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Gopuram

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Gopuram is a prominent feature in South Indian architecture. It is the entrance gateway to the Hindu temple enclosure. They were relatively small in the earlier period. From the middle of the 12th century onward, the gopuram, or entrance buildings, to temple enclosures began to be greatly emphasized. They are extremely large and elaborately decorated with sculpture, quite dominating the architectural ensemble. Their construction is similar to that of the main temple except that they are rectangular in plan and capped by a barrel vault rather than a cupola, and only the base is of stone, the superstructure being made of brick and lime mortar. Among the finest examples are the Sundara Pandya gopuram (13th century) of the Jambukeswara temple at Tiruchchirappalli and the gopurams of a great Siva temple at Chidambaram, built largely in the 12th-13th century. Even larger gopurams, if not of such fine quality, continued to be built up to the 17th century.

Such great emphasis was placed on the construction of gopurams that enclosure walls, though not essential, were built. In the course of time, several walls and gopurams were successively built, each enclosing the other so that at the present day one often has to pass through a succession of walls with their gopurams before reaching the main shrine. A particularly interesting example is the Ranganatha temple at Srirangam, which has seven enclosure walls and numerous gopurams, halls, and temples constructed in the course of several centuries. The gopurams of the Meenakshi temple at Madurai are also good representative examples of this feature.

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