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The koil in Tamil Nadu and kovil of Ceylon has a long history and has always been associated with the ruler of the time. Most kings patronised temple building in their kingdom, and attached water tanks and villages to the shrine to administer. Temples not only acted as the places of worship, but as civic centres for the population, providing local services to the community in the form of hospitals, education institutions, sports and art academies. The local population is fed at the end of each poosai with monetary endowments made to the shrine.
Ancient Tamils were among the greatest of temple builders. The Sangam literature scripted before the common era refers to some of the temples the early kings of Tamilakam erected. The songs of the revered Shaiva Nayanars and the Vaishnava Alvar saints that date back to the period 6th to the 9th century CE provide ample references to the temples of that period. Stone inscriptions found in most temples have revealed the patronage extended to them by various rulers.
The most ancient temples were built of brick and mortar. Up to about 700 CE temples were mostly of the rock-cut type. The Pallava kings were great builders of temples in stone. The Chola dynasty (850-1279 CE) left a number of monuments to their credit such as the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur. The Cholas added many ornate mandpams or halls to temples and constructed large towers. The Pandya style (until 1350 CE) saw the emergence of huge towers, high wall enclosures and enormous towered gateways. The Vijayanagar Style (1350 - 1560 CE) is famous for the intricacy and beauty especially for the decorated monolithic pillars. The Nayak style (1600 - 1750 CE) is noted for the addition of large prakaram(outer courtyard) (circumambulatory paths) and pillared halls.
In modern formal speech, Koils are referred to as Aalayams. To Saivites, the foremost Kovils are Chidambaram temple and Koneswaram temple while for Vaishnavites, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam and Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, Tirupati are viewed as equally important.
See also 
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