From the 6th cent. on, with the resurgence of Hindu dynasties throughout India, a characteristic temple plan was developed. An entrance portico led to a pillared hall (mandapa) into the cella. The shrine was often crowned by a large tower known as the shikhara. In S India the Dravida tower rose in a series of terraces, each symbolizing a different divinity; in the north, nagara spires ascended in a massive conical shape.
Innumerable temples were built that were so exuberantly embellished with sculpture that their style is called "sculptural architecture." The Khajuraho temples in central India (c.1000) represent one of the high points of the nagara buildings, and the damaged Temple of the Sun at Konarak (c.1250) reveals, in its famous erotic sculptures, carvings that combine balanced mass with delicate execution. The Jain temples at Mt. Abu, constructed entirely of imported white marble and dating from the 10th and 13th cent., have plain exteriors but are ornately carved inside.
In S India the 7th-century Pallava dynasty introduced the dravida style temple in a number of pyramidal raths (temples) at Mahabalipuram; an enormous cliff-face at the site is carved with a life-size representation of gods, men, and beasts, including the elephant family. The dravida style plan was used also in the 8th cent. in the quarried temple at Ellora. The Chola dynasty of S India further developed this form in the 11th cent., when they probably also cast most of large numbers of S Indian bronzes, of which the Nataraja (dancing Shiva) images are perhaps the best known.
The dravida style culminated in a series of expanded "temple townships," of which the largest is Srirangam, consisting of seven concentric enclosures. These ended in the comparatively crude stucco sculptured architecture of 17th-century Mandura. Medieval bronze sculpture was highly developed in S India. The chief subjects were the deities, figures of whom were used for processional and home ritual. Skilled cire-perdue sculptures were produced until the late 19th cent. in many regions of India.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.