Dravidian architecture or South Indian temple style is an architecture in Hindu temple architecture. It emerged in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent or South India and in Sri Lanka, reaching its final form by the sixteenth century.
The historicity of this style proves that this style (Dravidian) is the oldest style of temple architecture. The most distinctive difference in this style from the North Indian styles is that while the north style has high minarets, which are usually inclined upwards, called ‘Shikharas’, the south style has ‘Garbhagrihas’. Or a smaller and more pyramidal tower is used above the sanctuary, called a Vimana.
The major feature for modern visitors to large temples is the high Gopuram or Gatehouse at the edge of the complex. Large temples have many dwarfed vimanas, which are a very recent development. Other distinguishing features include the dwarapalakas and goshtams, the dwarapalakas – the two gatekeepers carved into the main entrance of the temple and the inner sanctum, and the goshtams – the deities carved on the outer walls of the sanctum.
The ancient book Vastu Shastra mentions the Dravidian architectural style as one of three styles of temple construction: Existing structures in the southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, parts of Maharashtra,Odisha, and Sri Lanka are located. Satavahanas, Cholas, Cheras, Kakatiyas, Reddys, Pandyas, Pallavas, Gangas, Kadambas, Rashtrakutas. Various kingdoms and empires like the Chalukyas, Hoysalas, and Vijayanagara Empire have contributed significantly to the development of Dravidian architecture.
The Dravidian style developed in several phases. The Dravidian style developed during the reign of the Pallava rulers, which had two sub-styles, the Nayaka style, and the Vijayanagara style, which developed during the reign of the Vijayanagara kings. Initially, rock-cut architecture existed in South India, but later temples started coming into existence.
The rulers of South India were mainly of Hindu origin, hence more temples of Hindu deities were found in South India. South India is more culturally rich than India, and South Indians have great affection and attachment to their culture, so they follow it religiously and firmly. Initially, the word Mandap was used to denote a temple in the Dravidian style of architecture.
Gradually the mandapas evolved into chariots, with the Dharmaraja Ratha as the largest chariot and the Draupadi Ratha as the smallest. Temple buildings in South India received patronage from the Pallava and Chalukya dynasties. The best examples of early temples are the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram and the Kailasanatha Temple at Kanchi. Later, the temple architecture of South India received the patronage of the Chola rulers, during which the temple architecture reached its zenith.
The famous Rajaraja and Rajendra Chola built many magnificent temples in South India. These outstanding temples include the famous Gangaikondacholapuram temple of Shiva near Kumbhakonam in Thanjavur.
In the Dravidian style of architecture, the idols of the main deities of the temple are at the shrine of the temple, as also in the Nagara style. From the 12th century onwards it was observed that the temples were fortified with three square concentric walls and gates all around. The entrance to the temple was the gopuram, which was a tower similar to the vimana, which was smaller than the vimana built above the main place of the temple. This was due to the influence of the Pandyan Empire after the Cholas. Now the temples have become even more magnificent. Temples were also centers of religious gatherings and education at that time, so land for temples was usually donated by the rulers of the state.
Among the sub-styles of Dravidian architecture, the Meenakshi Temple of Madurai is a famous example of the Nayaka style. All the features of this temple are similar to the Dravidian style, apart from this an additional feature is the huge corridors along the paths running on the roof of the temple called Prakarms. Apart from this, the best example of the Vijayanagara style is the Vitthala Temple of Hampi.
The Vijayanagara style reached its zenith in the 16th century. The most important feature of this style was that the shrine of the main consort of the Lord was also present there. South Indian temples usually have a pond called Kalyani or Pushkarni, which is used for sacred purposes or for the convenience of priests. The residences of all classes of priests are attached to it, and there are other buildings for the state or convenience.
The Mayamata and Manasara Shilpa texts are also estimated to have been in circulation from the 5th to the 7th century, a guidebook on the Dravidian style of architectural motifs, construction, sculpture, and carpentry techniques. Isanasivagurudeva paddhati is another 9th-century treatise describing the art of construction in South and Central India. The Brihat-Samhita by Varāhamihira in northern India is a widely cited ancient Sanskrit manual of the sixth century, describing the design and construction of the Nagara style of Hindu temples.
The traditional Dravidian architecture and symbolism are based on the Agamas. The Agamas are non-Vedic in origin and have been dated either as anti-Vedic texts or as pre-Vedic compositions. The Agamas are a collection of Tamil and Sanskrit texts primarily constituting the methods of temple construction, idol creation, means of worship of deities, philosophical doctrines, meditation practice, attainment of sixfold desires, and four types of yoga.