Growth of art and architecture: Pandyas

Growth of art and architecture: Pandyas

  • Pandya architecture includes both rock-cut and structural temples.

Rock cut temple:

  • The early rock-cut temples have monolithic vimanas.
  • Rock cut temples are found in Thirupparankundram, Anaimalai, Karaikudi, Kalugumalai, Malaiyadikurichi and Trichy. These temples were constructed for Lord Siva and Vishnu.
  • Cave temples are also found in temples at Kalugumalai and Trichy.

Structural temples:

  • The structural temples are small stone temples and have all the features of bigger temples i.e. vimana, mandapa and sikhara but were simple in style.
  • Temples consist of Garbagraha, ardhamandapa and mahamandapa.
  • The Shiva temples have a Nandi in front of the maha mandapa.
  • The period of the later Pandya rulers saw the development of elegant vimanas with finely sculptured idols and the gopurams of the temples.
    • The rectangular entrance or portals of the temple are called the gopurams.
    • The portions above the entrance is pyramidal in shape.
  • Gradually the gopurams were given more importance than the sikharas.
    • While the former were higher and more imposing, the latter declined in height.
    • Lofty gopurams of great proportions with lavish decoration were constructed by succeeding dynasties. 
  • Examples:
    • Groups of small temples are to be seen at Tiruchirapalli district of Tamil Nadu.
    • The zenith of Pandya architecture are Meenakshi temple at Madurai and Aranganathar temple at Srirangam.
    • Meenakshi Temple
    • Structural stone temples are found in Kumbakonam, Thiruvannamalai, Kovilpatty, Thiruppathur, Alagarkoil, Ambasamuthram, Madurai.
    • Siva temple at Ambasamudhram, Vijayanarayana temple at Nanguneri, Lakshmi Narayana temple at Athur are structural temples. 
    • Pandyas built temples mandapas, gopurams at Chidambaram and Srirangam.

General features:

  • Plan- usually rectangular but emphasize were on the gateways- Gopuram;
  • Gopuram plan- rectangular in shape;
  • Ground floor– vertical built in stone;
  • First floor– vertical built in stone;
  • Above floors– pyramidal built in bricks (inclination of 25 degrees);
  • Pinnacles called shikharas are used in odd numbers;
  • Niches — with heavily carved Hindu Mythologies sculptures;
  • The images of horses and other animals are carved on pillars.
  • Srivilliputtur Andal Temple:
    • 12-tiered tower structure (59 m high) dedicated to the Lord of Srivilliputtur.
    • Srivilliputtur Andal Temple is the official symbol of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
    • Images of Panchamurtis, Thumburu, Narada, Sanatkumara, Kinnara Mithuna, the Sun and the Moon are represented at his feet.
    • Sanctum sanctorum has three doorways.
    • Flight of stairs leads to the sanctum sanctorum.
    • Alarge, impressive hall with detailed wooden carvings depicting incidents from the Puranas;
  • Thilai Nataraja Temple:
    • A Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva:
    • Nine gateways, and four of these have gateway towers or gopurams each with 7 storeys facing the East, South, West and North.


  • Pandaya sculptures are beautiful and ornamental.
  • Some sculptures are engraved on single stone. 
  • Sculptures at Kalugumalai, Thirupparankundram, Thiurmalaipuram and Narthamalai are very famous.
  • Famous sculptures:
    • Somaskandar,
    • Durgai,
    • Ganapathy,
    • Narasimha,
    • Nataraja.
  • Vishnu sculpture at Kunnakudi and Nataraja sculpture at Thiurkolakkudi are on par excellence with the sculptures of Pallava, Chola period.

Painting during the Pandyas

  • Several mural painting of the middle of the 9th century existed in the temples excavated in the rock in Thirumalapuram and Sittannavasal.

Thirumalapuram Painting:

  • Traces of early Pandya painting can be seen Thirumalapuram Rock Cut Caves.
  • There are some representations of small secondary deities (gana) on the roof, one of which rides on a mythical lion and others show lotus foliage among which there is a duck treated in a very naturalistic way.
    • These works unfold with confidence in a sober range of colors: white, indigo, black, and light blue.
  • Also on a column’s capital there’s a group of bearded characters (maybe hunters) in the company of girls, a drum player, and several gana dancers all quite dynamic.

Sittanavasal Painting:

  • Though severely damaged, remaining Frescoes have been preserved on the top parts of columns and ceilings inside the cave temple.
    • There are painting fragments in the Jain cavern of Sittannavasal where two superimposed layers of frescoes were discovered as well as an inscription of about the year 850.
  • Pandyan-style frescoes from about 850 are located on the ceiling, walls, and columns of the veranda.
    • One of them represents a couple whose busts appear abundantly jeweled, another represents two female dancers, and a third includes a rather enigmatic composition in which there is a stylized lotus tank inside which there are three men who have taken some flowers, fishes, birds, and several quadrupeds including some elephants.
    • This last fresco of lotus tank was painted in a style related to the Ajanta frescoes and it is so by several peculiarities: attitudes and simplicity of the characters, purity of the line, use of more sustained colors to indicate a modeling, etc.
    • As for the characters of the two other compositions, female dancers and a couple, they are closely related to the Chola paintings and therefore they would be more recent than the lotus tank fresco.
  • The most central and most important fresco in this rock cut cave represents a pond fill with lotuses (Lotus Tank) on the ceilings of ceiling of the sanctum and ardha-mandapam of Cave.
    • Depiction of a lotus tank with natural looking images of monks, animals, flowers, swans, and fishes.
    • This particular scene refers to the Samava-sarvana an important scene in Jain religion.
    • The Samava-sarvana represents a audience hall where Tirthankaras deliver sermons after they reached realization (kevala-gnana).
    • Bulls, elephants, apsaras and gods gathered in this audience hall to witness this grand scene. 
    • Paintings are made with Fresco-secco techniques.
    • The colors used are composed from minerals like white made from lime, black made from wood charcoal, yellow from yellow ochre, red from red ochre, blue from ultramarine\lapis lazuli, and green from terre verte.
    • The decorative paintings, compared to the classical cave painting styles used in the Ajanta Caves, have minor variations in use of the materials for creating the paintings and also reported to provide a link between the Ajanta paintings (4th–6th century AD) and the Chola paintings of 11th century at Thanjavur.
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  • Pillars with figurines of Pandya king Srimara Srivallabha (9th century AD) and his queen offering reverence to Ilam Gautaman, an acharya of Madura who created these paintings.


More details of frescoes from the Sittanavasal cave. Top: An intricate floral pattern. Middle: Women and man dancing. Bottom: An stylized duck.

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