The Pallava dynasty was a Tamil dynasty of South India which ruled the northern Tamil Nadu region and the southern Andhra Pradesh region with their capital at Kanchipuram. Pallavas rose in power (571 – 668 CE) and dominated the Telugu and northern parts of the Tamil region for about six hundred years until the end of the 9th century.
Pallavas are most noted for their patronage of architecture, still seen today in Mahabalipuram. The Pallavas, who left behind magnificent sculptures and temples, established the foundations of medieval south Indian architecture.
The rock-cut temples at Mamallapuram
The Cholas continued the temple building traditions of the Pallava dynasty and elevated the Dravidian temple design to greater heights. The Chola kings built numerous temples throughout the kingdom. The evolution of the temple architectural styles can be divided into three phases - the early phase starting with Vijayalaya Chola, the middle phase of Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola when the achievements scaled heights never reached before or since and the final phase during the Chalukya Chola period of Kulottunga Chola I and after.
The maturity and grandeur to which the Chola architecture had evolved found expression in the two magnificent temples of Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. The magnificent Siva temple of Thanjavur, completed around 1009 CE is a fitting memorial to the material achievements of the time of Rajaraja. The largest and tallest of all Indian temples, it is a masterpiece constituting the high watermark of South Indian architecture.
Brihadeeswarar Temple, also known as Rajarajeswaram, at Thanjavur in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is the world's first complete granite temple and a brilliant example of the major heights achieved by Cholas kingdom Vishwakarmas in temple architecture
The wealthy Chola rulers built grand cities such as Gangaikondacholapuram, Tanjore and Kanchi. Both the royalty and the nobility lived in grand palaces with large banquet halls, spacious gardens and terraces. They maintained large households. Though none of these structures have survived the ravages of time, contemporary literature contain descriptions of the luxurious lifestyle of the ‘creamy layer’ of Chola society. The Chola Empire prospered during the 1100’s AD but from the 1200’s AD onwards it lost its power. It was ultimately replaced by the Pandyan and the Hoysala dynasties of South India.
The temples of Kanchipuram were built by different dynasties, each enriching and refining the architecture further. The Pallava kings were great lovers of art, architecture and learning. Therefore, it was their reign, under which the first south Indian ancient stone temples were built at Mahabalipuram. Later, the Cholas, Chalukyas and Vijayanagar rulers ruled Kanchi. All these kings also built many temples and thus taking forward the building activities started by the Pallava dynasty. The later kings built new temples and renovated the old ones.
The ancient temples in Kancheepuram belong to the south Indian style of temple architecture. The city of Kancheepuram greets visitors with a cluster of temple shikharas (prominent roofs that surmount the sanctum sanctorum of the temples) and gopurams. There are many elaborately carved temple gateways also, belonging to the typical south Indian style
Kancheepuram has only 200 temples remaining out of the thousand ancient temples. There are about 650 stone inscriptions in Kancheepuram belonging to different dynasties and different periods. Kancheepuram temples represents the Pallava art, also reflect the creative maturity of Chola, Vijayanagara and Chalukya kings, who decorated these temples with great dexterity.
Kailashanathar Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Kailashnatha is one of the oldest structure in Kanchipuram and the finest example of Pallava architecture in South India. This temple was built by the Rajasimha Pallava, the Pallava ruler and was completed by his son, Mahendra Varma Pallava in the 8th century AD. This temple has been elaborately filled with the 64 aspects of Lord Shiva. The temple is unique in its architecture and hence, an architectural wonder.
This temple , dedicated to Shiva, a. fine example of early Dravidian architecture, its simplicity and lack of ornamentation is refreshingly elegant. Construction work on the temple began towards the last quarter of the 7th century. The original four storey tower and octagonal shikhara complex was enriched with the addition of elaborately sculpted gopurams under Pallava kings who followed Rayasimha I and II. Highlights of the temple include the exquisitely detailed murals depicting scenes from the lives of Shiva and Parvati, including a dance competition between the two. A number of smaller shrines within the temple complex are dedicated to Shiva, Parvati and their sons Ganesha
Sri Ekambaranathar Temple
Sri Ekambarabathar Temple, built of red sandstone. is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is one of the largest temples in the city of Kancheepuram, and sprawls in an area of 12 hectares. The origin of this temple goes back to the time of the Pallavas and the Chola rulers extended it later. The great ruler of the Vijayanagar Empire, Krishnadevaraya, built its 59 meter high Gopuram or gateway and massive outer walls in the early 16th century. The highlight of this temple is its thousand pillared mandapam (hall). The architecture of this temple is similar to that of the shore temple in Mahabalipuram.
The Vijayanagara Empire was a South Indian empire based in the Deccan Plateau. Established in 1336, the empire rose to prominence as a culmination of attempts by the southern powers against Islamic invasions by the end of the 13th century. It lasted until 1646 although its power declined after a major military defeat in 1565. The empire is named after its capital city of Vijayanagara, whose impressive ruins surround modern Hampi, now a World Heritage Site in modern Karnataka, India. Archaeological excavations at Vijayanagara have revealed the empire's power and wealth.
The empire's legacy includes many monuments spread over South India, the best known being the group at Hampi. The previous temple building traditions in South India came together in the Vijayanagara Architecture style. The mingling of all faiths and vernaculars inspired architectural innovation of Hindu temple construction, first in the Deccan and later in the Dravidian idioms using the local granite. The empire's patronage enabled fine arts and literature to reach new heights in the languages of Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Sanskrit.
The Vijayanagara Empire created an epoch in South Indian history that transcended regionalism by promoting Hinduism as a unifying factor.
Mamallapuram, India. A giant natural rock perched on a hillside, seemingly in defiance of all laws of physics. It is believed that several Pallava kings have attempted to move the stone, but legend is that neither the kings nor their elephants could shift the boulder even by an inch.
Arjuna's Penance: The world's largest bas-relief measuring 27m x 9m is the pride of Mamallapuram. This huge whale-back shaped rock contains figures of gods, demigods, men, beasts and birds and in fact, can be said to represent creation itself.
Arjuna's Penance Bas-Reliefs (carved 7th century)
These bas-reliefs, carved in the 7th century, are among the largest in the world. Completely covering two huge boulders 27 meters long and 9 meters high, the reliefs depict the flow of the Ganges down from the Himalaya mountains as described in the Panchatantra. The story is a flood myth like the tale of Noah; legend says that King Bhagirath brought down the Ganges from Heaven to purify the souls of his ancestors. His plan went awry when he realized that the flood would drown the earth, so he had to undergo a penance to convince Shiva to intervene, who came down to earth and let the flood trickle through his hair, dispersing the waters safely in innumerable streams all over the world. This strange sight aroused the curiosity of the world's animals, who gathered round the soaking God.
The cleft in the two rocks is perhaps the most famous part of the mural. It depicts the descent of Shiva from heaven through the colossal waterfall. The ruins of a stone water tank above the rocks support this interpretation. As for the rest of the mural, it depicts Indian village life in the 7th century, with carvings of scenes from daily life.