Distinctive Kerala style of temple architecture

Rectangle roof,Cherathrikovil Shreekrishna - Siva Temple kochi Kerala.www.hotfrog.in

Elliptical roof.Iswarar Temple,Adhur. Kerala. www.shaivam.org.

Elliptical roof. comarshavidyamruthavahini.blogspot.com
Conical roof, Maha Vishnu temple,Thrikodithanam  www.thrikodithanam.org
Kerala Architecture.www.skyscrapercity.com

Temples have an important place in the lives  of Keralites for centuries and there are numerous old temples dating back to centuries built by several kings belonging to different dynasties. There are some temples modeled after Dravidian style too, prevalent in neighboring Tamil Nadu.Though Agama Sastra tradition  of  worship is followed in numerous temples, 'Tantric  tradition' of worship is quite prevalent, notably  at Kali or Bhagavathy Amman(Goddess) temples. There is a wise saying in Tamil " Kovil ellaatha ooril kudi errukka  vendaam'' meaning never live in a place where there is no temple or ambalam. This is also true of  Kerala. A part of their social life is also associated with temples where there is space for dance or Koothu recitals. 

Temple architecture  is normally defined by Temple Sastras that recommend certain designs pertaining to the location of sanctum, prakara (walk path around the main shrine) , flag staff, etc.  In Kerala the temple architecture is  unique and different from that of other regions.  Largely dictated by the geographical location   and climate of the region that has lots of wooded areas,  blessed with the bounties of the SW monsoons, here  the structure of the temples  is  suitable to the coastal and rainy environment all within the ambit of temple Sastras.  The  wooden roofs are steep and pointed, and covered with copper sheets. The slanting roofs extend  at least 2 feet out beyond the walls so that they will be kept dry free from rain and sun shine.  The  roof  designs resemble those  found in the Himalayan regions and those in East Asia.It is a way to counter the vagaries of climate, hot summer, high humidity, heavy downpour, etc. 
Pamanabhapurm palace. en.wikipedia.org

 Above image: Gabled roof and ceiling works are the prime features of Kerala architectural style.Classic overlooking roof.Pamanabhapurm palace.

The architecture of Kerala is a blend of Dravidian and Vedic architectural science (Vastu Shastra) that lasted over two millennia with local influence. It is believed, that the Tantra Samuchaya, Thachu-Shastra, Manushyalaya-Chandrika and Silparatna that are   important architectural sciences, have had a considerable influence on the   Kerala temple style.Many temples also show the influence of Buddhism. Dome shaped roofs resemble Buddhist stupa.
The shape of the roof is based on the  the plan of the sanctum  right below it. So,  one could see  a conical roof over  a circular plan and a pyramidal roof  over square plan, Invariably in all cases the roof is made of quality wood preferably  covered with copper plates.  The disadvantage of using wood is, it is subject to easy destruction due to natural causes and the temples have to go through  frequent renovations without any delay.

Just like other Hindu temples,  the central part is Garbagraha (sanctum sanctorum) or ''Sri Kovil''  in local parlance, which is on a raised platform accessed by 3 or 5 steps called ''Sopanapada.''The sanctum is  surrounded by a  prakara,  with one or more cardinal points  where there are Gopura Dwaras (openings).  Sri Kovil is the  most sanctified place of the temple. Here the temple priests act as a medium between devotees and the God. Brahmin  priests, well versed in  Temple Agama Sastras,  can enter the Sri Kovil. Others are not allowed. In Kerala  only main priest (Thantri) and second priest (Melshanti) are only allowed to enter into Sri-kovil. Located directly in front of the sanctum or Sri Kovil is a Namaskara mandapam  in the prakaram.  Here devotees  reverentially  prostrate before th deity as a mark of ''surrender  to thee.''The number of prakara varies  from temples to temple in odd number. A small temple will have just one prakara. The  prakaram also houses  smaller sub shrines.  

All Hindu temples have an exclusive kitchen (in Tamil ''Madapalli'') where the divine food - Naivaidhyam  is referentially cooked  by Brahmin cooks.  It is  is located in the south eastern corner of the  prakaram called  ''Thevarapura.''

 GuruvayurTemple flagstaff & flag. (Kotimaram). en.wikipedia.or

The Mukha mandapam or Thalla mandapam is  part of''Chettuambalam''  which is integrated with the gopura entrance - an outer structure with the temple wall. The flagstaff or dwaja stambham is located outside of the main shrine facing Sri Kovil and is in the   Mukha mandapam. It may be copper or, brass or gold plated. At some temples it is located in the open space facing the main shrine. The balipitham may be set in the mukha mandapam or in the outer courtyard. The outer prakaram or courtyard houses other sub shrines, and a temple  tank. In many temples this part is open and does not have covered roof. Nalamblam is an enclosed hall for ritualistic worship and a divided part of it is meant for feeding Brahmins  who conduct yagas called Agrasalas.

Koothambalam,Kerala Kalamandalam,www.flickr.com.

The Kuttambalam or the theater hall is an integral part of many Kerala temples and is built  either as a part of the inner prakara, on the SE corner facing north, or as a separate hall outside the innermost prakaram, either facing into the temple or facing north. The  Kuttambalam has  a stage or  platform well  raised from the rest of the floor,  and  a  backstage area for the artists. This theater hall is meant for staging  the performance  of  Kathakali  or Chakkiyar koothu recitals.  It is a well  ventilated auditorium where there is enough space for audience and the performing artists. Tourist visiting Kerala will understand  to what extend  the Kuttambalam  plays a key role in the  cultural fabric of this God's country thus preserving the heritage of India and of Kerala, in particular.  It is  also a major center for learning Indian  performing arts, especially  those  that developed  in  Kerala - Kathakali,  Mohiniyattam,  Kudiyattam, Nangiar Koothu,  besides the traditional orchestra called Panchavadyam. Training is also given in various percussion  instruments  like chenda, maddalam and mizhavu. Kalamandalam follows the gurukula sampradayam, the ancient Indian education system based on residential tutelage. Koothambalam is the place that nurtures such traditional performing arts that exist for centuries.
koodalmanikyam temple koothambalamwww.vaikhari.org

Features that differentiate the Kerala temples are not only its simple, but elegant appearance, but also the construction materials that go into its building. The temple is  made of a combination of stone,wood, stucco works and painting - put together in an exquisite manner that brings out the essence of colorful and active traditions of Kerala. The base and the structure above are made of granite and  in some cases   laterite  stones respectively. The temple  walls are  made of coarse laterite stones  plastered in mud and lime. Murals, using vegetable dyes, are seen on several of these temple walls. Careful use of  enormous  wood for the outer work and the inner skeletal work enhances the beauty and grandeur of the temple, 

Velukku madam.Sri Mahadeva temple, Vaikom, Keralawww.earthmemories.net

A distinctive feature that is not found in Hindu temples  of other parts of India is the use of ''vilakku maadam'', or the multi-tiered brass lamps  stand in the front  part of temples  on the outer wall right below the slanting roof. Laksha Deepam (100,000 lamps) is a  grand and spectacular celebration of traditional lighting  where tiers of small oil lamps lining the outer walls of the inner prakaram are lit.  Karthikai Deepam festival in Kerala is celebrated on a grand scale and the Villakku madam is extensively used by the devotees.

Temples have  an important place in the  social life of Keralites because they form the divine confluence of simple expression of devotion and bakthi on one hand and on the other hand the same is conveyed through the expression of dance or koothu in the house of God. The designs and styles of temple  architecture evolved over a long period of time. Because of vast quantities of wood  go into the construction, preservation of structures is very important. Temples  were renovated frequently in the past and the current structures that we see today  are vastly the  result of the numerous renovations.