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Osian Sun temple, 700s AD

Osian Sun temple, 700s AD

Two styles of temples: north and south

By the 700s AD, after the collapse of the Guptan Empire, there were two different styles of temple-building in India, a north Indian style and a south Indian style.

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The North Indian style

This temple from Osian shows the north Indian style. It has a high tower called a shikhara, and an open porch for visitors to the temple, called a mandapa. North Indian temples also had a high porch, like earlier Etruscan and Roman temples. They had flat stone roofs.

Brihidesvara Temple (1000s AD)

Brihidesvara Temple (Orisa, 1000s AD)

The South Indian style

In south India, about 1000 AD, the Chola king Rajaraja the Great (his name means King-king) built a very big temple to the Hindu god Shiva. South India was richer than North India, so they could build bigger buildings.

Chola empire in south India

Like the northern temples, this southern temple has a shikhara (tower). But this tower is much higher – thirteen stories high! The southern temple is also much longer than the northern one. It has several porches (mandapas) on the front instead of only one.

Like the northern temples, the southern temples also have flat stone roofs. This temple is about fifty feet high, not counting the tower. (Compare this to Romanesque churches in Europe built about the same time, or to the Fatimid mosques in Egypt.)

More about Romanesque churches
St. Germain des Pres
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Fatimid mosques in Egypt

Because it is so hot and sunny most of the time in southern India, the architects wanted to keep the sun out, so the temple would stay cool. It was different than in cold, dark northern Europe, where Gothic architects wanted to let in light.

Why didn’t India use steel for building?

By 1061 AD, India was a leading manufacturer of steel. Some builders in India started to use a new method of building using iron beams to replace wooden beams, because wooden beams were very hard to get in India.

History of steel

One example is Brahmeshwar temple in eastern India at Orissa. This might have led to reinforced steel buildings, except that steel was also very expensive – smiths didn’t know how to make large amounts of steel cheaply yet.

Learn by doing: find a big building near you with wooden beams. Where did the wood come from?
More about Indian Architecture (the Muslim conquest)
More about the Chola kings

Bibliography and further reading about medieval Indian architecture:

More about Indian Architecture (the Muslim conquest)
And more about the Chola kings
More about ancient India home