Home Sites Essays Monuments

Swarga Brahma, Alampur, 9th c

Temples of the Deccan

The North Indian style was largely confined to India above the Vindhyas, though for a short period it also flourished in a region of southern India known as Karnata from ancient times and now largely part of Karnataka state. Here, temples of the northern and the southern styles are found next to each other, notably at Aihole and Pattadakal, where temples built under Chalukya patronage were influenced by northern styles from Central India as well as Pallava architecture from the south. The earliest in this group appears to be the Ladh Khan at Aihole, closely related to the 5th-century Nachna Kuthara in northern India. The northern style was also cultivated at Pattadakal, where the most important examples are the Kasivisvanatha, the Galaganatha, and the Papanatha. Alampur, once an outpost of the Chalukya empire and now in Andhra Pradesh, has eight temples of the northern style with latina spires. These belong to the late 7th and early 8th centuries and are the finest among the last examples of the northern style in southern India.

Among the structural temples built during this period, there are some examples in the North Indian style, but, because the Karnataka region was more receptive to southern influences, most temples are basically South Indian with only a few North Indian elements. The Durga temple (c 7th century) at Aihole is apsidal in plan, echoing early architectural traditions, and its northern curved sikhara is in all probability a later addition. The Malegitti Sivalaya temple at Badami (early 8th century), consists of a sanctum, a hall with a parapet of salas and kutas (rectangular and square miniature shrines), and an open porch, similar to examples in Tamil Nadu. The Virupaksa temple at Pattadakal (mid 8th c) is the most imposing and elaborate temple in the South Indian manner. It is placed within an enclosure, to which access is through a gopura. The sanctum superstructure has four stories and a projection in the front, a feature inspired by similar prominent projections of North Indian temples.

Kesava Temple, Somnathpura, 13th c

The late phase of Chalukyan rule saw the temples of this region evolve into structures with complex plans and elaborate sculpture throughout. Belonging to the 9th century is the triple shrine (three sanctums sharing the same mandapa) at Kambadahalli and the extremely refined and elaborately carved Bhoganandisvara temple at Nandi. The Chavundaraya Basti (10th c) at Sravana-Belgola is also an impressive building, with an elegant superstructure of three stories. These late-Chalukyan trends were adopted and further enhanced by subsequent dynasties in the region culminating in the distinctive style of the 12th century. The Kallesvara temple at Kukkanur (late 10th century) and a large Jaina temple at Lakkundi (11th c) clearly demonstrate the transition. The superstructures, still basically of the South Indian type, have offsets and recesses that tend to emphasize a vertical, upward movement. The Lakkundi temple is also the first to be built of chlorite schist, which is the favoured material of the later period and which lends itself easily to elaborate sculptural ornamentation. With the Mahadeva temple at Ittagi, the transition is complete, the extremely rich decoration characteristic of this shrine being found in all work that follows.

Patrons of the Hoysala dynasty sponsored scores of temples in this style at sites in southern Karnataka through the 12th and 13th centuries. The twin Hoysalesvara temple (c. 1141) at Halebid, their capital city is the grandest example. The niches and projections on the sanctum walls have been elaborated so much that they are now stellate in form, the pillars of the interior are lathe-turned in a variety of fanciful shapes, and the exterior is almost totally covered with sculpture, the walls carrying a profusion of images but organized in a standardized fashion. Panels at the base have several bands of ornamental motifs and a narrative relief while the walls themselves have magnificent sculptures of deities in every projection and niche. Among other temples that were constructed in this style, the most important are the Chenna Kesava temple at Belur (1117), the Amritesvara temple at Amritpur (1196), and the Kesava temple at Somnathpura (1268). The 13th-century temples at Palampet built during the Kakatiya rule, are the counterparts of this elaborate Karnatic style, but without its overpowering elaboration.

Bangalore, 2006

Photos and Text © Amit Guha