search

Gopuram Temple: 5 Fascinating Gateways of Southern India

Unique to the region, Gopuram Temple is a peculiar feature of Southern India. In comparison to temples in other parts of India, these gateways are more ornate, monumental, and huge in construction. They are colourful, huge structures ornamented with sculptures of gods and goddesses that depict the myths residing in their lives.

Ancient and early medieval temples feature smaller gopuram temples. Whereas, the later temples have prominent features of the Hindu Dravidan style. Standing in front, one can see the kalasam, where a bulbous stone finial tops the massive structure. This architectural wonder is not just a symbol of South India’s rich cultural heritage but also a gateway to the sanctity of its temples.

Let’s look into what a gopuram is, its origin, its construction, and its architecture in different parts of India.

1. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Tamil Nadu

2. Shree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Kerala

3. Virupaksha Temple, Hampi, Karnataka

4. Sri Villiputhur Andal, Tamil Nadu

5. Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu

What is Gopuram?

A Gopuram is a type of monumental tower, usually found in front of Hindu temples in south India. It is a traditional architectural element in the Dravidian style of temple architecture originating in Tamil Nadu. Gopurams serve both ornamental and functional purposes acting as the main gateway for the entrance of the temple. They indicate the grandeur and intricacy of the temple architecture. In addition, they have multiple levels, each having sculptures and monuments of gods and goddesses, drawing mythological stories.

Origin of Gopuram

One can trace the origin back to Tamil Nadu, in the early centuries of the common era. During the Chola reign, the gopuram reached the pinnacle of architectural sophistication, with towering structures showcasing elaborate carvings. Through out the times since then, the gopurams evolved in the structure according to the region and their political changes. During the reigns of the Pandya nayaka and vijaynagara, they became the dominant features of a temple for urban life.

The temple compounds is typically square or rectangular with atleast the outermost walls having gopuras, often from the four cardinal directions. Also the multiple stories of a gopuram typically repeat the lower level features on a rhythmic diminishing scale.

Significance of Gopurams

The gopuram holds a profound significance in the life of the people of South India and in the Hindu belief system. Besides, being the entrance of the temples they are signified as the gateways to spiritual enlightenment and a connection to the divine.

For the religious, they hold a place of reverence in their hearts. Also, they are the carriers of the beliefs one has in devotion, morality, and duty through carved scriptures in ornaments. Also, the gopurams depict Hindu mythology to educate and inspire worshippers.

In cultural context the gopuram is a testament to the rich and artistic architectural heritage. The towers serve as a source of pride passed down from generation to generation, serving as a transitional link to their cultural heritage.

In earlier times, the gopurams were the markers of the distance for the travellers. Hence, they were elevated for the people to discern their locations through the tiled paths. Moreover, the passengers estimated the approximate distance of their destinations through the expanse pf the gopuram.

Gopuram Architecture

The gopurams in the temples are a breathtaking work of art and architecture. In addition the multi tiered towers are the symbol of temple’s spiritual significance. At the same time, they also serve as the gateway to the sacred space within.

A gopuram is usually a tapering oblong form, with wooden doors on the ground floor richly decorated provding access. Above is the tapering or battered gopuram, divided into many storeys (talas), which diminish in size as the gopuram tower narrows. Usually the tower topped with the barrel vaulted roof with a finial.

Relatively small at first, the gopuras grew in size from the mid-12th century until the colossal gateways came to dominate the temple complex. During the reign of the Chola dynasty, the gopuras became the gateway to the temple. Further, they have a stone base and a superstructure of brick and pilaster built on top. Also, there are the external walls with scriptures, covering the complex in rectangular forms.

Such features by its mere presence creates the urban context for the people of South India. Looking into such few examples within definite context might help us understand their relevance with the urban life.

5 Ornate Gateways Representing South India

1. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Tamil Nadu

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, also known as Srirangam Temple, is located 12 km north of Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, India. Its location is on a large island with the Kaveri and Kollidam rivers surrounding it.

Gopuram Temple

Visiting the Ranganathaswamy temple can be a fascinating experience for the devotees. One can get a glimpse into its history which dates back to 3rd century B.C. according to few historians. Where else, some say that it was in the 9th century by the Gangas, that the ruling dynasty based at Talakadu built the temple on the banks of river Kaveri. Even several invasions, its reconstruction in the 14th century made it an influential centre for the Bhakti movement. Further more, there were additions in the 16th, 17th, and 21st centuries as well.

Seven concentric enclosures with courtyards termed as prakarams enclose the temple. Further it has 17 major gopurams, 39 pavillions, 50 shrines, 9 sacred water pools along with smaller pools inside.

Also the temple is situated on the north – south and east – west axis on the island surrounded by river Kaveri.

There are 21 gopurams in the temple. Out of which the tallest gopuram, Rajagopuram is a 13-tiered massive gopuram with a height of 73 meters. In addition to this the gopurams have pronounced projections on the middle of the long sides, generally with openings on each successive levels.

Gopuram Temple

2. Shree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Kerala

The Shree Padmnabhaswamy temple is located in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala, India.

The temple dedicates to Lord Vishnu and considered to be one of the 108 Divya Desams. Also, the temple depicts the fusion of both traditional Kerala and Dravidian styles of architecture, which features high-walls and 16th-century gopurams.

Gopuram Temple

In 1566, the temple laid the foundation of the present Gopuram, which is 100-foot in height with a 7-tier high gopuram. Furthermore, the temple has 365 and one-quarter sculptured granite stone pillars with elaborate carvings, which extend to the eastern side. The ground floor under the gopuram functions as the Nataka sala, which stages the famous temple art of Kathakali at night.

3. Virupaksha Temple, Hampi, Karnataka

Gopuram Temple

Virupaksha temple is located in Hampi, In Vijaynagara district of Karnataka, dedicated to Sri Virupaksha a form of lord shiva. Apparently, the temple is the main pilgrimage centre at Hampi on the bank of River Tungabhadra. Further, its construction dates back to 7th century, where it started as a small shrine and grew into large complex under the vijaynagara rulers.

Gopuram Temple

Three gopurams surround the Virupaksha temple, where the main tower is in the east with 9 stories and 50 meters of height. Eastern tower forms the main entrance to the temple, which has extensive craftsmanship on each of its floors intricating hundreds of gods and goddesses. The main entrance to the temple is the Raya Gopuram.

Gopuram Temple

4. Sri Villiputhur Andal, Tamil Nadu

Sri Viliputhur Andal Temple is an ancient Hindu temple in Srivilluputhur, Virudhunagar. It is 80 km from Madurai and 100 km from Tirunelveli. Sri Villiputhur temple is associated with the life of Andal, which was found under a tulsi plant inside the temple by Periazhwar. Thus, the temple consists of two parts: the first part is the Vatapatra Sayana Temple, and the second part is the Andal shrine.

A granite wall surrounds the temple, covering all its shrines where the Andal was found, along with its three water bodies. The temple is in Dravidian style and among the 108 Divya Desam dedicated to Vishnu.

Gopuram Temple

The greatest attraction of the temple is its Raja gopuram that is 11 stories high and 192 ft tall in height. Hence, as it is the tallest towers found in Tamil Nadu depicting the life and history in its stature, it is the emblem of the Tamil Nadu government.

Gopuram Temple

5. Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu

Thillai Nataraja Temple, also referred as the Chidambaram Nataraja temple, is dedicated to Nataraj a form of lord shiva. This temple is located in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu glorified in Naliyara Prabandham . The temple was built by the Chola kings in 10th century, with 108 karanas from Natyashastra were scripted on the walls.

Gopuram Temple

Further, the architecture of the temple displays both Keralian and Malabar-style structures combining Pandyan and Chola architecture. In addition to 9 gopurams, it also has several water storage structures.

Gopuram Temple

The temple has 9 major gopuram gateways connecting the courtyards, four of which are huge and colorful visible from far. Further, each gopuram has 7 stories facing the east south north, and west. Also, the first part of the gopurams was built between 1150 and 1300 CE. The west gopuram was built first in 1150 CE, followed by the eastern, southern, and northern gopurams.

Gopuram Temple

All gopurams are built precisely of large stone blocks all the way to the main cornice, which is a stone brick and pilaster structure with layers of pavilion. Above these Talas is a South Indian style barrel-vaulted roof with thirteen kalasa finials.

Gopuram Temple

Steady Superstructures

All of the above temples have a different context in terms of location and place. They have the same purpose of serving as the temple entrances or the gateways. As they become the spiritual hold for the devotes entering the temple, they become an important part of the urban life. Although falling in the same timeline or era, all of them hold different entities or idols within them talking about the area and their belief systems. The architecture within the gopurams is knowingly made huge and ornamental using the local materials available that they can hold significance over one’s mind.

They are the carriers of the myths and beliefs of people on which the urban life sustains. Over time these structures have evolved in stature, varying in height and structure, the use of colours has changed but their significance over life has remained constant. As we can see in the above temples, they are situated within the city with which, the cities are identified. They remain the silent yet the dominant features of the day to day life.

Gopurams in Today’s Time

All of the cities of Southern India and their identities are very much connected to these existing gopuram temple. The urban life in modern times has taken a troll around these gateways. As built in the ancient times now these parts of the cities are considered to be the heart of the respective cities. They steadily describe the history of the city and the time it has lived through. Also, gopuram temple depicts how people have transformed their ways around it, building several public spaces and kept connection alive.

Gopuram Temple

Moreover when one come near these superstructure they feel the connection with both the ancient and modern times. However these structures changing their course with time have varied in sizes when built now, but they serve the same purpose as they used to. Even today these structures are the markers of the identification of place for the travellers. Hence, we can say that gopuram temple are and will be the carriers of urban life in modern times too. Along with the ornamentations of the sculptures and inscriptions of the stones, it will always keep the base of the life alive within these fact pacing modern life.

Content Writing And Research By: Ar. Rajeshwari Pandya Modi

Humble abode named after a cottage in Dandaka Forest built by Lord Rama | RSAA Studio

‘कुटीरम्’ in Sanskrit is a humble abode named after a cottage in Dandaka forest built by Lord Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita. It means “a house made of bamboo, leaves and straws.” Humble abode named after a cottage in Dandaka Forest built by Lord Rama | RSAA Studio Set in the dense old part of the […]

Read More

The Majestic Exterior of the House Embraced the Tenet of Classical Architecture | New Dimension

The majestic exterior of the house embraced the tenet of classical architecture, presenting a symmetrical facade that exuded an air of harmony. The task at hand was to create a dwelling fit for a family of four, along with their diligent support staff. The vision was to craft a residence in the classical style, drawing […]

Read More

Walk-in wardrobe design: Where Fashion Finds Its Home

A well-organized walk-in wardrobe design is important for maintaining an efficient and visually appealing storage space, especially in Indian homes. In India, where space is limited, a walk-in wardrobe allows for optimal space utilization and customization that allows for the proper arrangement of clothing and accessories, ensuring that every item has its designated place. A […]

Read More

The Community Centre Is A Memorial Building For The Client’s Father | Sanjay Puri Architects

As per the brief, The Community Centre is a memorial building for the client’s father, Padmaramji Kularia in Nokha, Rajasthan. The sweeping curvilinear volume rises up from the northeastern corner. The Community Centre Is A Memorial Building For The Client’s Father | Sanjay Puri Architects It further loops around the site and rises up on […]

Read More

The Existing Outhouse Structure Is Transformed Into An Exhibition Space | Square

The existing outhouse structure is transformed into an exhibition space. It is a space where one can host exhibitions, design workshops, fashion pop-up shows, and Sunday brunches. At the same time, it also serves as an office. The Existing Outhouse Structure Is Transformed Into An Exhibition Space | Square The vision behind developing this experience […]

Read More

20 Types of Door Handles for a Stylish Home Upgrade

Types of door handles play a pivotal role in both functionality and aesthetics, offering diverse options to complement various architectural styles and personal preferences. Understanding the plethora of choices can help in selecting the perfect door handle for any space. From traditional lever handles to modern electronic ones, the market boasts an array of designs […]

Read More

A House Extension That Seamlessly Blends With A Rejuvenated Facade | Gangwal PMC

The clients expressed a desire for a house extension that seamlessly blends with a rejuvenated facade and boasts luxurious yet timeless interiors. Right from the start, their preference for a minimal and contemporary design was evident. Additionally, they emphasized the importance of redefining the utility of existing terraces in the overall project vision. The house […]

Read More

50 Exceptional Baluster Design Ideas Suitable For Indian Homes

Baluster design plays a crucial role in architectural aesthetics, particularly in structures like staircases, balconies, and railings. These vertical supports not only provide structural integrity but also contribute significantly to the overall visual appeal of a building or space. Baluster design also vary widely, ranging from simple and utilitarian to intricate and ornate, reflecting different […]

Read More

10 Captivating Wall Texture and Colour Combinations for Indian Homes

Texture and Colour are powerful tools for creating a unique and functional space. They not only enhance the aesthetic appeal but also create an ambience that resonates with style and purpose. These textures and colours can be sleek and modern or rustic and inviting, allowing you to infuse your personality into the walls. They serve […]

Read More

Design Has A Contemporary Approach With A Neutral Material Palette | Inner Value Architects

The Design has a contemporary approach backed by a neutral material palette, bringing out the balance in the rhythm of the spaces, integrating the large garden space, that plugs into a L-shaped built-space. The residence site is a amalgamation of two 400 sq. yards plots, and thus composes to a almost square plot of 800 […]

Read More
  • Indian Colour Palette: Unveiling the Spirit of a Diverse Culture

    20 Art Deco Architecture Illustrating India's Rich Heritage