TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE IN SOUTH INDIA
TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE IN SOUTH INDIA
The temples of Tamilnadu as extant in great numbers offer a coherent and uninterrupted series of fanes that begins in point of time from the seventh century A.D. and extends to the present-day constructions. They remain preserved, since they are of enduring stone, the earliest extant structures being monolithic as the well-known rathas of Mahabalipuram. These are followed closely by structural constructions built from the base or the upana at ground level to the finial or stoopi at the apex of the primary structure, the vimana that is raised over a pedestal or adhishthana and contains the sanctum or garbha-griha in its body (womb=garbha). It carries a super-structure, rising as a pyramid of super-posed stages or the talas, one or more in number. The ultimate roof or shikhara (head) on the top-most storey or tala, square, octagonal or circular in section, all dome shaped or apsidal or of rectangular section with roof shaped like a wagon-top, is raised up by a clerestory or greeva (neck) of identical plan; the summit of the shikhara carrying the finial or stoopi, single in the dome-shaped ones and many in a row on the top ridge of the wagontopped and apsidal ones. In its primary form, the temple unit consists of the vimana that enshrines in its sanctum cell the deity in worship with an ardha-mandapa or antarala in front and a large hall, the mahamandapa preceding it. In its complex form, the central unit consisting of the principal vimana with its axial ardha and maha-mandapas is surrounded by an enclosure wall, the prakara with an area of perambulation or circuit, called the pradakshinapatha, between it and the central unit.
The prakara wall is pierced by a storeyed gateway carrying a pyramidal super-structure of talas, even as the vimana does, the gopura, a feature that is found to be the characteristic and the most developed feature in the southern temples, particularly the temple-complexes of Tamilnadu. There can be more such gopura entrances on one or more of the other three sides or cardinals. The gopura carries on top a wagon-topshaped shikhara or roof with a row of stoopis or finials and has the main passage way through its ground-floor and similar ones open at both ends on every tala or storey. Inside the prakara or enclosure wall there is a series of lesser vimanas for the subsidiary deities, the parivara shrines as they are called, set close to the inner face of the wall, along the four sides and at the corners, most often inter-connected by lengths of mandapas forming a cloister called the malika (garland) by virtue of the string investing the principal vimana, even as a garland does. This is the name by which the peripheral cloister is referred to in the shilpa texts and the inscriptions on the temples. This pattern on ground-plan of the central structure having its body or ground tala (moolatala) surrounded by the peripheral cloister stringing a number of lesser shrines is reproduced in essence, on every stage or tala on the rise of the vimana.
In its super-structure of super-posed talas of gradually diminishing magnitude and dimensions, that results in the characteristic pyramidal form, the central body of tala-harmya is surrounded by a number of aedicules or shrine motifs strung together by inter-connecting lengths of cloister or walls of lesser height than the aedicules they connect. This is repeated on every storey till the ultimate clerestory (greeva) and head or roof (shikhara) is reached. The elements of this encircling string of aedicules of the hara as it is called, constitute in the most developed cases of the larger multi-storeyed vimanas, the square ones at the corners with domical roof and single finial-the karnakootas (koota forms at the comers or kama), while in the centre they are oblong in plan with wagontop roofs, the shalas or koshthas-there may be more such shalas on either side of the centre on each face, the third element being the miniature apsidal form, the needa or panjara. The inter-connecting cloister or wall-lengths, in miniature again, are the harantara, the whole forming the hara (garland), even as the malika (garland) does at the ground level. This forms the essential concept of the southern storeyed vimana described in the simplest terms. It, therefore, differs perceptibly from the form and rise of the northern temples or prasadas.