General features of a Chola temple
The two major temple styles of ancient India, namely the Nagara and Dravida, was formalised and crystallised during the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. The Dravidian style of construction was initiated largely by the Pallavas in a more permanent medium during the sixth century A.D. which reached its culmination under the Cholas.
The development of this style could be discernible from the examples at Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram which were the major Pallava centres of art and commerce. The Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram is an example of a complete temple complex, consisting of a
garbhagriha, antarala, mandapa enclosed by a cloistered enclosure wall with an entrance
gopura. The sikhara of a Dravidian temple is square on plan and pyramidal on elevation unlike that of a Nagara temple which is square on plan and curvilinear on elevation. The sikhara is divided into various tiers or storeys by the arrangement of miniature shrines of three types, namely, the
sala (rectangular), kuta (square) and panjara (apsidal). The arrangement of the pillar elements improvise from their Pallava examples in terms of elaboration and additional elements. The Dravidian order of temples attained its zenith under the Cholas and ultimately under Rajaraja I, which is reflected in the Brihadisvara Temple.
The main shrine is the most dominant feature of the Chola temples, and in the Brihadisvara temple, it reaches the highest watermark. The
sikhara of the Brihadisvara temple is the tallest among all the temples of south India. The construction of the entrance gopura also crystallises during this period which is reflected in the first entrance
gopura of the temple.