Pandyan art and architecture

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vettuvan Koil in Kalugumalai, Pandyan architecture, 8th century CE

The Pandyan empire is believed to have first emerged circa 600 BC and was one of the leading Tamil dynasties of Southern India.[1] There were various forms of art and many architectural communities within the empire, and their work was sold to overseas markets.[2] Rock cutting and structural temples are examples of these, playing a significant role in Pandyan culture.[3] The rock carvings typically depicted religious figures, floral motifs and animals and were made to surround temples and shrines.[4]

The vimana, gopuram and mandapa are some of the predominant features of the early Pandyan temples.[5] Groups of small temples are seen at the Tiruchirappalli district of Tamil Nadu.[1] In the later stages of Pandyan rule, finely sculptured idols, gopurams and vimanas were developed. Gopurams are the rectangular entrance and portals of the temples.[6][7]

Pandyan Art and Architecture
Years active3rd century BCE - 14th century CE
InfluencesDeities of Hinduism: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.

Other integral art forms of these Pandyan communities were the paintings, poetry, music and punch-marked coins, each with symbols and transcriptions holding meaning to society.[8][9][10]


Four-armed Vishnu, Pandya Dynasty, 8th–9th century CE.

The Pandyan kingdom was one of the three major empires of the Tamil dynasty in Tamil Nadu, India.[3] Pandya, meaning 'big' or 'strong', is the oldest of these empires, prevailing for what is estimated to be four to five centuries.[2] Despite some uncertainty around the structure of these Tamil empires, the history becomes clearer after the beginning of the common era.[11] This became a period of extensive travel and trade between these Tamil speaking kingdoms and between Tamil Nadu and other countries.[2] There is mention of the Pandyan kings in both Greek and Roman history which reflects this ancient international trade relationship.[5] Madurai was the capital city of early the Pandyan kingdom and was the heart of notable temple architecture during this period.[12]

Artisan communities[edit]

The Pandya's were known for their unique art forms that differed from the other kingdoms of Tamil Nadu.[13] There were various communities each providing different crafts fundamental to Pandyan culture.[14] It is evident that the empire held a significant influence over art across all of Southern India.[15]

The primary artisan groups formed an association referred to as the Kammalar, composed of a goldsmith, brass smith, blacksmith, carpenter and mason. Their work in Pandya was culturally important across all of Tamil Nadu as well as being important to trade in the overseas market.[4]

Another notable example of key artisanal communities in Pandya were the sculptors and stonemasons. The stonemasons carved cave temples made of granite rock, influenced by the head of gods central to their religion.[16] The rock sculptures had a distinctive style that included wide chests and shoulders, and long faces that contrasted the petite hips and soft features.[17] An example of these key stone carvings is seen at the entrance of a cave temple at Pillaiyarpatti. The inscription under the sculpture refers to the carving as ‘Deśivināyagar’, a figure still worshiped in the area today.[15]    

Jewellery was another art form practiced by the craftsmen of Pandya. They used gold, stones and pearls to create various ornaments sold to overseas buyers.[18] The jewellery had images of their gods and symbols that represented their gods engraved into the gold. Pieces from the Pandyan period have been found with floral engravings and inscriptions dedicated to the God Tirumalai Suvadigal on the surface.[4]

Coin styles[edit]

The art of coin making in the Pandyan dynasty used punch-marking methods, which was a type of early Indian coinage known for its unique symbols and irregular shapes. They ranged in colours from gold, silver and copper, depending on the political influence of the time.[19] Some of the earliest coins were square shaped and were marked with elephant symbols on one side. In later periods the coins were marked with fish, heraldic symbols, and various emblems.[8] The fish that are seen on Pandyan coins are the same as those notable on the national Pandyan flag, which includes a double fish emblem.[20] Other coin styles depict a Chola influence as they contain a tiger motif, and human figures.[8] The kammatasor were the workers responsible for minting these various coins in the Tamil country.[14]


Murals of the Sittannavasal Jain Temple, dating back to 7th century CE

The rule of both the Pandya's and the Cholas is referred to as the ‘golden period’ of art and culture in the ancient cities of Tamil Nadu.[13] The paintings of the Pandyan dynasty share similarities to that of Buddhist and Hindu art found in the Brihadeesvara temple.[15] Common motifs seen in Pandyan paintings include animals, royal figures, floral patterns and lotus leaves.[21] Sittannavasal is a Jain temple originating under Pandyan ruling which is home to some of the only Pandyan paintings left in the world.[22] It is famous for its mural paintings covering the walls and roof of the cave. The Sittannavasal paintings contain varied colour schemes, using black pigments from soot, green from Terre verre, red and yellow from ochre and blue from ultramarine.[23] These elaborate colour schemes contrast the typically monochrome, red ochre paintings of other southern Indian dynasties.[23] However, many of these Pandyan paintings in the Sittannavasal temple have been vandalised and are poorly visible in the modern day.[24] Other cave paintings dating to the 9th century include motives of fish, ducks and people dancing.[25]

Poetry and Music[edit]

There is evidence of both occupational poets, that recounted on the affairs of the king as a profession as well as those who pursued poetry as a hobby . Sangam poetry, which derived from Pandya, Chola and Chera influence narrated the distinction between love and war and the power of the human experience.[10] Other poetry of the empire reflect a sarcastic and sophisticated take on everyday life in the Pandyan village.[26]

Attruppadai is a genre of ancient Indian poetry whereby one minstrel addresses another. Madurai-Kanchi is a poem written in the Attruppadai genre, admiring Nedunchezian, the Pandyan King.[10]

Many of the kings themselves, were poets and literacy experts that wrote extensively.[27]

Music attributed to the Pandyan period was derived from the poetry and was created by bands of both male and female singers and dancers. Traditionally these long poems were publicly played to music by thirteen musicians, with a variety of instruments.[9] Professional musicians would also chant the melodic poetry outside temples.[28]


The Pandya's, along with other dynasties of the Tamil Nadu district also participated in various traditional dances. The Deverattam, translating to the god or king dance in Tamil language, was one particularly performed by the Pandyan dynasty.[29] It was generally danced by the kings and fighters after a successful battle against other Indian dynasties. It was a dance of joy and a symbol of hope for the following battles.[1]

Pandyan architecture[edit]

The Pandyan dynasty had their own unique temple style that followed on from the chola style temples between 1000 and 1250 AD.[12] The architectural features of Pandyan temples reflected the kingdoms wealth and social position in respect to other dynasties of southern India at the time.[30] They were mostly stone buildings with distinctive qualities such as rectangular ground floors leading into pyramidal floors higher up with gilded roofs above. Surrounding the temples there were various important Hindu mythological figures sculpted into the rock and various animals carved into the pillars.[30]

Key features of Pandyan architecture include the vimanas, mandapas, and the gopuras.[3] The vimana is the structure above and around the main shrine and is the area where the deities are present.[1] The vimana can be single or multi storied, depending on how many deities the temple contains.[31] The mandapa is a pillared hallway or room that ancient Indian dynasties used for religious dancing, music and ceremonies.[32] Larger temples can have more than one mandapa placed to the sides of the main structures.[14] The gopura is another predominant feature of Pandyan architecture and it is the entranceway into the temple.[33] It is a storied structure commonly made of stone, and there can be multiple built around the sides of the temple.[34]

Dravidian style architecture is commonly seen throughout Pandyan temples and it is a southern Indian architectural style.[35] The predominant features of Dravidian architecture are the main tower, referred to as the vimana, and the entrance gateway referred to as the gopuram. The vimana is notable in Dravidian architecture as it is structured as a tiered pyramid that rises up to the sky. This is different to the main tower structures in northern India, which curve up to a point.[35]

There are few standing architectural monuments left from Pandyan ruling and no temples surviving in Madurai, Pandya's capital, preceding the sixteenth century.[12] The temples that do remain, depict the notable features attributed to the rule of the Pandyan kings.[31]

Kalugumalai Temple complex (768-800 CE)[edit]

Kalugumalai is a region of the Pandyan dynasty, home to the Kalugumalai Murugan temple.[36] The Kalugumalai temple complex is designed in Dravidian style and comprises a Gopuram and a Vimana.[30] The entranceway into the Kalugumalai depicts stone cut elephants, creditable to early Pandya's and the exterior of the temple is lined with inscriptions narrating stories of the Lord of the Pandyan empire.[31]

Vettuvan koil[edit]

Vettuvan koil is a temple structure carved into the side of a rocky cliff that can be attributed to the Pandyas circa 8th century ACE.[37] Although unfinished, the temple displays a rectangular front area with a square vimana bordered by realistic rock-cut sculptures of flowers and Jain figures. The carvings are separated into various levels that reflect the bas-relief art form significant to Pandyan communities.[38] Vettuvan koil is Tamil for 'heaven of sculptures' and it was carved under rule of Pandyan King, Parantakan Nedunjadaiyan.[39] It is bordered by pavement and has the shikhara (rising peak of the temple) coming out directly from the canopy.[40] It is architecturally notable for its intricate shrine carved in the middle that has sculptures seated around the border. These sculptures are unique as they do not reflect the typical position of ancient south Indian and Pandyan figures. Usually, figures are sculpted in a front-on position, however the sculptures of Vettuvan koil are seated, unlike others throughout India.[41]


Āņaimalai is a district of south India that is home to key landmarks of Pandyan architecture.[42] A rock cut temple cave, referred to in modern times as the Narasinga-perumal temple is located here. It is a stone temple with two pillars cut out and a shrine in the centre.[43] Just near to this is another rock cut temple with architectural features similar to that of the Pallava kingdom. It has a lotus engraving on the front pillars and four rock sculptures dedicated to Hindu deity, Vishnu.[42]

Tirunelveli Nellaiappar temple[edit]

Nellaiappar temple is a large rock-cut style temple with five gopurams, notable for the aesthetic features carved into the roof and pillars.[44][45] The foundations of the temple were built by Pandyan society, and the temple was continually added to by following dynasties.[46] A key feature of the Nellaiappar temple are the 161 musical pillars, which when struck make a different musical note.[3] The Nellaiappar temple was also home to Pandyan paintings of the time, including paintings of lotuses and other floral motifs.[44]


Kalugumalai Jain Beds, Pandyan Empire, King Parantaka Nedunjadaiya (768-800 CE)


  1. ^ a b c d Rajan, K. V. Soundara (1998). Rock-cut Temple Styles: Early Pandyan Art and the Ellora Shrines. Somaiya Publications. ISBN 978-81-7039-218-7. OCLC 40418585.
  2. ^ a b c West, Barbara A. (2009). Encyclopedia of the peoples of Asia and Oceania. Facts On File. ISBN 978-0-8160-7109-8. OCLC 191090483.[page needed]
  3. ^ a b c d Rajadhyaksha, P. L. Kessler and Abhijit. "Kingdoms of South Asia - Indian Pandyas". Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  4. ^ a b c Thangapandian, K. (2014). "The Artisan Community and Crafts Production During the Later Pandyas". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 75: 239–245. JSTOR 44158385.
  5. ^ a b Desai, Pandurang Bhimarao; Ritti, Shrinivas; Gopal, Balakrishnan Raja (1971). Studies in Indian History and Culture. OCLC 1129471497.[page needed]
  6. ^ Allen, Margaret Prosser (1991). Ornament in Indian architecture. Newark: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-399-8. OCLC 22709659.[page needed]
  7. ^ Mansingh, Surjit (2006). Historical dictionary of India (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6502-0. OCLC 265011255.[page needed]
  8. ^ a b c Rapson, E. J. (1898). "Xii. Coinage of S.india". Indian coins. pp. 35–38. doi:10.1515/9783111405957-012. ISBN 978-3-11-140595-7.
  9. ^ a b Arnold, Alison (25 September 2017). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-54438-2.
  10. ^ a b c Iyengar, K. R. Srinivasa (1979). "Review of Six Long Poems from Sangam Tamil". Indian Literature. 22 (3): 158–164. JSTOR 23329996.
  11. ^ Kundra, D. N.; Prakashan, Goyal Brothers (1 January 2022). ICSE History & Civics for Class IX (Includes Chapter-wise Multiple Choice Questions). Goyal Brothers Prakashan. ISBN 978-93-88676-77-9.
  12. ^ a b c Branfoot, Crispin (February 2013). "Remaking the past: Tamil sacred landscape and temple renovations". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 76 (1): 21–47. doi:10.1017/S0041977X12001462. S2CID 162783880.
  13. ^ a b "Culture of Thanjavur, Influence of Pandyas on Thanjavur". Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  14. ^ a b c "Growth of art and architecture: Pandyas". Self Study History. 28 September 2015. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  15. ^ a b c Nagaswamy, R. (1965). "Some Contributions of the Pandya to South Indian Art". Artibus Asiae. 27 (3): 265. doi:10.2307/3249074. JSTOR 3249074.
  16. ^ "Stone cutters of Tamil Nadu and the Story behind Madurai Temple (Post No.3520)". Tamil and Vedas. 6 January 2017. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  17. ^ Cēturāman̲, G. (2018). The later Pāṇḍyas: contribution to art and culture of South India. ISBN 978-93-83221-21-9. OCLC 1051247126.[page needed]
  18. ^ Markham, Clements R (23 November 1866). "Pearl fishery, the Tinnevelly". Journal of the Society of Arts. 15: 256. ProQuest 1307209373.
  19. ^ Goyal, Shankar (2000). "Historiography of the Punch-Marked Coins". Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 81 (1/4): 153–168. JSTOR 41694610.
  20. ^ matsya, Ancient. "Pandya Kings- Fish flag". Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  21. ^ Kumar, Ajit (2016). "A Review of Thirunanthikarai Rock-cut Shiva Temple with Special Reference to its Paintings" (PDF). Heritage: Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies in Archaeology. 4: 160–172.
  22. ^ M. T. Saju (9 October 2019). "Rare 9th century Pandya-era frescoes fade away | Chennai News - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  23. ^ a b Vilasadmin -. "Sittanavasal Paintings in Pudukkottai | Chettinad Paintings". Chidambaravilas. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  24. ^ Sudharsanam. "SITTANNAVASAL" (PDF). Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  25. ^ Experts, Arihant (20 April 2018). Indian Art & Culture. Arihant Publications India limited. ISBN 978-93-5094-484-4.
  26. ^ Hart, George (2004). "Review of Kāvya in South India: Old Tamil Caṅkam Poetry". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 124 (1): 180–184. doi:10.2307/4132191. JSTOR 4132191.
  27. ^ Pandya Dynasty - Dynasties of Ancient India | History for Kids | Educational Videos by Mocomi, retrieved 26 May 2022
  28. ^ PANDYA, ROOSHIKUMAR (July 1973). "The Phenomenon of Insight In Indian Classical Music". Journal of the Indian Musicological Society. 4 (3): 43. ProQuest 1307469419.
  29. ^ Bharucha, Rustom (1989). "Notes on the Invention of Tradition". Economic and Political Weekly. 24 (33): 1907–1914. JSTOR 4395236.
  30. ^ a b c Tartakov, Gary Michael (1980). "The Beginning of Dravidian Temple Architecture in Stone". Artibus Asiae. 42 (1): 39–99. doi:10.2307/3250008. JSTOR 3250008.
  31. ^ a b c IshtaDevata (2020). "Kalugasalamoorthy Murugan Temple". Retrieved 16 April 2022.
  32. ^ Thapar, Bindia (2004). Introduction to Indian architecture. Singapore: Periplus. ISBN 978-0-7946-0011-2. OCLC 58426329.[page needed]
  33. ^ BHARNE, VINAYAK (2012). "From the Sacred Tree to the City of Gopurams: -The Grass-Roots Urbanism of the Hindu Temple" (PDF). Seeking the City.
  34. ^ Sharma, Satyadhrik; Menon, Arun; Haridasan, Hareesh; Samson, Shibu (2019). "Structural Behaviour of Gopurams in South Indian Temples". Structural Analysis of Historical Constructions. RILEM Bookseries. Vol. 18. pp. 929–937. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-99441-3_100. ISBN 978-3-319-99440-6. S2CID 117668828.
  35. ^ a b Barnett, L. D. (January 1918). "Dravidian Architecture. By G. Jouveau-Dubreuil. Edited with preface and notes by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar. pp. ii, 47. Madras: S.P.C.K. Press. 1917". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland. 50 (1): 134. doi:10.1017/S0035869X0005125X. S2CID 163826313.
  36. ^ "Kalugumalai Town Panchayat". Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  37. ^ "Vettuvan Koil - Kazhugumalai - Temple | Department Of Archaeology". Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  38. ^ "Rock-cut temple and Jain-reliefs at Kazhugumalai, Tamil Nadu". Pragyata. 11 December 2019. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  39. ^ Vilasadmin -. "Vettuvan Koil Temple, Tirunelveli | Famous Temples in Tamil Nadu". Chidambaravilas. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  40. ^ Adirai, G. Ezhil (2016). "Technological Methods in Making Sculptures". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 77: 83–89. JSTOR 26552626.
  41. ^ "Vettuvan koil, abode of Siva that is a sculptor's paradise". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  42. ^ a b Ayyar, V. Venkatasubba (1946). "Rock-Cut Caves in the Pandya Country". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 9: 113–123. JSTOR 44137046.
  43. ^ "Historical Studies of Nine Nagara Temples of Nattukkottai". Journal of Xidian University. 14 (6): 2123–2134. 21 June 2020. doi:10.37896/jxu14.6/254.
  44. ^ a b "Art and Architecture of Tamil Nadu - Term 3 Unit 2 | History | 7th Social Science". BrainKart. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  45. ^ "Arulmigu Nellaiyappar Arultharum Gandhimathi Amman Temple Tirunelveli Town | Tirunelveli District, Government of Tamil Nadu | India". Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  46. ^ "Arulmigu Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli". Retrieved 26 May 2022.