The Great Living Chola Temples

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Incredible India, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India

Brihadeeswarar Temple

Built in 1010 CE by Raja Raja 1, the Brihadeeswarar Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thanjavur’s most prominent landmark, it is also known as Peruvudaiyar Kovil or “The Big Temple”.

The Brihadeeswarar Temple is a fine example of Chola architecture and was constructed using some of the most advanced techniques of that time. The Nayak regime added outer fortifications to the Temple for extra protection.

The Brihadeeswarar Temple features inscriptions which present detailed accounts of the town and its life from a thousand years ago. The temple was built under Raja Raja Chola and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The Brihadeeswarar Temple is a towering 212 feet. Amongst its highlights is the Shiva-lingam, which, at 29 feet, is one of India’s tallest. Only priests are allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum.

Another highlight of the Brihadeeswarar Temple is its Nandi. At 12.5 feet tall, 8 feet long and 5 feet wide, it is sculpted from a single rock, and is India’s second largest monolith. The Nandi stands at the temple’s entrance, as a protector for the land.

The major festival celebrated here is Maha Shivaratri during the second week of February. In 2010, the Brihadeeswarar Temple celebrated its 1000th year.

Gangaikondacholapuram Temple

Gangaikondacholapuram was the capital of Rajendra Chola’s regime (1012-1044CE). Son of Raja Raja Chola, Rajendra Chola made this his capital, 70 km away from Thanjavur. He built a temple for Lord Shiva there, intended to equal Thanjavur’s Big Temple in magnificence.

King Rajendra Chola once brought back water of the holy River Ganga, after his travels and conquering several northern kingdoms. The golden pot holding the water was an offering to Lord Shiva, and, as a mark of celebration, King Rajendra Chola also established a ‘liquid pillar of victory’, named Jalamaya Stambha. He was then bestowed with the name Gangaikondan (the one who brought the Ganga), and the town was then named after him.

With lush green landscapes surrounding it, the Gangaikondacholapuram Temple holds richly carved sculptures of Mahisasuramardini, Nataraja, Ardhanariswara and Chandikeshwara. There is also a massive monolith of Nandi and two majestic Dwarpalas at the entrance.

The Gangaikondacholapuram Temple is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site grouping titled The Great Living Chola Temples.

Recently, the Archaeological Survey of India also unearthed remains of a ruined palace built by Rajendra Chola at a site southwest of the town. While here, try and pay a visit to the palace too!

Airavatesvara Temple

Darasuram, located just 4 kilometres away from Kumbakonam town, hosts an array of fascinating architectural structures. The most famous of them, the Airavatesvara Temple, is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and was built by Raja Raja Chola.

Built in the 12th century, the Airavatesvara Temple stands extremely popular and well-preserved. It was included in the list of The Great Living Chola Temples for UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2004.

The Airavatesvara Temple holds shrines of Parvati, Yama, Subramanya and Saraswati apart from Shiva, the main shrine. There are also sculptured representations of Saptamatrikas and various Shaivite devotees.

Right in front of the main shrine is a mandapa (an open tent of sorts) of Alankara. The colonnade of piers at the mandapa has square panels on their sides. Each panel is covered in scenes sculpted from the Shaivite traditions.

Each base on the southern end of the mandapa has large stone wheels supporting it. A horse is sculpted ahead of each wheel, giving the mandapa the look of a chariot.

During the 14th Century, the temple’s architectural designs were changed to brick and mortar statues in order to resemble the format used at the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur.

Credits: Story

Virtual Tour courtesy Archaeological Survey of India

Credits: All media
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