Video - In and Around Gangikonda Cholapuram Temple
Significance of the temple
The sanctum embraces the four meter high lingam (phallic form) of Lord Shiva. To especially provide a private worship area for the royal family, the sanctum is encircled with two walls. The stately entrance of the sanctum is adorned by the beautiful image of Goddess Saraswati. The influence of Chalukyas is also reflected from the icons of 'Suryapita' (Sun worship) and 'Navagrahs' (Nine planets).
The meticulous accounts of the Cholas are inscribed on the copper plates and temple walls. Preferred place of crowned heads, such a beautiful exotic structure took approximately nine years to complete. Gangaikondacholapuram has been very much plundered for several times, but the architectural and sculptural wealth remained alive. The temple was erected to extol the accomplishments of the combatant king. Gangaikondacholapuram is a tribute to the architects and artisans who had created this spectacular testament.
History of the templeFor about 250 years, the Chola clan had ruled over a large part of South India. In those times, the Chola dynasty was at its apex and conquered many a parts of the northern territory. The wealth was brimming due to the outcome of their booming war operations. On one of the expeditions, Rajendra Chola brought Ganga water in a golden pot and consecrated the reservoir 'Ponneri or Cholaganga'. Consequently, Rajendra was been titled as 'Gangaikondan' (the one who brought the Ganges). The king wanted to erect a 'larger than life' temple corresponding to the Brihadeeswara Temple. During 1020 - 29 AD, Gangaikondacholapuram had seen its construction.
ArchitectureThe temple has superb architecture which boasts of a 9 storey vimanam that extends to a height of 185 feet. Facing the east direction, Gangai Konda Cholapuram embraces incredible sculptures and carvings. Not less than 54.86m in height, the temple structure follows the style of Brihadisvara Temple. The whole temple is thrived with rich and intricate carvings that are exclusive to Chola style of artistry. Known to comprise a little northern style, the structure embraces intricate carvings in the Vimanams.
The architecture is a portrayal of complex carvings on the hard granite stones, irrespective of the simple style of Cholas. Mind-blowing sculptures can be viewed to adorn the walls and ceilings of Gangaikondacholapuram. The creativity of sculptors is reflected in the figures of dancing Nataraja and peaceful Saraswati. However, the sculptures erected here are as artistic as found in any other temples of Cholas. The most interesting are of Shiva-Parvati, Ardhanareshwar (the man-woman manifestation of Lord Shiva) and Ganesha. The colossal shrine also addresses several significant bronzes of the Chola age.
Gangaikondacholapuram is a historical village of South India which is situated 36 km north of Kumbakonam. The village lies on the northern bank of the famous river Kollidani in Tamil Nadu. Rajendra Chola I, who was in rule from 1012 to 1044 A.D constructed Gangaikondacholapuram and its temple.
Rajendra, the able successor of Rajaraja Chola I, shifted the Chola capital from Tanjavur to Gangaikondacholapuram. He built the famous Brihadishvara temple in Thanjavur.
The new capital was built in his remembrance and to give tribute to his successful military campaigns that took him as far as the river Ganga in North India. The name of the village Gangaikondacholapuram exactly means `the city of the Chola who conquered the Ganga`.
Rajendra built a temple in Gangaikondacholapuram village which was dedicated to Lord Siva in the form of "Gangaikondachola Isvara" or "God of the Chola who conquered the Ganga". There is a massive Nandi sculpture in front of the entrance.
One can enter the main sanctum through a series of mandaipeis or pavilions. There is a beautiful sculpture representing the Sun and eight planets on an altar in the corner of one of the halls of the temple. This sculpture is carved in the form of a full-bloom lotus resting on a two-tiered square pedestal. Many beautiful sculptures can be seen on the outer walls of the shrine. One of these sculptures is that of Chandesanugrahamurti viz. Siva and Parvati blessing the devotee Chandesa. It is the most marvelous sculpture among them. One more sculpture of Saraswathi, the Goddess of Learning, seated on a lotus can also be seen.
The main sub-shrines of this famous temple in Gangaikondacholapuram include those dedicated to Chandikesvara and Mahishasuramardini (Durga). One more attraction of the place is the "simhakeni" or the lion-shaped well in the temple campus. It looks very fascinating.
It is said that Rajendra himself poured the water of the holy Ganga into this well. Till then, the well had never gone dry and its water is still used for the ritual bathing of the deity. The ruins of the `Ponneri` lake meaning `golden lake` can be seen near the Gangaikondachola Isvara of Gangaikondacholapuram. The remnants of Rajendra`s palace can also be seen nearby. Recently, the Gangaikondacholapuram temple has been declared as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
Like father, like son; the habit of building brilliantly engineered temples seems to have run in the royal family of the Cholas. There are many laudable achievements, considering the fact that Gangaikondacholapuram was built in an attempt to reproduce a 'larger- than- life' father's achievement. It was built by King Rajendra Cholan, son of Raja Raja Cholan, who built the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur. Judging by the outcome anyone will say that the son is as good as his father, if not better. The temple was built during the golden period of the Cholas, when they were invading the northern territories, and wealth was overflowing as a result of their successful war campaigns. Rajendra Cholan was much more than a passive king who inherited his father's wealth. He led many successful campaigns and conquered Madurai and Ellam (Sri Lanka).
During one of his campaigns to the north, he brought back water from the river Ganges in a golden pot, and sanctified the reservoir 'Ponneri or Cholaganga'. Thus he was given the title of 'Gangaikondan'(the one who brought the Ganges). The king wanted to build a temple equivalent in stature to the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur. And thus came into existence, the Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram between 1020 - 29 A.D.
The temple has complex carvings in the Vimanas, and is acknowledged to have some Northern influence; understandably, given the contact with the Northern Chalukya kingdoms. The architecture of this temple is an exhibition of intricate carvings on the hard southern granite stones, discarding the earlier Chola and Pallava style of subtlety and simplicity.
Some of the sculptures found here are as great as any found in any other Chola Temples. But the most striking and unique ones here are, The Nataraja, Coronation of King Rajendra Cholan by Siva and Parvati, the dancing Ganesha and the most interesting the Ardhanari (the man-woman manifestation of Lord Shiva), one half has masculine characters and the other the more decorative female form, signifying duality of divine energy.
The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is a four meter high Lingam. The sanctum is surrounded by two walls, the inner and outer, providing private worship area for the royal family. A well-crafted image of Goddess Saraswati adorns the royal entrance of the sanctum, which indicates the Chalukyan influence. Also the presence of the 'Suryapita' icon, signifying sun worship and the presence of the 'Navagrahas' (nine planets) is said to be influenced by the Chalukyan connection.
Cholas being meticulous record keepers, one can find inscribed texts in copper plates and also in temple walls. The walls tell us stories of many victories of the warrior king, the land donations made during the period, kings ascending to thrones, etc.
Gangaikondacholapuram took a longer time to complete and was a favourite place for monarchs to ascending thrones. The temple suffered the misfortune of being in the middle of many wars, it was used as a garrison and fortified cantonment by the Pandyas and later on by the British.
The temple has also been looted in many occasions, but the architectural and sculpting treasure can never be looted. This monument built to laud the achievements of a warrior king has stood the test of time and remains a standing accolade to the architects and the artists who have created this stunning monument.
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