Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gangaikondacholapuram, tribute to Lord Shiva

The credit for building the new Chola capital goes to Madurantaka, who later assumed the title Rajendra Chola I. ( 1012-1044 AD ) He succeeded his father Raja Raja Chola I ( 984-1014 AD ) who was also a great empire builder. He trained his son under his tutelage for 2 years before being crowned as the king.


The quest to rule over a large empire compelled the Cholas to follow an expansionist policy. After conquering the declining Chalukyas He fought the battle of Koppal ( referred as Koppam ) on the banks of the river tungabhadra. There was disarray and confusion among the ranks of Cholas. Rajendra II the younger brother of the king marched forward at great personal risk and Rajendra Chola was wounded on the leg, despite injury he and his brother vanquished the enemies and slaughtered most of the enemies. Thus the king himself was on the battle field and ensured a resounding victory. Thus on the battlefield itself he was crowned as the king. Rajadhiraja lost his life on the battle field on an elephant

On the victory trail the armies marched through Kalinga, upto the banks of Godavari and eventually the Chola army marched toward Pala and defeated the Bengal Kingdom. The campaign lasted for less than two years. The holy water of Ganges was bought from Bengal kingdom down to Gangaikondacholapuram. Thus began the construction of the new capital in 1019 AD and it was consecrated in 1025 AD.


The victorious army returned with a huge booty of jewels, ransom obtained for returning the territories back to the kings, and statues from the conquered territory. The victory ransom would obviously include the beautiful princes from the vanquished kings.

Three beautiful image of the kalinga conquest were discovered by the tamil nadu archaeology dept at Kilaichengamedu. The image of Durga, Kali, were covered by ant hills. An image of an eight armed Durga too was obtained with a demon being slayed at its feet.

Even Chalukyan era sculptures were bought as victory trophy to the Gangaikondacholpuram. They are now preserved in the Thanjuvur museum.


My quest on Krishnadevaraya’s palace has always been the inspiration to find more about the palace of great rulers. Luckily at Wiki we find the reference to a huge palace built of brick and wooden structure.

The palace would have been magnificient enough to accommodate all the queens. Some of them are mentioned in the inscriptions are Tribuvana, Mukkokila, Panchavan Mahadevi and Viramadevi who committed Sati on his death.

Palace was multi-storeyed, with subsequent rulers adding to the Palace building. The palace housed the queens of the times and the courtesans were housed separately in the adjescent buildings. The remains of the palace is found approximately a km from the great temple of Shiva.

Why Gangaikondacholapuram was chosen as Capital :

Thanjavur had better fortification and natural barrier of the river Cauvery to protect its citadel. One event where the cock chased an elephant seems to have prompted Rajendra Chola to build his capital at the very place, which inspired him to carry out the ganges expedition. He wanted to obviously better his father in building an empire and capital to his name.

The new capital was extensive planned after the construction of the replica of the big temple at this place in 1025 AD. The fortification of the city was carried out by boundary walls running across the capital. The entry gates were named as Thiruvasal ( eastern gate ) Vembugudi gate ( southern gateway ) Even the streets were named Pattu teru ( ten streets ) Thiruvasal Narasam and Suddhamali Lane.

A huge reservoir for drinking water was erected bordering the capital on the river Kolledam. The irrigation channel was called as Annaivettuvan ( slayer of elephants ) The villages surrounding the capital retains its name even today with Jaykondam, Viracholapuram, etc. There is another ancient temple located on the highway which is in a state of demolition but quite prominent, it must have been boundary of the kingdom It is located approximately 9 kms on the highway return to Kumbakkonam from Gangaikondacholapuram.


Gangaikonda Cholapuram is approximately 40 km away from Kumbakkonam. One needs to take a route to Chennai from Kumbakkonam, with a deviation of 2 km towards left from the highway. It is clearly identified with a prominent board on the junction, and we found it difficult to trace the same on the map, since there was no mention in the Thanjavur district map. It actually falls in Aravavur district. If one bases at Kumbakkonam one can visit 3 of the Navagraha temples Sun, Venus and Mars. The Guru and Chandran temple too can be covered from here. A total of 5 Navagrahas are closer to Kumbakkonam.


The city was obviously name Gangaikonda Cholapuram to signify the victory over the Ganges territory, which was even though a temporary victory. Rajendra Chola I was based in the back camp on the banks of river Godavari.

The army returned with a rich booty and immediately an idea struck the emperor to build a better capital than his fathers with all the riches from the vanquished kingdom. Even some of the pillars and statues now adorn the premises of the temple. All the statues are captured are black in colour.

Shiva temple is almost a miniature replica of the big temple, but compact in area. The gopuram measure 68 feet in height with a width of 46 feet, with a 12 feet entry. The outer façade of the temple has two huge statues measuring over 20 feet guarding the temple as it were.

Nandi stationed outside the temple area on the courtyard is huge and it is doubtful that it was monolithic in nature, otherwise it could lay claim as the biggest Nandi surpassing the Lepakshi Nandi. There is a coating of plaster of paris on the nandi for the intricate adornments worn by the Nandi.

Temple of Northern Kailasa :

The images of saraswathi and gajalakshmi the entrance of the sanctum sanitarium The main shrine encloses the image of Brahanayaki the consort of Lord Gangaikonda. This temple even though supposed to be replica of Kailashnath temple of Ellora does not contain the elaborate sculptures of elephant etc. On the roof top there are Lions which is similarly positioned like the Kailashnath temple, which can be seen if one climbs the staircase of the ASI office.

Temple of Chandikeshava :

This temple even though small in structure had an important place in the history of the place. All transactions were carried out in the name of the name of the diety Chandikeshava till the 13th century. He is the principal sub diety of Lord Shiva.


The Mahamandapa of the temple has obviously collapsed due to lack of maintainence. All the statues adorning the superstructure seems to have been salavaged and kept in the open museum and some shifted to Thanjavur museum.

The original basement of the mandapa has survived giving us an indication of the grandeur of conception. The two dwarapalakas adorn the walls of the shrine. The central passage is adorned with a number of pillars supporting the huge shrine. This must have been the base on which the entire gopuram construction activity must have taken place.

Inner passage leads to the main gopuram of the sanctum, wherein a huge lingam measuring 13 feet is positioned. Once again two dwarpalikas adorn the main sanctum. There are two staircases along the sides maybe used for enterance and exit during crowded times. There seemed to have been an underground passage through the enterance which is speculated to be leading to the palace. Some differ and claim it lead to the banks of the river Kollidam.

A third version states that the passage must have served as a treasure warehouse for storing the revenue to the temple. Nobody has ventured into the passage for the fear of poisonous gases, rodents and darkness. My surmise is that the kings used this passage along with his queens to visit the public temple. Treasure theory may have been true in ancient times, but would have been completely explored by the British treasure seekers and abandoned forever.

The temple at Gangaikondacholapuram is replete of paintings unlike the big temple. In thanjavur temple there are 108 dancing poses of Lord Shiva along with the face of the king along with his Guru. 83 paintings are complete and rest is unfinished. Probably the Chola empire collapsed even before the painting work could be commenced.

Shaivite themes adorn the façade of the temple. The episode of Ravana traveling in a chariot is displayed where Lord Shiva is shown as stamping the mount kailash with his toe. Finally the Lord blesses Ravana with a boon.

The second wall panel depicts Lord Vishnu worshipping Lord Shiva with 1008 lotus flowers. There is a shortfall of one flower and Lord Vishnu plucks one of his eye and gifts it to Lord Shiva. Greatly pleased Shiva blesses Vishnu. The wall panels closer to the enterance depicts the marriage of Lord Shiva. Lord Brahma and Vishnu grace the occasion.

Eastern façade depicts the episode of Mahabharat. Arjuna is found performing penance to obtain the pasupati weapon. Lord Shiva tests the diligence of Arjuna picking up a fight with him. In the end the Lord vanquished Arjuna but is pleased with his steadfast resolution and grants him the weapon.

In the northern façade, Lord Shiva is found quelling the pride of Yama inorder to protect his devotee. The other episode relates to Chandikeshava a great devotee cutting of the legs of his father who was disturbing his penance. This pleased the mighty Shiva to salvage the body parts lost by his father.

Overall a visit to Gangaikondacholapuram reveals the intrinsic patronage of the kings to propagate art and architecture of Hindu gods. The dedication to Lord Shiva was immense among the Chola Kings.

TIPS : The temple is supposed to close at 1 pm for lunch and opens at 4 pm and many a times it is closed before time, and therefore it is better to start early to cover all the destinations in the itinerary. If one is delayed try to explore the remains of the palace and architectural remains of the chola period and even the extreme boundary of the chola capital which is in ruins.

1 comment:

  1. "In thanjavur temple there are 108 dancing poses of Lord Shiva along with the face of the king along with his Guru. 83 paintings are complete and rest is unfinished. Probably the Chola empire collapsed even before the painting work could be commenced."

    This is incorrect - the dance Karanas in tanjore are not paintings but sculpted into stone. 81 are complete and rest have been left unfinished. The Big temple is considered to be consecrated around 1010 CE and Sri Raja Raja ruled till 1014 CE. After which his illustrious son Rajendra ushered in the best period of the Cholas. So defn the chola empire didn't fall. But Rajendra shifted his capital to Gangai konda cholapuram from Tanjore ( no one is clear on the reasons) and the puzzle of the unfinished dance karanas remains to this day