Dravidian Architecture: A Medieval Art of India

Several schools of Art and Architecture flourished in India at different times. While few art forms are native and indigenous, like Chola art or Pandya Art, other art forms derive their qualities from western art schools, such as Persian Architecture and Victorian Architecture. Mughal art school and Rajputana art are examples of fusion art. They are a blend of indigenous and western influence.

What does Architecture mean?

Architecture means a technique of building infrastructure, which may include roads, bridges, canals, houses, pilar palaces, etc., in a well-planned and effective manner.

Indian Architecture

Indian Architecture or art school may be defined as the art forms which were originated in Indian land.

How old is Indian Architecture?

Indian Architecture is as old as the Indus Valley civilization (2500-1700 BC). Even in that age, Indian Architecture was the most modernized and civilized compared to its contemporary cultures, like Egypt and Chinese civilizations; for example, the great bath, cities of Lothal, Kalibanga, Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, etc.

Dravidian School of Architecture

The term Dravidian Architecture comprises of two terms. Dravidian and Architecture. Dravidian means native of Dravidic region. The Dravidian region includes a majority part of south Asia (South India and Srilanka mainly).

So, Dravidian Architecture may be defined as art and architecture flourished around Dravidian regions. Presently, these regions include most parts of Andhra Pradesh & Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore.

Under which ruler did Dravidian Architecture flourish?

Dravidian Architecture was set up by Pallava rulers (275 CE to 897 CE). However, Dravidian Architecture reached its zenith under the Chola Dynasty (848 CE 1279 CE).

Chola Dynasty

Chola dynasty Emerged in the medieval period. Chola rulers ruled a large part of southern India. Pandya and Cheras were its contemporary’s dynasty. But Cholas were strongest of all. They spoke proto-Tamil, Telegu and Malayalam languages. They are the longest-ruling dynasty of the medieval period, who ruled for more than 300 years. Vijayalaya Chola (848-871 CE) was the founder of the Chola dynasty. Rajendra Chola III was its last ruler (1246-1279 CE). They ruled around the fertile area of Kaveri, Tungabhadra, and Krishna rivers. They have well-established sea routes with Maldives, Srilanka, Singapore. This helped them to establish international trade with these countries. The legacy of Cholas declined after 1279 CE, and Pandya succeeded them, but they left a benchmark in the field of art and architecture. Some other famous Chola rulers are Raja Raja and Rajendra I.

Chola Architecture

As mentioned, Cholas were great patrons of art and architecture. The Kings of medieval India had shown their interests and choice in architecture in the form of temples. Temples were the main significant source of information of that period. Even trade cities and capital cities flourished around important temples. The king used to construct temples for the following reasons.

  1. to gain public sympathy and support.
  2. to patron creative artists and architects.
  3. to please his praise his divine diet.
  4. to Commemorate his battle and political victory.
  5. to encourage tourism in his region.
  6. to propagate his patron religion, among others.

Significant feature of Dravidian Architecture (Chola temples)

Under Cholas, hundreds of temples were built in South India. They also withhold some of the features of Pallava architecture. Dravidian architecture reached its zenith in-between 1100 to 1400 CE. Some of the significant features are as follows:

  1. Boundary walls:  Dravidian temples were surrounded by boundary walls. This feature was missing in the existing styles, such as Nagara Style.
  2. Gopuram: Introduction of Gopuram is one of the significant features of Dravidian architecture Gopuram is defined as an entrance gate in the front wall. It is the gateway to the main temple (For example, Gopuram of Meenakshi temple, Madurai).
  3. Panchayat style:  All temples of Chola rulers were built in Panchayatan style. Panchayatan styles refer to the temple Style, while fine deities are placed in a temple. The principal deity is placed at the Centre, with the other four deities at the corners. For example, the Dash avatar temple at Deogarh is built in Panchayatan style.
  4. Water tank: It is one unique feature of Dravidian temples. Each temple premises have a water tank inside it.
  5. Evolution of Garbhagriha and Vimana: Garbhagriha refers to the sacred chamber of a temple, where the idol of the main deity is.
    • Cholas re-decorated Garbhagriha in the following ways:
      • They introduced the Dwaarpal sculpture such as Mithun and Yaksha before the entrance of the Garbhagriha.
      • An assembly hall was directly connected with Garbhagriha
    • Vimana refers to the top structure of a temple.
      • The shape of Vimana in the Dravidian style was pyramidal.
      • Vimana is crowned with a shikhara, also called Kalash.
      • Only the main & temple has Vimana.
      • Subsidiary temples are not characterized by the absence of Vimana.

Examples of Chola or Dravidian Temples

  1.  Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur
  2. Gangikondacholapuram Temple.
  3. Airavateswar Temple at Darasuram.
  4. Nageswaraswamy Temple
  5. Moovar Koli Temple

Chola Sculptures

Sculptures also define the intensity of and art and architecture of a ruler. Cholas were a great patron of sculptures too. They designed Mithun and Yaksha sculptures. Sculptures are placed inside temples for worship and decorative purpose.

For example, the Bronze structure of Nataraja reached its zenith during Cholas rule.

Ancient and medieval architecture tell us about the lifestyles and society culture about that period. Chola architecture tells us a lot about Cholas ruler and their rule. It is our prime responsibility to preserve the historical architecture and art form around us. So that coming generation can too enjoy the eternity of Indian history.

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This post was last updated on November 7th, 2021 at 11:28 am

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