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SOME OF THE ARCHITECTURAL MARVELS OF TAMIL NADU
Built-in Dravidian Architecture by Chola emperor Rajaraja II in 12th Century CE, Airavateshvara temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This temple is among the cluster of 18 medieval-era Hindu temples in Thanjavur. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple also displays Vaishnavism and Shaktism traditions of Hinduism. This stone temple includes a chariot structure and major Vedic and Puranic deities such as Agni, Varuna, Vayu, Brahma, Surya, Vishnu, Indra, Durga, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Saptamtrikas, Ganga, and the Yamuna. Ganesh, Rati, Kama, Subrahmanya, and many more. Lord Shiva’s consort, Goddess Parvati has a dedicated shrine known as Periya Nayaki Amman Temple, a detached temple north of Airavateshvar. This temple has two sundials known as the morning and the evening dials that can be seen as the wheels of the chariot. It also has a water tank, which has a connected channel to bring in Kaveri River water. Presently, the gopuram is in ruins, and the main temple along with its associated shrines stand alone. The temple is named after Lord Indra’s white elephant, Airavata, who was restored with clean, white skin after taking a dip in the temple’s tank, engraving this incident in the inner shrine of the temple.
Group of Monuments of Mahabalipuram
The collection of 7th and 8th century CE religious monuments, built by the Pallava dynasty, the Group of Monuments of Mahabalipuram/ Mamallapuram is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also managed by the Archeological Survey of India, after being restored in 1960. This site has a collection of 40 ancient monuments and Hindu temples, including the Descent of the Ganges or Arjuna’s Penance, one of the largest open-air rock reliefs in the world. The site has various monuments including the Ratha temples with monolithic processional chariots, mandapa vihara, rock reliefs, stone cut temples, and archeological excavations dating 6th century old. The temple inscriptions include narratives from Mahabharata and Vaishna and Shaivic and Shakti inscriptions in various Indian languages.
This site is an amalgam of culture, religion, and legends related to Hindu culture. The 40 monuments of the site are classified into 5 groups:
- Pancha Rathas: The chariot-shaped temples (Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna and Draupadi Rathas, Nakula Sahadeva Ratha, Other rathas)
- Mandapas: The cave temples (Varaha, Kotikal, Dharmaraja, Ramanuja, Koneri, Krishna, Atiranachanda, Adivaraha, Mahishasuramardini, Panchapandava mandapam, Other mandapas)
- Rock reliefs (Descent of the Ganges, Butterball rock, Butter well)
- Structural temples (Shore Temple, Olakkanesvara temple, Mukundanayanar temple)
The site contains 10 major rathas, 10 rock bas reliefs, 10 mandapas, and 3 structural temples. The plan of the monuments is square and circle majorly, or stacked squares, producing a rectangle. The monuments are a source of many 7th- and 8th-century Sanskrit inscriptions, providing insight into medieval South Indian history, culture, government, and religion.
Built by Pandyas, the Nellaiappar Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Nindraseer Nedumaran constructed the sanctum of the temple. The mani mandapam is famous for its musical pillars. The temple is spread over an area of 14 acres. The gopuram is 756 feet wide and 850 feet long.
Built during the Pallava dynasty, the ancient Kanchipuram is famous for its two prominent temples – Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple, and Ekambareswarar Temple.
The Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple is entirely carved out of sandstone and is among the oldest temple in Tamil Nadu dedicated to Lord Shiva. Its main sanctum has a 16-sided Shivling built of granite. The temple is a beautiful representation of Dravidian architecture having a pyramidal-shaped tower on its main sanctum. There are about 58 Shiva shrines enclosed in the complex.
The Ekambareswarar Temple is counted amongst the five ‘Panch Bootha Sthalas’ (the five elements of the universe). The temple is dedicated to the elements of Earth and holds a huge religious significance. It is believed that the temple is existing since 600 AD, however, the present structure dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries. The temple showcases the Shaivite structure having a lofty gopuram, and five concentric circumambulatory. During the 15th century, the Vijayanagara kings added 1000 pillared halls intricately carved with 1008 Shiva Lingams. A special sacred mango tree is present in the complex, 3000 years old, which is said to bear 4 different types of mangoes in four different seasons.
Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameshwaram
Rameshwaram is among one of the four pilgrimage sites (‘Char Dhams’) for Hindus. The temple is also among the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. The temple is believed to be built by Pandyas in the 12th century CE. It is built in the typical Dravidian Style, having four gopurams, one of them being 126m high. The temple is also famous for its longest corridor hall in India made with about 1000 intensely carved granite pillars. Nandi’s colossal statue is 6m tall.
Mayuranathaswami Temple, Mayiladuthurai
This temple is a very famous shrine of Lord Shiva. The temple also houses small shrines of Nataraja, Durga, and Ganesha.
Kalugumalai temples of Pandyas
Built-in the rocky hills of the Thoothukudi district, the Kalugumalai temple houses 8th-century Jain beds, Vettuvan Koil, and Kalugasalamoorthy Temple, a Murugan temple at the foothills. The temple excellently showcases the rock-cut style, sculptures, and carvings of Pandyan architecture.
Built-in rock cut style, the unfinished Jain bed temple houses 150 niches in the bed which comprises the image of Gomateshwara, Parshvanatha and other Tirthankaras of Jainism.
The Vettuvan Koli has intricate carving on its top with an unfinished bottom. The granite rock in the temple looks like a blooming lotus which is surrounded on 3 sides by the hill. The vimana has niches of Parsavadevatas, the attendants of Lord Shiva as in Ganas, Dakshinamurthy depicted playing a mridanga, Lord Shiva with his consort Uma, dancers, various niches of Nandi (the sacred bull of Shiva) and animals like monkeys and lions.
In Kalusalamoorthy temple, the sanctum, built-in rock-cut cave style, is approached via a pillared hall near the entrance. The temple sanctum faces west and its deity is about 1.2m tall. There is a separate shrine for Parvati, Shiva, and all the Parsvatah devatas associated with the Shiva temple. Usually, according to mythology, Murugan temples have Lord Murugan’s vehicle heading towards his right, but in this temple, it is on the left. It is also believed that Lord Indra appeared as a peacock to worship Murugan, thus the image of the peacock is covered during the festivals.
Chidambaram Thillai Nataraja Temple
The temple has a unique pagoda completely paved with gold tiles but different from most other Vimanas. It is said that Parantaka Chola I created the vimana in the 9th century and covered it with decorative gold surviving till date.
Brihadeeswarar Temple in Tanjore
Famous for its uncommon shape and very high vimana, the Brihadeshwara temple is one of the largest Hindu temples built by the Chola dynasty. It is also registered under the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built-in granite, its vimana is one of the tallest in south India. The temple has a large colonnade corridor.
Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai
Being one of the ancient temples of India, the Meenakshi Amman Temple is dedicated to Goddess Parvati in the form of Meenakshi and Lord Shiva in the form of Lord Sundareshwarar. The temple consists of monuments inside several concentric circles, each layer fortified with huge masonry walls. The outer walls have four gopurams in all four directions. The temple is a Dravidian architecture masterpiece. The temple is adorned with thousands of intricately carved sculptures of God, goddesses, and demons, and scenes from Indian mythology. The temple is one of the Paadal Petra Sthalam (there are 275 temples of Lord Shiva called Paadal Petra Sthalam). The temple complex is spread across 14 acres. Its courtyard is close to a square with each side 800 feet long. The complex also has a golden lotus sacred pool, a 1000-pillar hall choultry with intricate sculptures, the kalyana mandapa, and several small shrines. According to research, the plan of the temple is a cosmic diagram laid out on the principle of symmetry and loci.
Adi Kumbeswarar Temple, Kumbakonam
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple is an architectural marvel of the Chola dynasty and Dravidian architecture. It is also the 26th Paadal Petra Sthalam. The divine Shiva Lingam is narrow at the top like a needle and broad at the bottom. Apart from the main shrines of Lord Kumbeswarar and Goddess Mangalambika, the shrines of Lord Murugan, Lord Ganesha, Lord Kiratamurati, and others adorn the temple premises.
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam
Dedicates to Lord Vishnu, the temple is spread across 150 acres, having 49 sub-shrines, and is marked with 21 intensely carved Gopurams with the main gopuram, Raja Gopuram being 236 feet tall, making it the tallest gopuram in Asia. The temple has 7 enclosures or prakaras with the presiding deity. The tower above the innermost enclosure is in the shape of ‘Om’ and is entirely gold-plated.
Sri Rajagopala Swamy Temple, Mannargudi
The temple has one of the most popular shrines of Lord Krishna. The temple is having detailed inscriptions, the 154 feet high gateway tower, Raja Gopuram, and the largest tank, Haridra Nadhi. The main sannidhi displays 32 forms of Lord Krishna, in the temple.
Jambukeswarar Temple, Thiruvanaikaval
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, built by the Chola dynasty, the temple has 7 tiered Gopuram detailed with intricate carvings. Shiva Lingam of the temple is in the form of Appu Lingam (water lingam). There is also an underground stream flowing underneath the Shivling from which water continuously flows out.
Adiyogi is the “Largest Bust Structure” and holds the Guinness Book of World Records for it. To assemble the 150 feet long and 25 feet wide statue, 500 tonnes of steel is used. The Pradakshina of the statue is about 2km, and the statue of Adiyogi wears the world’s largest Rudraksha mala containing 1,00,008 rudraksha beads.
Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Chennai
Built by Pallava Dynasty, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is revered here in the form of Kapaleeshwarar. The temple is adorned with huge rainbow-colored Gopuram, pillared halls, and a water body.
Papanasam Temple, Tirunelveli
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple has a fascinating view of the river Tambiraparani from Pothigai Hills flowing by its side.
Srivilliputhur Andal Temple – Virudhunagar
This temple has one of the most famous shrines of Lord Vishnu. Built by King Vili, the temple has one of the largest gopurams in Tamil Nadu. The shrine of Lord Vatapatrasayi (Vishnu) is in the Northeast direction and Goddess Andal’s (Laxmi) Shrine is in the Southwest direction of the temple.
Nagaraja Temple, Nagercoil
The temple is dedicated to the serpent king Vasuki. The presiding deity is the 5 headed Naga God. With simple architecture, the temple has many sculptures and images related to snakes all along its walls. The main sanctum has the presiding deity, which is guarded by two 5 headed serpents.
Annamalaiyar Temple, Tiruvannamalai
The temple represents the fire element, and Lord Shiva is present in the form of Agni Lingam. Built under Chola Dynasty, the temple also has additions made by Vijayanagara kings during the 15th century. The temple is spread across 25 acres and the Rajagopuram stands tall at a height of 217 feet. The 11-tiered gopuram is intensely carved. There are 6 concentric enclosures with each enclosure having shrines of various deities.
Sripuram Golden Temple, Vellore
Dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, the temple has intricate carvings, sculptures, artwork, and exquisite lighting work. The glittering reflection of the temple can be seen in the water body surrounding it.
The Matrimandir (Sanskrit for “Temple of The Mother”) is a structure of spiritual significance for practitioners of Integral yoga, in the center of Auroville. It does not belong to any particular religion or section. It took 37 years to build. It is in the form of a large sphere surrounded by 12 petals. The Geodesic dome structure is covered by golden discs and reflects sunlight, which gives the structure its characteristic radiance. The inner dome has a meditation center, having the largest optically perfect glass globe in the world. Four pillars are supporting the structure and carry the inner chamber.
Fort St. George
It is also built in Indo-Saracenic style in 1639. It used to be the house of Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and Secretariat. The ramparts of the museum house Tipu Sultan’s cannons. The fort also has India’s tallest flagstaff, 150 feet high.
Built in 1768 by Paul Benefield, it was the first building in India to be built in the Indo-Saracenic style. It was the official residence of the Nawabs of Arcot. It has two blocks – Kalas Mahal and Humayun Mahal spread over an area of 117 acres.
Built-in Indo-Saracenic style by Robert Chisholm in 1879. The main door opens to Great Hall, which is 50 feet high, 150 feet long, and 60 feet wide.
Madras High Court
Built-in Indo-Saracenic style, it is the world’s second-largest judicial building, after the Court of London.
National Art Gallery
The National Art Gallery or the Victoria Memorial Hall was built in 1906 by Henry Irwin in Indo-Saracenic style. It had about 175 collections of paintings from Deccan, Tanjore, Rajasthan, and Raja Ravi Verma, along with bronze, wood, and ivory items from the British era.
It is an auditorium built in 1976 in the memory of poet-saint Thiruvalluvar. His verses are inscribed on granite pillars that surround the auditorium. There is also a 101 feet high temple chariot structure containing a life-size image of the poet in it.
Several railway stations were built during the colonial era, some of them include Egmore station, Chennai Central station, southern Railway Headquarters, and Royapuram station.
In 1956, this memorial was built to remember Mahatma Gandhi and the Chief Ministers of the state. Built on an area of 18 acres, it houses an Amphitheatre and a museum. It is built in a unique south Indian temple style.
Vivekananda Rock Memorial
In 1970, this memorial was built in memory of Swami Vivekananda. Eknath Ranade, a social activist, influenced by Swamiji, lead a crucial role in its construction.
Built-in 1990, it is a 95 feet high statue erected on 38 feet high stone pedestal, dedicated to a Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar. It was built by Ganapati Sthapati.
The astounding architecture of Tamil Nadu has a variety of sculptures, inscriptions, and rich culture and heritage. It houses a variety of architectural styles, starting from the ancient temples to the Indo-Saracenic style (pioneered in Madras) of the colonial era, to churches and mosques, to the 20th-century steel and chrome skyscrapers. Architecture freaks are bound to visit this state!!
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