Post-Gupta period, (ca. 550 C.E. – ca. 800 C.E.).

The Gupta Empire fell, in part, because of the invasion of the tribes of a branch of the Huns who entered India by the northwest. These tribes together with their king Attila, also penetrated to Western Europe. The north of India was destroyed and fragmented into a multitude of small independent kingdoms, but during this time another political power had appeared to the south, in the west of the Deccan: the Chalukya dynasty which ruled from around the year 550 until its defeat by the Rastrakuta around the year 760. The last stage of classical Hindu art developed under the sovereigns of these 2 dynasties. It is the period that receives the name of post-Gupta and lasted until the ninth century.

The Chalukya had their capital in Badami although the most important temples were located in Pattadakal, a place of sacred pilgrimage 15 km from the capital.

Pattadakal includes the two architectural types: the northern style (or Nagara style), represented by the Papanatha temple, and the Southern or Dravidian style, represented by the Virupaksha temple. The temple of Papanatha, built at the end of the seventh century, has a sikhara with its typical curved edges, and inside, huge pillars, which for their robustness remember those found at the Buddhist caves. These pillars were adorned with splendid figures of embraced celestial couples, musicians and dancers.

The Papanatha temple (Bagalkot district, Karnataka, India) is part of the complex of temples of Pattadakal, and is situated apart from the main cluster of eight monuments. The temple has been dated ca. the end of the Early Chalukya period (appr. mid 8th-century). Papanatha is noted for its novel mixture of Dravidian and Nagara Hindu temple styles. Thus its decorations, parapets and some parts of its layout are Dravidian in style, while the tower and pilastered niches are of the Nagara style. As with the other temples, the Papanatha temple faces east towards the sunrise. At the left it’s an exterior view of the temple showcasing its sikhara tower, at the right is shown one of the carved pillars with a couple in courtship.

On the other hand, the Virupaksha temple is of the Dravidian type. Built around 740, it is equipped with the type of tower characteristic of the southern style, called vimana*, which consists of a multi-storey roof, each smaller than the previous one, and forming a kind of pyramid that rises above the square room of the sanctuary. The vimana of the Virupaksha temple, considered as one of the oldest known, has only three levels. The temple, dedicated to the Brahmanic god Shiva, perfectly fusions architectural and sculptural forms which include numerous representations of episodes of the “Ramayana” and the “Mahabharata”.

The Virupaksha Temple (Hampi, state of Karnataka, southern India) is part of the Group of Monuments at Hampi. The temple is dedicated to Virupaksha, a form of Shiva. The temple is intact compare to the surrounding ruins and is still used for worship. Top left: General view of the Virupaksha temple. Top right: the Vimana of the Virupaksha temple. Bottom: Sculptural decoration of the facades at the Virupaksha temple.

The Rastrakuta dynasty, which succeeded the Chalukya in the west of the Deccan, renewed the art of the caves carved in the rock with the production of two monuments that must be considered among the wonders of the artistic heritage of humanity: the grotto of the island of Elephanta and the temple of Kailashanatha, in Ellora.

The small island of Elefanta is located in the bay of Bombay, 10 km from the coast. There, in the second half of the 8th century, was carved an impressive grotto dedicated to Shiva under his three aspects (creator, preserver and destroyer). It is an immense square nave, 43 m long in each side, with twenty-six columns with high square bases and wide capitals in the shape of a smashed bulb. The sculptures that decorate its walls, despite their colossalism, have such fair proportions that they produce a feeling of tranquil beauty. The most characteristic of this temple is the quiet majesty, a little disdainful, of the carved faces in which a serene voluptuousness is expressed. The main sculpture is the tri-cephalic bust of Shiva, 8 m high by 6 m wide, called the Trimurti*, or triple divine aspect. In the center, the face of glory; to the left, the destructor, god of death, terrible but necessary; on the right, the feminine face, smiling, which represents the maternal aspect, generator of life.

The Elephanta Caves consist of a group of cave temples predominantly dedicated to the god Shiva. They are located on Elephanta Island (Mumbai Harbour, state of Mahārāshtra, India). The caves contain rock cut stone sculptures that show syncretism of Hindu and Buddhist ideas and iconography and the carvings mostly narrate Hindu mythologies. The caves date between 5th and 9th century and were named Elefante (which changed to Elephanta) by the colonial Portuguese when they found elephant statues on it. Top left: general exterior view of the Elephanta caves. Top right: Sculptural decoration at the Elephanta caves depicting the Gangadhara Shiva (in the center) with a guardian to his right (left in the picture) in the moment the god is bringing the Ganges River to Earth. Bottom left: The wedding of Shiva and Parvati. Bottom right: Giant sculptures at the Elephanta caves at the entrance of one of the shrines.
The Trimurti sculpture at the Elephanta caves is considered a masterpiece and the most important sculpture in the complex. It is carved on the south wall of the cave facing the north entrance. The image, 6 m (20 ft) in height, depicts a three-headed Shiva, which represent the three essential aspects of Shiva: creation, protection, and destruction. The right half-face (west face) shows him as Brahma holding a lotus bud, depicting the promise of life and creativity, the feminine side of Shiva as a creator. The left half-face (east face) is that of a moustached young man depicting Shiva as the terrifying creator of chaos and destroyer. The central face, benign and meditative, resembles the preserver Vishnu, the preserver of the harmony of the positive and negative aspects of existence. Thus the three headed Shiva implies his aspects as creator, preserver and destroyer. They are equivalently symbolism for Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.

In the rocky hills of Ellora, abandoned by Buddhist monks, the Rastrakuta rulers launched a prodigious program of temple excavations, completing seventeen cave-temples in a little more than a century. The most extraordinary of these caves is that of Kailashanatha, unique in its style and in the way it was built. Few monuments in the world leave such an indelible impression. Carved vertically in the rock, it is a gigantic monolithic building of colossal proportions (60 m long by 30 wide and 30 high), that was isolated from the mountain leaving around it a patio or empty space of 100 x 60 m, whose walls are formed by the cut walls of the excavation. The huge block of rock thus isolated from the mountain was carved in the form of a temple, as if made by a giant sculptor. Nothing was added, not a single sculpture was brought from outside, everything was meticulously planned by the amazing skill of the architects and sculptors. This gigantic monolithic temple was internally excavated to reproduce with extraordinary precision the entire interior structure of an isolated temple (that is not carved in the rock, not a cave temple per se). It is estimated that it was necessary to evacuate more than two hundred thousand tons of rock when the temple was built at the end of the 8th century. The shadowy volcanic stone and the furious dynamism of the Kailashanatha sculptures evoke religious terror, the feats of the gods and goddesses of Brahmin India, full of tense spirituality.

The four pictures above show a general overview of the Ellora caves complex (Aurangabad district of Mahārāshtra, India), one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world. Cave 16 (the main structure depicted in the top (left and right) and bottom left pictures), in particular, features the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world, the Kailasha temple, a chariot shaped monument dedicated to Shiva. There are over 100 caves at the site, all excavated from the basalt cliffs in the Charanandri Hills. All of the Ellora monuments were built during Hindu dynasties of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, which constructed part of the Hindu & Buddhist caves, and the Yadava dynasty, which constructed a number of the Jain caves, during the first millennium CE. Bottom right, a view of the Kailasanathar temple, explained in the following pictures below.
The Kailasa or Kailasanatha temple in Ellora is considered one of the most remarkable cave temples in India because of its size, architecture and sculptural treatment. The Kailasanatha temple (or Cave 16 of Ellora) was probably constructed during the 8th century by the Rashtrakuta king Krishna I (around 756-773 CE). Top left: Arcades of Ellora surrounding the base of the Kailasa temple. Top right: Gajalakshmi or the hindu goddess Lakhsmi surrounded by elephants, a relief in the Kailasa Temple. Bottom left: Sculptural decoration in the Kailasa temple. Bottom right: Shiva killing a demon, a relief located at the entrance to the Kailasa temple.

While the Chalukya and Rastrakuta dynasties followed one another in the west of the Deccan, in the south, along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, near the present-day city of Madras, the Palava rulers built during the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries the great temples of its capital Kanchipuram and its sea port of Mahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram). They were the true creators of the Southern or Dravidian style, which we have seen used in the Virupaksha temple, in Pattadakal. Here, the characteristic architectural elements are the pyramidal vimana, which it has already been described, and the gopuram* or rectangular pyramids with steep slopes, placed over the entrance doors of the temple precincts.

The Kailasanathar temple is the oldest structure in Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu, India), and it was built in the Dravidian architectural style from 685-705 CE by a Rajasimha ruler of the Pallava Dynasty. It is dedicated to the Lord Shiva. The compound contains a large number of carvings, including many half-animal deities which were popular during the early Dravidian architectural period. The structure contains 58 small shrines which are dedicated to various forms of Shiva. These are built into niches on the inner face of the high compound wall of the circumambulatory passage. Top left: An exterior view of the Kailasanathar Temple. Top right: Temple pillars with animal forms. Bottom left: a view of the side walk path or circumambulatory. Bottom right: the pyramidal shaped vimana of the main shrine with supporting pillars having lions in standing pose.

Among the temples of Kanchipuram should be noted that of Kailashanatha, built in the year 700, and that inspired the aforementioned temple of the same name in Ellora. On the contrary, in Mahabalipuram, port of the Palava kingdom, nothing remains. Its walls and fortifications are today scattered ruins beaten by the waves of the Indian Ocean. The surrounding plain is full of huge sculpted granite blocks. They are the ratha* or temples carved in the shape of a celestial charriot, among which huge monolithic animals have been carved (a bull, a lion and an elephant) and an immense relief of 32 meters in length and 14 in height that represents the descent of the Ganges, the sacred river, before the joy of all the living beings that come to receive him.

The Pancha Rathas (also known as Five Rathas or Pandava Rathas) is a monument complex at Mahabalipuram (Bay of Bengal, Kancheepuram district, state of Tamil Nadu, India). Dating from the late 7th century, it is attributed to the period of the Pallava Kingdom. Each of the five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembles a chariot (or “ratha”), and each is carved over a single, long stone or monolith, of granite which slopes in north-south direction with a slight incline. Though sometimes mistakenly referred to as temples, the structures were never consecrated because they were never completed following the death of Narasimhavarman I. Top left: The Nakula Sahadeva Ratha is named after the last two brothers of the Pancha Pandavas of the Mahabharata. The small structure is dedicated to the god Indra and has an elephant sculpture to its left. Top right: The Draupadi ratha (left) and the Arjuna Ratha (right) with a lion in the foreground. Bottom left: In first plane to the left, the Arjuna Ratha and next to it the statue of a reclining bull. Bottom right: another example of a Ratha at the Vitthala Temple (Hampi complex, Karnataka, India), the Garuda stone chariot.
The celebrated Descent of the Ganges relief (Mamallapuram, Bay of Bengal, Kancheepuram district, state of Tamil Nadu, India). Measuring 29 m × 13 m (96 by 43 feet), it is a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders. The legend depicted in the relief is the story of the descent of the goddess Ganga in the form of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by the king Bhagiratha. The waters of the Ganges are believed to possess sacred properties and supernatural powers. The relief faces east. It was created on two large boulders of pink granite with many of the figures carved in life size. The natural cleft, a very large perpendicular fissure, is skillfully sculptured. It is in between two boulders and is integral to the mythical narratives carved on the entire relief. A water tank was once located at the top of the rock to release water denoting the Ganges River. The relief is an ensemble of over a hundred figures of gods, people, half-humans and animals.


Gopuram: A monumental gatehouse tower, usually ornate, at the entrance of a Hindu temple, in the Dravidian architecture of Southern India. The Gopuram are topped by the kalasam, a bulbous stone finial. They function as gateways through the walls that surround the temple complex. The multiple storeys of a gopuram typically repeat the lower level features on a rhythmic diminishing scale. 


Ratha: The Indo-Iranian term for a spoked-wheel chariot or a cart of antiquity. In some Hindu temples, there are shrines or buildings named rathas because they have the shape of a huge chariot.



Trimurti: (from the Sanskrit, meaning “three forms”). The trinity of supreme divinity in Hinduism in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified as a triad of deities, typically Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer, though individual denominations may vary from that particular line-up. When all three deities of the Trimurti incarnate into a single avatar, the avatar is known as Dattatreya.

Vimana: The structure over the inner sanctum (or garbhagriha) in the Hindu temples of South India and Odisha in East India. In typical temples of Odisha, the Vimana is the tallest structure of the temple, as it is in the shikhara towers of temples in West and North India. By contrast, in large South Indian temples, it is typically smaller than the great gatehouses or gopuram, which are the most immediately striking architectural elements in a temple complex. In North Indian temple architecture, the superstructure over the garbhagriha is called a ‘shikhara’. However, in South Indian Hindu architecture texts, the term shikhara means a dome-shaped crowning cap above the Vimana.