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Group of Chola Temples

Relish ancient art at Great Living Chola Temples

The great Chola temples in Tamil Nadu built by the kings of the Chola empire. The Brihadiswara Temple at Thanjavur, the temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram epitomizing Chola architecture comprises the Great Living Chola Temples India. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chola Temples in Thanjavur are an outstanding example of architecture and a true representative of the Chola ideology.

While touring South India, make sure to plan on visiting the three temples of the Chola dynasty: the Brihadeshwara temple of Thanjavur (Tanjore), the Brihadeshwara temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram as well as the Airavatesvara temple in Darasuram. In 1987, UNESCO nominated the three temples of the Chola dynasty for its list of world cultural heritage.

Brihadeshwara Temple of Thanjavur (Tanjore)

Built during 1003 and 1010, Brihadeshwara temple lies in Thanjavur (Tanjore) in the Indian state of Tamilnadu. It was built during the reign of King Rajaraja who was the founder of the Chola kingdom, and ruled south India and the neighboring islands. During India’s medieval period, Brihadeshwara temple served as a fort against storming enemies including Muslim invasions. Today, Tanjore is an important pilgrimage city for Hindus.

The Brihadeshwara temple is a fine example of Dravidian archticture. It is designed as a rectangular 720-square-foot compound and is surrounded by a wall. The characteristic form of Dravidian architecture is the Vimana, the tower that consists of a hollow step pyramid and is built out of large stone blocks (also named as monolithic method of construction). The temple was constructed as a royal temple in order to represent Rajaraja's vision of his power and of absolute order.

The only entrance to the Brihadeshwara temple is a gate at the east side of the temple compound. It is equipped with two Gopurams (temple towers). The external wall is about 90 feet high, and the internal wall is decorated with Hindu tales. Through these two impressive temple towers (Gopurams), you will reach the temple courtyard that is surrounded by a wall and colonnade. In the colonnade stand 250 Linga (Shiva Phallus) statues. In a pavilion, before the actual temple, stands India’s third largest monolithic bull Nandi which measures over 10 feet tall. The bull is the vehicle of the God Shiva to whom the temple is dedicated. The main temple tower is over 180 feet high, and enshrines the holiest 12-foot-high Shiva Lingam (Shiva Phallus, form of male energy). An 80-ton heavy dome made out of a single piece of rock, crowns the tower and is the temple’s outstanding feature. Three further smaller temples stand in the temple courtyard. During the festival time, hundreds of priests, temple dancers, musicians and servants gather in the temple. The Brihadeshwara temple represents the finest Chola architecture, erected in an extraordinary and creative architectural style.

Brihadeshwara Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram

Gangaikonda Cholapuram, a historic site of Chola Kingdom in the south Indian state Tamil Nadu, is the home of Brihadeshwara Temple. It lies at the edge of the Kaverideltas in the district Perambalur. Solely Shiva dedicated, the Brihadeshwara Temple was modeled after the Thanjavur Temple. Today it is still maintained almost in a perfect condition. Unlike the Vimana (tower with the holy of holies), the almost 200-foot-high (55-meter high) temple tower of Gangaikonda Cholapuram is lower and daintier. Moreover, it features a camber instead of a steeply aspiring pyramid-shaped tower. Meeting hall (Mahamandapa), having approximately 150 pillars, apprehends the features of the later traditional thousand-pillars halls. The sculpture's emblazonment of the temple counts as an exceptional example of the statuary of the Chola period. A statue of the mythical bull Nandi also adorns the compound of Brihadeshwara Temple. The temple compound also houses some smaller shrines and a pond.

Airavatesvara Temple of Darasuram

The Airavatesvara Temple lies in Darasuram, near Kumbakonam, in the south Indian state of Tamilnadu. It was built during the 12th century by Rajaraja Chola II in honor of Shiva. It is also known as Airateswara, because Airavata, the white elephant of the king of the gods (Indra), was revered here. According to a legend, Airavata (white elephant) was cursed by Sage Durvasa, changed colors, but then was cured when it took a bath in the temple’s holy waters. Airateswara temple is much smaller than the Brihadeshwara Temple or the Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple, but features more exquisite stone carvings. The Vimana (temple tower) is over 70 feet high.

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