Temple Architecture in Tamil Nadu

Temples, first rock-cut type and then made of stones, made their appearance from the 8th century. The architecture of temple generally confines to five basic shapes; Caturasra (square), Ayatasra (rectangular), Vrittayat (elliptical), Vritta (circular), Astasra (octagonal).

The plan of a temple is dictated by the nature of the deity. For example the shrine of the reclining Ranganatha can only be rectangular. The early 7th century saw the rise of monolithic temples carved out of the rock, like the monuments in Mahabalipuram. The mid 8th century Vaikuntha Perumal has an interesting arrangement of three sanctums, one above the other, within the body of the superstructure.

The 9th century marked a fresh movement in the South Indian style, as revealed in several small, simple but very elegant, temples set up during the ascendancy of the Chola and other contemporary dynasties. Most important of a large number of unpretentious but beautiful shrines that dot the Tamilnadu countryside are the Vijayalaya Colisvara temple at Narttamalai (mid-9th century) with its circular sanctum, spherical cupola, and massive, plain walls;

The great phase of South Indian Architecture extends from the 11th to the 13th century. From the middle of the 12th century, the Gopurams (entrance buildings), to temple enclosures began to be greatly emphasized. They are extremely large and elaborately decorated with sculpture, quite dominating the architectural ensemble. Temples also continued to be built although they never achieved colossal size, they are often of very fine workmanship.

The Subramaniya temple of the 17th century, built within the compound of the Brihadeeswara temple at Thanjavur, indicates the vitality of architectural traditions of the later period.