The rulers of Vijayanagar were the inheritors of the rich traditions in art and architecture of the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Hoysalas.
Nicolo Conti, an Italian traveller, Abdul Razzaq, an ambassador from Shah Rukh of Persia and Domingo Paes, a Portuguese traveller have given a vivid account of the magnificent buildings which adorned the city of Vijayanagar.
Vijayanagar has been described as large as Rome or any biggest town in the western world at that time.
The city was surrounded by seven fortifications. The space in between was used for various purposes such as laying gardens and growing vegetables etc. The total area of the city was estimated at 64 square miles. There were beautiful lakes, open gardens, broad and well-laid roads and buildings. The Tungabhadra river had a dam which provided water for the 40 kilometer long canal of the city.
The palace was the most impressive building in Vijayanagar. There were halls of public and private audiences. The halls were decorated with beautiful painted pictures. Usually the walls and pillars were ornamented with sculptures made of stone or wood. Unfortunately, most of the city of Vijayanagar is now in ruins, represented by the well-known site Hampi which is dotted with little hills of granite and where not a blade of grass grows.
Temple architecture received a new impetus and reached to new heights under the patronage of the Vijayanagar rulers. About the architecture of the period, Prof. S.K. Saraswati has observed, “The most frequent design is one in which the shaft becomes either a central core or background for a group of statuary, of substantial proportion and carved practically on the ground. Important features of Vijayanagar style of temple and architecture were: monolithic pillars, ornate brackets, decoration on exterior side of the walls, etc.
A large number of temples were built during this period. Krishnadevaraya built a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna. He renovated several temples. The most important was the temple of Hazara Rama. The royal family worshipped there. Its most interesting features were the four finely polished black stone pillars which support the ‘Mandapa’.
They have beautiful sculptures carved on them. The deities on the pillars represent Vishnu, Lakshminarayana, Krishna, Brahma and others. Scenes from the lipics are depicted on the outer walls of the shrine.
A number of temples were built during the medieval period in the South cities of Vellore, Kumbhakonam, Kalahsti, Srirangam, Conjeevam and Virinchipuram were dotted with magnificent temples.
The temples of Vithala and Pattabhirama also deserve mention. The most important features of the temple of Vithala are the ‘Mahamandappa’ and the ‘garbhagriha’. The Mahamandappa has 56 pillars. The ceilings above these pillars are highly ornamented. Likewise ‘garbhagriha’ is highly ornated.
A ‘rath’ in stone with finely carved wheels adds beauty to Vitthalaswami temple.
‘Gopurams’—the entrances to the courts of the temples are a unique feature of the south Indian temples, particularly built during the medieval period. These colossal gateways which lend glamour and prestige to the temples were covered by lofty pyramidal tower rising up in storeys and ultimately crowned by a lofty vault. The ‘gopuram’ in the temple of Ekambaranath having ten storeys rising to the height of 188 feet is the most remarkable one.