Temple architectures are texts to be seen within the context of the economic and socio-political order of a particular period, said R. Champakalakshmi, Professor Emeritus in Ancient History, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Delivering a lecture on ‘Temple Architecture and Iconography: The Dravidian Perspective’, at a meeting organised by the Madurai Chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage on Wednesday, she said that temples should be seen in a context with the religious tradition of India.
For example, architectural and sculptural traditions were allegorical to the kings of the Pallava regime.
The defeat of the Buddhists and Jains formed the oeuvre of frescoes at the Thanjavur Big Temple. Temple architecture and iconography should be taken together to understand their significance.
She said that Dravidian architecture was found in the southern region, particularly in Tami Nadu, and there was some later development in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In the Deccan, Dravidian architecture could be found with a mix of Chalukya and Rashtrakuta traditions. The Hoysala tradition was a mix of the Nagara and Dravidian styles.
However, Gupta period was the starting point of the Dravidian style on the basis of its dateable aspect. The peripheries of the Ganga Valley saw the evolution of both Nagara and Dravidian style. Evolution of Dravidian style could be seen in Odisha from the 7 century AD to 14 Century.
However, only Tamil Nadu had a continuous history from the Pallava period to the late Vijayanagara Kingdom, Ms. Champakalakshmi said.
The significance of the Dravidian style was the balance in position of sculptures on the temple walls and stone carvings. During the Pallava era, ‘Vimana’ (inner gopuram) dominated the architecture whereas in the Chola and Nayak periods it was the Gopuram (gateway tower). Dravidian architecture could be listed on the chronological basis with three phases — Pallava phase from 6 to 9 century, followed by Chola phase from 10 to 13 century and the later period as Vijayanagar and Nayak phase.
The rock cut temple of the Pallavas emulated the Buddhist architecture, where cutting down monolithic caves was common. The Mamallapuram shore temples consist of narrative panels with great aestheticism and execution. It was the first structural temple where the narratives were taken from both Saivism and Vaishnavism. The Pallava temples in Kanchi were the prototypes for the Vimana which was later developed by the Cholas. The early Chola temples were more advanced in terms of technology with a well-planned design and execution.
Bhakthi ideology as an idiom in the later period influenced temple iconography, she said. The culmination of Dravidian style was in the Brihadeeshwara and Gangaikonda Cholapuram temples. The Pandyas continued the Dravidian style at Chidambaram and Kanchipuram.
However, it was during the Vijayanagar Empire and Nayak period, the Brahmanical tradition of Sanskritism and agamas got incorporated, she said.
It was during the same period the folk tradition and subaltern gods formed the pantheon.