|The culture and the heritage of Tamil Nadu date back to ancient times, and the Tamil people have made great contributions to literature, art and music.The Tamil people possess expertise in numerous arts, including architecture and the art of sculpting. Masterful work can be seen in the lofty gopurams (temple towers), mammoth structures, and abundant breathtaking sculptures.
The temples of Tamil Nadu are the finest examples of the artistic excellence of Tamil people who built great architectures with fine carvings. In ancient times, the temples were the centers of culture, art and knowledge. Cave temples possess important examples of Tamil carving, and some temples built in Pre-Christian era still exist.
The Cheras, Chola, Pandya, Pallavas and Nayaka kings made the most significant contributions to the development of this art. With the emergence of these dynasties, the Hindu religion thrived, though Buddhism and Jainism were also spreading in India.
The Chola Dynasty produced architectural marvels. The Great King, Raja Raja Chola I, was an admirer and patron of art and architecture. He is not only remembered for his skill at warfare, but also for his contributions to the construction of Periya Kovil in Tanjavur (Tanjavur Big Temple). The temple is 1002 years old and retains its aesthetic value even today. Periya Kovil is the largest temple in India, and a grand and beautiful example of ancient architecture.
Tamil people used sculptures to depict ancient Hindu stories. The carvings were highly detailed, with complex work shadowing the main figure in high relief. Temples were built using materials like bricks, wood and stone – especially granite, which is relatively common in Tamil Nadu.
Early temples, around 700 AD, were initially built with mortar and bricks. Then people started using stone for the construction of the great monuments.
The sculptural and architectural history of Tamil Nadu includes temples built by Pallava kings in the Dravidian style. The Pallava kings maintained their traditional skills throughout the dynasty. The Kanchi temples and the rock-cut cave temples of Mamallapuram are built in the Pallava style, and they are known as the Seven Pagodas.
Pallava carvings evidence high-quality craftsmanship. The Pallava kings built three types of shrines: monoliths, cave temples and structural temples. Some of the finest examples of Pallava carvings are found in Mamallapuram, where there are abundant sculptural compositions. The expertise of Pallavas can be seen in masterpieces such as the carvings in Mahisasura Mardhini cave, Arjuna’s Penance, the Anantasayana relief, and the great Pancha Rathas.
The shore temple of Mamallapuram is a UNESCO world heritage site. The place is also famous for the monolithic rathas, or chariots. The huge carving, Arjuna’s Penance, ia a giant open-air bas relief with breathtaking craftsmanship. The Pallava kings were also good at sculpting animals such as deer, cunning cats, and elephant herds. The sculptors of the Pallava period excelled at sculpting elephants with a vibrant, wild spirit. Pallava scultors also depicted the human form in an idealized manner with a relaxed naturalism in the poses. Within Pallava art, the human body is thinned, the chest is widened, and the nose is flattened. Some other common traits of Pallava art include egg-shaped faces, double chins and minimal ornamentation.
Great stone carvings can be seen in major temples, such as the Brihadeeshwara Temple (the Big Temple) in Tanjavur built during the Chola Dynasty. The Dravidian style was almost perfected during this period. Opulent grandeur is characteristic of Chola art. They maintained a standard style of decorating the huge structures with small sculptures, and sculpting these structures required immense amounts of labor and resources.
Stylistically, people were portrayed with rounded faces. Certain poses became very common during the late Chola period, and torsos were depicted with more detail than before. The Gangaikonda Chola Temple exhibits many archetypal elements of Chola style, with noses being prominent, emblems decorated with flames on the two upraised fingers, and discuses facing forward.
The Chola kings were also the greatest patrons of the bronze arts. Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, in Chidambaram is a classic example of Chola art.
The Pandya kings were also great builders, and constructed many huge temples in Madurai, the Temple City. Each and every temple in Madurai speaks to the architectural skill of the Pandya kings.
The sculptures became more stylized during the Vijaya Nagar period. These carvings included elaborate ornamentation, and expressionless faces with stiff poses. The noses are sculpted sharply and prominently and figures are depicted with protruding stomaches, an archetypal feature of the Vijayanagar period.
The art of sculpting witnessed growth in other parts of South India, and North India as well, but there were some differences in their style of sculpture and architecture and Tamilian style. North Indian temples are shaped like bee-hives, whereas the South Indian Tamilian temples follow the Dravidian style of architecture.
People travel from all over the world to visit Raja Raja Chola’s Big Temple in Tanjavur and other Indian temples. The Tanjavur Big Temple has been listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.
The temples and sculptures of Tamil Nadu are enormous and they attract tremendous number of tourists to the state. The temples are thronging with many visitors from around the globe. The Tamil Nadu Tourism Department runs a number of buses down the narrow streets, providing access to the sculptural and architectural marvels.
Some of programs offering coursework in sculpting and architecture include: