Temples of South India, authored by Dr Surendra Sahai should rank amongst the most comprehensive and scholarly books written on temples in the peninsula. The huge canvas presented a daunting task involving tremendous research work and great photography.
Great temple towns like Pattadakal, Kanchipuram, Chidambaram, Srirangam, Madurai and Rameshwaram still draw millions of devotees, cynics, historians, tourists and photographers from distant lands. No one goes back without a rewarding experience of a lifetime. ‘I The architectural splendour of these gigantic temples and their aura of spiritual glory is an unforgettable experience.
Why don’t we build temples like these anymore? There are skyscrapers, glass monstrosities and concrete forests, but nothing to match the artistic and spiritual splendour of these temples built centuries ago. Matthew Arnold, the Victorian poet, writes about this strange disease of modem life — disillusionment and loss of faith in the higher values of life:
“The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d. But now I hear
Its melancholy, long withdrawing roar retreating to the breath of the night-wind down the vast edges drear and naked shingles of the world.
If, besides adding to our knowledge of these monumental temples of faith, the book rekindles that extinguished glimmer of hope and faith in our minds, it will be greatly rewarding. Dr. Surendra Sahai provides an extremely well- researched text and exquisite photographs shot at both famous and remote, forgotten places.
Dr. Surendra Sahai is a distinguished scholar of medieval Indian temple architecture. For his interests in history and photography, he has travelled extensively through the length and breadth of India.
Dr. Sahai’s publications include:
• Delhi, Agra, Jaipur
• Khajuraho (translated into French, German, Spanish & Japanese languages)
• Rajasthan: Colours of a Desert Land
• Indian Architecture: Islamic Period
Indian Architecture: Hindu, Buddhist and Jain
• Forts and Palaces of India
Dr Sahai is an eminent photographer. His work has featured in Photography Year Books and many international journals.
Dr Sahai studied English literature at the universities of Lucknow and London. His dissertation on Harold Pinter was published by the University of Salzburg, Austria. Dr. Sahai retired from service as Reader in English, Motilal Nehru College, University of Delhi.
Excerpts from review articles on
Indian Architecture. Islamic Period “Extremely pertinent, well-written and extremely comprehensive.., will dignify not only the shelves of the connoisseurs of art books, but the tables of serious scholars as well.
The Biblio (July-Aug 2005)
Indian Architecture: Hindu, Buddhist and Jain
‘Unparalleled in its painstaking descriptive details of the architectural marvels... even minor temples have been incorporated... (This book) is a visual treat with photographs of exceptional quality It is a rigorous work of research which will provide enough intellectual stimulation… Surendra Sahai has made a major contribution to the research 1 work on Indian architecture”
Temple architecture in South India had its beginning during the 6th and 7th century CE. By this time rock-cut architecture in western India had achieved outstanding success at Ajanta and Ellora, and temple architecture, though mostly in brick and mortar and with some examples in stone, had reached an advanced stage in development. The South Indian architects and craftsmen learnt their lessons from these earlier examples but soon enough evolved their own style and achieved perfection in their chosen medium, creating a distinctive South Indian style.
Aihole. capital of the Early Western Chalukyas in the north-western part of Karnataka. is generally regarded ''one of the cradles of Indian temple architecture''. The temples built here during the sixth century CE are small, flat-roofed structures, similar to the temples in the Gupta style in northern and central India. At Aihole. examples can be seen of different stages in the evolution of temple architecture, particularly the experiments in the vimana structures in both northern and southern styles. The two most prominent examples are the Lad Khan and Durga Temples. Lad Khan is a pillared hall re-designed to function as a temple with a small superstructure. The Durga Temple is a more daring experiment for its mixed style - adapting the apsidal Buddhist structure to the requirements of a Brahmanical temple. The north Indian shikhara complete with an amalaka, now lying damaged on the ground, sits rather uncomfortably on the structure decorated with the most elegant sculptural reliefs. Badami was much more famous for its rock-cut mandapas - excavations into the rocks of soft sandstone. The structural temples like the Melegitti Shivalaya exhibit a bold, primitive strength. It is however at Pattadakal, coronation site of the Chalukya kings that the two most important temples were built by the two queens of Vikramaditya II in c. 7 40 CE. The Virupaksha and the Mallikarjuna illustrate the mature Chalukya style characterized by an enclosing wall with subsidiary shrines abutting its inner side, separate Nandi pavilion, basic form of gopura at the entrances, superbly crafted full-sized sculptural reliefs of both Saiva and Vaishnava deities, intricately carved bas-reliefs of figure subjects and splendid jali screens. Master craftsmen created these two great temples. The weather-worn stones of these Chalukya masterpieces are still alive and warm with life and feeling.
Architectural activities under the Pallavas started a little later than in the Chalukyan territories. It was Mahendravarman I (580-630 CE), the 'Vichittrachitta' Pallava monarch, who prided himself for the rock-cut mandapas 'without brick, without timber, without metal and without stucco or mortar'. He had a number of cave temples or mandapas excavated in the hardest granite rocks in different parts of his kingdom. This followed his conversion from Jainism to Saivism. These mandapas in their style preserved the traditions of architecture in wood and other perishable material, even when the new stone medium did not require this and these features appeared as mere ornamental devices, At this stage, there is little difference between a Buddhist or Jain mandapa and these Brahmanical mandapas. The mandapas of Mahendravarman I have minimum of relief sculpture except the pairs of dvarapalas flanking the shrine doors. The pillars are all massive, shor, square in section at the base and top with the middle third of the height octagonal in section. There is no linga in the shrine cell.
The next highly significant step in the evo- lution of temple architecture in Tamil Nadu was taken under the inspired visionary scheme of Nar- asimhavarman I, also called Mamalla (630-668 CE), at their port capital – Mamallapuram. These are the magnificent monoliths - the Rathas, nine in number, out of which five appear in a group fashioned out of a massive whale-shaped boulder on the sea shore. This group of rathas is the most astonishing work of its kind in the history of Indian architectur, now part of the World Heritage of monuments. Each of these rathas (or temple char- iots) translates into stone the forms of structural vimana temples, the original brick and timber ar- chitecture existing in the centuries preceding the Pallava rule. These rathas are all carved down from the top to the base, totally different from the tech- nique of structural temples, which are built brick by brick, from the base to the culminating finial - the stupi. From the style of their elevations, it is clear that both Hindu and Buddhist styles have inspired these mammoth rathas It was a work of generations and still, at the end of it, had to be abandoned when much work, particularly in the in- ner sections, was far from complete. Hence, these rathas or temples remained unused for worship and for centuries, have stood in sheer emptiness. ''The most enigmatic architectural phenomenon in all India, truly 'riddle of the sands'. Each little cryptogram as yet undeciphered,'' as Percy Brown wonders at these stupendous creations.
The exterior of these rathas indicates that the artisans and craftsmen had full knowledge of the different architectural styles. The fully furnished kapota or cornice decorated with nasikas at regular intervals corresponding to the calumniation of the facade under it, and a hara or string of miniature vimana models representing salas (rectangular and barrel-vaulted) and with inter-connected cloister wall, projecting shrines in the mandapas, wall sections and entablatures - evidence an awareness of the architectural heritage available to them. The pillars show all the elements of the 'order'. The most remarkable feature of these pillars is the couchant lion at the base, a symbol of the Pallava power. The lion later on appeared in a rampant, rearing form on pillars in temple architecture, reaching its most magnificent form at Vijayanagara. All these rathas virtually laid down the matrix of vimana formed and presented the major terms of reference for the generations which followed.
Pallava architecture contains the best examples of relief sculpture at this stage and the spectacular panel depicting Arjuna's Penance or the Descent of the Ganges is verily a classical poem carved in stone. This Pallava masterpiece exhibits the most characteristic features of sculpture under the patronage of Narasimhavarman II, also called Rajasimha (690-715 CE). The unprecedented scale at which this panel has been executed shows that the Pallavas did everything on a grand scale, creating a stage for themselves. 'Arjuna's Penance' ranks as the largest sculptural relief panel of its kind in the world, an outstanding work of classical art in the breadth of its composition.
The Pallavas are deservedly credited for inaugurating work on the structural temple in Tamil Nadu and the rest of the peninsula The Shore Temple at Mamallapuram is the first structural temple in dressed stone built in South India soon followed up with another splendid example of temple architecture - the Kailasanatha Temple at Kanchipuram. The lightness of structure and the soaring, quality of the vimana bespeak of a tremendous talent and application. At this early stage in the building of structural temple, both the Shore Temple and the Kailasanatha show the greatness of the architects and craftsman inspired by Rajasimha. Many features of the Kailasanatha Temple architecture are believed to have inspired the Chalukya architects of Vikramaditya II, who built the impressive Virupaksha and Mallikarjuna Temples at Pattadakal. The Chalukyan monarch did not plunder or damage the Pallava masterpiece instead he has inscribed his admiration of the Kailasanatha on a pillar of its outer mandapa.
Surely the enclosure wall, shrines abutting the inner side of this outer wall, the rows of heraldic lions, a small but prominent gopura structure over the outer shrine, panels of sculptures and splendid examples of fresco paintings are some of its features, which the Chalukya architects recreated at the Pattadakal temples.
|2. The Virupaksha Temple - Pattadakal||16|
|3. The Mandapas or Cave Temples - Mamallapuram||34|
|4. The Magnificent Monoliths – The Panch Pandava Rathas - Mamallapuram||46|
|5. The Shore Temple - Mamallapuram||60|
|6. The Arjuna’s Penance - Mamallapuram||68|
|7. The Kailasanatha Temple - Kanchipuram||80|
|8. The Ekambaresvara & the Vaikuntha Perumal Temple - Kanchipuram||90|
|9. The Varadarajaswami Temple - Kanchipuram||100|
|10. The Shravana Belgola – Hassan District||108|
|11. The Rajarajesvara Temple - Thanjavur||116|
|12. The Gangaikondacholesvara Temple – Gangakonda Cholapuram||134|
|13. The Chidambaram Temple - Chidambram||152|
|14. The Chennakesava Temple - Bellur||168|
|15. The Hoysalesvara & the Kedaresvara Temple - Halebid||182|
|16. The Kesava Temple - Somanathapura||198|
|17. The Vitthala & the Virupaksha Temple - Hampi||208|
|18. The Sri Ranganathaswami Temple - Srirangam||226|
|19. The Meenakshi-Sundaresvara Temple - Madurai||238|
|20. The Rameshwaram Temple – Ramanathapuram District||250|
|Glossary of terms||258|