Temple Architecture              

Basically, temple architecture tradition of Kerala comes within the mainstream of Indian temple building tradition. Though, in the detailed articulation of its formal structure Kerala temple follows its own indigenous methods, the basic conceptions are not something different or extraneous from the total cultural developments of the mainland. It has been rightly observed that, "the temple as an institution, was an Aryan gift to the south India and that the so-called Kerala school is responsible only for covering the product of the Dravidian tradition."

Temples in Kerala used to be called in earlier times as mukkalvattom. Later they came to be called ambalam or kshetram or sometimes tali. The Kerala temple has srikovil as its main core, which usually stands in east-west axis and the plan may be square, rectangular, circular, elliptical or apsidal ground plan. Compared to the other temple styles in the mainland like Dravida, nagara and vasara, Kerala temple tradition has distinct characteristics especially in their formal structure. The architectural style of Kerala temples has an inherent simplicity which becomes very conspicuous when juxtaposed to the exuberance of the nagara, vasara and Dravida temple styles. In explaining this, influence of the natural environment upon the temple form has to be recognized along with the socio-historical developments. "In its original forms (architecture) is closely bound to the earth; is subject to the needs of society; is faithful to a programme. It erects its great monuments beneath a known sky and in a known climate upon a soil which furnishes particular material and no other." The basic relationship of the particular landscape which contains and holds the respective architectural form is a major deciding factor. Between the two, an organic unity and balance exist, which keep on interacting with each other. The environmental space which envelopes the architecture has a major role in the articulation of architectural form. This interdependence or the reciprocal relationship between environment and architecture can be further noticed in the construction of superstructures in Kerala temples. The two monsoons a year, and the moisture of Kerala weather has a direct bearing on the use of sloping roofs and the selection of raw materials by which the superstructure is being constructed.

The superstructure as a conspicuous example, shows an accurate usage of indigenous raw materials like timber and tiles to go with the climate conditions. Vast majority of temples have their bases built of granite, the walls made either of wood, bricks and stucco, or laterite; the sloping superstructure made of wooden planks, tiles or sheet metal on timber frames, are adopted to suit the high rainfall of the region. The roof timbers rest directly on the wall and coverage in gable form to meet at the top. The roofing material covering the timber framework is clinker built. It is made up of wooden planks overlapping one another, and covered over by clinker tiles or tiles highly heated in kilns with a glazy smooth surface that makes them water proof. The details given above substantiate that the raw materials used are meant to withstand the damp weather.

A truly indigenous contribution to the mainstream of Indian architectural tradition is the circular temples. The ponderous appeal of the sloping conical superstructure above the circular basement and walls is a clear testimony of the local idiom. Further, the edge of the superstructure comes down to join the socle in hugging the earth. The height of the superstructure is further softened by the circular moulded bands which function to accent down the verticality and emphasize the horizontality. The symmetry of the circle does not hamper fine nuances and modulations of the wall below. The spread of the conical roof above the wide cylinder, formed by the circular wall gives to the structure at the same time, a buoyant lift and a light winged aeriality. As a matter of fact, conical roof is the most satisfactory logical solution for the enclosure built on a circular plan. In few cases, the rhythm of the circular temples are further extended into elliptical shape.

In the case of rectangular or square based temples the four sided pyramidal roof is favoured. This has hipped ends on each of its two sides and the ridge of the roof running breadthwise is extended beyond the hipped end and carried with it the upper most part of the roof which thus forms a widely projected gable. "The concave curve, however so slight, was introduced to redeem an all too stark rigidity of angles, the convex curve such as might have resulted in this kind of roof construction, as it does, for example in the rural houses and temples of Bengal, found relatively little favour in Kerala." This tendency to relax the linear vigor and produce a slightly concave sky line, is a feature which is also found in Nepalese tradition.

Unlike the other architectural traditions in the mainland the design of Kerala temples shows a close similarity with the domestic architecture of the region. The earliest studies of Kerala temples include references to houses, with Stella Kramrisch pointing out the nalukettu and ettukettu houses, with four or eight wings, apartments or rooms, were built according to requirements of the classical Vastusastra, the architectural treatise. This closesness of layout between the secular and religious architecture are not in fact uncommon when we consider other traditions all round the world. In fact, the major architectural traditions like Greek, Japanese, Chinese and Islamic; show the evidences of this inter-relationship. Further, the first mosque in Arabia was designed after the prophet's house. In Kerala, however, logical hypotheses are needed to identify any sort of relationship between the two. The surviving Nair houses have many structural elements like raised foundations, wall and ceiling carvings, steeply sloping roofs, etc., that are reminiscent of temple architecture. The building materials used in the sacred and domestic architecture, viz., timber, laterite, brick and stucco are also the same, and thus create identical textural surfaces. Most conspicuous similarity between the two is in the presence of the inner courtyard that is open to the sky. The courtyard in both the cases is depressed slightly, but in the case of temple design it encloses the srikovil and provides space for circumambulation while in domestic types, it is entirely an open space except for the presence of a pedestal to grow the sacred tulasi plant. Functionally, space thus constructed within the architecture provides the interior with proper air and light. Here, the light is being enclosed in the architectural form and its rays, streaming forth at predetermined points are compressed, and attenuated and thus creating an air of openness within the architectural complex.

The development of structural complexity in later periods is managed without ostentation. Temple extends horizontally always hugging the earth, the structure emerging according to its precise functional needs, their spacing, creating an elegant rhythm and repose. Thus, the whole growth is organic and the final complex, bright, spacious and airy.

Historical Evolution of Kerala Temples

Scholars find that study of the stylistic development of Kerala temples problematic, due to various reasons. "Notwithstanding acknowledged early origin of good number of Kerala temples, especially those which had the special merit of having been visited and sung by the vaishnavite hymnist (alwars) siants of Tamil Nadu, the actual forms of the temples today belie their true antiquity by the renovations and modifications that have taken place from time, that obscure the original format."

Most of the temples, some with original adisthana, dating from eighth-nineth centuries of the Christian era, have considerably renovated superstructures, and as a result do not reveal much of their original forms. Moreover, the inscriptions in Kerala temples are often restricted only to the plinth of the temples. This is so because the very format of the temples largely using laterite, stucco and timber prevent epigraph from being engraved on the body of the temple. Thus, absence of any clear cut date of the subsequent renovations largely diminish their use as historiographic material, however, quite a few early records engraved on the temple mouldings can be cited.

Inscriptional evidences of the nineth-tenth centuries, clearly inform us of the beginning of temple building in Kerala. The cave temples of seventh-eighth centuries in Kerala on hard granite medium imbibe direct inspiration from Tamil country especially the Pandyas of Madurai through the passes in the Western Ghats which link Kerala with Tamil plains. Nevertheless, Kerala rock-cut architecture could evolve certain distinct mannerisms of its own. When we view the Kerala tradition of rock-cut architecture in the wider context of the mainland, i.e., in comparison to the rock-cut architecture of Mahabalipuram, Ellora or Elephanta, it is seen that the quantum of its contribution is minimal. This is due to the limitation of the very granite medium used. The Kerala temple tradition could, however, overcome this limitation in the subsequent centuries by making use of the indigenous raw materials like timber, brick and stucco laterite etc., which formed more versatile media, functionally as well as structurally.

Kerala cave temples, of which ten exist, are distributed accordingly in three groups. The southernmost group consists of those at Tirunandikara, Vizhinjam, Tuvarankad, and Bhutapandi. The central group consists of the temples at Kaviyur, Kottukal and Airurpara. The northern group form those at Irunilamcode, Trikkur and Bharatanpara.

All the cave temples in the southern group are examples of one called shrines, mostly enshrining a lingam. The best example of this group is the niche cave on a boulder at Vizhinjam, the capital of Ay rulers, a sea port and the scene of battles between Pandyas and Ay Kings. This cave has unfinished reliefs of Siva Kirata Murti and Siva dancing with Parvati. Some scholars hold the view that the bas-reliefs of Vizhinjam with their slender forms and rhythmic lines, show Pallava affinities.

From the central Kerala group, the one at Kaviyur (later half of eighth century) is a well finished example, the reliefs of which shows a mature plastic tradition. This saivite cave comprises of a shrine with a linga, an ardhamandpam and a pillared facade, all arranged axially facing the west. The floor of the cave is a few feet above the natural ground level and is approached by a flight of steps. The two pillars in the facade divide the breadth of the cave into three openings of an almost equal distance from one another. Walls of this spacious ardhamandapam contain reliefs of the donor or chieftain, a bearded rishi, a seated four armed Ganesa, and the dwarapalas. The style of these sculptures clearly shows an indubitable Pandyan influence. Sarkar points out the close resemblance between the dwarapala figure at Kaviyur and the one noticed at Sevelpatti and Tirumalapura, both in the Pandyan territory. Soundara Rajan also has the same opinion, and goes further to say that, "the examples of the central Kerala groups have strong Pandyan influence, except for two factors: the lingam is often of the arsha type with a tapering top and the pitha is of multiple cut stone masonry blocks and these distinctive features link them closely and directly with Pandyan country. There are the carving of ascetic like figures on the side walls of the mandapam, the provision of a separate pedestal for the niche carving is however, original to Kaviyur." The majority of the cave temples of both southern and central Kerala are inspired by the saivite movement like those of the Pandyan country. But there is at least one cave dedicated to Vishnu at Alagiapandipuram (Kanyakumari district).

Saivism dominated the northern group as well. The most important and the largest of the northern group is the one at Trikkur. Its outstanding features are its detachable lingam on a monolithic square pitha, the orientation of the waterchuts of the pitha to the north of the entrance direction of the cave, thus making the linga itself face east, the carving of the dwarapala in three quarter relief on the side walls of the cellar chamber and not on the outer walls flanking the door, the cellar being entered not by a single door but by a pillared facade with three bays whose pillars have a taranga or wavy corbel of the vaulted type. Ganesa sculpture in the northwest cellar wall shows familiarity of the artist with the Pandyan usages, and thus making the cave shrine ascribably to the early eighth century.

Unlike in other parts of the country, the origin of rock-cut architectural tradition and that of the structural temple tradition are more or less coeval in Kerala. Even from the very early stage, that is from eighth century, we get evidences of not only square and rectangular temples, but also circular, apsidal, and rarely elliptical temples. Nowhere else in India do the circular shrine constitute such a dominant type of ground plan as in Kerala. Vastusastras, known from about sixth century in the mainland, treat in detail the circular temples and their various types. Outside Kerala, however, very few circular temples are known to exist, although the walls of the earlier structural temple yet seen at Bairat, Rajasthan, of the third century B.C. is circular. In the medieval period temples of Chousat yoginies were built in the circular ground plan. These examples are found at Bairagat in Madhya Pradesh and Hirapur in Orissa. However, these temples are open to the sky or hypaethral in type, except for the cloistered space, which display the sixty-four forms of Devi.

The original source of the circular temple in Kerala is still a controversial issue among scholars. A number of scholars, like Sarkar holds the view of the Buddhist origin of the circular plan. He provides the evidence that the southern part of Kerala where Buddhism had a strong hold shows comparatively large number of circular temples. Another viewpoint in this regard is that circular temples with a garbhagriha surrounded by one or two rows of columns bear some similarity to the circular Buddhist temples of Sri Lanka, known as vatadaga. There is a strong tradition in Kerala about the migration of Ezhavas from Sri Lanka and these people might have popularized this type of architecture which in course of time got mingled with the Brahmanical tradition. Kramrisch on the other hand, holds the view of an indigenous origin. She mentions that the prototype of the circular temples has to be seen in the circular huts set up by some of the primitive people of Kerala. She points out two instances in this regard. The tribe known as Malampandaram lives in circular or conical huts, and the tribe known as Ullatas set up circular structures for ritual occasions.

Attention has frequently been drawn to the similarity of certain Napalese structures and the pent or multiple sloping roof of temples of Kerala, thus ascribing the origin of such superstructures to foreign sources. According to Kramrisch, no influence should be seen in the affinity of these buildings. In both the countries the perennial Indian tradition is living, and both are rich in the use of wood.Brown searches for links to Saurashtra and to Kashmir temples like Pandrenthan and Martand. In fact, temples having a square plan and a double or triple sloping roof exist in stone form not only in Kashmir from the eighth century, but also in Saurashtra of the Maitraka age. Vastusastra also classifies these temples and names them after mountain peaks Himavan, and Malayavan or Shringavan if there is but one peaked roof (Vishnu Dharmotra Purana 3rd, LXXXVI). Both Soundara Rajan and Sarkar hold the view that Kerala temples are local adaptations of the south Indian temple architectural tradition, and the divergences in the structural form were introduced primarily to counteract the heavy rainfall of the region. Bernier also endorses the same possibility. Sarkar moreover goes to the extent of saying that similarities with the Himalayan architectural tradition is a superficial one due to the use of sloping roofs on wooden frame.

The temples with apsidal ground plan of some of the Kerala temples, however can easily be associated in their structural similarity, with the Buddhist chaitya halls found elsewhere in the mainland. The origin of such structures could be ascribed to the Buddhist influence.

Before going into the actual discussion of the architectural phases, it is necessary to keep in mind that Dravida and indigenous Kerala types of architecture co-existed and had simultaneous development in the same land from the eighth century. The Dravida school of architecture shows a concentration in the southern part of the state, which from the very early period was under consistent Tamil influence.

In the north Kerala, on the other hand, a building tradition existed truly at home. As observed by Kramrisch, the origins of indigenous architecture may be in the tribal forms. Temple architecture of Kerala is classified into three stages of developments by H. Sarkar. The discussion below takes into consideration those three phases of temple architecture in Kerala.

Early Phase (A.D. 800-1000)

Kerala Style

Construction of the structural temples which began in the eighth century A.D. was patronized by Cera, Ay and Mushaka Kings. The ruler and the leading chiefs and landholders vied with one another in liberal endowments for the construction and maintenance of the temples. Apart from this, the inflow of wealth into the country arising from Kerala's prosperous overseas trade had brought into existence, an affluent mercantile community during this period. A vast majority of the ancient temples that we find in Kerala today had their origin during this period. Various types of temple structure, like square, circular and apsidal originated during this period. The presence of sapta matrika images datable to this period also proves the prevalence of rectangular shrines. According to Sarkar square vimanas antidates the other ones because all the cave temples conform to this type.

Tradition associates Kulasekhara Alwar with the construction of the Krishna temple at Tirukulasekharapuram near Tiruvanjikulam. An inscription found at the courtyard of the present temple there, records some gifts offered in the 195th year of the construction of the shrine. This gives roughly nineth century as the date of the first construction of the temple. A still clearer evidence comes from the Siva temple at Trikkandiyur. An inscription from this temple is stated to have been dated in the 123rd year of the God at Trikkandiyur which is equivalent to 823 A.D. Further, Kizhtali Siva temple at Tirukulasekharapuram, Siva temple at Tali, Lakshminarayana Shrine in the Ayyappan temple complex at Panniyur, Siva temple in the Ganapati kshetram at Indyanur, Mahadeva temple at Kazhakuttam, ruined Vishnu temple at Eramam, Rajarajeswara temple at Tiruchambaram are associated with inscriptions or sculptures ascribably to the nineth or tenth century A.D. As mentioned earlier, the original forms of all these temples cannot be visualized due to subsequent renovations done thereon. The characteristics of the present structure of most of these temples are, two storeyed vimanas consisting of a square garbhagriha with a circumambulatory path all around, an ardha-mandapa and a narrower maha-mandapa.

From the early phase, we also find temples built on circular ground plans. The ruined Siva temple at Pulpully, Narayankannur temple at Ramantali, Siva temple, Kaviyur, ruined temple at Perumpazhutur near Neyyattinkara are examples of this. Ramantali temple is associated with two inscriptions, one dated to A.D. 928, and the other to A.D. 1132. In this circular temple, the outer circular wall encloses the circular garbhagriha which has been transferred internally into a square. The outer wall on all sides has functional doors, a feature shared by a temple type known in the ancient Vastusastra as the Sarvatobhadra temple. This particular feature, irrespective of the ground plan followed, is a stylistic peculiarity of the early and middle phase temples built in Kerala.

According to the inscriptional evidence, the apsidal temples were also built during this phase. The Siva temple at Trikkandiyur and Kalasamharamurti temple at Triprangod and Ayyappan shrine in the Karikkad, kshetram at Manjeri have retained their adhishtana which are now being used as their upapithas. These apsidal shrines situated close to each other in the Valluvanad region form a group and probably owe their origin to some particular line of rulers who favoured apsidal temples and gajaprastakara superstructure. Further, these early ground plans form a breadth to length ratio 1:1.5 which in the later periods became 1:1, transforming the elongated plan into semi-circular.

Dravida Style

Apart from the Kerala style temples, there are a few temples built in the Dravida style also of this phase. Dravida temples of this phase are being preserved as small shrines, consisting of a cell having a superstructure and sometimes with a porch. The temples at Vizhinjam of nineth century are based on a square plan built in brick and stone. Their original form unlike the indigenous Kerala temples of this phase are preserved and thus facilitate a study of its structure.

In Vizhinjam, the base, the pilasters and pillars in the corners, the porch as well as the entablature and roll cornices are of stone. The walls are of brick masonry and also the superstructure. The superstructure has a square dome shape, together with its dormer windows and finial like portion, all of which are solid. The superstructures have projected niche in the centre. They are overshadowed by a deep and long roll cornice and this has a lowering effect on the superstructure. All these structures are set up on a very wide terrace.

Guhanathaswamy temple of tenth century at Kanyakumari does not represent a development of the type of temples built in Vizhinjam. It is another kind of temple, larger and more ornate. Its ground plan shows a difference in its original purpose. While Vizhinjam temple houses nothing but a small cubic space, the Guhanathaswamy temple comprises a hall within an interior, and in its centre is a small sanctuary the superstructure of which is destroyed. Structural halls used as temples, such as this example, are described in the Samaranganasutradhara (Ch. XLIX) of eleventh century. The Guhanathaswamy temple is akin to hall temples at Pudukkottai and the Siva temple at Mangudi. Temple at Parthivasekharapuram of tenth century A.D. has to be taken as a development from the Vizhinjam type of temples. Because of its flat ceiling, the three stroyed pyramidal superstructure becomes invisible from inside. The three storeys consist on each level of an interior prism of stone masonry to which is attached a parapet composed of small shrines. The square stone kuts on the top without enrichment is similar to those of Vizhinjam.

Middle Phase (A.D. 1000-1300)

Interesting developments occurred in the layout of the structural temple patterns during this period. Kerala temples of this phase represent the synthesis of the two styles-Dravida and Kerala. The former represented by its miniature vimana form housed inside a Kerala styled temple with sloping roofs. Thus, the inner garbhagriha or the core temple has become completely a separate entity with its own characteristics and sometimes with exclusive flight of steps. Invariably, it is an example of miniature Dravida vimanas, either circular or apsidal in plan with an independent griva and sikhara, and occasionally it has its own adisthana and other components peculiar to a south Indian temple. The type thus accepted as the most suitable one which basically did not violate the architectural norms of the mainland and together with the essentially and invariably utilitarian indigenous types, both secular and religious. The double walled vimana type of the earlier period got more elaboration which makes the characteristic feature of this middle phase. Moreover, as a support for the superstructure the inner wall together with the outer wall touches it and so creates a pradakshinapatha around the garbhagriha. Yet another distinguishing mark of the middle phase is the existence of double pradakshinapatha around the srikovil distinct from the uncovered one around the srikovil. Further, one notices the continuation of the earlier Sarvatobhadra type of srikovil in this phase too.

Kerala Style

Kerala style temples ascribed to the middle phase, as in the early period, continued to be built variously on four sided, circular and apsidal ground plan. The Subramanya shrine at Manjeri with an inscription of the twelfth century on the stone adhisthana, is a circular double storeyed vimana of the Sarvatobhadra type having four functional doors. The pradakshinapatha around the square garbhagriha inside has a row of twelve columns. Of the same period is the Siva temple of the Tirunelli. The circular inner shrine has a pradakshinapatha all around. The inside of the sreekovil is transformed into a square and it has an octagonal griva and sikhara constructed on corbelled arch. The small inner shrine was enclosed by an outer circular wall now represented simply by granite adhisthana.

The middle phase witnessed spectacular growth in the temple architecture of Kerala. Many new temples were built, and quite a good number as various temple inscriptions show, underwent renovations. Many an important shrines of today had their beginnings in this phase. For example, the Vadakkumnatha shrine in the Vadakkumnatha temple complex of Trissoor, and the Irattayappan temple at Peruvanam had their beginnings in the middle phase. Both are circular shrines (enclosing a square Dravida vimana as the garbhagriha) with two and three functional doors respectively.

The miniature Dravida vimana as the garbhagriha was incorporated into the apsidal temples also. The apsidal vimana temple at Kizhavellur, with an inscription of 1035 A.D. is a characteristic example of this type. Built of laterite slabs, this temple houses have an apsidal garbhagriha with a gajaprastakara roof above it. A row of fourteen columns runs along with the pradakshinapatha and thus divides it into two.

By the end of thirteenth century and beginning of fourteenth century A.D. several dvitala temples also came into existence. The Siva temple at Tiruvanjikulam is one of the most ornate specimens, and retains many of its older features despite the subsequent renovations.

Dravida Style

Along side the Kerala style of temples, few south Indian temple types were also built during this phase. On the whole, the Dravida temples in Kerala of this phase do not show much development from the previous phase. The Parasurama temple at Tiruvallam, with an inscription of thirteenth century consists of a circular shrine combined with a rectangular mandapa. This temple of granite has renovated superstructure of a later period. Another example of the Dravida vimana of this phase is the Kattilmadam at Chalapuram. It is a square nirandhara temple built in Dravida style with octagonal sikhara, made of one piece of stone. The Niramankara temple of eleventh century A.D. is raised on a circular paved disc which forms the outer path of circumambulation. This sandharaprasada has an inner covered ambulatory in addition to the one outside. The inner wall of the inner shrine is of square plan and is surmounted by an octagonal sikhara.

Late Phase (A.D. 1300-1800)

In thirteenth-fourteenth centuries, when the state underwent a political revival, rising out of which, a technical indigenization of its art idioms was consciously adapted in such a way that it did not violate either the earlier architectural tradition or the essential character and symbolism of the cult traditions of Kerala. And thus, the developments which took place in the earlier periods has got further elaboration and enrichment.

Kerala Style

The temples from fourteenth century show more elaboration in the layout (panchaprakara scheme); finally resulting in a conventionalization of the instruments and concepts of temple modelling in the late medieval period. In regard to the general plan of the individual shrines, no further developments can be noticed. But the layout of the entire complex has developed into greater complexity and elaboration. The conception of panchaprakara scheme of temple building with the antaramandalam (called in Malayalam as akatte balivattam), antahara (chuttambalam or nalambalam), mahdyahara (vilakkumadam) bahyahara (seevelipura) and marvada (puramadil) led the temples into greater complexity in structure and layout. In architectural layout of such an evolved Kerala temple, the srikovil forms the nucleus while the other components like the open air pradakshinapatha, the nalambalam, the vilakkumadam, the paved outer pradakshinavazhy, koothambalam and prakaras are aligned in orderly succession centering the main shrine. In some temples, especially in south Kerala, there is another pillared structure, the balikkalmandapam in front of the valiyambalam providing the main entrance into the temple proper. In front of the balikkalmandapam in some cases the dwajastambham and deepastambham also can be seen. The large edifice, the koothambalam meant for the performance of visual arts also can be seen in some large temple complexes.

The last phase also witnesses the concept of composite shrine, as well as the practice of dedicating one complex to more than one God. The number of sub-shrines in some examples increased to no less than ten as in the case of the Siva temple at Trikkandiyur. Along with the elaboration in the temple layout, other arts like mural painting and wood carving also got much attention in this phase. The earlier tradition of having functional doors on all the four sides was eliminated in this final phase.

Standard silpa texts on the architecture of Kerala are the Tantrasamuchayam, Manushyalaya Chandrika, of fifteenth century, and the Silparatna of Srikumara of sixteenth century. It is interesting to find that these have a decidedly local slant and can be considered as having been compiled for local or regional guidance. A case in point is Tantrasamuchayam which is primarily intended for Kerala region and spells out the regional architecture in its most outstanding features.

Due to various reasons, one of the most important of temple complexes of this period is the Vadakkumnatha temple at Trissoor. As one of the most unique ancient temples of Kerala, Vadakkkumnatha temple has all the features attributable to a temple which has all the elements of the panchaprakara scheme. Moreover, this temple complex is a clear testimony of the synthesis and co-existence of various Brahmanical cults, as evinced from the cult images and ritual practices seen there. The temple complex stands on a hillock in the centre of the Trissoor town. According to the inscriptional evidences, the temple is known to have been in existence from A.D. twelfth century, though its foundation could have been much older. This complex is a clear evidence to the ever-expanding structural vistas in accordance to the evolving functional needs.

In the Vadakkumnatha complex the three independent srikovils in north-south axis, are being dedicated respectively to Siva, Sankaranarayana and Rama. These are enclosed by a common enclosure (nalambalam). The circular srikovil of Siva, northern most of the row has its garbhagriha divided by a transverse diagonal wall. The western half dedicated to Siva has its own door opening and flight of steps in front with a detached namaskara mandapam. The eastern half is dedicated to Parvati, with the door opening on the east. The northern and southern cardinal points have ghanadwaras. On the stone adisthana, the outer sanctum wall and the prastara shows the characteristic reliefs of pilasters, and miniature shrines of the kuta, sala and panjara models. The slopy conical roof of metal sheet covers these by its over-hanging caves supported by brackets sprung from the walls at intervals. The inner wall, rising further above the outer wall, carries the immense conical roof or sikhara with a single metal stupi on the top.

The southern most of the group is the temple dedicated to Rama, square in plan, with its adhistana, walls and prastara reliefs on the side and the rear faces, corresponding to the door opening on the west, have ghanadwaras inset between the pilasters carrying the sala motif on top. The corner bays have the karnakutas at the corners and the intervening ones, the panjaras. The recesses have lesser shrine motifs on paired pilasters. These kuta, sala, panjara reliefs are over shadowed by over hanging caves of the pent roof slopping down from hooks and beams set higher upon the face of the inner wall and resting on the wall plate on the outer wall. The over-hanging caves are further supported by wooden brackets from the top region of the outer wall. The inner wall rises upto a further level carrying the sikhara covered with metal sheets, with a stupi on the top.

The Sankaranarayana shrine which stands between the Siva and Rama temple, is a two-storeyed circular shrine. Its adisthana and wall are likewise relieved, the larger bays in the middle of the north-east and south sides being sala patterns with a false door inside a stambha torana, front with makara arch on the top. The other bays correspond to the kuta or panjara patterns _ all two-storied models _ while the recesses have again such two storeyed models of lesser size with salasikhara motifs on top of shorter and more closely set pairs of pilasters. The walls of the Sankaranarayana shrine is decorated with mural paintings, ascribable to seventeenth century. On the southern side of Siva shrine, on the floor of the open court, is the saptamatrika group which are being represented by a row of padma pithas which is a characteristic feature of Kerala temples. All the three shrines have square namaskara mandapa on the west. Inside the cloister, is another stone shrine, dedicated to Ganapati, which stands in between the Siva and Sankaranarayana shrines. The nalambalam or pillared corridor, surrounding the nuclear group has on its outside a larger and wider open court, with a paved cirucumambulatory passage. The lesser shrines for subsidiary deities like Krishna, Nandi, Parasurama, and Sastha are also located in the outer court. The shrine of Sastha on the southwest is an elegant, small east-facing ektala, apsidal structure. In the north-west corner of the outer court is the large koothambalam. The whole complex is surrounded by a massive stone prakara, with four-storeyed gateways on the four cardinal sides with slopy gable roofs, standing as good examples of gopuram construction in the Kerala style.

Dravida Style

Like Kerala temples, Dravida temples of this phase also developed into greater complexity and elaboration which was directly following the mainland developments. Belonging to this period are the Sthanunathaswamy temple at Suchindram of sixteenth century. Very interestingly, according to the inscriptions, the srikovils of this temple belong to nineth century A.D. The lofty enclosures and gopurams of later period practically hides behind them the main temples, as is the case with Dravida temples of the same phase in the mainland. Highly ornate gopurams, sculptured corridors and balikkalmandapam broadens the temple layout resulting in a grandeur appeal, which is conspicuous when compared to the Kerala style temples. The navaratri mandapam (festival hall) in Suchindram is a clear cut example of the last phase of Dravida architecture in Kerala. Its pillars with dipalakshmis carved on it, do not support flat ceiling as is usual, but a coffered one, raised above the beams by a bracket construction which has the shape of four sided collar ceiling. In every detail, the example of wooden constructions is imitated in the stone as a continuation of ancient practice of architectural transformation from wood to stone. Building and carving in wood were the contribution of the indigenous craftsmen to the art of Kerala, to their Dravida temples the Kerala craftsmen have contributed the living practice of their country, which has determined certain modifications in Dravida architectural form as adapted in Kerala.