Monuments of South India - Informative & researched article on Monuments of South India
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Home > Art & Culture > Indian Monuments > Indian Regional Monuments > Monuments of South India
Monuments of South India
Monuments of South India show strong Dravidian traditions and are located in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
 Monuments of South IndiaThe monuments of South India lie untouched and resplendent along the shores of the three oceans that surround and protect its beauty. The region is separated from the north by the Vindhya Range and insulated on the east and west by the eastern and western ghats. Consequently the culture, architecture and heritage of the place have remained largely untouched. The Dravidian style of construction has remained intact and can be plainly seen in all the temples and monuments that adorn this idyllic region. What is collectively referred to as South India comprises primarily of four different states- Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnatakaand Andhra Pradesh as well as the Union Territories of Puducherry and the Lakshadweep archipelago.

Monuments in the South Indian region are mainly of two types: religious and historical. The religious monuments are indicative of the various places of worship built by the ancient ruling dynasties, mainly temples. Apart from this with later invasions and the advent of the British, other religious constructions also took place in the form of churches and mosques. Historical monuments comprise of the palaces and forts.

Monuments of South India The monuments in the South show a strong Hindu Dravidian inclination in the form of the various beautifully sculpted temples. They date back to nearly 1700 years, thereby, upholding the ancient legacy of a rich culture. Carved mainly out of stone, the most distinctive features of the South Indian temples are their gopurams or large towers, at the entrances. A Vimana (a pyramidal tower over the sanctum sanctorum where the deities are placed) and hall with corridors are common to all south Indian temples. The most sacred place in the temples is the Pitha or the pedestal that is placed in the sanctum sanctorum. Many temples also have halls like the Ranga Mahal that have been intricately carved for the purposes of occasional sacrifices and dance recitals as and when they take place. The main area to the hall is surrounded by a single wall which is many miles long. The southern region has a rich heritage of ancient sacred architecture, with world-famous temples at Madurai, Thanjavur, Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram.

Churches, on the other hand, mainly came into being after the coming of Christianity in India. St Thomas was the first disciple of Christ who travelled to India and brought Christianity to India for the first time. He is said to have founded seven churches on the Malabar Coast. Though the Nestorian Church declined in the fifteenth century, it was once again revived by the advent of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century and later the French. Christianity thus spread to all the areas of settlement of these colonial powers such as Puducherry, Nagapattinam, Tranquebar etc. Consequently a number of beautiful churches, such as, San Thome Cathedral, St Mary's Church and many more were constructed. St Andrew's Kirk and St George's Cathedral in Chennai, erected in the early 19th century, are two of the finest classical churches in India, both based on the famous London prototype of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Monuments of South India As far as the British influence is concerned, particular mention may be made of Chennai. Chennai in Tamil Nadu was one of the first strongholds of the British in India. For a long time the city, centred around Fort St. George, remained the nerve-centre of British influence and classical colonial architecture was developed to quite an extent in the city. As their strength increased, the British went on to establish charming garden houses in outlying areas well known for their architectural style. In the late 19th century the city developed a reputation for its Indo-Saracenic architecture, based on a highly inventive synthesis of European and local styles. Elsewhere in the south, British architects employing Indo-Saracenic styles were active, notably at Mysore, where the Maharaja's city palace was designed by Henry Irwin, the architect of Viceregal Lodge, Shimla.

Monuments of South India The influence of Islam has remained brief in South India. Earlier, the first Muslim converts arrived in the region and went on to establish a number of mosques as well as to play an important role in the life of the city. Later however, in the early 14th century, Muslim raids from the north began to have a significant effect on local life, dislocating the architectural traditions of the region and causing a temporary hiatus in the construction of the monumental temple buildings for which southern India was renowned. A number of mosques now started coming up such as the beautiful thousand lights mosque in Chennai, Makka Masjid etc.

The Jewish synagogue built in 1568 AD in Mattencherry (Kerala) has gained popularity as the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth Countries. The hand painted Chinese tiles of the Synagogue are beautiful to behold. Nearly two hundred years old, not one of the tiles is similar to the other as each one is unique. Ancient scrolls of the Old Testament, Belgian chandeliers and beautifully wrought gold and silver crowns are the chief attractions of the place.

Monuments of South India Where secular monuments are concerned, they are a rarer sight. However, there are a number of palaces of the 16th and 17th centuries which are important survivals of the period. One of the earliest examples is the Lotus Temple built in 1575 at Vijayanagara. This is a remarkable example of the blend of Hindu-Muslim construction style, which is a rare sight in the South due to the limited impact of Islam there. The Lotus Mahal is a fascinating commingling of elements, with a tiered pyramidal roof adapted from local temple architecture combined with recessed, foliated arches taken from the Lodi tombs of Delhi. The pillars and concentrically recessed arches are Islamic, but the pyramidal roofs, chajjas and stucco ornament are Hindu in origin.

Monuments of South India The three-storey palace at Chandragiri, built in the early 17th century, is a highly instructive, sophisticated exercise in the blending of the two traditions. The palace has a prominent pyramidal tower, but the arcaded facade is treated with a series of orthodox Muslim arches.

The palace of Tirumala Nayak at Madurai, although monumental in conception, does not represent the mix of Hindu Muslim tradition as do the others. This huge edifice contains an inner courtyard which is surrounded by massive round granite columns over 12 m {40 feet) high, derived from European sources, above which rise foliated arcades of brick and stucco.

The palace complex in the fort at Thanjavur, built about 1700.The palace contains a mixture of Hindu iconography, classical detail and an eight-storey tower

The Padmanabhapuram palace in Kerala and the Mattancherry Palace at Kochi, built by the Portuguese, are both significant. Both contain a fine series of murals depicting scenes from the Hindu epics and both are distinguished examples of secular palace architecture of the period.

Monuments of South India are a must-see for tourists looking to understand and appreciate the cultural legacy of India. Untouched by outside influences, the South represents a true picture of ancient Indian civilisation as it existed in the times of kings and sages.

(Last Updated on : 25/07/2013)
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