As we have noticed earlier, the history of the Pallavas is important for their contribution to art and letters as well as to the Bhakti movement of those times.
With the extinction of the Khalabhra and the revival of the Pandyas in the south and the growth of the Pallavas in Tondaimandalam, new techniques in architecture developed. We have seen above how Mahendravarman I claimed authorship of the new architectural style involving the exclusive use of stone.
At least for purposes of religious building this was a departure from pre- Pallavan Tamil architecture which used timber, brick and mortar. It was for the sake of durability that the innovation was introduced.
In those times religious structures were intended to be durable if not permanent and the same concern did not govern secular architecture so that mostly material other than stone was used for secular structures like palaces, ware houses, private residences, etc.
Though the medium of art was changed from non stone to stone, it is certain that the architectural tradition and style continued, and could safely be called Tamilian though generally called Dravidian. It is true that exactly contemporaneously in Vatapi, Pattadakkal and other places the Western Chalukyas also had developed, a similar style of religious architecture.
Religious structures made by excavating large rocks or hills are to be found in the sixth century in Maharashtra and almost simultaneously with the early Pallavas we have such structures in the Pandyan country also.
The natural caves-some of them were perhaps artificial-which were donated to ascetics and which contain inscriptions to that effect and are to be found in large numbers in the vicinity of Madurai belong to 5 or 6 centuries earlier than the early Pallavas. So it may not be correct to say that this style was the invention, or its utility the discovery of Mahendravarman or his immediate predecessors.
Possibly the Pallavas who were the authors of the famous structures in Mahabalipuram thought that they were the pioneers in this field. The Chalukyan invasion of Tondaimandalam in the early part of the reign of Mahendravarman and Simhavishnu's campaigns in the south for exterminating the Kalabhras should have meant considerable movement not only of armed forces but also of merchants, artisans etc., so that art styles could have been imported easily by one area from another.
In the Tamil country itself the Pallava period is an important phase in the development1 of religious architecture. From Mahendravarman I to the end of the Pallava period we have two broad divisions of architectural style.
The first was the rock-cut, of which the monolithic style is a well-known form and the second is the structural. Of these the rock-cut style itself has minor variations like the Mahendra style and the Mamalla style.
The pillar mandapa is a special feature of the former. The monolithic temples usually called the Rathas belong to the later style and there is greater sophistication in the pillars and their capitals. The evolved cave temples to some extent resemble the Chaityas of the Buddhists.
The introduction of the figure of a lion at the base as well as the capital of pillars is a special feature of early Pallava architecture. The evolution of Pallava architecture from the beginning to its natural end is best seen in the sea-side town of Mahabalipuram.
But from Mamalla to Rajasimha there is a gap in the evolution of that architecture. It was perhaps this period which witnessed the marvellous sculptural achievement of that period which has been called 'a vast picture, a regular fresco in stone'.
This is what was once known as Arjuna's penance but is now almost settled as Bhagirathi's penance. The realistic representation of the forest scene including the elephants, cats and monkeys, the water-falls and the ascetics is breath-taking in its naturalness.
The Varahamandapa and the Mahishasuramandapa are good specimens of sculpture and they also depict an advanced style of pillars. Almost simultaneously in the Pandyan country at Tirupparangunram and Kalugumalai we have similar structures. The Pagodas or the Rat has in Mamallapuram resembled basically huts.
The pyramidal shape peculiar to the Vihara is noticeable in the Dharmarajaratha. Its crown is a sikara. Some of the Rathas have more than one storey and a peculiarity of the Sahadevaratha is that its shape is of the Gajaprishtha (elephant back) pattern. We do not know what idols were housed in these temples or whether they were three dimensional icons or were merely paintings.
After a century or so we come across the structural style which is best represented by the Shore Temple in Mamallapuram and the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi both the product of Rajasimha Pallava.
The Shore Temple is the most beautiful and perfect example of its class. Nandivarman Pallavamalla carried this tradition a step forward and created the Vaikuntha Perumal temple in which the gateways become more ornamented and a greater sense of unity is given to the complex.
The Muktesvara temple at Kanchi, the Virattanesvara at Tiruttani and the Parasuramesvara at Gudimallam belong to the advanced style of Nandivarman. The Vaikuntha Perumal temple was the last great stage in the evolution of Pallava architecture. The Fine Arts
The Pallava paid equal attention to all the fine arts. The Kudumiyamalai and the Tirumayam music inscriptions are usually assigned to Mahendravarman I but even if they were the result of Pandyan patronage they belong to the same period. The musical system revealed by these inscriptions gives us some idea of the music of those times, not only vocal but also instrumental.
In regard to painting, the Sittannavasal paintings are the earliest of surviving Tamil painting. They are truly frescos and generally depict natural objects besides celestial figures. A comparison with the Ajanta paintings will be pointless unless we get more illustrations of the same category.
During the pallava period stone icons were made though their iconography cannot be illustrated with enough specimens. The Linga got in Gudimallam the earliest of its kind is at least as old as the 2nd century BC and the Pallava period could easily have inherited the tradition of Linga worship which however does not find mention in the Sangam literature. Learning
The educational system and the organisation of schools received some attention from the Pallavas. From the Kadamba inscription of Kakusthavarman we learn that there was a Ghatika in Kanchipuram. This Ghatika was providing instruction in the Vedas and other Sanskrit sacred lore; perhaps it was not exclusive for the Brahmins.
There must have been a section which recruited princes for instruction and the latter learnt the arts of war. Mayuravarman was possibly such a pupil in the Ghatika of Kanchi and so he could fight the guarding cavalrymen.
At the end of the Pallava period we have the Bahur inscription which gives an unusually full picture of a Vedic school. We hear of the teachers, the students, the curricula and the salaries for the instructors. A miniature Nalanda seems to have been functioning in Bahur. But it was all Sanskrit education. The practical arts and crafts were learnt hereditarily and they passed from father to son in the family.
Thus there was no organised, centralized and public teaching of technology Tamil language and literature were being taught in the Guru-Sishya style on a voluntary basis and recitation of Tamil devotional verses when they became instituted in the Tamil temples occasioned the establishment of schools for this purpose.
The Kanakkayar of the Sangam times was still a symbol of pure private enterprise in education. The public schools, and we mean the Bahur type by this, had hospitals and hostels attached to them. Learning was esteemed by that society but most people could get on without any learning.