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Gopurams - Dravidian Style Hindu Temple Gate Towers

Updated on March 14, 2009
Gopuram of a Temple at Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, India.
Gopuram of a Temple at Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, India.

Introduction

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.

History

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".

Picture on the left shows the close-up view of the small gopuram shown in the fig.2. Picture on the right shows a huge "Vimana" built during 10th century AD.
Picture on the left shows the close-up view of the small gopuram shown in the fig.2. Picture on the right shows a huge "Vimana" built during 10th century AD.

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.

Left: Famous Temple at Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. Right: A Temple Gopuram at Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, India.
Left: Famous Temple at Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. Right: A Temple Gopuram at Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, India.

 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.

Closer view of a Gopuram showing colourful sculptures.
Closer view of a Gopuram showing colourful sculptures.

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    • profile image

      kalem 2 years ago

      awesome

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      TMac50 4 years ago

      Thanks for this great site :)

    • plutopanes profile image

      plutopanes 6 years ago from revolving round the sun

      This was wonderful. i am researching more before my travels. great work.

    • profile image

      Anusha 6 years ago

      the article was very helpful thanx......

    • profile image

      DINESH  6 years ago

      NICE INFORMATION

    • profile image

      srishti 6 years ago

      kash hame bhi moka mile aisa kuch krne ka....................

    • profile image

      karthik 7 years ago

      this is good article..................about the gopuram's

      i liked it very much...............................

    • profile image

      BON QUIQUIT 7 years ago

      THAT IS AN ALSOME SCULPTURE THE PEOPLE DID........

    • Rmnathan profile image
      Author

      Rmnathan 7 years ago from Sharjah

      I visited Srirangam in 2003. Unfortunately I was unable to shoot a good photo of that impressive Gopuram.

    • sparkee profile image

      sparkee 7 years ago from Saarbrucken, Germany

      nice work dude...

      put Srirangam Temple photo and details.

      That has the largest functioning Hindu Temple Gopuram in the World.

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      Ravi 7 years ago

      Very good article. I liked photos very well.

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      raj 7 years ago

      good ..