One of the longest ruling dynasties of South India, the Chola Dynasty ruled the region until the 13th century. The empire played an influential role in contributing to the art, culture, music, literature and architecture of the southern side. This dynasty ruled the plains of Tamil Nadu for about 1500 years with Thanjavur as their capital. In the Chola emperors’ mission of spreading Hinduism, temples gathered higher significance. Temples became the centre point of cultural, political and economic activities.
The ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ were built by Chola kings stretching all over the South of India. The Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadeeswara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram together form the Great Living Chola Temples. These temples, today, are a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Examples of Dravidian style of architecture, these three temple complexes demonstrates a dynamic development of high Chola architecture and art at its finest while enfolding a very characteristic period of Chola history and Tamil culture. The temples are still functional today. They possess immense archaeological and historical value. In that era, these temple complexes were a part of major royal towns and stood as a depiction of glory and grandeur.
Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur
One of the most frequented temples of Tamil Nadu today, the Brihadeeswarar Temple is the most ambitious undertaking of the Chola ruler King Raja Raja Chola I. The walls of the Sivaganga Little Fort surround and protect the ‘mandir’ complex and constitute a part of the protected area by the Archaeological Survey of India. The main deity worshipped in this temple is ‘Shiva Linga’, an avatar of Lord Shiva. This ‘Shiva Linga’ is 8.7 meters in height. However, idols of Goddess Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati along with idols of Lord Nataraja and Ardhanariswara are also established in the temple. The ‘vimanam’ or the temple tower rises up to a height of about 70 meters, the biggest in the world. The ‘sigaram’ or the crown is an octagonal cupola that is carved from a single stone. The walls of the temple are embellished with exquisite mural paintings reminiscent of the Chola glory. Book Chennai to Mumbai flights via ixigo.com and then cover the distance till Thanjavur by road via bus or car.
Brihadeeswara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram
Located in the Perambalur district of Tamil Nadu, Brihadeeswara Temple was built by King Rajendra Chola I, the son of King Raja Raja Chola I. Smaller to the temple of Thanjavur, this temple is also dedicated to Shiva and is reflective of the classical Dravidian architecture prevalent at the time. The ‘Shiva Linga’ is established in the sanctum of the temple complex which was a private praying area of the royals. The sanctum’s entrance is adorned by an image of Goddess Saraswati. The influence of Chalukya Era can be seen in the icons of ‘Suryapita’ (Sun worship) and ‘Navagrahs’ (Nine planets).
Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram, Thanjavur
Airavatesvara Temple at Thanjavur was built by the Chola king Rajaraja II. Much smaller compared to the other two temples, this temple also venerates their favourite, Shiva in his Airavatesvara avatar. It is believed that Airavata, the celestial elephant worshipped the deity here. The temple has a sanctum with axial mandapas. The front mandapa is shaped like a chariot drawn by horses. With its intricate detailing, sculptures from this temple are the majestic masterpieces of Chola art.
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