The boundary between north and south is rather large. There are three distinct styles of Hindu temple architecture in India (broadly speaking). The Nagara, the Dravida, and the Vesara rivers are located between the Himalayas and the Vindyas (Deccan region).
However, for the sake of this inquiry, I shall merge Dravida and Vesara into a single category called “South Indian.” The following is a list of the differences:
Dimensions of the Temples:
The sheer scale of the Hindu temples is the most striking and immediately noticeable distinction between the North Indian and South Indian varieties. In comparison, the temples in the south are often significantly bigger. It is safe to claim that South Indian monarchs put more money into their temples than into their palaces, in contrast to the Northern Indian kings, who did the exact reverse.
The Srirangam Ranganathar temple in Tamilnadu is the biggest operational religious structure in the world, occupying 156 acres of land and being located in that state. To put this into perspective, the whole land area of the principality of Monaco, which is barely two square kilometers, could only accommodate three Srirangam temples. There is not a single temple in North India that can compare to the magnitude of these buildings.
The natural beauty that has been preserved in North Indian temples is a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage. The tranquility of these temples is enhanced by the majesty of the Ganga River as it flows through Rishikesh or by the breathtaking panorama of the Himalayas that can be seen in Kedarnath and Badrinath.
In the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, there is a lovely phrase that may be translated as “feeling closer to God.” This word is “sanidhyam.” Sanidhyam is something that comes easily to the temples of North India.
Agamam (ritual modality):
Agamam is a cultural tradition that is adhered to extremely strictly in South Indian temples. The Agamam is a collection of texts that together outline the worship practices, temple customs, and ceremonial procedures. There are three agamams: Saiva, Vaikanasam, and Paancharaatram. Saiva is used in temples dedicated to Shiva (for Vishnu temples).
The Shaiva agamam are known for being quite straightforward and informal. In my perspective, the rites associated with Paancharatra agamam are far more involved than those associated with Vaikanasa agamam. The temples of Kerala, on the other hand, which practice tantric rites, are an exception to this agamic society.
The religious practices of North Indian temples do not adhere to this agamic framework. From what I’ve observed, the ceremonies in North Indian temples seem to be more laid back. In addition, the manner in which ceremonies are performed varies considerably across the many North Indian temples.
This even permits regular people to physically interact with the idols. You may perform the ritual of abhishekam on the Shiva Lingam in Kashi, but it is considerably more rewarding to embrace the image of Pandurangan at Pandharpur. Due to the stringent agamam that is practiced in the south, the only people who are permitted to touch the idols and carry out the rites are the temple priests.
Various expressions of divinity are found in temples:
Both moolavar (idols built of stone) and utsavar (idols made of wood) may be found in every South Indian temple (usually made of panchalogam – 5 metals – gold, silver, copper, iron, lead). Moolavar resides inside the temple; often, he is shown as being made of hard rock; and his appearance is always dark. The Utsavar is carried outside of the temple during festivals and is also utilized in the processions that take place within the temple.
Some temples dedicated to Vishnu might feature as many as five different images of the primary god. They are known as the panchaperar and include the Moolavar, the Utsavar (which is used for processions), the Yaagaberar (which is used in yaagams), the Kauthugar (which is a small metallic version of the moolavar), and the theerthaberar.
The majority of temples in North India do not have utsavar idols for processions and the idols that they do have are shown in a fashion that is quite subdued. In South Indian temples, where the deities are often portrayed as being constructed of black stone, the contrary is true in North Indian temples.
Where white marble is commonly used to depict the deities. In addition, the state of Tamil Nadu is home to a distinctive dance style known as Nataraja, which has a significant amount of significance for the people of Tamil Nadu.
In Chidambaram, the formless manifestation of the god Nataraja is revered as the deity to worship. This idea is quite foreign to the practice of Hinduism. It is stated that Nataraja always dances while in a state of perpetual joy, accompanied by his spouse Shakti, who represents energy.
The Significance of Saints:
Saints play a significant part in all of the South Indian temples that may be visited. Idols representing the 63 Shaivite saints known as nayanmars who are credited for writing Thirumurai may be seen in temples dedicated to Shiva (18349 hymns on Shiva and 275 temples).
Idols of the Vaishnavite saints known as alwars, who are credited with writing Divya Prabandham, may be seen at Vishu temples (4000 hymns on Vishnu and 106 temples). Vaishnavite thinkers and pontiffs, such as Ramanujar, are accorded a significant amount of respect in Vishnu temples.
Because of the great regard in which saints are held, even the Tamil hymns that were written by Alwars and Nayanmars are regarded as being more important than the Vedas. Whenever there is a procession, the group that is reciting Tamil Prabandham goes in front of the idol, while the group that is chanting Sanskrit Veda goes in the rear following the idol. This is to emphasize once again how significant of a part these saints played in the story.
The main entrance of a Dravidian temple will often have a Raja Gopuram, which translates to “largest tower,” whereas the sanctum sanctorum would typically have a smaller tower (exception being Tanjore Big temple). In contrast to the gopurams of other temples, the ones in South Indian temples are exceedingly elaborate and packed with figures.
In contrast, the height of the construction increases gradually from a gate of lesser height leading to a tower of higher height housing the sanctuary in North Indian temples. This is completely the opposite of what is seen in South Asian temples. In addition, the towers of North Indian temples are often designed in a spare and unadorned form, with few or no figures included inside them.
Even within South India, the amount of detail in architecture varies greatly from one state to the next. This is particularly true of the temples. In contrast to the immensely intricate Chola and Hoysala architecture, the forms and layouts of the temples in Kerala adhere to a more simple and straightforward aesthetic. Because there are so many rivers in northern India, the region has little need for ponds, with the exception of Gujarat, which is home to some stunning examples.
The presence of prakarams is not typical in the temples of North India. Alternatively, South Indian temples are comprised of many levels of lengthy hallways that encircle the main building of the temple. Yali is a deity that is often depicted in the temples of South India.
It is a legendary creature that is often shown as having characteristics of lions, elephants, horses, and peacocks. In contrast to temples in Northern India, those in the South Indian region make use of elephants in their ceremonies and activities.
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