Some of the most magnificent temples in South India were constructed during the reign of the Chola Empire. These temples had exquisite architecture and hosted many religious ceremonies.
They were built in the 11th and 12th centuries and are a rich source of historical and cultural heritage for us to appreciate.
Among them, the three most outstanding temples built by the Cholas are called the “Great Living Chola Temples” and are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In this article, you will get to know about the following temples of the Chola Empire,
- Gangaikonda Cholapuram
- Brihadisvara Temple
- Airavateswarar Temple
- Vijaylaya Choleswaram
- Nageswara Swamy Temple
- Valiswara Temple
Let’s see each of these temples in detail.
1. Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple
Rajendra Chola constructed Gangaikonda Cholapuram, one of the significant temples in Tamil Nadu. It is often referred to as the feminine counterpart of the Thanjavur temple.
This shrine was chosen as the center of administration and economic growth. The sanctum has the tallest Shiva lingam (about 4 meters tall). Only part of the huge temple is visible now.
The Lower Anaicut, which spans the Kollidam, was constructed using stones. The vimana at the Peria Koil is smaller but excels in the striking sculptural details.
The Simhakeni, a circular well with a lion at the entrance, the bull on a plinth inside the court facing the main sanctum, and the beautiful stone sculptures on the niches are the distinguishing features of the temple.
2. Brihadisvara Temple
Raja Raja Chola I built Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur between 1003 and 1010 AD. It is one of the largest temples in South India.
The temple, which is over a thousand years old, was a magnificent creation of architect Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perumthachan. The temple architecture is known for its symmetrical geometric patterns.
The temple complex has five main sections. The Sri Vimana, a tall tower, houses the sanctum. The Nandi Hall, or Nandi-mandapam, is in front of the complex. The Maha Mandapam, a huge assembly hall, and the Mukhamandapam, a community service hall, are also noteworthy.
The walls of these structures have splendid carvings and paintings that showcase the talent of the artisans.
3. Airavateswarar Temple
The Airavateswarar temple in Darasuram is one of the Great Living Chola temples. Raja II constructed this temple in the 12th century CE.
It has a unique architectural style called Nitya-vino da, which means “perpetual entertainment in mind.” The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an icon of the Chola Period.
Lord Shiva is called Airavateshvara here because Airavata, the white elephant of lord Indra (his Vahan), worshipped him here. The temple’s architecture is quite impressive, similar to the other temples.
The vimana (tower) is 24 meters (80 feet) high. The south side of the front mandapam looks like a huge chariot with stone wheels and horses.
4. Vijayalaya Choleswaram
This is one of the oldest stone temples in Tamil Nadu’s Pudukottai district. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has marvelous Nagara and rock-cut architecture. The Muttaraiyar kings built it in the 9th century and the Cholas added to it later.
The rock-cut architecture shows Cholan Art that follows the Pallabas tradition. The other part of Narthmalai has 8th-century Jain architecture, the Aluruttimalai Jain Caves. One of the two rock-cut caves has twelve sculptures of Vishnu.
The Mutharayar style of construction, under the founder of the Chola dynasty of Thanjavur, also includes Vasara and Nagara styles in the vimana. The temple’s first and second bases are square while the third base, the Griva, and Sikhara, are circular. The Omkara-shaped sanctum sanctorum is the most unique feature.
The Mutharayas’ pioneering work on top of a single rock with sparse vegetation has a solemn beauty.
5. Nageswara Swamy Temple
The Nageswaraswamy Temple is one of the oldest temples in Kumbakonam. In Tamil, it is known as “Kudanthai Keezh Kottam.”
The construction of the temple date back 1500 years. Aditya Chola constructed this temple in the 12th century and it still stands, exemplifying one of the greatest marvels of Chola Architecture.
The temple’s main deity is lord Nageswara Swamy (a form of Lord Shiva) who is known as the “Serpent King.”
A fascinating fact about the temple is that the sun’s rays enter the “Karpagraha” of the temple on the 11th, 12th, and 13th days of the Tamil month of Chithirai.
The Natarajar Mandapam is shaped like a temple chariot with twelve zodiac signs on its wheels. Two horses and elephants are shown pulling the chariot.
The main festival held here is the Theerthavari. It is believed that during this time, the Lord himself visits the Mahamaham tank.
6. Valiswara Temple
Valiswara Temple is a stunning Hindu Temple in Thirunelveli. The Cholas built this temple in the early 10th century CE. This architectural marvel is located on the banks of the Tamirabarani River and was named Rajaraja Chaturvedi Mangalam.
The Valisvara Temple is one of the best examples of Chola architecture. The main deity here is Shiva and he is depicted in a Sukhasana pose known as Chandesanugrahamurthi. The vimana houses Ardhanarishwara. The east-facing temple has two sanctums, the main one is dedicated to Vaalinathar aka Valeeswarar, a big Shiva linga, and the other one is dedicated to Goddess Soundarya Nayaki.
Various Brahminical themes and Chola Pandya inscriptions are etched on the walls. A beautiful garden is situated behind the temple.
These are some famous temples of the Chola Dynasty that you can visit in India.
The Great Living Chola Temples, constructed in Tamil Nadu during the Chola era, reveal the culture of the Chola Empire.
If you are a history buff, you would definitely cultivate a new experience after visiting these places.
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