Our today’s plan was to explore the three popular temples which were built by one of the most powerful, the longest-ruling, and the oldest dynasties that ruled Southern India, the Cholas. Earlier, our plan included only Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur, but our wish to visit all UNESCO World Heritage sites in India, made us include Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple and the Airavateshwara Temple in Darasuram. These three temples, constructed in 11th and 12th century, together called as “the great living Chola temples” and recognized as a UNESCO World heritage site.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple
- Visiting hours: 6 AM to 12.30 PM and 4.30 PM to 8 PM
We left Pondicherry at around 9.30 AM and travelled via Cuddalore > Vadalur > Sethiyathope highway and reached Gangaikonda Cholapuram at 12 noon. The road condition was good with very less traffic, but the hot weather made our journey a bit tiring.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram, once the flourishing capital of Cholas for 250 years, is located in Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu and the temple is dedicated to lord Shiva. The temple is called by several names like Brihadeeswarar Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple, and Gangaikondacholeeswaram Temple. Built by Rajendra Chola I in the year 1035 AD, this temple is a replica of Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur and is one of the largest temples in India.
Here are few interesting facts about this temple (reference: Wikipedia):
- Gangaikonda Cholapuram was built during medieval India and was erected as the capital of the Cholas by Rajendra Chola I, the son and successor of Rajaraja Chola, the great Chola king who conquered a large area in south India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Sumatra, Kadaram (Kedahin Malaysia), Cambodia and others at the beginning of the 11th century A.D.
- The city was founded to commemorate Rajendra Chola I’s victory over the Pala Dynasty. The name means The town of the Chola who took over Ganga (water from Ganga) or who defeated (the kings near) Ganga.
- The Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple he constructed consists of three stories and was surrounded by a huge fort-like wall. The outer wall was largely destroyed during the British rule (1896) to reuse the building material (granite rocks) for constructing the dam built across the river Kollidam.
- The vimanam (temple tower) of the temple is 55 m (180 ft) high which is 3 m (9.8 ft) smaller than the Thanjavur temple. The temple is modelled similar to the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur. It is also called as feminine counterpart of Thanjavur temple because of the resemblance between the two.
- The image of the Lingam (an iconic representation of Shiva) is 4 m (13 ft) tall and is the largest in size among the Lingas in Tamilnadu temples.
- There is an image of Nandi located axially 200 m (660 ft) facing the sanctum, which is constructed in such a way that it reflects Sun light on to the sanctum.
- As per the available evidences, the last Chola King Rajendra Chola III’s rule did not end due to any defeat in the war field. But, devastations are available underneath, which proves that some major catastrophe happened around Gangaikonda Cholapuram which brought the Chola’s Rule to an end.
After reading these historical facts of the temple and the place, we could not resist the temptation to visit this place. And the first glance at the temple through the entrance itself made us feel worth the visit. All of us were awestruck with the hugeness of the temple complex. The 182 ft tall gopuram of the temple definitely makes anybody to appreciate the craftsmanship of the Chola dynasty. The well carved structures on the wall panels and on the Gopurams boast the richness of ancient architecture.
Since we were just in time, we went inside the sanctum to offer our prayers for the huge lingam. The temple was very less crowded which made easy for us to explore the surroundings which included few small shrines. Do not miss the structures of massive Nandi and Simhakeni well. Every inch of the temple is decorated with magnificent carvings and sculptures. We spent an hour sitting in the green lawn around the temple complex remembering the glorious years of Cholas.
Airavateshwara Temple, Darasuram
- Visiting hours: 6.30 AM to 8.30 PM
We left from Gangaikonda Cholapuram at around 1 PM and headed towards our next destination, the Airavateshwara Temple in Darasuram (near Kumbakonam). Since there was some road construction work going on near Gangaikonda Cholapuram, we had to follow a slightly longer route to reach Kumbhakonam at 2 PM. We had our lunch at Quality Inn restaurant in Kumbakonam. Kumbakonam is home for many popular temples, but visiting these temples was not in our plan, so we directly headed towards Darasuram which is around 4 km from Kumbakonam.
Darasuram town is known for the ancient Airavateshwara Temple constructed by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century. The temple is dedicated to lord Shiva in the form of Airavateshwara. Though this temple is not as big as Brihadeeshwara temples in Gangaikonda Cholapuram or Thanjavur, the details on the sculptures displayed in this temple is more attractive that these two temples. The highly ornate pillars, the never ending long pillared corridors, gorgeous Mandaps, and extremely well carved sculptures are the highlights of this temple. The Mandapam of the main temple is in the form of a stone chariot drawn by horses. This chariot is a classic example of perfection of Dravidian architecture. It is so well carved that it flawlessly exhibits the minutest details. This architectural marvel is truly a treat for eyes.
Since we were running short of time, we spent only half an hour and started from Darasuram at 4 PM and headed towards the Big Temple in Tanjavur.
- Route Traveled: Hotel Ram International, Pondicherry > Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church > Cuddalore > Gangai Konda Cholapuram > Kumbakonam > Airavateshwara Temple, Darasuram
- Photos: Great Living Chola Temples Album
- A Mega Nano Trip to Kanyakumari
- Day 1 – Gingee Fort (Senji Fort)
- Day 1 – Pondicherry (Puducherry)
- Day 2 – Brihadeeswarar Temple, Thanjavur
- Day 3 – Rameshwaram
- Day 3 – Dhanushkodi
- Day 4 – Kanyakumari
- Day 5 – Madurai