A sparkling gem of living history: Gangaikonda Cholapuram

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.


What


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.


Where


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.

Nearest Airports


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.


When


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.


Who


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.

It is said that the well containing holy water from river Ganga lies here. The lion is a much later addition to this Temple Complex

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.


Why


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.

Notice the Parabolic contour of the Temple Tower or Vimana

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.

A sculpture of Lord Shiva depicted in the Nataraja form (a celestial eclectic dancer). On the extreme right side, a sculpture of Lord Vishnu in the form of Harihara avatar (Half Shiva, Half Vishnu) is shown

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. All the pictures / videos posted in this article are my own unless otherwise mentioned.


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..!!

66 comments

    1. Wow ..!! That’s nice to hear.. ☺️☺️
      I studied these two Temples several times in school and was fascinated by them.. My MBA in IIM-T gave me the opportunity to visit and get acquainted with these two marvels of Indian Culture.. ☺️☺️
      Thank you Madam for your lovely comments.. ☺️☺️

      Like

  1. A great post indeed. We read about this in our history books, and your post made me nostalgic 🙂 I really enjoy reading about ancient history and architecture, and of course your post was a great one to keep me engaged till the end. Really well written! Looking forward to read more of them!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much Madam for your appreciation..!! 😊😊
      I am glad that you were able to relate this to your History lessons in books (I for sure was able to do so) 😊
      Ancient Indian history and architecture is amazing..!! There are so many places to discover.. 😊

      I am glad that the post was able to keep you engaged..!! Feel good and encouraged by your appreciation.. 😊😊

      You may wish to check this as well. Eagerly waiting for your feedback.. 😊😊

      https://theunclicheophile.com/2019/04/23/a-walk-timeline-saga-civilization/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True indeed. Even the smallest of places all around have remarkable monuments as a specimen of the wonderful culture and techniques used in ancient times.
        I’ll surely read it soon. Keep writing!
        P. S. It’s Tisha, not Madam😉
        Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Sure Tisha.. 😉 It’s a pleasure meeting you.. 🙂
          You are very much right about the monuments we have scattered across India, waiting for exploration and analysis. 🙂

          Eagerly waiting for your feedback and hearing more from you.. 🙂
          Take Care..!!

          Like

    1. Indeed Madam, the place is very beautiful.. You will love it when you visit it personally.. 😊😊
      Thank you once again Madam for your appreciation.. I am glad you liked the article and the place.. 😊🤗

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and sharing your comment.. 🙂 🙂 Yes, indeed India has a lot more to offer to every kind of traveler, way beyond crowded places like Mumbai.. Hope you are able to explore more the next time you are in India.. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow….what a descriptive and informative post. The similarities are striking! Great details. Your blog post is almost a virtual tour through these stunning UNESCO Sites. Keep it up. Would love to read more! Keep sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Madam for your comment..!! Glad you found it good and happier that you could get a “virtual tour” out of this post.. 😊
      There are quite some differences between the two as I highlighted, hope you could check them out..

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh..!! That’s good to hear.. 😊
          Yes, there are similarities as well.. The finesse and engineering marvel in granite, a Millennium back, means some serious business.. Hope you visit this place.. 😊

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey, Abirbhav, loved every bit of this post. I love reading about ancient temples but your presentation of facts is very good, comprehensive, systematic. I have been to Thanjor Brihdeshwara some 27 years back but missed to visit Gangaikonda. Thanks a lot for making it possible for me to enjoy the splendor of this magnificent temple. I gathered that you are covering it all very systematically- the grand temples erected by Chola emperors. I would read one on a day basis. Carry on. All the best.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much Madam for taking the time to visit my blog and leave your comment.. 😊
      It’s good to know that you paid a visit to Thanjavur Brihadeeshwar Temple. I have covered that as well.
      I studied about these two temples in school and had always wanted to visit them. My MBA studies in Tiruchirappalli gave me the opportunity to do so.
      While Thanjavur is quite readily accessible. Gangaikonda Cholapuram is in the middle of nowhere, and it took me a solo biking trip of 130 km one side to get there. But the efforts were rewarding. I am still mesmerized by the grandeur and finesse of the Chola architecture, which no doubt is a near impossible feat.
      Shall visit more and learn more. Thank you once again for visiting.. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. looking forward to more such share from you. Our ancestors were really grate craftsmen, artists and we don’t even know the names of these artists. Their passion and devotion to art was their driving force not the name and fame. I bow my head with gratitude to these unknown masters, Have you been to Hampi? If not plan a trip. You would love it. I had covered that place in y blog but experiencing oneself is class apart.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I do plan to visit Hampi. Let us see. Need a minimum of two days to research thoroughly about the ruins of Hampi. I have heard a lot about it.
          You are right Madam. Indians were immensely skilled and ahead of their time hundreds of years ago. A visit to such archaeological sites indeed inspires awe.. 🙂
          Speaking of which, I have written about the Indus Valley Civilization as well. Hope to get your feedback for that as well.. 🙂

          Like

          1. U need atleast a week to visit to see the royal ruins of Hampi . Not a single rock is left without carvings and needs a lot of walking .Badami Aihole and Patalakad too u can combine along with Hampi. We missed though 😔

            Liked by 1 person

            1. You are right Madam.. A visit to Hampi will require that much amount of time. A lot of detailed study is required over there in Hampi.. The access to Hampi is a pain as of now and that should be improved, given its potential.. 🙂

              Like

    1. Well, to be honest, I read about Gangaikonda Cholapuram in our school History books. I was fascinated by this marvelous piece of art and architecture and wanted to visit the same. The rest of the study was done practically on the site.. 😉
      Thank you so much Madam for your comment..!! Glad you liked it.. 🙂

      Like

    1. Lovely.. ☺️
      I hope that you like the food once you visit the place.. I liked it.. ☺️

      Thank you so much for so much encouragement.. ☺️🤗 You surely know how to cheer up others.. ☺️

      I am hugely honoured that you find my blog inspirational. I find your stories to be inspiring, especially the one where you took up jobs just because you liked them and kicked out any stereotyping or fear. Perhaps that is something women and men need to hear more..!!
      And I can help you organize the stories about those cute green aliens, don’t worry.. ☺️

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow..!! I mean I am speechless..
      Thank you so much for such a glorious praise.. ☺️☺️
      I mean if you are able to actually visualise and feel the ambience of the place, then what more is needed?
      Never thought it could drive such an impact.. Thank you immensely Madam.. ☺️🙏🏻🤗

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very comprehensive and interesting article. It is hard to understand how this place was ever constructed so long ago with such a hard stone yet so beautifully. I love that there are people in front of the temple because it gives away the scale of this effort so well for those of us that are more visual in nature. It makes me think of how we tear down buildings in the US so quickly instead of keeping them for historical reasons. Very beautiful. Love 💕 Joni

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you so much Madam.. 😊
      The scale and the era of the construction of this temple is sure to make one gasp in wonder. There is a theory (not verified perhaps) explaining how the Chola Kings could break the hard granite. The theory postulates that trees were planted in the cracks or artificial holes dug in the big granite rocks, which later grew and shattered the rocks because of the expanding roots. That answers a few questions, but leaves many unanswered.
      Thank you for stopping by. Much appreciated.. 😊😊

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Many thanks to you for taking the time to visit and leaving your comments.. 😊 So glad you found them good.. 😊
      It is a gem indeed.. Hope you visit this place the next time you are in India..!!
      Your blog is great.. Simply matchless..!! Thank you so much for sharing.. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much..!! Glad that you liked it and got reminded about Aztec and Mayan Civilizations..!! I don’t know much about those civilizations, but shall explore them in near future. You might want to read a bit about my trip to an Indus Valley Civilization Site in India.. Hope to get your views on that as well.. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You can come right out of hiding. The bossy boots has spoken. !! Seriously absolutely amazing, stunning construction and design for the time. You do indeed show whole new words. You lay it out, you step back and yep your captive audience has their jaw on the ground. A great post.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Well, one doesn’t get appreciated by “bossy boots” on a daily basis..!! 😉
      Jokes apart, thank you so much for your constant encouragement and appreciation.. I am so happy that it is able to strike the chord, even by a fraction..!!
      You are so kind..!! Thank you so much once again for your appreciation.. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Look, one thing I love about this biz is speaking to people the world over, learning about their culture, their country and having a wee laugh with them too. So truly, it is a great pleasure to come by your blog and learn so much and also have a wee laugh with you.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. You are right about the learning part.. Which is what I get by interacting with you.. feels good to read your blog posts and learn more from you.. ☺️
          Thank you again for the wonderful compliments and your stories..!! Feel great that my posts were able to make you smile.. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

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