etat anishTakam adrumam aloham asudham vichitrachittena nirmaapita nrpeNa brahmeshvara vishNu lakshita aayatanam
This temple (aayatanam) called Lakshita was commissioned (nirmaapita) by the king(nrpeNA) VichitraChitta (a title of Mahendra Pallava) for Brahma, Ishvara and Vishnu, without brick (anishTakam), without wood (adrumam), without metal (aloham) and without mortar (asudham)
Chitta means Thinker; Vichitra means both Beautiful and Strange. VichitraChitta is a title for the playful and inventive spirit of Mahendra Pallava, and his sculptors.
The inscription also tells us of earlier temples that were built of perishable metals such as wood, mortar and brick.
Subsequent Chola, Pandya inscriptions tell us of many brick temples that were rebuilt as stone temples.
From records of travellers like Megasthenes and Hiuen Tsang, we know that wood and brick temples proliferated all over India.
Stone temples from the Gupta age are found all over India.
We see three types of temples:
- Excavated cave temple
- Single stone temples (monoliths)
- Structural temples
There are a number of Buddhist, Jain, Hindu cave temples (and two Ajivaka caves) in rocky hills far away from cities, all over India.
Monoliths are few and far between. Structural temples, that is temples created by aligning cut blocks of rock, then sculpted and embellished, are the most common, popular and durable types of temples.
Materials, too, vary by region. Sandstone temples are common in northern Karnataka, Orissa, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, granite in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, basalt in Maharashtra and Telengana, soapstone in southern Karnataka, and timber in rainy or hilly areas like Kerala and Himachal Pradesh.
The earliest surviving stone temples, even the small ones, are quite well developed. They have several features that remind us of their wood and brick predecessors.
The simplest temples have a sanctum and an ardha-mandapa (Dravida) or antarala (Naagara).
Larger temples have an additional maha-mandapa, and, perhaps, one or more mandapas.
Often, these are nrtta or nata mandiras, for ceremonial dance. Frequently, marvelous sculptures adorn them. Orissa temples have a bhoga mandapa, where a number of food items are offered to the deity.
Some Nagari mahamandapas have beautifully decorated windows; others elaborate porticos, which focus light on the main deity.
The largest temples have a saandhaara passage, an inner circumambulatory corridor around the sanctum.
Some Pallava temples — Kanchi Vaikuntha, Uthiramerur Sundara Varada; and Pandya temples — Madurai Koodal Azhagar, Cheranmaadevi Ramaswamy — are three tiered.
There are three sanctums, one above the other inside a single vimanam, featuring one murthy of Vishnu each in standing, sitting and reclining positions.
Internal staircases are brilliantly designed to accommodate these.
Later, smaller parivaara shrines or other adjunct mandapas have also been built. The Vijayanagar kings, and their governors, the Nayaks of Madurai, Tanjavur, Gingee and Mysore, built enormous thousand-pillar halls, famous in Madurai and Srirangam.