Mahendravarman who calls himself Vichitrachitta (curious of inventive minded) extols himself for the achievement of the excavation of cave temples without using brick, mortar, metal or wood. The temple architecture that was thus started in South India had a continuous history since then. It is generally classified into groups according to the names of the dynasties of kings.
It is usually said that the Pallava period (AD 600-AD 850) is that of sculptured rock, the early Chola period (AD 850-AD 1100) that of grand Vimanas, the later Chola and Imperial Pandya period (AD 1100-AD 1350) that of the most beautiful gopuras and of the Vijaynagar period (AD 1350-AD 1600) that of mantapas and pillared halls and the Nayak period as also the modern period after 1600 as that of corridors.
Mahendravarman excavated in living rocks a number of cave temples which are simple in their plan and decoration, each of them consists of a pillared varandah in front and a shrine cut into its back. The pillars are thick and not more than seven feet in height.
They are divided into three sections, the lower and the upper ones being cubical square in shape and the middle one octagonal, being bevelled on four sides. The two sadurams are ornamented by engraved lotus medallions.
The extreme columns are pilasters. In some cases the front verandah consists of two parts of the Mahamantapa and the Ardhamantapa. Each cave temple has one or three or five cells or shrines cut in the rock. On the top of the pillars and pilasters are placed massive potikas or corbels. The kudu arches are found engraved on the Kapota in a few cases.
On either side of the entrance to the cells in some of the caves are found sculptured figures of two dvarapalakas. Such cave temples were excavated during the days of Mahendravarman’s successors also, namely Narasimhavarman I, Paramesvaravarman I, and Narasimhavarman II.
The general architectural features of these temples are practically the same as those of the earlier ones, except for the fact that the pillars are found to be thinner and taller, sometimes flatter with an oblong section.
The space between them is wider. During the days of Narasimhavarman II (AD 630-AD 668). This rock-cut cave architecture reached it zenith in the Tamil country. The best examples of this group are confined to Mahabalipuram, and are characterised by greater advance with regard to their components and general execution. “On their facade is a roll cornice ornamented with a kudu motif which is surmounted by a parapet formed of model shrines, a long one alternating with a short one.
The mural surface between the pilasters was utilised for the carving of edifying sculptures.” The pilasters were utilised for the carving of sculptures. The pilasters of some of the mantapas are also adorned with sculptural figures of high quality.
Among them particular mention may be made of Durga slaying the buffalo demon Mahisha, Krishna raising the Govardhana, Vishnu as Anantasayin and the incarnation of Vishnu as Varaha.