Gopuram or gopura is a monumental gatehouse tower, usually ornate,
at the entrance of a Hindu temple, in the
Dravidian architecture of
the Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, and Telangana
states of Southern India. Ancient and early medieval temples
feature smaller gopuram, while in later temples they are a prominent
feature of Hindu temples of the Dravidian style; or in many cases
the temple compound was expanded and new larger gopuram built along
the new boundary. They are topped by the kalasam, a bulbous stone
finial. They function as gateways through the walls that surround the
The gopuram's origins can be traced back to early structures of the
Pallava kings, and relate to the central shikhara towers of North
India. Between the twelfth and sixteenth century, during the Pandya,
Nayaka and Vijayanagara era when Hindu temples increasingly became a
hub of the urban life, these gateways became a dominant feature of a
temple's outer appearance, eventually overshadowing the inner
sanctuary which became obscured from view by the gopuram's colossal
size and courtyards. It also dominated the inner sanctum in amount
of ornamentation. Often a shrine has more than one gopuram. They
also appear in architecture outside India, especially Khmer
architecture, as at Angkor Wat.
A large Dravidian-style temple, or koil, may have multiple gopurams as
the openings into successively smaller walled enclosures around the
main shrine, with the largest generally at the outer edges. The temple
compound is typically square or rectangular with at least the
outermost wall having gopuras, often from the four cardinal
directions. The multiple storeys of a gopuram typically repeat the
lower level features on a rhythmic diminishing scale. The inner
sanctum and its towering roof (the central deity's shrine) is also
called the Vimanam (shrine), although in the south it is typically
smaller than the gopurams in large temples.
3 See also
6 External links
A gopura is a monumental gate, usually ornate with odd number of
kalasa on top. It may have one or many storeys. Left: Single storey
gopura; Right: Two storey gopura.
The Tamil derivation is from the two words: கோ (kō) and
புறம் (puram) meaning 'king' and 'exterior' respectively.
It originates from the
Sangam age when it was known as ஓங்கு
நிலை வாயில் (ōnggu nilai vāyil) meaning
An alternative derivation is from the
Sanskrit word gopuram, which can
be broken down to go (Sanskrit: गो), which means either 'a city'
or 'a cow', and puram (Sanskrit: पुरम्), 'a town', or 'a
Detail of a gopuram at Chennai
A gopuram is usually a tapering oblong in form with ground-level
wooden doors, often richly decorated, providing access. Above is the
tapering or "battered" gopuram, divided into many storeys which
diminish in size as the gopuram tower narrows. Usually the tower is
topped with a barrel vaulted roof with a finial. The form began
rather modestly in the 10th century, as at Shore Temple, Mamallapuram,
with the 11th century
Brihadeeswarar Temple in
Thanjavur marking a
crucial step forward with two multi-storey gopurams from that period,
much larger than any earlier ones, though much smaller than the main
tower (vimanam) of the temple. The four gopurams of the Thillai
Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram are important early examples, begun in
the mid-13th century but completed over a longer period. Gopurams
are exquisitely decorated with sculpture and carvings and painted with
a variety of themes derived from the Hindu mythology, particularly
those associated with the presiding deity of the temple where the
gopuram is located.
The two tallest gopuras are both modern, at least in part. The
Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, has 21 gopurams (tower
gateways), including the towering 239.5-foot (73.0 m) Rajagopuram
(shrine of the main gateway), which is claimed as the tallest temple
tower in Asia. The 73-metre (240 ft)-tall 13-tiered Rajagopuram
was completed in 1987 (having previously been incomplete) and
dominates the landscape for kilometers around, while the remaining 20
gopurams were built between the 14th and 17th centuries. Competing
for the title of "tallest" is the twenty storey 249-foot (76 m)
gopura at the modern
Murdeshwar Temple, which, unusually, is provided
with a lift.
Annamalaiyar Temple Gopurams
Annamalaiyar Temple, Thiruvannamalai
Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam
Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram
On left is a gopuram, to the right above the sanctum is vimana
List of tallest Gopurams
^ a b "gopura". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2008-01-20.
^ Ching, Francis D.K.; et al. (2007). A Global History of
Architecture. New York: John Wiley and Sons. p. 762.
^ Ching, Francis D.K. (1995). A Visual Dictionary of Architecture. New
York: John Wiley and Sons. p. 253. ISBN 0-471-28451-3.
^ a b c Michell, George (1988). The Hindu Temple. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press. pp. 151–153. ISBN 0-226-53230-5.
^ Sellby, Martha A.; Indira Viswanathan Peterson (2008). Tamil
geographies: cultural constructions of space and place in South India.
^ S. Sundararajan (1991). Ancient Tamil country: its social and
economic structure. Navrang.
^ Lienhard S., von Hinèuber O. (2007). Kleine Schriften: Supplement
(in French). Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 414.
^ Harle, 320-325
^ "Towers" on temple website; Tamilwebworld
^ "Murudeshwar Temple Now Tallest
Gopuram in Asia", April 2008
Dallapiccola, Anna L. (2002). Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend.
London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-51088-1.
Harle, J.C., The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, 2nd
edn. 1994, Yale University Press Pelican History of Art,
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