Chola Temples Of Tamil Nadu - Seeker's Thoughts

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Seeker's Thoughts

A blog for the curious and the creative.

Chola Temples Of Tamil Nadu



 Chola Temples Of Tamil Nadu


These three temples, all listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, illustrate the progression of Chola architecture and sculpture over time. With gopurams, vimanas and intricate sculptural details galore - you will feel transported into another realm filled with gentleness.


Early Chola art captured all aspects of human emotion - be it joy or sorrow - but ultimately conveyed an overwhelming sense of devotion.



Brihadisvara Temple



Brihadisvara Temple in Tamil Nadu is one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites recognized by UNESCO, and stands as an exquisite tribute to Lord Shiva. 


Constructed during the 11th century by Rajaraja Chola - powerful ruler of Chola Empire that extended over south India and neighboring islands, poet, artist, and powerful ruler who built this magnificent monument dedicated to Lord Shiva - Brihadisvara Temple showcases their artistic talents on display within.


Rajaraja was an ardent follower of Shiva, evidenced in his architecture commissions. A powerful ruler, he managed to conquer parts of Kerala and Sri Lanka - but his most iconic legacy is probably Brihadisvara in Thanjavur; its construction began in 1010 AD and it is dedicated solely to Him.


As with other temples from Chola era, this one follows their signature design - high walls with fort-like entrance, moat that has long since vanished, separate rooms within, elaborate paintings on walls that have faded over time, most notably depicting Rajaraja I in 108 dance postures adorning its inner walls of maha mandapa.


Temple Bindu stands out as being distinctive due to its massive Nandi statue, made out of one single stone and measuring 2 meters tall, 6 metres long, and 2.5 metres wide. Watching the sun light shine onto it daily and reflect back onto Shiv Linga in its main shrine shows just how intelligent and thoughtful its sculptors were during that era.


This temple should not be missed when in the area. With stunning architecture and sculptures, but more importantly a place where visitors can feel the power and divinity of Lord Shiva himself. Open for everyone's viewing pleasure, sunset is when its light shines brightest on his statue and idol.



Gangaikonda Cholapuram


Gangaikonda Cholapuram, one of the Great Living Chola Temples, provides visitors with an opportunity to marvel at 11th century architecture and sculpture. Devoted to Lord Shiva, its vast courtyard showcases this monument of faith with unparalleled grandeur. 


Situated near Jayankondam village in Ariyalur district in Tamil Nadu - and listed as part of UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholisvara Temple in Gangaikondacholapuram and Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram - its grandeur should not go unnoticed!


Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple was constructed by Rajendra Chola, son and successor to Raja Raja Chola who had ruled over large areas in South India, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Bangladesh. According to legend, its name translates as 'king who conquered Gangetic plains' because on one of his expeditions to collect water from Ganga holy river Rajendra brought back an amphora filled with its waters as an offering to anoint his new capital city of Gangaikonda Cholapuram.


This temple is an impressive display of intricate stone carvings on hard granite stones. From Dwarpalas guarding its doors to goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati; dancers to Ardhanariswar (half-man/half-woman expression of Shiva), there are captivating sculptures adorning both walls and ceilings throughout its interior spaces.


Another distinctive aspect of the temple is its enormous lingam, surrounded by an outer wall adorned with sculptures of Gods, Goddesses, dancers and musicians carved with carvings depicting dancing lions made by later additions from Nayak families. Additionally, an additional Nandi stands guard at its entrance which was made by them.


As with other Chola temples, Gangaikonda Cholapuram features an enormous 53-m-high vimana; unlike Peria koil at Thanjavur though, its vimana features recessed corners and graceful upward movement.


Gangaikonda Cholapuram stands out from other Chola temples by virtue of its unique sandhara, an interconnecting passageway running around the sanctum to house its main deity and protected by outer walls of the temple - an invaluable feature that keeps its interior cool in summer and warm during winter.





Vijayala-Cholesvaram Temple in Tamil Nadu is one of the premier examples of Chola architecture and is dedicated to Lord Shiva and considered an outstanding example of continuous entertainment in mind due to its distinctive temple design.


 Lord Shiva himself presides as its primary deity with an idol standing at 24 meters inside its vimana vimana structure, making this an outstanding testament of Chola architecture by Rajaraja II himself who built this marvel as part of their dynasty architecture legacy.


Narthamalai Temple can be found in Pudukkottai District and can be reached best via train from Padukottai, Vellanur or Narthamalai railway stations. 


Once off, board a bus or taxi and head directly towards it! Alternatively, fly into Tiruchirappalli International Airport where Tiruchirappalli Integrated Terminal or Kulathur can easily be accessed by road to get there.


According to Manimekalai, Princess Pillai Valai had an affair with early Chola King Killivalavan and as a result gave birth to Prince Tondai Eelam Thiraiyar; however this remains only speculation and the true history behind its founding remains undiscovered.


Kulottunga III of Chola gifted his wife Koehi the Udayar Shrine here during his first year as King; one of few records to exist regarding Chola temple construction during this era.


This temple features a large srivimana with an octagonal sikhaia. There is a shrine of Virundhanataswami to the north and one dedicated to Soundarya Nayaki to the south of its garbhagriha. 


On either side is another pillar bearing names of various deities associated with the temple - two are named for king and queen while others carry names of deities who reside within. Additionally, unlike most Chola temples that were rebuilt during Later Chola periods this one had not been rebuilt during those periods - its inscriptions date back as early as Adi Kazha (early) Chola period as well as Kulottunga periods!


Airavateswarar Temple


Airavatesvara Temple near Kumbakonam was established by Rajaraja Chola II in 12th-century CE as one of three Great Living Chola Temples listed by UNESCO in their World Heritage Site list; other two being Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholisvaram at Gangaikonda Cholapuram. Crafted using Dravidian style architecture, Airavatesvara is an outstanding example of Chola art with intricate carvings on its pillars that delight visitors; Nandi bull and gopura entrance round out its features.


Lord Shiva is worshiped at this temple, depicted as both benign and fearsome. According to legend, Airavat, Indra's white elephant, worshipped this temple after receiving an ultimatum from Durvasa after disgracing him; after taking a dip in its holy tank he could return his pearly white skin back - thus earning it its name!


Temple of Chola architecture. Devotees would come here to pray and find relief from their sorrows. A must visit for tourists seeking peace.


Temple was much larger in its former form; today only a portion remains. According to its inscriptions, once had six veedhis and seven courts that have all since vanished. What remains is an inner shrine with lingam, an Agra-mandapa on one side and Maha-mandapa on another with decorated ghatas (stairways) displaying sculptures depicting various gods and goddesses.


This temple was chosen for preservation under the Ancient and Historical Monuments Act by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Tamil Nadu Department of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments in 2008. As such, it now falls under National Monument protection. To protect and sustain this monument for future generations, two institutions have developed a detailed management plan.


 It outlines ways of safeguarding and promoting three temples while upholding their Outstanding Universal Value. At its heart lies a mission to promote Vedic and Agamic traditions; art such as sculpture, bronze casting and painting; vastu shastras (ancient Indian guidelines for temple construction) as well as silpa shastras, which provide fundamental guidelines to create temples or other religious structures.

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