Cultural Developments during Early Medieval Period

The new regional kingdoms led to the emergence of new regional cultural zones such as Bengal and Orissa in the North Gujarat and Maharashtra in Central India as well as Andhra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu in the South. The various art forms, languages, literature, etc. that form an important part of our regional cultures today, took their shape around this period.

Most of the languages such as Bengali, Assamese Oriya, Marathi, etc. that are spoken in the northern, central and eastern parts of India are some examples. The rich literature produced in these languages began to replace the earlier monopoly of Sanskrit literature. The literary works in the regional languages were often composed under the patronage of the new regional rulers.

A famous work composed in the regional language around this time under the Cholas was the Tamil version of the Ramayana, composed by Kamban. Similarly in Karnataka, Pampa who is regarded as one of the jewels of Kanada literature composed Vikramarjuna-vijaya, known popularly as Pampa Bharat, in Kannada. In Andhra region, Nanniah translated some portions of Mahabharata in Telugu. It was later completed by poet Tikkanna in the thirteenth centrury.

However, Sanskrit still retained a position of importance among the elites as a language of learning. Important works composed in Sanskrit around this period were the kathasaritasagara a collection of stories, the Rajtarangini, a vivid account of the kings of Kashmir composed by Kalhana and the Gita Govinda, a piece of devotional literature composed on the theme of love between Radha and Krishna, by Jayadeva in Bengal under the Pala kings.

Another activity that received royal patronage was that of temple building. The temples served as representative of the might and glory of the kings who had them built. The loftier the temple, the greater was the might reflected. Indeed there was a definite correlation. The construction of large temples and their regular maintenance required the mobilization of huge amount of resources, both financial and human. This could be possible only when the particular king was wealthy & powerful enough.

The three types of temple architecture which evolved during the period are known as the Nagara, Dravida and Vesara (mixed) styles during this period. The characterstic feature of the Nagara style of temples was the lofty tower or spire called the Shikhara. Temples built in this style were spread over large parts of northern India, particularly in Central India, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Orissa. However, even within the general Nagara style, there were distinctive regional characteristics. Some of the outstanding examples of this style, are the Lingaraja temple at Bhuvaneshwar, the Sun temple at Konark and the Kandariya Mahadeva temple, built by the Chandella kings at Khajuraho.

The Dravida style of architecture is found in South India. It reached the height of its glory under the rule of the Chola kings. Some of the important characteristics of this style are the garbhagriha, the vimanas, the mandapa and the gopurams. The garbhagriha was the inner sanctum that housed the chief-deity to whom the temple was dedicated. The vimanas were the various storeys built atop the garbhagriha. The mandapa was a hall with numerous carved pillars, placed before the garbhagriha.

The gopurams were the lofty gates along the high walls that enclosed the entire temple complex. An important example of this style is the Brihadishvara temple built by Chola king Rajaraja at Tanjore.

The Vesara temples represented a mixed style. These were mostly built under the patronage of the Chalukyas and are found at Pattadakal near Badami (Karnataka). There was also great improvement in the art of making sculptures in this period. An important contribution of Chola artists in this respect was the bronze images of Nataraja. These images represent Siva in his cosmic dance and are unmatched in their rythem and balance.