Shilpshastra defines three types of architectural styles – Nagara, Dravida and Vesara. Today, only temple architecture remains from ancient India, but it doesn’t mean that other types of buildings were not constructed. Non-religious buildings were made from perishable materials and hence are not to be found today. Often old houses were destroyed to built new ones, but religious places were not destroyed as they had sacred value.
NAGARA STYLE OF ARCHITECTURE
This style of architecture is spread throughout the country, but mainly it’s associated with northern India. Developed around 5th century, the Nagara style is characterized by a beehive shaped tower called a shikhara on a cruciform base, in northern terminology made up of layer upon layer of architectural elements. Some of the best examples of the north Indian style(Nagara style) of temple architecture are the Khajuraho Group of temples, Sun temple, Konark, Sun temple at Modhera, Gujarat etc.
Within Nagara style also there were many variations.
In Central India – UP, MP, Rajasthan etc – material used was sandstone. Some of the oldest surviving structural temples from the Gupta Period are in Madhya Pradesh – mainly at Udaigiri, near Vidisha and Sanchi. These are relatively modest-looking small shrines each having four pillars that support a small mandapa which look like a simple square porch-like extension before an equally small room that served as the garbhagriha. In UP, Dashavatara temple of 6th century represents the next phase in evolution when Shikara became a tall curivilinear structure which is the classical example of nagara style.
In West, in 10th century more elaborate styles of Nagara architectures evolved in form of Khajuraho temples. Many other schools in West also emerged including Solanki School.
In East – Bengla, Odisha and North-East – as well, variations of Nagara style evolved. Each of these three areas produced distinct types of temples. The history of architecture in the North-East and Bengal is hard to study because a number of ancient buildings in those regions were renovated, and what survives now are later brick or concrete temples at those sites. It appears that terracotta was the main medium of construction till around 7th to 8th century. In Assam, Ahom style developed as a result of mixed influence of Pala School and Burmese art. In Bengal and Bihar, Pala School flourished around 9th to 11th century CE.
DRAVIDA ARCHITECTURE or DRAVIDIAN STYLE of ARCHITECTURE
This is mainly related to temple building style of Southern India. Dravidian architecture was a style of architecture that emerged thousands of years ago in Southern part of the Indian subcontinent or South India. It started during Pallavas and reached its pinnacle during Cholas.
They consist primarily of pyramid shaped temples called Koils which are dependent on intricate carved stone in order to create a step design consisting of many statues of deities, warriors, kings, and dancers.
Vimana or central figure (like Shikhara in North) of Dravida temples is usually smaller because, a temple was improved upon by many a rulers and everyone of them enhanced gopurams by
redrawing a new gopuram with a new boundary wall to show his might. This is also the reason that Dravidian temples may even have multiple concentric gopurams and a comparatively smaller central vimanam.
Temples have not only been religious centers, but were also used for administrative activities, controlling vast areas of land and were also centers of education.
Following are notable features of Dravidian style of architecture –
I. The principal part, the temple itself, is called the Vimanam. It is almost always ‘square’ in plan and surmounted by a pyramidal roof of one or more stories; it contains the cell – Sanctum sanctorum or Grabhgriha – where the image of the deity or his or her emblem is placed.
II. The porches or Mandapams, which precede the door leading to the central shrine or sanctum sanctorum.
III. Gate-pyramids, Gopurams, which are the principal features in the quadrangular enclosures that surround the more notable temples.
IV. Pillard halls (Chaultris or Chawadis) are used for many purposes and are the invariable accompaniments of these temples.
V. Crowning part is called shikhara unlike northern temples in which the whole vertical structure is
VI. It is common to find a large water reservoir, or a temple tank,
These are basically of five different shapes – square, usually called kuta, and also caturasra; rectangular or shala or ayatasra; elliptical, called gaja-prishta or elephant-backed or also called vrittayata, circular or vritta; and octagonal or ashtasra. These different layouts were so to suit the different nature of different deities. Greatest examples of Dravida architecture are found at Mahabalipuram or Mammlapuram, Madurai, Gangaikondacholapuram, Tanjore, Kumbakonam, Kanchipuram and so on.
The Pallavas were one of the ancient South Indian dynasties that were active in the Andhra region from the 2nd century CE onwards and moved south to settle in Tamil Nadu and they were the pioneer of this style. Dravidan architecture reached its zenith during the time of Cholas.
DRAVIDA vs NAGARA STYLE of ARCHITECTURE
I. Location – According to the Silpasastras, the temples in North India are Nagara style while those situated between the Krishna river and Kanyakumari are Dravida.
II. Central Tower – The Nagara style which developed for the fifth century is characterized by a beehive shaped curvilinear tower (called a Shikhara, in northern terminology) made up of layer upon layer of architectural elements and a cruciform ground plan. While Dravida architecture had a pyramidical shaped central tower (called Vimana in Dravida style). There
can be multiple Shikharas in Nagara style, but in Dravidian style there is only a single Shikhara or Vimana. Usually central tower is crowned in both the styles and in Nagara style, it is called Kalasha.
III. Gopuram – The Gateway – The most significant visual difference between the later northern and southern styles are the gateways. In the north
the shikhara remains the most prominent element of the temple and the gateway is usually modest or even absent. While in Dravidian style, the Gopurams are very stylized and big in size.
IV. Boundary – Nagara style temples have less emphasis on boundary and is generally absent, while Dravida temples have elaborated boundary. Further, on boundary, the deities of directions, i.e., the ashtadikpalas face the eight key directions on the outer walls of the sanctum and/or on the outer walls of a temple.
V. Entrance – While in Nagara style, Ganga and Yamuna rivers are depicted in personified form at the entrance of Garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum, in Dravida style ‘Dwarpalas’ are there on entrance.
VI. Tower – There is always a single tower in Dravida style temple, while there are multiple towers in many of the Nagara style temples as in case of Khajuraho temples.
VII. Pedestal – Nagara style temples are put on a pedestal considerably higher than ground, Dravida style are more or less at ground level.
VIII. Deities on the Outside – Dravida architecture had deities on the outside, while mostly Nagara style temples have deities inside.
IX. OrnamentalDetails – In Dravida architecture, the details on the outside and inside – in form of carvings, sculptures of deities etc – are so enormous that they often make the architecture itself look insignificant as in case of Madurai temple, Tanjore temple etc.
X. Reservoir – In Dravida style temples, there is usually a reservoir tank also inside temple.
XI. Consistencyof Architecture – Since Southern Dravida style was restricted in small area and was less prone to outside influences, its architecture style was more or less consistent over the period, while Nagra style had more variation due to influence of other style such as Greeko Roman, Buddhist, Islamist etc. Nagara temples are classified on the basis of its shikhara style in three types – Rekha Prasada/Deul type shikhara; Phamansa type and Vallabhi type. In Vallabhi type, shikhara has a square base.
XII. Material Used – Hard crystalline rocks like granite typical of the area around Mamallapuram prevented detailed carving and resulted in the shallow reliefs associated with Pallava temples of the seventh and with centuries. Overall, there are a lot of variations in material used across India.
XIII. Purpose – Most of the temples in Nagara style had only religious prupose, but temples in South have not only been religious centers, but were also used for administrative activities, controlling vast areas of land and were also centers of education.
XIV. Examples of Nagara style temples are Khajuraho temples, Sun Konark, Jagganath temple, Vishnu Temple at Deogarh, Varah Temple at Eran. The finest examples of Dravidian style (south Indian style) are temples of Tanjore, Madurai, Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram.
VESARA or CHALUKYA or KARNATAK STYLE
Vesara is a type of Indian architecture primarily used in temples. The two other prominent styles are Dravida and Nagara. Vesara is a combination of these two temple styles which existed in Deccan. In the border areas between the two major styles, particularly in the modern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, there was a good deal of stylistic overlap as well as several distinctive architectural features.
Chalukyas of Badami can be said to have laid the foundation of this style which was later taken forward by the Hoysalas who built temples at Belur, Halebidu and Somnathpura. Generally, pillars, door frames and ceilings are intricately carved in both the styles.