Sunday, 1 November 2015


The Imperial Chola rulers of Tanjore developed the Dravidian style of temple architecture almost to perfection. The Chola art is a continuation of that of Pallava times.

Cholas used stones instead of bricks. Walls were decorated with sculptures and paintings of deities, kings and queens (not lion motifs). Temples have enclosed decorative walls and entrance (Gopuram). They also have an audience hall known as Mandap. The deity room is known as Garbhgriha. The pyramid like storey above the deity room is known as Vimana.  


United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declares  Chola temples of Thanjavur, Darasuram, and Gangaikonda cholapuram by as World Heritage Sites. UNESCO describes them as the great living temples of Cholas, built during 11th-12th century.


The Brihadeswara or Rajarajeswara Temple of Shiva in Tanjore built by Rajaraja Chola in 1010 A.D. is the largest and highest of Chola temples and stands as a symbol of Chola greatness.  Constructed in granite, the main structure of the temple has a square base about 53 metres high and its lofty shikhara of thirteen successive storeys is 57.7 metres high.  A huge stone dome nearly 8 metres high and weighing about 81 tons crowns the shikhara.  The temple from the top of the base is covered with exquisite sculptures and mouldings.  The temple stands in a spacious enclosed courtyard and pavilion with one of the largest monolithic Nandis (6 metres long, 2.6 metres broad and 307 metres high) in South India, a large assembly hall and a pillared portico.   

The walls of the passage around the sanctum are covered with panels of exquisite paintings which though faint with time show vivid expression - a marked feature the classical painting of the Cholas.  The hundred and eight dance poses of Shiva carved on the inner walls of this temple testify to the heights attained by the Cholas in the field of sculpture.  An imposing structure the temple is the finest creation of Chola craftsmen.

The temple Shiva at Gangaikonda Cholapuram built by Rajendra 1 Chola (1018 to 1033 A.D.) is another line piece of temple architecture.  Massive grandeur and huge structures decorated with minute sculptures are characteristics of Chola art.  A new development was the addition of a gateway or gopuram to the walled enclosure of the temple. 

Another achievement of the Cholas is the plastic art of Chola bronzes.  Exquisite idols of Hindu gods and goddesses exhibit the superb workmanship of the craftsmen. The most famous of these is the figure of Nataraja or dancing Shiva portraying the Cosmic dance of Shiva.

Airavateswaraswamy temple at Darasuram and Big Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram are small in size compared to the Big Temple at Thanjavur but rich in intricate sculptures and paintings. Iravata of Indra worshipped Lord Siva at Darasuram and hence the name Airavateswaraswamy. It is said that Yama also worshipped Lord Siva here. Yama theertham is located in front of the temple.


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