ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A Researcher on temple architecture, Dr. G. Manoj is an Archaeologist by profession. He carned his M.A. and Ph.D. Degrees in Ancient Hisory & Archaeology from manasa Gangotri, University of Mysore. Currently a research Associate with Maharani lakshmi ammani Research Foundation, Banagalore, Dr. Manoj is also resource person with the Archaeological Survey of Indian Dr. Manoj is also a resource work focuses on the study of ancient Dravidian temple archieture based on traditional agamas and vastugranthas besides the study of sculptures and iconograpy based on ancient Sanskrit text. He has presented more than 50 research papers both in English and Kannada at various seminars and symposia. He has delivered lectures on Archaeology, Music and Mythology to students of th e Universities of Guelph, Mt Allison, and concordia besides various universities and and colleges of Karnataka. One of his books, Devalaya Vastu vijnana, is a reference book on Dravidian temple architecture for post graduate students of History and Archaeology. Dr. Manoj's interests include Kannada and Sanskrit literature, Inscriptions and Manuscripts, Amulti linguist, he has several compositions in sanskrit ,Kannada, Telugu and tamil to his credit. Planet Prayers, a trilingual commentary on navagraha krithis of Muthuswami Dikshitar and siddhivinayakam Sada Bhajeham, and exposition in English and Muthuswami Dikshitar Krithison Mahaganapati are among his well-acclaimed books.
Inclination and inquisitiveness towards temple architecture inspired me to undertake research on Temples of Salem Region for my doctoral dissertation. Salem region, in the context of my research, includes the old Salem district before its bifurcation and it encompasses the present day Salem, Namakkal, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts in Tamil Nadu. There are innumerable temples of great antiquity and aesthetic value in this region. Unfortunately, many of them are in total neglect while a few are renovated to the extent that they have lost their original form and character. Though extensive epigraphical survey has been done since the last decade of the 19th century, no serious attempt has been made so far to study and analyze the temples and their art and architectural traditions. In 1961, the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department, Government of Tamil Nadu documented all the temples of this region prior to its division into Dharmapuri and Salem districts. But, this documentation is based only on local beliefs and versions and not on their historical and cultural intricacies.
Salem region, being a buffer Zone, has its own historical and cultural perspectives. It was ruled by both the Kannada and Tamil imperial powers. Frequent political hegemony between these two great powers over this region witnessed the influence of both the cultural idioms. The northern region even now is dominated by Kannada cultural traits while the southern region manifests a mixture of both Kannada and Tamil cultures.
The earliest edifices in the northern area are the temples erected by the Nolambas. Many sculptures exhibiting Gangal / Nolamba traits and innumerable inscriptions of both these dynasties found here suggest the supremacy of the Kannada monarchs over this region. In 10th century, the Cholas held their sway over the entire region and raised many temples. Later on, the Hoysalas established their sovereignty over this area in 12th century. Devarakundani, a small hamlet of Sinna-kottur Village in Krishnagiri district is identified as one of the regional capitals of the Hoysalas. The Vijayanagara Empire which encompassed entire south India brought this region under their direct rule.
The Southern Salem region, as mentioned earlier, was dominated by the influence of both the Tamil and Kannada cultures wherein the former dominated the latter. The earliest edifices are the rock-cut shrines excavated by the Adigamans. These shrines date back to circa 7th century CE and exhibit Pallava features in their sculptural renderings. The Sheshasayi sculpture possesses a striking resemblance to a similar theme found in the Mahishamardini cave at Mamallapuram. Aragaluru, a village in Attur taluk, was the royal seat of the Bana chiefs. Cholas, as mentioned earlier, had controlled this region and consecrated innumerable temples. When Hoysalas overpowered the Cholas, the boundaries of their kingdom extended towards south beyond Tiruchanapalli, the neighbouring district, where the second capital of Hoysalas viz. Vikramapura (modern Kannanur) was built. The Hoysalas also consecrated many temples and patronized the existing ones. This tradition was continued by the Nayakas during the Vijayanagara and post Vijayanagara periods who also caused many temples to be built and renovated or enlarged a few edifices. The temples in the Salem region exhibit the culmination of both Tamil and Kannada architectural idioms.All the temples belong to the Dravida style. Surprisingly, not a single temple built in the Nagara or Vesara style is found here. Many of these temples morphologically possess Chola-Dravida features, while the intricate decoration on them is, undoubtedly, a Hoysala influence. Due to the influence of Karnataka- Dravida idiom, many changes were introduced in the ground plan, the carving of pillars, in the decoration of the plinths and in the Surface treatment of the walls. In plan, the original Chola temples were very simple, having a garbhagriha and an antarala/ ardhamantapa. But in many temples a gudhamantapa, was introduced, a feature that penetrated to this region from Karnataka. Pillar forms also are greatly influenced by the Hoysala style. The decoration of the plinth and surface treatment of the wall with reliefs are also the influence of Karnataka-Dravida style and these features appear more prominently during the Vijayanagara and post Vijayanagara periods. For instance, the use of padmakesara adishthana during the late Chola / Hoysala and early Vijayanagara temples is prominently seen in this region, which was not introduced, prodigally by the Vijayanagara builders in the heart land at Hampi. The use of sribandha adhishthana and sribhoga adhishthana appears from 14th century onwards and continues on a large scale till the mid-17th century. The effort put in by the sculptors for the crisp and intricate carvings on a hard medium like granite stone is really astounding. The various pillar forms, especially of the transition period, display a renewed concept of the existing forms.
Eminent scholars like Percy Brown and others, while describing the development of architectural features, have related/ affiliated the architectural features with the contemporary ruling dynasties. But it is interesting to note that these developments appear even earlier to their Supposed time of development. Such aspects are clearly discernible in the modelling of corbels, pillars, cornices etc.,that were used earlier during the imperial Chola period. The present study conducted in the buffer zone has revealed such developments in temples and its architectural members.
For a better understanding of morphological features of temples and their adjuncts, Sanskrit texts on ancient building technology are essential. The present study based on classical texts on vastu explains thoroughly several architectural members, their definition, their meaning, purpose and functions. Though some of the terms used for various architectural components were already in Vogue, the present work attempts to discuss their etymology, meaning and synonyms on the basis of their forms and functions. This emphasizes how important are classical texts for a better analyses of the science of Indian temple architecture. This does not imply that everything and anything mentioned in the texts are to be relied upon as the final Verdict. Analyses of textual prescriptions, in the light of the available architectural members, is the need of the day for the clear understanding of the description of ancient texts. This method of application of traditional texts with an archaeological approach is found always highly rewarding.
In studying classical texts, a glance at some literary works also has helped in identifying the symbolism of certain architectural members- This source has been utilized to understand the metaphysical aspects of the symbolism of kumbhapanjara, a decorative member found on the outer walls of the temples. Interestingly, epigraphical evidences supporting these embellishments are also available.
The sculptures of the region, found in abundance, are also studied with their textual background. Stylistic traits, termed on dynastic affiliation are analyzed along with their textual bearings. Rare sculptures are studied with the help of their mythological citations. It is interesting to note that sculptures of four major creeds i.e. Shaiva, Vaishnava, Jain and Bauddha are found in this region. Of these, the Shaiva sculptures dominate in number followed by the Vaishnava images. Of the few Buddhist sculptures noticed, two images found at Tyaganur are noteworthy for their features and size. Majority of the Jaina and Bauddha sculptures are housed in the museums and are not under worship.
To conclude, this work attempts to delineate the salient features of Dravidian temple architecture of the Salem region based upon archaeological evidence supported by important classical texts. This study throws light on the lesser known temples of great aesthetic value. This also shows the importance of the knowledge of temple architecture in buffer zones where also notable features of various styles are noticed. A study of this type, many a times, results in fresh categorization of distinct local styles that help for the understanding of major architectural styles.