This article is a continuation of my series on “The Grand Living Chola Temples” of India – a series of UNESCO World Heritage Temples in India, built by the Great Chola Kings, which are active even to this date, despite the passage of a Millennium post the completion of their construction.
What makes them so special?
It is not just the architectural grandiose which makes them appealing and awe inspiring. The grandeur achieved by these Temples considering the epoch of History when they were constructed, and the fact that they stood the test of time, makes them special and worth visiting.
These temples predate the Taj Mahal by centuries. It is worth noting that the magnanimity of such a scale, made from solid granite, without modern machinery or CAD software, that too a Millennium ago, are among the many aspects of these places being uncliche.
The piece describing Brihadeeshwar Temple in Thanjavur can be read here. Although there are some similarities with its elder sibling, the Brihadeeshwar Temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram stands distinct on its own with an array of astounding architectural features.
Let me take this opportunity to walk you through the marvel called Gangaikonda Cholapuram. One of the more than “a hundred thousand things to see” in India.
Please meet the grandeur called the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram, located in Tamil Nadu, India.
Just like its sibling in Thanjavur, the Brihadeeshwar Temple in Gongaikonda Cholapuram is an equal finesse of medieval artistic and architectural genius prevalent in India during a Millennium ago.
Gongaikonda Cholapuram has also been aptly accorded with the “World Heritage” status by none other than UNESCO.
What’s so impressive about it? Tarry a little, friend. Let the mysteries unfold – one by one.
The present day Gangaikonda Cholapuram is home to only the Brihadeeshwara Temple, which is still active like the Temple in Thanjavur.
The city, it’s palace lie and other buildings lie destroyed. It is still unclear as who destroyed the palatial buildings and city. According to some theories, the destruction was caused by the invasion of the Delhi Sultanate led by Malik Kafur, the deputy of Sultan Alauddin Khilji, in 1311 CE, and thereafter in invasions during 1314 CE and 1327 CE under Sultan Mohammad bin Tughlaq.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram is located in Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu state, India.
It is located about 70 km from the magnificent Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram is located near the Cauvery river delta, which opens up in the Bay of Bengal. It may be recalled that during the peak of their power, from ninth to twelfth century CE, the navy of the Chola Empire, dominated the entire Bay of Bengal Area, including South East Asian Countries.
Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) International Airport: about 140 km
Trichy Airport offers direct connections to: Singapore, UAE, Malaysia, Sri Lanka
Chennai International Airport: about 260 km
Chennai Airport is a major airport in India. It offers connections to several countries like Germany, UK, Qatar, UAE, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia etc.
From Chennai or Trichy, the visitor may board a bus, train or hire a taxi (expensive) to reach Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
The Brihadeeshwara Temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram was completed in 1035 CE. This is about 25 years post the construction of the Brihadeeshwar Temple in Thanjavur.
Needless to say, like its elder sibling, the grandeur and magnificence of this temple considering the epoch of the timeline under discussion is simply unimaginable.
The Brihadeeshwara Temple & the Chola Empire’s Capital Gangaikonda Cholapuram was constructed by the Chola Emperor Rajendra Chola I.
Rajendra Chola was the son of Raja Raja Chola, who is credited with the construction of the Magnificent Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur. The same may be read from my previous post in this series (Click here)
The name Gangaikonda Cholapuram means “the town of the Chola who took water from the river Ganga (Ganges)”.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram was built by Rajendra Chola to commemorate his victory over the Pala Kings who ruled the Gangetic River basin in North India. The river Ganga or Ganges is considered sacred in India.
Post his victories in the Northern part of India, Rajendra Chola assumed the title of Gangaikonda Cholan, meaning the Chola who conquered the Ganges.
It is said that Rajendra Chola ordered the defeated Kings to bring pots of holy water from the Ganga river and pour it in the well dug near the Temple.
In addition to leading a successful conquest of a part of the Gangetic Valley in North India, Rajendra Chola is also credited with expanding the Chola Empire in almost the entirety of South East Asia, which includes present day Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives and Cambodia.
Like his father and the Chola Kings in general, Emperor Rajendra Chola was also an able administrator and a patron of art and culture.
Astounding seems to be an understatement to describe this architectural and cultural marvel called Brihadeeshwara Temple. Let me walk you through the same and shed light on why it is so.
The Temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram was deliberately kept a bit shorter (55m) in height in comparison to the Temple in Thanjavur as Rajendra Chola wanted to keep the majesty of the Thanjavur temple, constructed by his Father, intact.
That however bears little effect. The Brihadeeshwara Temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram is equally majestic and has architectural marvels of its own.
Similarities between the Brihadeeshwara Temple of Thanjavur and Gangaikonda Cholapuram:
- Both are built of solid granite
- The construction involved meticulously breaking huge granite boulders, cutting them into slabs for construction and sculpting them for various statues and imparting aesthetic finesse – without modern machines or drawings, a millennium ago
- No cementing material, nails or fasteners have been used in the construction of both the Temples
- Both have been accorded the coveted “World Heritage Site” status by UNESCO and are a part of the “Grand Living Chola Temples” since they are still active temples, offering prayers, puja and rituals, despite the passage of a millennium. The prayers are offered as per the traditions which themselves are Millennia older than these Temples.
And now, the differences:
- The Vimana or Main Temple Tower of Gangaikonda Cholapuram is about 55m in height, which is 3m shorter than the one in Thanjavur.
- A striking difference between the two temples is visible from their contours
- The Temple in Thanjavur has straight contours
- The one in Gangaikonda Cholapuram has Parabolic contours, converging at the Top.
Yes – Parabolic contours.
One can simply imagine the machine level precision and aesthetic finesse of the Indian architects who constructed such masterpieces, out of solid rocks, without modern machinery – a Millennium before the advent of Computer Enabled Engineering tools.
A close-up view might be able to elucidate the difference between the Temple Towers in Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Thanjavur
The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Hence the sculptures contain depiction of different incarnations of Lord Shiva. The temple also contains sculptures or reliefs of other deities like Lord Vishnu, Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Parvati.
The grandeur of this temple and the empyrean feeling the traveler gets upon setting his / her foot in this temple is utterly inexplicable through words.
Come, explore this celestial wonder of a place yourself and be awed beyond imagination in this part of Incredible India.
.. Until Next Time ..
India is not just Taj Mahal, Delhi, Goa or Mumbai. It has a lot more to offer. Over-tourism, or tourism concentrated to a very few places, overcrowds them and leaves the others unexplored, the latter having so much to offer themselves.
If one pays a visit to Tamil Nadu, one can easily see several beautifully constructed temples – some are modern and some are medieval. Upon close observation, the style may be considered to be inspired by the Brihadeeshwara Temple, among many other factors as well.
In-depth studies of these marvels is poised to unveil more secrets of India’s impeccable heritage of architecture and construction, which might even hold significance in the modern era. Questions about the survival of such colossal structures for a millennium at a stretch, building these with simple tools in hand by breaking none other than the near unbreakable granite are worth pondering upon considering the epoch of history we are discussing.
Come, explore, be mesmerized in Incredible India..
© Abirbhav Mukherjee
Thank you so much for reading this post.
I would love to know your thoughts. A comment (or several) will be helpful..!!
Liked it? Sharing or re-blogging the post will be immensely appreciated..!! Thank you..!!