Pallavas Contribution to Art & Culture


The Pallava kings were great patrons of architecture and sculpture. The numerous splendid temples at Kanchi still bear eloquent testimony to their achievements in the domain of art. The wonderful Raths or Seven Pagodas at Mamallapuram, each of which is cut out from a great rock boulder, are marvels of human skill. The relief sculptures on the rocks at the same place are excellent. The importance of Pallava art lies in the fact that it affords the earliest example of architecture and sculpture in Southern India.

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Pallavas Territories

Pallava architecture and sculpture constitute a brilliant chapter in the history of South Indian Art. Pallava architecture consists of two phases : the first was entirely rock-cut and the second structural temples in stone.

The rock-cut phase includes two groups of monuments—the simple pillared mandapas of Mahendravarman I and the similar but more elaborate mandapas and monolithic rathas of the reign of Narasimhavarman I and his successors.

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Pallavas Temple Architecture

Mahendravarman gloried in the construction of temples without the use of bricks, timber, metals, or mortar. The Mahendra style shows progress in the evolution of pillars and capitals. The beginnings of a Pallava order can be traced in the elaboration of the pillars and the figure of a lion is introduced and combined with the pillar in its lower portion and another in the capital. This style was further refined and developed in the monuments of Narasimhavarman I Mahamalla. The elegance of this improved style may be seen at Mamallapuram.

The monolithic rathas in the same style as the mandapas are clearly copies of the wooden structures. None of their interiors is finished, and perhaps they were never actually used. At Mamallapuram, there are eight of them. The five forming the southern group are named after Draupadi, Arjuna, Bhima, Dharmaraja, and Sahadeva, and the three others in the north and the north-west are called Ganesa, Pidari, and Valaiyan-Kuttai. The Dharmaraja is a good example of the vihara, and the Ganesa of the Chaitya; the Sahadeva, also of the Chaitya form is apsidal. The Draupadi is a mere cell. The rathas are Saiva in character. Men and gods are sculptured on them in the most graceful forms. The animal sculpture there is also superb.

Structural temples of Pallava architecture fall into two groups;

  • the first is the Rajasimha group (A.D. 700-800)
  • the second the Nandivarman group (A.D. 800-900).

Of the six of the first group, three — the Shore, Isvara, and Mukunda temples—are at Mamallapuram. One is at Panamalai and the remaining two are Kailasanatha and Vaikunthaperumal at Kanchipuram. The Shore temple is the earliest of these; it is a logical development from the Dharmaraja Ratha, but in its vimanas, it leaves the idea of vihara behind and evolves a lighter and more rhythmic tower.

The two temples of Kanchipuram are perfectly integrated and the maturest example of the style. The Nandivarman group marks no advance on the achievements of the earlier period and comprises generally smaller temples reflecting the decline of the Pallavas.


  1. Part of Temple architecture
  2. Beautiful examples are the images in temples
  3. Religious theme predominates
  4. Gods & Goddesses, natural scenes, animals, kings & queens depicted in sculpture art.
  5. Elements of the Buddhist tradition, but more splendid and length more conspicuous and the tendency of ornamentation diminished
  6. Images in Mandaps – Images of Vishnu, Varah, Durga. Images of Dwarpalas etc
  7. Images in Rathas – Best examples in Draupadi Ratha (Statue of Durga is remarkable)
  8. Images in temples- Beuatiful examples in the Temples of Rajsimha style
    Perumal Temple, Kailashnath Temple have beautiful images of Dwarpalas, Dancing Shiva etc.
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Pallavas Sculptural Art


  1. Associated with the temple architecture
  2. The painting depicted on the walls and roof of the temples
  3. Depiction of Gods & Goddesses, Lotus, Ducks, Geometrical designs.
  4. Beautiful examples in Kailashnath temple and Sittalwasan Jaina temple
  5. Mainly in the form of wall painting
  6. Religious & Secular social themes
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Kanchipuram Murals – Pallavas Painting


During the rule of the Pallavas, there was considerable literary activity, and Sanskrit enjoyed royal patronage. Barring a few, all the early Pallava inscriptions are in that language, and even in the later ones, where Tamil is used the prasasti portions are in Sanskrit of a high order.

Kanchi, the capital, seems to have been a recognized center of learning and culture from quite early times. Here came the famous Buddhist dialectician, Dignaga, to satisfy his intellectual and spiritual thirst, and about the middle of the fourth century A.D. the Brahman Mayurasarman, is said to have completed his Vedic studies here.

The Vedic colleges were then located in temples endowed by the rich and devout. Further, Simhavisnu is represented as having invited the great poet, Bharavi, to his court, and it is believed that Dandin the celebrated writer on poetics, lived in the reign of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha.

Among other contemporaries of Dandin, we may mention Matridatta. One of the Pallava kings, Mahendravarman I, was himself probably an author of repute. To him has been attributed a burlesque named the Mattavilasa-prahasana.

Some scholars are also of opinion that the Sanskrit plays published recently in Trivandrum as Bhasa’s were abridgments made during this period of earlier works of Bhasa and Sudraka for being staged at the Pallava court. Whatever the truth, the Pallava monarchs were certainly patrons of men of letters.


The Pallavas were the devotees of Hinduism. They performed different yajnas, and constructed temples and images of different Hindu gods and goddesses like Vishnu, Siva, Brahma, Lakshmi, etc.

They encouraged Hindu religion and Sanskrit literature and, thus, helped in the process of Aryanisation in the South. The Hindu religious movements which flourished in South India in the 8th century originated within the frontiers of the Pallava empire.

Kanchi became a great center of learning in South India and its university helped in the progress of Aryan culture in the South while the city itself was accepted as one of the seven religious cities of the Hindus.

However, the Pallavas were tolerant rulers. They patronized, of course, Saivism and Bhagavatism but gave protection to Jainism and Buddhism as well.

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