Day 1 – Q 1. South Indian Temples are the most beautiful architectural expressions of religion in India. Comment. 

  • IASbaba
  • June 10, 2020
  • 0
Art & Culture, GS 1, TLP-UPSC Mains Answer Writing
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1. South Indian Temples are the most beautiful architectural expressions of religion in India. Comment. 

दक्षिण भारतीय मंदिर भारत में धर्म के सबसे सुंदर वास्तुशिल्प अभिव्यक्ति हैं। टिप्पणी करें।

Demand of the question:

It expects students to write about the religious architectural expressions of south Indian temples.


Most of the art and architectural remains that survive from Ancient and Medieval India are religious in nature. Temples were decorated with the images of gods and mythical narration of Puranas which ultimately amalgamated divinity with art. 


South Indian temple architecture:

  • South Indian temple architecture is called as Dravidian style of temple architecture. 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.

Architectural expression of religion:

  • Influence of Buddhism: The rock cut temple of the Pallavas emulated the Buddhist architecture, where cutting down monolithic caves was common. The Mamallapuram shore temples (Mahabalipuram) 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.
  • Bhakti tradition: The early Chola temples were more advanced in terms of technology with a well-planned design and execution. Bhakti ideology as an idiom influenced temple iconography.
  • Temples dedicated to Vishnu had many utsava murtis of his manifestations. He was represented with his consorts and as Krishna and Rama, his incarnations in human form.  
  • Use of Purana stories: The culmination of Dravidian style was in the Brihadeshwara and Gangaikonda Cholapuram temples. The walls surrounding the sanctum have extended mythological narratives which are depicted through painted murals and sculptures.
  • 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.
  • Bronze sculptures and Nataraja: Images were all made using mnemonic techniques, whereby the craftsmen were meant to memorise dhyana shlokas which describe the attributes of various goddesses and gods and they used the taalamana canon of measurement to essentially visualise the image and then sculpt it out of their own imagination rather than using models. They convey the spiritual fervour of the artists who made them.
  • The numerous processional images of Siva present him in many forms. One can see him as a family man in the Somaskandha icon, with his beautiful wife Uma and child Skanda. As Bhikshatana, one can see Siva as the enchanting mendicant. As Veenadhara, one can see Siva as the lord of music. As Tripurantaka, Siva destroys the citadels of three demons. Many bronzes have also been made of Sivas consort Parvati and their sons, Ganapati and Kartikeya.

Beauty of the religious expression in architecture: 

  • These works of art are part of a divine architecture where the deity manifests in forms that awaken bliss and peace within the viewer. These fluid and subtle images were a means of expressing the beauty of the divine that is in all that one sees.
  • The Chola artists imaged deities as graceful, languid beings. There is always a sense of repose. Minute details such as the gentle swelling of bellies bring these sculptures alive before one. It is not optical reality but the essence of living flesh that is captured in the art.
  • Sculptures in south Indian temple architecture are also a mark of great technical achievement in the arts, where metal and stone was flawlessly moulded and carved respectively to give form to the intangible. The material never dominates the image, which moves the viewer through the perfection of its beauty.


Temples depict the deities in human form in such a way that the divine is brought from abstraction to accessibility, and even intimacy. It takes devotee on journey towards knowledge and realisation of formless eternal. 

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