The Great Living Chola Temples
| Last Updated: June 21, 2013
Brahadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur
Built between 10th and 12th centuries CE, the Great Living Chola Temples stand testimony to the achievements of Cholas in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting. Brihadeeswarar at Thanjavur, Brihadeeswarar at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram figure high on the Chola temples’ list and have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the longest-ruling dynasties (850 CE-1250 CE) in Southern India, the Chola dynasty built the temples over a period of nearly 200 years. The Chola temple architecture reflects the glory, prosperity and stability under the Chola emperors.
Staunch devotees of Lord Shiva, the Cholas temples were dedicated to their favourite god in the Hindu pantheon.
Continuing with the temple building traditions of the Pallavas who preceded them, the Cholas elevated Dravidian temple design to greater heights. The Chola style involves use of granite to create design consisting of deities, warriors, kings and dancers. Cholas built huge temples. The Brihadeeswarar temple at Thanjavur stands within a spacious inner prakara of 240.9 m long (east-west) and 122 m broad (north-south).
Gangaikonda Choleswarar Temple in Thanjavur
The most ambitious of the Chola temples, Brahadeeswarar temple in Thanjavur was built after Chola king Raja Raja I received command in his dreams. With its grand design and magnificence, it added to the architectural splendour of the Chola capital.
The temple houses a 3.7 meter tall linga of Lord Shiva and the tallest vimanam in the world. One of the architectures splendours, the gopurams in Brahadeeswarar temple are decorated with sculptural depictions of various gods and goddesses.
With its massive proportions and simplicity of design, Brahadeeswarar is believed to have provided inspiration for future designs in constructions not only in south India but also in south-east Asia.
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Airavateswarar Temple in Darasuram
Gangaikonda Choleswarar Temple
Similar to the Brahadeeswarar temple of Thanjavur, the Gangaikonda Choleswarar Temple was built by Chola King Raja Raja I to commemorate his conquest over northern kingdoms. Gangaikonda Cholapuram was erected as the capital of the Cholas by Rajendra Chola I and Gangaikonda Choleswarar Temple, the focal point of the Chola capitals.
At four meter high, the Shiva lingam is taller than the Shiva lingam of Thanjavur temple. Other attractions of the temple are the monolithic representation of Navagrahas in the shape of a chariot and the sculptures of Chandeswarar and Gnanasaraswathi.
Smaller than the Brahadeeswarar temple and Gangaikonda Choleswarar Temple; the Airavateswarar temple in Darasuram near Kumbakonam is the third in the list of the Great Living Chola temples.
The temple in Tamil Nadu was built by Raja Raja II in the 12th century CE. Dedicated to their favourite god, Lord Shiva is venerated here as Airavateshwara as it is believed the celestial elephant Airavat worshipped the deity here.
Like the other temples, Airavatesvara temple is also known for its architecture. The vimana of the temple is 24 m high. The front mandapam is in the form of a huge chariot drawn by horses. It is said the temple is said to have built with nitya-vinoda, ‘perpetual entertainment in mind’.
Kampahareswarar Temple in Tribhuvanam
Though not included in the list of Great Living Chola Temples, Kampahareswarar temple at Tribhuvanam was built by King Tribhuvana Chakravarti as a memorial to his conquest in the North.
The mandapam is built in the form of a huge chariot and the vimanam is larger than the gopuram. It is about 120 feet in height. Another attraction is the sculptured panels depicting scenes from the Ramayana. You can find the rare sculpture of Sarabha, a form Shiva took to subdue Narasimha.
First Published: June 21, 2013