Gopurams - Dravidian Style Hindu Temple Gate Towers
Gopurams are unique to Hindu Temple architecture of Dravidian style, which developed in Southern India and mainly flourished in areas currently within the state of Tamil Nadu. Gopurams are towers found at the entrances provided at the walls encircling the temple complex. Small temples may have only one Gopuram and larger ones would have more. Temples with one enclosure wall around them can have one gate tower on each side. When the temples grew in size, new enclosure walls were added in a concentric manner and the number of gopurams also increased in number. In these cases as a general rule, outer gopurams are taller than the inner ones.
The bottom part of the Gopuram structure is rectangular in plan and rise above the ground vertically. The enrace gate is provided in the centre of this. Above this the gopuram rise up in multiple levels tapered towards the top.
Earliest Dravidian temples did not have Gopurams. They had tower like structures above the sanctuaries. They were called "Vimana" or "Sikara". During the rule of Pallava kings in Tamil Nadu, some temples had incepient forms of gopurams (fig 2). They were very much smaller than the "Vimanas". By 10th century AD, during the reign of Chola kings large temples were built with huge "vimanas" (fig 3), but the "gopurams" were very much smaller in comparision with "vimanas".
Later during 12th century AD under Pandiya dynasty rule, the "gopurams" developed into bigger structures than "vimanas". These later temples had very insignificant "vimanas". Heights of these "Gopurams" or Gate Towers incresed further and during Vijayanagara rule and later under Nayakkar rule big temples had many and very tall gate houses.
Sculptures depicting various religious stories had been included in all levels of gopurams during later periods. These include Goods and Godesses, Human, animals, birds and other objects.