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
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.
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