All forms of Indian art have been spiritual and all forms of traditions of art have been profoundly conventional. The Hindu temple architecture developed over two thousand years. The architectural evolution of the temples took place within the rigid frameworks derived entirely from religious thoughtfulness. Therefore the architect was bound to keep to the ancient primary dimensions and strict configurations, which remained unaltered over the period of time.
The architectural elements and decorative details in the temple had their origin in the early wood, timber and thatch buildings. It had persisted for centuries in one form or another in the stone structures even though the original purpose and context was lost. This can be studied from the horseshoe shaped window. The origin of this type of window can be traced from the chaitya arch doorway first at the Lomash Rishi cave in the Barabar Hills used in the 3rd century BC. It was transformed later into a dormer window known as a gavaksha and eventually it was used strictly as the decorative design of interlaced forms seen on the towers of medieval temples.
The architect and sculptor were given a plenty of freedom in the ornamentation and decoration of the temples. This resulted in an overwhelming riches of architectural elements, sculptural forms and decorative ebullience that is the characteristic feature of Indian temple architecture has few analogues in the aesthetic manifestation of the whole world.
The distinct architectural styles of temple construction of the north India and the south India was the result of the broad geographical, climatic, ethnic, racial, historical and linguistic differences resulted, from early on, in. The Vastu Shastras, the ancient canonical texts on architecture, classify temples into three different orders: the Nagara or the Indo-Aryan or Northern style, the Dravida or the Southern style and the Vesara or Mixed style of temple architecture. There are also definite regional styles in peripheral areas like Bengal, Kerala and the Himalayan areas.
In the early years, when the temple building had just begun, the shape of their superstructures can distinguish the two styles. The most significant difference between the later northern and southern styles are the gateways. The shikhara in the north Indian temples remained the most prominent component of the temple and the gateway was ordinarily unassuming. In the south Indian temples, the enclosure walls were built around the whole complex. Elaborate and often magnificent gateways called gopurams were ideally set along the east-west and north-south axes of these walls, which led the devotees into the sacred courtyard. Less obvious differences between the two main temple types include the ground plan; the selection and positioning of stone-carved deities on the outside walls and the interior, and the range of decorative elements that are sometimes so numerous as to almost obscure the underlying architecture.
The best examples of the north Indian style of temple architecture are the Khajuraho Group of temples, Sun temple, Konark, Surya temple, Modhera, Gujarat and Ossian temple, Ossian, Gujarat. The finest examples of Dravidian style are temples of Tanjore, Madurai, Mahabalipuram, Badami, Pattadakal and Kanchipuram.