The South Indian temple construction is primarily in the Dravidian style. This style of architecture consists of different parts, totally joined to become a huge massive structure. The premise of the temple is very large and hence they are called temple complexes. To look at its features, it is basically an enclosed structure having entrances from all four sides with boundaries known as Prakar. Sometimes, the number of prakars are so many that, we can see a town developing in course within the temple (like Srirangam temple)
The entrances gateways from the Prakar are huge which are called the Gopuram. It has a square shaped super structure called the Viman which rises geometrically to the top and at the finish adorned with golden conical shaped carvings resembling the Kalash. These Vimanas are carved with intricate carvings of deities, dancers, musicians, animals and celestial beings till the top. Unlike the River goddesses in the Nagara style, there are usually figures of Dwarpal (Masculine figures) guarding the entrance doors of the temple.
Just as the Nagara style has subdivisions of the Sikhar, the Dravidian style too has subdivisions based on the Viman. They are 1) Kuta or Caturasra – square 2) Shala – rectangular 3) Gaja-prishta – elephant shaped 4) Vritta – circular 5) Ashtasra – octagonal
The entrances lead into different pillared halls called the Mantap connected with the inner Prakar. They are enclosure walls with a walkway around the temple (for Pradakshin) and they lead to the Garbhagrih (the inner sanctum containing the main deity). The Garbhgrih is connected with a small hall called the Antaral. The doorway which faces the main sanctum is called Mahadwar. There are many miniature shrines in the inner premises of the temple with a number of deities related to the temple.
The Dravidian style also has the construction of a man made large water reservoir or a temple tank called the Pushkarin in the complex. This water is used for all the rituals and ceremonies attached to the temple deity. The devotees also take a bath in it and purify themselves before entering the main sanctum.
The temples have intricate carvings of various celestial beings like Siddh, Yaksh, Kinner, Daanav, Vaanar, Rishi, Naag along with sculptures of dancers, musicians, regular activities of social life, birds and animals. These mainly are to depict the significance that all life revolves around the Almighty, and just as human does a Pradaskhin to God, the whole Universe and its living beings revolve around him. Hence all these sculptures are carved on all the four sides of the inner sanctum premises.
Just as the Nagara style, there are different variations and designs which Few such variations seen are the rock cut temples, stone chariots, huge pillared temples, the Gopurams coloured in natural dyed colours, which can be found in many prominent temples.
This temple style was developed by the South dynasties like the Pallavas, Cholas, the Pandyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Chalukyas, the Hoysalas and the Vijayanagara, each dynasty developing and adding its own distinctive style to the architecture. The famous temples built in this style are the Brihadseeshwar temple in Tanjavur, Mammalapuram Sea temples, Kanchipuram temples, Tirumala temple, temples at Hampi, Meenakshi Madurai temple, Rameswaram temple etc. These temples stand as the splendours of yester year’s temple sculpture and continue marvel us at the vivid imagination and talent of the sculptors who built them.