaller with an access through steep steps carved on the rock and provides a stunning view of Trichy, Srirangam and the rivers Kaveri and Kollidam.

10. RANGANATHASWAMY TEMPLE, TRICHY

Established In: 6th to 9th centuries AD
Primary deity: Ranganatha (Vishnu), Aranganayagi (Laxmi)
Location: Trichy
Architectural Style: Tamil architecture

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is also known as the Thiruvarangam. This is a Hindu temple, which is dedicated to Ranganatha, a declining form of the Vishnu. The temple is situated at Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli, in Tamil Nadu. The full temple is designed with Tamil architectural style, and the temple follows the Thenkali tradition of worship. The main entrance of the Ranganathaswamy Temple is known as Rajagopuram, which means the royal temple tower. This entrance is extended toward the Northern side along with its similar eleven pillars.

It is one of the most illustrious Vaishnava temples in South India rich in legend and history. The temple has played an important role in Vaishnavism history starting with the 11th-century career of Ramanuja and his predecessors Nathamuni and Yamunacharya in Srirangam.

The temple occupies an area of 155 acres (63 ha) with 81 shrines, 21 towers, 39 pavilions, and many water tanks integrated into the complex making it the world’s largest functioning Hindu temple. The Srirangam temple is the largest temple compound in India and one of the largest religious complexes in the world. Some of these structures have been renovated, expanded and rebuilt over the centuries as a living temple. The latest addition is the outer tower that is 67 meters (220 ft) tall, completed in 1987.

Architectural Journalist

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Samanata Kumar, is a young interior designer, driven by keen interest for Architectural heritage and culture. Her curiousity includes parameters of architecture and design,photography, travelling, writing, roller skating and air rifle shooting for leisure. Her latest focus includes gaining knowledge in development of housing typologies around the world, space psychology and conspiracies in architecture.

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