Posted in Travellogue

Temple at Gangaikonda Chozhapuram


On this trip we travelled to a couple of cities, from West of India  to South of India. Amongst them my personal favourite is Thanjavur district, in Southern India, for its cultural vibrancy and I have many fond nostalgic memories of the city. Thanjavur district is the rice basket of Southern India, the land of arts and Architecture. Thanjavur is also known for the three surviving Great Chola Architectures. The Brihadeesvara Temple/Big Temple in Thanjavur City, Brihadeesvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram/Jayakondam and Airateswara Temple at Darasuram.  All the three temples are fine example of Dravidian Architecture and are built according to the Agama Principles. Agama Sastra,is an ancient scripture, which lays down the principles and rules for rituals of philosophical and spiritual practices ,for prayers and also the principles for construction of the temples, including the place of temple, sculptures and the materials to be used in the sculptures. The scriptures I have heard are  in Sanskrit and also in Tamil. All the three temples were commissioned by the Chola rulers and were part of larger city, which got destroyed after the downfall of the Chola dynasty. The Chola reign is considered as one of the prosperous times for art, culture and Tamil Literature and is often referred as the Golden Age of Tamil Culture. The Chola Royals were a great patrons of art and literature. The Chola dynasty ruled over varying territories of the Southern India, from 3 century BCE to 13th Century CE. They had trading routes with South East Asia, and also had established themselves as cultural, military and economic power in South East Asia. They were known for their naval power in South Asia. They recognised temples not only as places of spiritual and religious practices, but also as major economic hubs. They took great interest in administration of the temples, built educational institutions, places to stay and hospitals, around the temples.  They also established water irrigation and dams in the region as it was known for its droughts, and helped in the making the region a very agrarian economy.  They had  pioneered a centralised system of ruling, and integrated the entire Southern India under one rule. Chola dynasty has  left its huge mark on the Southern India’s History, architecture and literature. I would like to mention here, I am not a historian, but am a huge history buff and an avid fan of the Chola dynasty ,  especially their architecture and their interest in arts and their enthusiasm in making culture a priority along with being an economic and military power.  My father had a degree in History, with a specialisation in Indian History, so I raided his books as a youngster to look for more information and picked on his brain a lot for more information. I was very impressed to find out that one of the kings of Chola dynasty, RajaRaja Chola 1/ Arulmozhi Varman( he was the one who commissioned the Brahadeeswara temple in Thanjavur) was chosen as king through a democratic process of the court.  In the 1950 s,  a historical  story was written based on Arulmozhivarman  and was published as a  series in a weekly magazine,  by famous Tamil author  R Kalki.  It was later published as a set of five novels. It narrates the story of early days of life of Prince Arulmozhi Varman and the political battles within the dynasty for the throne. The narration of the novel is absolutely vivid and evocative, and it brings to life the times of Chola dynasty. The series became very popular and created a frenzy in the newly Independent India and even  now the book has a very big and specific fan base, very similar in nature to a Whovian or Potterhead. I have not learnt to read or write Tamil in a school, but learnt a very basic reading and writing in Tamil from my mother. During my school vacations, it was one of the chores which my mother loved and I loathed. I learnt it  more to keep my parents happy. Yet the rudimentary reading skill I learnt came in handy in reading the Novel in my later years. It is the only Tamil novel I have read. And it took me nearly two to three years to finish five sets of humungous books.  I have slightly digressed from the Chola architecture, coming back to the architecture, the walls of the temples have inscriptions written in ancient Tamil language, which detail the account of the kingdom, the time and material used in building the temples, the people involved in the temple work, their wages etc.

We stayed in Kumbakonam, which is a city in the Thanjavur District. It is also known as Temple Town due to the huge number of Temples in the cities. It is not very far from Jayakondam, where one of the Great Surviving Architecture is situated. Its called Gangaikonda Cholapuram. This temple was commissioned by Rajendra I,  he was son of Arulmozivarman/ RajaRaja I. It is modelled after the Brihadeesvara Temple/Big Temple at Thanjavur, but is much smaller in scale. This temple is considered as finer in sculpting and sculptures than the Big temple. This temple also followed the Agama Principles, and was completed in 1035 AD.  The temple was commissioned by Rajendra I  to commemorate his victory over Karnataka, Odisha(Kalinga in ancient times), parts of Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. He requested each region he conquered to fetch a pot of Water from River Ganges,( a River in Northern India, considered Holy) and be poured in to the well of  the temple. Hence he acquired the name of  Gangaikonda Cholan, -the Chola, who brought Ganga. There were many other smaller temples and a prosperous city around this temple. The city got the name of Gangaikonda Cholapuram -The land of Chola who brought the Ganga. Rajendra I made this city as his capital, and the city remained the capital for the next 250 years. There were many other temples around the Brihadeesvara Temple, there were ponds and wells for the residents, there were many Royal palaces and mansions in the city. The city now of course is in ruins and everything except Brihdadeesvara Temple, was razed to the ground. There is no historical proof or records of who destroyed the city and as to why only the Brihadeesvara temple was left undestroyed. Most of the architecture and artefacts of Chola time across South India has been destroyed, and razed to the ground, except the three surviving Temples. The three temples are now UNESCO World Heritage sites and are also fully working and functioning Temples.  I visited the Big Temple in Thanjavur and Airateswara Temple in Darasuram, in 2016. So this time I wanted to see Gangaikondacholapuram, to experience in person the third Great Chola Architecture.

The temple is very similar in structure to Big Temple, but smaller in scale. The Vimana/ Gopuram/ tower of the temple is curved, in comparison to the Big Temple which is straight. It is said that there is an underground tunnel in the temple, which linked the Royal palace, and the inner sanctum of the temple. All the three temple, always have left me awestruck. it leaves me wondering how they achieved the incredible feat of creating such a beautiful architecture full of intricately carved stone and bronze sculptures, and how would it have been like living in those times. Standing on the ledge next to huge Nandi, leading in to the temple on one side, on the other side  with views on to the city, makes me think of how many lives must have walked in and out of the temple through out the centuries. What would have been like to stand there in Chola times and look out on to the city ?  How such a powerful dynasty was destroyed and lost in time ?  Yet some of their architecture managed to survive and leave its mark on this part of the world.

I hope this monument survives many more centuries  and  many more generations in future are able to enjoy the beautiful architecture and learn about the powerful dynasty which gave the world  wonderful architecture and later on perished in to nothing. I have always been the one to look in to past, understand the past, know the history, and making me a history enthusiast. I often get questioned over what is the point of looking at past, although I understand that we cannot change what has happened,  I feel past helps me in understanding myself better, learning from our past and history, we can better ourselves.

“The value of history is, indeed, not scientific but moral: by liberalizing the mind, by deepening the sympathies, by fortifying the will, it enables us to control, not society, but ourselves — a much more important thing; it prepares us to live more humanely in the present and to meet rather than to foretell the future.”
Carl Becker  U.S. historian

Oregon Girl Around the World
CulturedKids

Author:

I am originally from India and currently live in London with my husband. I have acquired a taste for travelling and exploring from my husband, I love to read and often wonder and muse about inconsequential things and banalities of life. I have an amazing set of friends who patiently listen to my incessant musings and wondering about life. I thought I should start a blog and send my wonderings and musings, in to ether. All the photographs used on the blog are my experimental photography using I phone and I Pad. Hope you enjoy reading the blog.

16 thoughts on “Temple at Gangaikonda Chozhapuram

  1. I have visited Gangai konda Cholapuram temple. Its truly amazing! Tamilnadu like most of India has changed a lot over the years. I guess it is inevitable. Ponniyin Selvan is among my favourite books too! No matter how many times I read it I always find it engaging!

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    1. I agree , change is inevitable. Ponniyin Selvan is the only Tamil book I heave read, so it has a special place in heart, plus I have heard from my parents, the craze it had created when it first published as a weekly. There used to be a competition at both parents home, who would lay their hands on the magazine first and read and the person who had read was not allowed to give their views or opinions, until others in family had read 😁.

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      1. It was re-published in Kalki magazine later and my mother and I used to used to wait for the weekly copy! I was hooked ever since! I love the characters.
        Recently when visiting a temple in rasipuram, I met a weaver who was an admirer of king Rajaraja cholan. He had named his children Arul mozhi varman and Kundavai! I guess the craze still continues!

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      2. Me too I love the characters. I am so happy to hear about the weaver who named his children Arul Mozhi Varman and Kundavai. I hope craze continues in to more generations. I am looking forward to the Movie Ponniyin Selvan by Mani Ratnam. hope he is able to do justice to the book.

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  2. I have been to India twice, and this post reminds me of how vast the country is and how much more I need to see. Like you, I am now a Londoner (originally from Paris). Aren’t we lucky when can get the best of both worlds right on our Londony doorstep? Thanks for sharing with #CULTUREDKIDS

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    1. I agree, we have the best of both worlds. I always tell my friends, London is like a tough nut, it’s tough to crack it open, but once you open it you find it has a soft and beautiful heart ❣, and it is hard not not be in fall in love with it. I loved your post Tale of Two cities. I just love Paris. I could go there any number of times and still feel I want to go there again. India is a vast country with each part being so different from each other , that’s what makes it so vibrant and colourful. I hope you go back to India. Thank you so much for stopping by.

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  3. I was so fascinated to read your thoughts about returning to India but feeling that you’re more of a Londoner than an Indian these days, Usha. I spent seven months travelling around India and it was an exhilarating but also an exhausting experience – I can understand why you say you feel as though you need a holiday afterwards! These temples are really beautiful. I particularly loved the temples we saw in Southern India. Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

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    1. Thanks Clare for stopping by and for understanding my exhaustion. Seven months travelling around in India, I can imagine it. It’s a vibrant country, a cacophony of senses, you either love it or hate it. I often associated home with family and relatives, what I have started to realise and understand home is where your heart is. I have no blood family in London or in UK, yet I feel at home in London. I am at heart a Londoner.

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  4. Loved reading about your journey “home,” thank you for sharing your beautiful India. Have you seen the Ted talk by Taiye Selasi – “Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m a local.” It speaks to your thoughts about feeling connected in more than one place. I definitely feel that way about Denmark after 4.5 years. Thank you so much for linking with #FarawayFiles. Cheers from Copenhagen.

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    1. I am happy to know you enjoyed reading the post and could resonate with it . Interestingly a friend of mine as well recommended the Ted Talk to me . I watched it now, before replying to you. We as humans more connected than we realise. Thanks Erin, for stopping by and the Ted Talk recommendation.

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    1. So true India is a full on experience, it’s a sensory onslaught. I am glad you like buildings and happy to have introduced the building. There are many beautiful ancient architecture and historical monuments, which are worth a visit. Thank you so much for stopping by.

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    1. I have had lots of cakes 🍰 since my return. Need a bit of exercise to burn it off. 😁. The historical monuments and dynasties are so beautiful and have such compelling tales to tell. Thank you so much for stopping by and am glad you liked the post.

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