The Great Living Chola Temples were built by powerful kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched across southern India, and the neighboring islands.
Three temples of the Chola: the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikondacholisvaram, the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram, and the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, are dated to the 11th and 12th centuries.
Brihadeeshwara Temple, of which foundations were laid by the Chola king Rajaraja I in 1002 AD, is probably the finest temple in Tamil Nadu.
Powerful Chola Dynasty
The Chola dynasty was one of the longest-ruling dynasties in the history of southern India. The earliest references to this Tamil dynasty are preserved inscriptions dated to the 3rd century BC left by Ashoka.
Ashoka, who died in 232 BC, was one of India’s most extraordinary emperors, the Maurya Dynasty. He ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from about 268 to 232 BC.
Ashoka reigned over a realm that stretched from the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan to the modern state of Bangladesh in the east.
The great Chola rulers also had significant influence over modern-day southeast Asia. The magnificent Chola Temples testify to the remarkable achievements of the Chola architects, engineers, and artisans.
Significance And Beauty Of The Chola Temples
The Chola kings strongly emphasized the importance of temples, which were places of gatherings for political, economic, and cultural activities, and all-important official ceremonies were held there. The structures demonstrated the enormous power of the Chola rulers, their wealth, imperial domain, and religious importance in the cities.
The temples became a central place in the economy of medieval India, and society depended on them.
Supported by the grants and incoming cash from the kings, wealthy merchants, and nobles, the temples flourished. With time, they became consumers, moneylenders, and employers of priests, musicians, artisans, and people (both men and women) working in temple service.
Additionally, these temples were considered important centers of education and learning, where Sanskrit played a crucial role. The temples’ other goal was to encourage and preserve art such as sculpting, painting, and dance, which flourished in the Chola temples.
Today, the temples still have impressive features such as Vimana (the central deity’s shrine with a towering roof) and mandapa, a pillared pavilion adorned with elaborate carvings for public rituals.
Another impressive feature in the Hindu temple is garbha (literally: ‘womb chamber’), decorated with the idol of the temple’s main deity.
This chamber is reserved only for priests. Yet another magnificent part of the temples are unique, powerful gopurams (towers), which date back to the early structures of the Tamil kings Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas, and Pallavas.
The Chola temples have all their massive superstructures, richly adorned with portraits, decorative sculptures, paintings, and icons. The temple, dedicated to Shiva, characterizes the tradition of Chola master builders, who indeed loved symmetrical geometry, which is visible in the planning of the temple.
Chola era art demanded dedicated and sophisticated artisans, and their legacy is still admired in India.