Art and Architecture under the Pallavas

The glory of the Pallavas still remains in their contribution to the art and architecture. They were the pioneers of South Indian art and architecture. They had introduced the stone architecture in the Tamil country. Their contributions are still extant because granite was used for building temples and carving sculptures. The Pallava architecture had evolved stage by stage from the period of Mahendravarman I.

We can broadly classify the Pallava architecture as

1. Rock-cut temples.
2. Monolithic Rathas and Sculptural Mandapas and
3. Structural temples.

Rock-cut temples

We call the Pallava rock-cut temples as Mahendravarman style. He carved temples out of the rocks and thus they were known as rock cut temples. It was really an innovation in the sphere of art because he did not use any other building materials. Therefore, he was hailed s Vichitra Chitta. In these rock cut temples, we find the sanctum sanctorum and on the walls of it beautiful sculptures. The pillars are carved in such a way that they stand on the heads of lions. The rock cut temples of Mahendravarman I are found at various places of Tamil Nadu. The most important among them are Pallavaram, Mamandur, Mahendravadi, Vallam and Thalavanur.

Monolithic Rathas

The monolithic rathas and sculptural mandapas constitute the Mamalla style of architecture. The Pallava king, Narasimhavarman I was known as Mamalla. He had converted the port of Mamallapuram as a beautiful city of art and architecture. The Monolithic rathas at Mamallapuram are now called as Pancha Pandava Rathas. Each ratha or chariot was carved out of single rock and hence the name monolithic. These rathas depict the five different forms of temple architecture.

The mandapas or halls at Mamallapuram had also belonged to the Mamallan period. Each mandapa was carved out of single rock. On the side- walls of these mandapas, beautiful sculptures depicting Puranic stories had been carved. The scene depicting the Goddess Durga’s attack on Mahishasura is seen in the Mahishasura Mardhini Mandapa. Such beautiful sculptures have also been carved in Thirumoorthi and Varaha mandapas.
The most important among the Mamalla style of architecture is the Open Art Gallery. Several miniature sculptures have been carved beautifully on the wall of a big rock. The fall of the River Gange from the head of God Siva and the Arjuna’s penance are notable among them. The images of deer, monkey, cat, mouse and other animals are beautifully carved on this huge rock.

Structural Temples

So far, we have studied about the rock-cut temples and sculptural mandapas. From the reign of Rajasimha, the construction of structural temples had started. These temple structures were built with the use of granite slabs. Hence, they are known as structural temples.

We can broadly classify the Pallava structural temples into

1. Rajasimha Style and
2. Nandivarman Style

The earliest among the Pallava structural temples were the Kailasanatha Temple at Kanchipuram and the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram. These temples were built by using sandstones. The Vimana or tower of the Kailasanatha temple is shaped like hilly comb. This temple is considered as the Crown of Pallava architecture. This temple is also called as Rajasimheswaram. We also find beautiful sculptures in this temple. The sculptures depicting the scenes of the satirical drama Maththavilasa Prakasanam have been engraved in this temple. The Shore temple at Mamallapuram is also filled with numerous sculptures. This temple attracts tourists from all over the world.

The successors of Rajasimha had also built several structural temples at various places. Nandivarman II had built the Vaikunda Perumal Temple at Kanchipuram. The temples built by the later Pallava rulers are found at places like Kanchipuram, Panamalai, Kooram, Thiruthani and Gudimallam

Fine Arts

The Pallava kings had also patronized fine arts. The Kudumianmalai and Thirumayam music inscriptions show their interest in music. Yaazhi, Mridhangam and Murasu were some of the musical instruments of the Pallava period. Both Mahendravarman I and Narasimhavarman I had remained experts in music. The temple sculptures of the Pallava period reveal that the art of dance was popular in those days. The paintings at Chittannavasal illustrate the nature of Pallava painting Mahendravarman I was known as Chittirakkarapuli. He had also composed the book, Thatchina Chitram. We have already seen that he was the author of the satirical drama Maththavilasam Prakasanam, Thus, music, dance, paintings and drama were popular during the Pallava rule. In this way, the Pallavas had contributed to the growth of culture.