A gopuram or gopura (Sanskrit: गोपुरम्, gopuram, Tamil: கோபுரம், Malayalam: ഗോപുരം, Kannada: ಗೋಪುರ, Telugu: గోపురం) is a monumental entrance tower, usually ornate, at the entrance of a Hindu temple, in the South Indian architecture of the Southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, and Telangana, and Sri Lanka. In other areas of India they are much more modest, while in Southern Indian temples they are very often by far the highest part of the temple.
Ancient and early medieval temples feature smaller gopuram, while in later temples they are a prominent feature of Hindu Dravidian style; in many cases the temple compound was expanded and new larger gopuram built along the new boundary. They are topped by the kalasam, a bulbous stone finial. They function as gateways through the walls that surround the temple complex. Another towering structure located towards the center of the temple is the Vimanam. Both of them are designed and constructed as per rules given in the texts of Vaastu shastra.
The gopuram's origins can be traced back to early structures of the Pallava kings, and relate to the central shikhara towers of North India. Between the twelfth and sixteenth century, during the Pandya, Nayaka and Vijayanagara era when Hindu temples increasingly became a hub of the urban life, these gateways became a dominant feature of a temple's outer appearance, eventually overshadowing the inner sanctuary which became obscured from view by the gopuram's colossal size and courtyards. It also dominated the inner sanctum in amount of ornamentation. Often a shrine has more than one gopuram. They also appear in architecture outside India, especially Khmer architecture, as at Angkor Wat.
A large Dravidian-style temple, or koil, may have multiple gopurams as the openings into successively smaller walled enclosures around the main shrine, with the largest generally at the outer edges. The temple compound is typically square or rectangular with at least the outermost wall having gopuras, often from the four cardinal directions. The multiple storeys of a gopuram typically repeat the lower level features on a rhythmic diminishing scale. The inner sanctum and its towering roof (the central deity's shrine) is also called the Vimanam, although in the south it is typically smaller than the gopurams in large temples.
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