The Great Living Chola Temples in Tamil Nadu stand testimony to the achievements of the royal Chola dynasty. Splendid in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting, the magnificent temples are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Dating back to the 11th and 12th century, these structures have withstood the ravages of time The Cholas were one of the longest ruling dynasty in Southern India. The rulers of a period of more than 200 years were not only proficient sovereigns, they were innovative builders.
The Great Living Chola Temples comprise of three temples; the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. The patrons of Lord Shiva dedicated magnificent architectural splendors to their beloved God. The Chola style involves use of granite to create design consisting of deities, warriors, kings and dancers. The Dravidian structures reflect the property of the Chola Empire. The glories till live in the wonderful temples.
Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur
The most ambitious of the Great Living Chola Temples, Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur was built by Chola king Raja Raja I. The king received divine command to build in his dreams. The grand design and magnificence added to the architectural splendor of the Chola capital.
The Brihadisvara temple houses a 3.7 meter tall linga of Lord Shiva and the tallest vimanam in the world. The wonderful designs of the gopurams in temple are decorated with sculptural depictions of various Hindu gods and goddesses. The massive proportions and simplicity of design of the temple is believed to have provided inspiration for other buildings. Constructions not only in south India but also in south-east Asia have been modified from the grand designs.
The Temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram
The Gangaikonda Choleswarar Temple was built by Chola King Raja Raja I to memorialize his conquest over northern kingdoms. The city of Gangaikonda Cholapuram was erected as the capital of the Cholas by Rajendra Chola I. In the Chola Empire, the centre of administration and development was chosen as the Gangaikonda Choleswarar Temple.
The temple houses a four meter high Shiva lingam. This lingam is tallest among the other Chola temples. Other attractions of the temple are the colossal representation of Navagrahas. These auspicious nine deities are placed in a circle. The structure shaped as a chariot and the sculptures of Chandeswarar and Gnanasaraswathi are other intriguing attractions.
The Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram
Smaller than the other Great Living Chola Temples; the Airavateswarar temple in Darasuram is the third in the list of the Great Living Chola temples. The temple was built by Raja Raja II in the 12th century CE. Dedicated to their favourite god, Lord Shiva is revered here as Airavateshwara. Legends state that the heavenly 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 meters high. The front mandapam is in the form of a huge chariot drawn by horses. The unique temple design is recognized as nitya-vinoda, ‘perpetual entertainment in mind’.
How to Reach the Great Living Chola Temples
The Great living Chola Temples are located in Tamil Nadu. Connected by buses and private vehicles it accessible easily. The three temples can be visited comfortable as they are interlinked by bus services.
By Air: Tiruchirappalli International Airport is the nearest airport. Trichy has an international airport which connects it to anywhere on the globe.
By Rail: The nearest railhead is the Trichy junction, 58 km away from Thanjavur.