In contrast to Gopurams, Rathas are actually not found at Tamil temples exclusively, Rathas are the cariots of temple feasts all over India. During the festival season, they are richly decorated and pulled through the streets.
The name 'Ratha' is of Sanskrit origin and etymologically related to the Spanish word 'rueda', meaning 'wheel', and more obviously to the Latin and English term "radius", indicating a circular form. Though this may appear to be somewhat odd, the origin of Gopuram architecture is actually the Ratha. How can this be? Rathas are made of wood and Gopurams are stone buildings. However, the Pallava architecture of the 7th century imitated wooden chariots by stone constructions of almost the same shape and size, as can be seen at the famous Pancha Rathas ('Five Rathas') in World Heritage Site Mahabalipuram near Chennai in India's state of Tamil Nadu. Actually, these Pancha Rathas of the Narasimhavarman period of Pallava architecture, though not completed afterthe king's death, became prototypes of Tamil tower architecture in general - and in the course of the centuries their original shape developed into those giant towers known as Gopurams or Gopuras.