Sculpture on a temple wall

The south Indian style of temple architecture is very distinct from that of the rest of India. It is convenient to resolve the types of architecture into four periods corresponding to the principal kingdoms which ruled in southern India down the centuries.

Pallava (AD 600-900)

The greatest accomplishments of Pallava architecture are the rock- cut of temples at Mahabalipuram. The Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram is a fully realized temple complex with a towered sanctuary and mandapa (columned hall preceding the sanctuary).

Chola (900-1150)

Chola architecture achieved its peak at Thanjavur, the capital established by the Chola ruler Rajaraja I. The sanctuaries have rising pyramid towers crowned with dome-like roofs. Sculptures and paintings adorn the walls. Bronze sculptures of this era are the finest in southern India. These are delicately modeled, especially those depicting the Lord Shiva in his many aspects.

Hoysala (1100-1350)

Temples erected during the Hoysala kings have complicated plans with numerous angled projections. Carved surfaces are executed with remarkable precision, usually in chlorite. The columns are lathe-turned or are multi-faceted. Temples from the Hoysala period can still be seen at Belur, Halebid and Sringeri. After the reign of the Hoysalas, architectural traditions were interrupted by Muslim raids at the end of the 13th century. Monumental temple building resumed later under the Vijayanagara empire.

Vijayanagara (1350-1565)

By the 16th century almost all of southern India was part of the Vijayanagara empire. The characteristic feature of this period is the development of the temple complex: concentric series of rectangular enclosure walls with the gopuras (towered gateways) in the middle of each side. Of the numerous Vijayanagara complexes in southern India, the most magnificent are those at Kanchipuram, Thiruvannamalai and Vellore.

During this time, Kerala on the western coast developed a distinct style of architecture. Because of the heavy rainfall, the temples here were roofed with sloping tiers of metal or Terra cotta tiles. The Vadakkunatha temple at Trichur dates from the 12th century. Later temples are found at Chengannur, Kaviyum and Vaikom.


  • Brown, Percy. Indian Architecture. Bombay: Taraporevala and co., 1959.
  • Michell, George. The Penguin guide to the monuments of India, Vol I. London: Viking, 1989.
  • Tadgell, Christopher The History of Architecture in India. London: Phaidon Press, 1990.