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Monuments of Kerala
The contributions of Kerala to the cultural heritage of India stands unique in every sense. Recent findings in various parts of Kerala has provided enough proff of its greater antiquity in the geological features and pre-historic cultures. The pre-historic evidences obtained from kerala constitute various cultures beginning from Paleolithic to Megalithic period. 'Paleolithis sites in Kerala are found in and around Nilambur in the Beypore basin, Bharathapuzha basin and at Mukkali in Bhavani basin in the Silent Valley'. Several Mesolithic sites are also discovered from the districts of Malapuram, Wayanad, Palakkad, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram.
The artistic carvings found as incisions on the exterior surface of Thenmala rock shelter are of mesolithic age. Engravings of same character can be seen in rock shelters like Edakkal ( Wayanad District), Marayur (Idukki District) and Pandavanpara (Thiruvananthapuram District). Neolithic cultural evidences were found from different parts of Northern Kerala. It is widely distributed megalithic cultural remnants found in this land helped Kerala to achieve a distinct position in the pre-historic map of India. A detailed research on proper perspective has not yet done in this field.
Kerala is rich in megalithic monuments. All of them are funerary monuments often associated with human skeletal remains and burial-furniture. The megalithic monuments of Kerala consists of (1) dolmenoid cists (2) cap stones (3) stone circles (4) Umbrella stones (5) menhirs and (6) Urn-burrials which are seen in different parts of the state. Budha and Jaina monuments which can be ascribable to the period from the 9th to the 11th centuries are available in different parts of Kerala. Of these, the Buddhist monasteries like sreemulavasam and Jaina rock shelters at Chitral, Kallil etc are now converted or considered as Hindu temples. Beautiful stone images of Buddha and Jaina encountered from different parts of Kerala shed light towards the ancient Buddhist and Jain Monasteries in the state.
The most ancient form of Kerala temples are very simple in structure. They are with out roof or open air shrines known as 'Kavu'. Brahmanical cave temples belong to the next stage of development in the temple architecture. Kaviyoor, the oldest cave temple of Kerala belongs to the latter half of the 8th century AD, shows pallava resemblance. Kallil, Trikkur, Ayiroorpara, Kottukal, Vizhinjam and Chitral cave temples represent the technique of rock-architecture which prevailed in Kerala some time in the 8th century.
The inscriptional evidences suggest that the temple architecture in kerala had its begining at least by the early part of the ninth century AD. From the initial stage itself, it is clear that there is special impetus in temple architecture by the patronship of the Cheraman Perumal and the Kulasekhara Alwar. The Kerala temples show clear cut difference from the temples of Tamil Nadu in so far as the imposing 'Gopuram' is conspicuous by its absence. The early temples here are not represented by intact structures and most of them were undergone periodical renovations. All the important temples in kerala have been built on prominent sites as laid down in the sacred texts. The standard works on the architecture of Kerala are the 'Manushyalaya Chandrika', The 'Tantra samuchaya' and 'Silparatna'.
The elements of temples of Kerala are (1) the upapitha (pedestal) (2) the adhistana (base) (3) the stambha (pilaster) (4) the prastara (entamblature) (5) the griva (neck of the dome) (6) the sikhara (cupola) (7) the stupa (pinnacle). Kerala temples generally have a central shine called 'Sree Kovil', which may be square, oblong or circular in shape, consisting of one or two storeys over which a sloping roof is built. With in there is the 'Garbha griha', where the image of the diety is placed. In front of the main temple or 'Sreekovil' is situated a 'namaskara mandapa' on a square plan and built with pyramidal roof. Surrounding these is a corridor or pillared hall known as 'Nalambalam'. The entrance to the nalambalam is graced by a 'balipitha' with a 'dhwaja stambha' in front of it. The outside of the nalambalam is the 'Vilakkumadam'. The whole structure is surrounded by a paved processional path. In addition to the above separate edifices like 'Koothambalam', 'Anakkottil' and smaller shrines dedicated to Sastha, Parvathy, Ganesha or other deities are also found in some temples. All these structures are enclosed by a compound wall in the centre of each side of which, at the four cardinal points are, entrances surmounted by 'Gopuras'.
The traditional domestic architectural monuments include 'Nalukettu', Ettukettu' and palaces which were built according to thesilpa sasthras and are the living specimens of Kerala traditional architecture. Strong influence of the local Hindu temple style is seen in the structure of ancient churches and mosques of Kerala. Among the historical monuments in Kerala, there are several ancient forts which deserve special attention. Most of the monuments, especially temples and palaces of Kerala are adorned with beautiful mural paintings and sculptures which proclaim our rich and prosperous tradition in fine arts.