03 December 2009

The Great Living Chola Temples

The Magnificent Chola Temples [in Tamil Nadu] not sung by Nayanmars but famous for their architectural splendour are:

1.  Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar temple, Thanjavur
2.  Temple of Gangaikonda Chola Puram
3.  Dharasuram near kumbakonam
4.  3.Thirubhuvanam near kumbakonam [ also famous for the silk sarees]

 Temples 1,3,4  are in Thanjavur district, and the 3rd temple , namely Gangaikonda Chola Puram is in Perambalur district . All these four temples have the same architecture.

1.  Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar temple,

The celebrated Saiva temple at Thanjavur, appropriately called Brihadeeswara and Daksinameru, is the grandest creation of the Chola emperor Rajaraja (AD 985-1012). It was inaugurated by the king himself in his 19th regnal year (AD 1009-10) and named it after himself as Rajesvara Peruvudaiyar. Architecturally, it is the most ambitious structural temple built of granite. It has been regarded as a ‘landmark in the evolution of building art in south India’ and its vimana as a ‘touchstone of Indian architecture as a whole’. The temple is within a spacious inner prakara of 240.9 m long (east-west) and 122 m broad (north-south), with a gopura at the east and three other ordinary torana entrances one at each lateral sides and the third at rear. The prakara is surrounded by a double-storeyed malika with parivaralayas. The temple with its massive proportions and simplicity of design provided inspiration for future designs in constructions not only in south India but also in south-east Asia.

The sikhara, a cupolic dome, is octagonal and rests on a single block of granite, a square of 7.8 m weighing 80 tons. The majestic upapitha and adhishthana are common to all the axially placed entities like the ardha-maha and mukha-mandapas and linked to the main sanctum but approached through a north-south transept across the ardha-mandapa which is marked by lofty sopanas. The moulded plinth is extensively engraved with inscriptions by its royal builder who refers to his many endowments, pious acts and organisational events connected to the temple.

The brihad-linga within the sanctum is 8.7 m high. Life-size iconographic representations on the wall niches and inner passages include Durga, Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Bhikshatana, Virabhadra, Kalantaka, Natesa, Ardhanarisvara and Alingana forms of Siva. The mural paintings on the walls of the lower ambulatory inside are finest examples of Chola and later periods which depict the contemporaneous scenes with legendary ones.

Sarfoji, a local Maratha ruler, rebuilt the Ganapati shrine. The celebrated Thanjavur School of paintings of the Nayakas is largely superimposed over the Chola murals. The temple is rich in iconography as well as inscriptions which provide an account of events showing achievements, financial arrangements, donations and bearing an impression of contemporary society.

Two great Chola Temples of the 11th and 12th centuries have been added to the 11th century Brihadisvara temple of Thanjavur, inscribed in 1987. The Great Living Chola Temples were built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of South India and the neighbouring islands. The site now includes the three great 11th and 12th century Chola Temples: the Brihadisvara temple of Thanjavur, the Temple of Gangaikondacholapuram, the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram and Thirubhuvanam near kumbakonam .

The Temple of Gangaikondacholapuram, built by Rajendra I, was completed in 1035. Its 53-m vimana (sanctum tower) has recessed corners and a graceful upward curving movement, contrasting with the straight and severe tower at Thanjavur. It has six pairs of massive, monolithic dvarapalas statues guarding the entrances and bronzes of remarkable beauty inside. The Airavatesvara temple complex at Darasuram, built by Rajaraja II, features a 24-m vimana and a stone image of Shiva. The temples testify to the Cholas brilliant achievements in architecture, sculpture, painting, and bronze casting.Admission is free.

No fee for still photography/ videography with handheld cameras.
For all other types of photography and videography, the Superintending Archaeologist, A.S.I ,Chennai Circle, Chennai-9 may be contacted (Ph. 044- 25670396/25670397)

Hours of opening: 0630 hrs to 2030 hrs on all days

Approach: Tanjavur is about 330 km from Chennai which is well connected by rail and

2.  Brihadeeswara temple, Gangaikonda Chola Puram, Dist. Perambalur


[A magnificient temple built by Rajendra Cholan (the most ambitious of the Cholas) in the 11th Century AD to commemorate his victory over the kingdoms of the Ganga ]

Rajendra I (AD 1012-1044), the illustrious son of the great Chola king Rajaraja I (AD 985-1014) chose this location to build a new a great capital city for the Chola Empire most probably during the first quarter of 11th century in order to commemorate his conquest over northern territories. Nonetheless, he not only built a city, now in ruins and excavated partially but also a great temple for Siva. The Brihadisvara at Tanjavur had influenced this temple in many ways like the vast conception of the lay out and massive proportion of the elevation.

The lay out – the sanctum with its axial units, the Chandikesvara shrine, the cloister mandapa with the subsidiary shrines and a gopura is similar to Tanjavur. The location of two smaller shrines – The South and North Kailasa (now the Amman shrine) are different. But the architect of this edifice has shown remarkable intelligence to correct some of the shortcomings in the design of the Brihadisvara at Tanjavur like the provision for erecting a wooden scaffolding in the masonry of the sanctum, the pleasing elevation by appropriately changing and placing the hara elements etc.

[the nandhi at gangai konda cholapuram at tamilnadu is made of stucco work at it is said to reflect the daylight straight into the sanctum scantorum during the noon as there is no openings for the sanctum scantorum..it should've been white washed with lime in the past. now the brightness is faded due to ageing]

The inscription recording accurately the donations to the God of the temple is missing here. In fact, there is no inscription of Rajendra himself. The earliest inscription is that of his son, but recording the donations of his father.


                   [Stone inscriptions in Tanjavur Temple. Dates back to 1010 AD.]

The temple has sculptures of exceptional quality like the dancing Ganesa, Ardhanari, Dakshinamurthi, Harihara, Adavallan (Nataraja) (on south wall niches), Gangadhara, Lingodhbhava, Vishnu, Subrahmanya, Vishnu-anugrahmurthi (west wall), Kalanthakamurthi, Durga, Brahma, Bairava, Kamantaka (north wall). But the most outstanding sculptures are found in the niches by the side of the northern entrance steps to the sanctum. They are the Chandesanugrahamurti and Sarasvati. The bronzes of Bhogasakti and Subrahmanya are masterpieces of Chola metal icons. The Saurapitha (Solar altar), the lotus altar with eight deities is considered auspicious.

A British officer in 19th century considered this temple as the best source for stones for the construction of a weir across the river Kollidam and therefore ordered its demolition. But the temple was not demolished due to protest by the locals.

Admission is free.

No fee for still photography/ videography with handheld cameras.

For all other types of photography and videography, the Superintending Archaeologist, A.S.I, Chennai Circle, Chennai-9 may be contacted (Ph. 044- 25670396/25670397)

Hours of opening: 0630 hrs to 2030 hrs on all days.

Approach: Gangaikonda Chola Puram is about 250 km from Chennai on the road to Kumbakonam. Kumbakonam is connected with Chennai by rail and road.

3.  Dharasuram Temple near kumbakonam

Airateswara Temple is a Hindu temple of Dravidian architecture located in the town of Darasuram, near Kumbakonam in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This temple, built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century CE, along with the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur the Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and are are referred to as the Great Living Chola Temples.

Darasuram or Dharasuram [Tamil:தாராசுரம்] is a panchayat town located 3 kilometres from Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district,Tamil Nadu. According to the 2001 census, the town had a population of 13,027. The town is known for the Airavateswara Tample constructed by the Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century AD. The temple is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage monument.

Built by the Chola king Rajaraja II (AD 1143-1173), this temple is a gem of Chola architecture. Though much smaller in size when compared to the Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram, this temple is different as it is highly ornate in execution. The temple consists of a sanctum without a circumambulatory path and axial mandapas. The front mandapa known in the inscriptions as Rajagambhiran tirumandapam, is unique as it was conceptualised as a chariot with wheels. The pillars of this mandapa are highly ornate. The elevation of all the units is elegant with sculptures dominating the architecture.

A number of sculptures from this temple like the full set of Bhikshatana with rishi patnis is various moods, are now preserved in the Tanjavur Art Gallery. They are the masterpieces of Chola art. Remaining ones like Nagaraja, Agastya, dancing Martanda Bhairava, Sarabhamurti, Ganesa etc., are equally gracious. The labelled miniature friezes extolling the events that happened to the 63 nayanmars (Saiva saints) are noteworthy and reflect the deep roots of Saivism in this region. In fact, the king made donation for the singing of hymns from Thevaram, the Saivite sacred book in Tamil, in this temple.

The construction of a separate temple for Devi, slightly later than the main temple, indicates the emergence of Amman shrine as an essential component of the south Indian temple complex.

Admission is free.

No fee for still photography/ videography with handheld cameras.

For all other types of photography and videography, the Superintending Archaeologist, A.S.I Chennai Circle, Chennai-9 may be contacted (Ph. 044- 25670396/25670397)

Hours of opening: 0630 hrs to 2030 hrs on all days.

Approach: Darasuram is a suburb of Kumbakonam and is about 290 km from Chennai. Kumbakonam is connected with Chennai by rail and road.

4.  Thirubhuvanam near kumbakonam

This town is about 8 miles from Kumbakonam in the east on the road leading to Mayiladuthurai. This place is equally famous for its Silks sarees as Kanchipuram and the street leading to the temple is flanked by shops exhibiting lustrous silk sarees.

The great Chola Monarch Kulotthunga III (1178-1218 A.D.) had the title Thirubuvana and it was built by him and got this name .A chola king killed a Brahmin inadvertently and he got Kampa-shivering. He prayed to this god and got rid of his shivering -kampa. Hence the temple is also known as Kampahareshvarar.

In the south there are temples of glory with stately vimanas, Rajarajeswaran at tanjore built by Raja Raja I, Gangaikonda Cholapuram built by Rajendra, Kampharesvaraat thirubuvanam built by Kullotunga III and Darasuram built by Raja Raja II. In all these temples one will find he Vimana (The structure above the sanctum) dominating, while the gopura is insignificant. All these Vimanas were copied from the Tiruvadikai temple which in turn copied the Kailas the abode of Siva .But in later times the Vijayanagara Kings to leave their stamp, built tall gopurams at the entrance. The height of the Vimana here is 126 ft.

The temple faces east and is visble for many miles around. This is under the custody of Dharmapuri Mutt.Kulotthunga III was a devote Siva baktha. In fact the inscriptions call him on Ekha-Baktha and like RajaRaja I was influenced by sivacharyas. The consequence of this temple was done by Guru Someswara, and authority on Saiva Dharsana, 18 vidyas and Upanishads

The temple has two Prakaras each pierced by a Gopura of Small height. In the inner yard are the sanctum, the Devis shrine Chandesa and Saraba. The subsidary shrine face North and the South side this shaped like a Chariot.The main Sactum is tapped by a six tired vimana. The flight of steps and either side leads to the Ardhamandapam. The Muka mandapa too can be reached by flight of steps from the south-east and portigo open to the South.The base of the Karpa-Griha and the Ardha mandapa are decorated with dancing poses.

The sarabas shrine is located to the North-East of the main central shrine and it faces south . The legend of Sarabha is very interesting.Narashimha after killing the Hiranya became very ferocious and could not be controlled even by Devas. The devas turned to Siva for Protection and he assumed Saraba's from to Subdue Narashimha.In various niches in the south wall are Chattainathar, Dakshnamoorthy etc.

Wielding gadha in his left hand apraising his right hand having snake as his waist band and nude, stands Chattainathar. The very beautiful figure is he. For Dakshnamurthy there are no sages. Even the Banyan tree is not original. It has been attained subsequently in stucco.It is practically impossible to describe in words the charm of some sculptures. See the ladies! one with one of her legs bend at the knee adorns herself with flowers.The slender waist, the heavy hips and the seemingly. Swaying torso raped in cloth of superb designs - a true materpiece!

Another masterpiece is lingodbava at the real wall of the sanctum on the outside. In a huge Linga is Siva seem only upto his knees. Vishnu in the form of a Varaha is seen digging the earth to find out the extremity of Siva, while Bhramma as a swan is at the top exploring the top tip of Siva! The Jata Makuta is worked up delicately to form a halo round his head.It is 6 1/2 feet tall and forces a majestic view.

The place now occupied by Saraba must have sheltered Nataraja once. The real portion of Saraba is fashioned like an linga.Near the Dakshnamurhty is a Rare sculpture two animals,an elephant and a bull with one head !.The head of the Elephant is dexterously carved that it looks like a bull's head also.The tusk becomes the horn. The eyes are common after carving so many figures of deities, the artist perhaps took some fancy to chisel this fantastic figure!

This temple near Kumbakonam is the last of this series of four Chola masterpieces.  The front Mandapam here is again built in the form of a huge Charriot.  The Vimanam here is larger than that of Darasuram and is about 120 ft. in height.  Sculptural panels depicting scenes from the Ramayana adorn this temple. 

These four temples described here stand out from the others in that it is only in these that the Vimanam towers over the entrance Gopuram.  After these four temples, the Cholas went back to their traditional style of building temples with larger Gopurams and smaller central Vimanams.  These four temples are fitting memorials to the glory of the rulers that built them, as well as monuments of piety and the committment to art and architecture!

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