When you think of a South Indian temple, you can visualize a large tower like structure called Gopuram or a temple tower that acts as the entrance to the main temple.
Most of the important temples present in the South Indian states have a gopuram. Along with that several Hindu temples across countries like Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Singapore, and Malaysia have gopuram as a feature of the temple architecture.
Gopuram also acts as a characteristic feature to represent the temples built in the Dravidian Style.
In this article, we will provide you with detailed insight into Temple gopuram, its architecture, and its importance.
What is a Gopuram?
Gopuram is a storeyed structure that is commonly seen at the entrance of the temple, these pyramidal structures act as a gateway for entering the main temple area.
The meaning behind this name
The word Gopuram means the gateway to the town. You might be thinking about how the meaning of the gopuram is related. But actually, in the olden day’s gopuram is used to be a feature of very large temples which covers a huge area of land.
In those days. temples acted as a great organization of power within a kingdom which carried several activities as an education center, to provide refuge during natural calamities, as centers of arts, and even as judicial centers. So this might be the reason behind the naming the structure as Gopuram.
A temple can have one or more gopuras and they can be built on several sides based on the cardinal axes of the temple. That is the dwaras (gateway) of the gopuram should be in an axis to the center of the main temple or in such ratios.
Gopurams are usually seen erecting out in the middle of the temple’s outer wall providing access for the devotees.
There is a rule in the construction of the Temple Gopuram that the size of the temple towers needs to be decreased as the center of the main temple is approached. That’s the reason why one can see the temple that contains multiple gopuras have their outer ones very large and big and the inner ones small.
Also, the number of gopurams constructed in a temple can also depend on the number of enclosures a temple has.
Among the gopuras, the eastern gopuram is considered as one of the most auspicious, that is why the eastern gopuram acts as the main gopuram for entering the temples.
The height of the entrance gate is usually twice or thrice to its width. Also, some temples have the guardian deities or the Dwarapalakas installed at the entrances of gopuram and even on every storeyed entrance of the gopuram.
Usually, a temple tower is seen with the Kalasas on the top of it and even with the details of Kreethimukha on their ends.
Significance of Temple Gopuram
Whoever visits the temple, one can see splendid sculptures of the gopurams explaining various forms of gods and goddesses along with the stories of Puranas and even several aspects related to life.
One can easily know about the god and his incarnations and even learn several things in Puranas looking at the gopuram.
Several Hindu theologists say that the temple is a representation of the body of the god, Where the gopuram is considered as God’s foot.
That is the reason, even when walking through the temple road or even on seeing the gopuram from a far distance while traveling or so, we bow to it by revered hands as they represent the feet of the god.
In the same way, the Kalasam’s installed on the gopuras are considered as the fingers.
Temple towers can also be seen detailed with great sculptures explaining several aspects related to the god, puranic stories, and even several aspects related to the devotee’s life.
The splendid exterior art and the details of the gopurams depict the strength of the Dravidian and Indian architecture.
In the Shaivite temple, the gopuram architecture usually involves the depiction of various forms of Shiva, the Leela murthis, or even the 64 forms of God Shiva and so on, along with the depiction of Ganesha, Skanda or Kumara, and the Goddess Parvathi.
You may also see depictions of Narayana, Brahma, Navagrahas, and other devas too. Some temples even include depictions of Shaivite devotees like Nandi and Bhringi.
In the Vaishnavite temples, one can see the Dasavataras or the 10 incarnations of Vishnu along with several stories related to those incarnations and the depictions of several other gods like Hayagriva along with the devotees like Garuda, Vishwaksena, and others.
Coming to the Shakta temples, the depictions on the gopuras include several other forms of Shakthi like Varahi, Lalitha, Parvathi, Kali, Raja Rajeshwari, and Gods like Shiva along with several of Devi’s aspects related to the stories about destroying the Asuras.
Whatsoever the temple may be, the sculptures on the gopurams explain several forms related to the primary deity of that temple as the main focus.
Also, the depictions related to the aspects of life are believed to represent the jeevana vidhana or the way of life at that particular point of time the temple is constructed.
Agamas and the Gopuram
Gopurams are mainly constructed based upon the agama that the respective temple followed. Along with that, they are also constructed based on the Shipa Shastra and Vastu shastra.
Several agamas gave immense importance to the temple structures like gopurams, Dwajasthambam, Vimanas, and others.
Shaivagamas said that even looking at the temple or its gopuram or any other important structure itself gives Punya.
Many Shaivagams depict the temple Gopuram as the Sthula Linga and Balipeetam as the Bhadralingam and so on. They say that worshiping them will have immense benefits and one needs to worship them in the temple along with giving importance to primary Lingam.
History of Temple Towers
The building of gopuras is mainly popularised from the 11th century. The construction of gopura structures got importance during the times of Pallavas.
Even the Cholas too gave importance to the gopura in the structure of the temple, but they gave more importance to constructing large Vimanas rather than the Gopuras, which are comparably smaller in most of the temples they built.
Pandyas on other hand focused on constructing larger Gopurams.
Also, the Charas, Vijayanagara kings, Nayakars, and thereon, the construction of gopuras to the temples took its new heights.
Kingdoms like Rastrakutas and Chalukyas constructed smaller gopurams and even the very early Vijayanagara rulers too constructed in the same manner.
But the later Vijayanagara rulers built larger gopurams but with a focus on constructing the mandapas.
Coming to the other Kingdoms like Kakatiyas, who constructed numerous temples in the Telangana and some Andhra regions had mainly focused on the large mandapams or pillared halls but not on the Gopuras, which was even continued by later kingdoms like Reddys.
As most of the temples are well established and got a greater form by the 15th century, the later rulers of Vijayanagara and other kingdoms concentrated on the development of already established temples by constructing large gopurams and mandapa structures and adding them to the existing temple site.
Temple with the Tallest Gopurams
- Mrurudeshwara Temple, Murudeshwar, Karnataka – 240 feet
- Ranganatha Swamy Temple- raja gopuram, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu – 239.5 feet
- Rajagopuram of Annamalaiyar Temple, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu – 216.5 Feet
- Gopuram of Srivalli Puttur Andal Temple, Tamil Nadu – 193.5 feet
- Ulagalantha Perumal Temple, Tirukoilur, Tamil Nadu – 192 Feet
- Ekambrareswarar Temple, Kanchipuram – 190 Feet.