Apart from its religious and cultural significance, the Srirangam Temple also merits a visit for its architectural glory. The world’s largest functioning Hindu temple, the complex is designed in the quintessential Dravidian architecture style.
Spread over 155 acres, it welcomes guests with seven prakarams or compounds, representing the seven chakras related to our body and soul. Inside the compound area stand 81 shrines, 21 stunning gopurams and 39 grand pavilions. Built in stone with elaborate carvings, the complex has over 800 inscriptions that offer insights into religious and social influences during the medieval era. The complex is also home to frescoes depicting scenes from Hindu scriptures and legends as well as those from the life of religious scholars.
A noteworthy architectural element within the temple complex is the Hall of 1000 Pillars. Built between the 13th and 15th centuries, this granite structure features a mandapam (hall) as well as water tanks in the centre. Guests should especially look out for the eight monolithic pillars that feature marvelous sculptures of warriors in action.
Throughout history, the southern part of India was home to changing kingdoms and dynasties who invariably left their mark and influence on the temples and architecture of the region. Here’s a look at some of the most prominent features of the South Indian order or style of architecture.
Historically speaking, there are 4 prominent styles of architecture. The history of South Indian style of architecture dates to the Pallava dynasty, around the 6th century AD and can be traced through 4 phases. The rock-cut architecture was one of the most significant styles within caves. Soon after, temples started to come into existence.
The basic South Indian style of architecture temple was made up of just the “Mandapa” with nothing else surrounding it. Later, these mandapas evolved into raths. Mahabalipuram is home to 6 such raths in a single cave. The largest rath is called “Dharmraja” and the smallest rath is called Draupadi. The Dharmraja ratha marked the inception of South Indian style of architecture.
During the rule of the Chola dynasty in the 11th century, the first phase begins to flourish. The style belonging to this time consisted of a "Vimana", a pyramid tower and a "Gopuram", which is a huge entrance to the temple built with multiple tiers, adorned with sculptures of gods and goddesses. Within the vicinity of the temple, a tank was deemed sacred and was used by priests followed with a "mandapa” built at the center of the temple. The Brihadeswara temple at Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, is a prime example of the Cholapuram style, demonstrating a shift towards a South Indian style of architecture.
The Vijayanagara school of architecture is where one can identify real structured temples with carvings on rock surfaces and more animal representations across the walls and pillars of the temple. The then-ruler, Krishnadevraya commissioned various temples and pillared mandapas and gopurams around the main sanctum, which came to be known as Rayagopurams. Sculptures of supernatural horses were constantly used within the pillars of these temples. The Kailashnath Temple at Kanchipuram is predominantly structured on similar lines.
The Meenakshi-Sundareswara temple at Madurai is a fine example of the Nayaka’s architecture. Although influenced by the Cholas and the Pallavas style, it still maintains a distinct elegance with its surface carvings and engravings. Each story is delineated by a parapet of miniature shrines and barrel-vault roofs at the center in this style of architecture.
The Chalukya phase combines both, Nagra and South Indian styles. It consists primarily of the Vimana and Mandapa from the South Indian architecture. Various temples at Badami, Karnataka were constructed in this style. To conclude, South India is rich in its cultural and varied heritage. It’s each structure is unique than the previous ones, brimming with a vast historical and cultural significance and only the ones with a keen sense of architecture can realize the quaint differences between these styles.