Early Chola Temples

by S. R. Balasubrahmanyam | 1960 | 105,501 words

This volume of Chola Temples covers Parantaka I to Rajaraja I in the timeframe A.D. 907-985. The Cholas of Southern India left a remarkable stamp in the history of Indian architecture and sculpture. Besides that, the Chola dynasty was a successful ruling dynasty even conquering overseas regions....

The Gopuram: its Evolution

Like the sky-scrapers of the Western World, it is the gopuram that dominates the South Indian landscape. It is the main gateway of a temple, the unique achievement and glory of Dravidian art. It has been pointed out that “in the boldness of its marvellous execution, it remains unsurpassed;” and judged by any standard, it stands favourable comparison with any other form of architecture, Eastern or Western.

In primitive times, there was a bamboo gateway which served as the entrance to village enclosures. In later times, towns, palaces and houses of Gods were provided with gateways.

In the days of the supremacy of Buddhism in India, stupas were built all over the land, and toranas were erected at the four cardinal points to serve as gateways to these monuments as at Barhut, Sanchi, Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. The toranas of Sanchi richly ornamented with bas-reliefs illustrating the events of Buddha’s life as well as stories of his previous births (jataka stories) are really marvellous monuments of this class. And some of the bas-reliefs on slabs which once covered the stupa itself contain representations of gateways to cities, palaces and fortresses; they are generally two-storeyed, crowned by a sala type of pavilion (resembling a wagon-roof).

James Fergusson held the view that the term gopa-rams applied to the lofty towers over the entrances to Southern temples and that

“the later style of gopuram dates from the sixteenth century and do not properly belong to the original Dravida temples. They were probably intended for purposes of defence against invasion and plunder”.

The question of the erection of walls of enclosure of temples for the purpose of defence did not arise before the invasion of South India by the Muslims in the 14th century and later on during the Anglo-French Wars of the 18th century. Even the officers of the Archaeological Department believed that the tall gopurams were the creation of only Pandyan and Vijayanagara rulers. But these views are out-dated and have to be given up. Gopurams with three, five and seven storeys were built even during the period of the Chola rulers of Tanjavur, i.e. even from the 9th century a.d. onwards.

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