The glory of the Pallavas still remains in their contribution to the art and architecture. They were the pioneers of South Indian art and architecture. They had introduced the stone architecture in the Tamil country. Their contributions are still extant because granite was used for building temples and carving sculptures. The Pallava architecture had evolved stage by stage from the period of Mahendravarman I. The contribution of Pallavas in the field of architecture can be divided into three phases: a) Rock cut b) Monolithic rathas c) Structural Temples.
Rock cut temples:
we call the Pallava rock-cut temples as Mahendravarman style. He carved temples out of the rocks and thus they were known as rock cut temples. It was really an innovation in the sphere of art because he did not use any other building materials. Therefore, he was hailed s VichitraChitta. In these rock cut temples, we find the sanctum sanctorum and on the walls of it beautiful sculptures. The pillars are carved in such a way that they stand on the heads of lions. The rock cut temples of Mahendravarman I are found at various places of Tamil Nadu. The most important among them are Pallavaram, Mamandur, Mahendravadi, Vallam and Thalavanur.
The monolithic rathas and sculptural mandapas constitute the Mamalla style of architecture. The Pallava king, Narasimhavarman I was known as Mamalla. He had converted the port of Mamallapuram as a beautiful city of art and architecture. The Monolithic rathas at Mamallapuram are now called as PanchaPandavaRathas. Each ratha or chariot was carved out of single rock and hence the name monolithic. These rathas depict the five different forms of temple architecture.
We can broadly classify the Pallava structural temples into
1. Rajasimha Style and
2. Nandivarman Style
The earliest among the Pallava structural temples were the Kailasanatha Temple at Kanchipuram and the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram. These temples were built by using sandstones. The Vimana or tower of the Kailasanatha temple is shaped like hilly comb. This temple is considered as the Crown of Pallava architecture. This temple is also called as Rajasimheswaram. We also find beautiful sculptures in this temple. The sculptures depicting the scenes of the satirical drama MaththavilasaPrakasanam have been engraved in this temple. The Shore temple at Mamallapuram is also filled with numerous sculptures. This temple attracts tourists from all over the world.
The successors of Rajasimha had also built several structural temples at various places. Nandivarman II had built the Vaikunda Perumal Temple at Kanchipuram. The temples built by the later Pallava rulers are found at places like Kanchipuram, Panamalai, Kooram, Thiruthani and Gudimallam.