Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Great Living Chola Temples of Tamil Nadu

Also see: FAM Trip of Tamil Nadu

The Brihadeshwara Temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram is a temple dedicated to Shiva. It is one of the largest Shiva temple of South India and is a classic example of Dravidian Temple Architecture.

Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

It is part of the UNESCO Heritage site of Great Living Chola Temples. Which includes:

  1. Brihadeshwara Temple, Thanjavur (Tanjore) constructed by Raja Raja I (Raja Taja Chola) in 1010
  2. Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram constructed by Rajendra (Rajendra Chola) in 1035
  3. Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram constructed by Raja Raja II in 1166

The temple at Tanjavur was included in the UNESCO list in 1984. In 2004 the other two were included in the list under the common heading of Great Living Chola Temples.

Floor plan of Brihadeshwara Temple, Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Floor plan of Brihadeshwara Temple, Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
(Source:ASI booklet)

The temple is located in the village of Gangaikonda Chollapuram village (Google map location). It is located just 70 km north-east of the previous Brihadeshwara Temple, Thanjavur (Tanjore).

Panoramic view of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Panoramic view of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
(view from south east)

The Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram was constructed in 1035 by Rajebdra I, son of Raja Raja I, to celebrate his victorious march up to the Ganga River in eastern India. After his victory Rajendra shifted his capital from Thanjavur to Gangaikonda Cholapuram. Today the royal place has long crumbled to dust and only traces of it stands to this day, but the temple still stands reminding one of the glorious days of Chola kingdom.

Panoramic view of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Panoramic view of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
(view from south west)

The spire (vimana) of the Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram towers to a height of 55 m and is just 9 m short of it’s previous counterpart Brihadeshwara Temple, Thanjavur. Historians believed that Rajendra I deliberately kept the height lower as a tribute to his father Raja Raja I.

Panoramic view of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Panoramic view of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
(view from north west)

Althogh shorter in height the temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram has curvilinear contour, slightly concave towards the top, thus providing a more delicate and gracefull look. It is somwhat feminine compared the Thanjavur Temple, which has straight and severe contour representing strength and masculinity.

Panoramic view of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Panoramic view of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
(view from north east)

The front portion of the main temple is flanked with the Ardha-mandap and the Maha-mandap. The entire structure lying on the west-east axis. Further east on the same axis is a giant statue of the Nandi Bull. Further east is the main gateway providing access to the temple complex.

Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

View facing east from Maha-mandap of Brihadeshwara Temple

The Brihadeshwara Temple is approached by flight of stairs from the north and south side of the Maha-madap. Another set of stairs leads directly to the Ardha-mandap from north and south.

The main temple with the two mandaps measures 106 m in east-west and 30 m in north-south direction. The inner-sanctum is a square with external sides measuring 30 m. The entire structure rests on an elevated platform.

The star attraction of the temple is the richly ornamented 9 tired vimana (the Tanjivur Temple has 13). Each upper levels repeat the lower level design in a rhythmic shrinking pattern. However, shrinking is not linear with height. The lower storeys shrink faster than the upper storeys.

The towering spire of the temple is topped with a circular stupa like structure carved out of a single giant rock. it is topped with a kalass, which was once gold plated.

Apart from the Brihadeshwara Temple the complex at Gangaikonda Cholapuram houses several other smaller temples dedicated to several other deities along with several structures including Nandi bull and Lion shaped wells. The complex is surrounded by cloister wall and has gates in the four cardinal directions.

Darpalas of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

The eastern gates of the complex, the gates leading to the Brihadeshwara Temple and also those of the subsidiary temples of the complex are flanked with fierce looking guards known as darpalas.

Chandesanugraha Murti, showing Shiva, with Parvati on her side, blessing Rajebdra I

Chandesanugraha Murti, showing Shiva, with Parvati on her side, blessing Rajebdra I

Another star attraction of the Brihadeshwara Temple Complex, Gangaikonda Cholapuram is the intricate sculptures that adorn the walls not of the main temple but also of the subsidiary shrines.

Below is a list of top 10 sculptures from the Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram (No. 1 is on the left rest 9 are in the slide show):

  1. Chandesanugraha Murti: Located on the western wall flanking the northern entrance of the ardha-mandap. It shows Shiva, with Parvati on her side, blessing Rajendra I
  2. Nataraj: Located at the far end of the southern wall. It depicts Shiva the celestial dancer
  3. Bhikshatana: Located on the western wall flanking the southern entrance of the ardha-mandap. It depicts Shiva as a Supreme mendicant, a person relying chiefly or exclusively on alms to survive.
  4. Gajalakshmi: Located on the eastern wall flanking the southern entrance of the ardha-mandap. It shows goddess Lakshmi with a pair of elephants above her head.
  5. Sarswati: Located on the eastern wall flanking the northern entrance of the ardha-mandap. It shows the godes of knowledge, music, art and wisdom
  6. Madantaka: Located at the begining of the norther wall. It shows Shiva in Madntaka form
  7. Kalantaka: Located at the far end of the norther wall. It depicts Shiva as conqueror of time and death
  8. Bramha: Located on the central niche of the northern wall. It shows Bramha flanked by Savitri and Saraswat
  9. Ardhanarishvara: Located second from the begining of the southern wall. It is a form of the Hindu deity Shiva combined with his consort Parvati
  10. Ganesh: Located at the begining of the southern wall. The elphant headed god

Sculptures of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

The above list of sculptures is entirely a personal choice and not based in any particular order. Also it is a small fraction of the innumerable sculptures that adorn the walls of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gongaikonda Cholapuram and the other temples and shrines of the complex.

Nandi Bull

Nandi Bull

Other temples and structure of Brihadeshwara Temple Complex of Gangaikonda Cholapuram

  • Main Gate (B on map): The temple complex is surrounded by a high wall with entry gates on the cardinal directions. The main gate lies on the eastern side. It was once topped with a tower which has long collapsed
  • Nandi Bull (C on map): The giant statue of the Nandi Bull stands in front of the temple and faces the temple. Behind iit is towering temple flag pole
  • Ganesh Shrine (D on map): This is located on the south eastern corner of the complex. The Ganesh Shrine is aligned in the east-west direction and consists of Vimana and Mandap. Entry is from the east and the temple houses a large image of Ganesh or Ganesha

Other shrines and structures, Brihadeshwara Temple Complex, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

  • Kailashnath Shrine (E on map): The Kailashnath Shrine is located on the southern side of the complex. It houses no deity. It consists of a Vimana and a Mandap, with a extended porch, whose roof has collapsed. Darpalas guard the empty inner sanctum.
  • Aman Shrine (F on map): All major Shiva temple in Shiva temples in South India comes in with a shrine dedicated to Parvati, wife of Shive, popularly known as Aman shrine on Temple. In case of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram it is located on the northern side. The east facing temple has a mandap is approached by flights of stairs from the northern and southern side.
Statues in front of north gate

Statues in front of north gate

  • Chandikesvara Shrine (G on map): This is the smallest temple of the complex and the only temple of the complex that does not face east. It faces south.
  • Mahisasurmardani Shrine (H on map): This is located to the north-east of Chandikesvara Shrine and the samll temple consisting of Vimana and Mandap and houses an image of Mahasasurmardini.
  • North Gate (I on map): A portion of two tired pilared gateway on the northern wall still stands. On the western side of the gateway contains several statues collected from the temple complex. Sadly they are badly displayed, with lower portions burried below the floor level. Also the cloister wall that surrounded the complex is in bad shape and major sections of the roof has long collapsed.
  • Lion Well (J on map): East of the Mahasasurmardini Shrine is a stutue of a lion made of plastered brick work. A flight of stairs runs through the body of the lion statue and leads ti a large well. The well is known as Simhakinar. According to popular legend syas that Rajendra I poured Ganga water in the well so there would be a perpetual supply of holy water to bathe the deiety.
  • Office (K on map): This flat roofed structure is located south of the lion well. The ancient structure house been modified to serve as the temple office.
Panoramic view of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Panoramic view of Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Today the Brihadeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram is visited by thousand of pilgrims and tourist from India and beyond. It is a protected monument under Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Along with the Brihadeshwara Temple, Thanjavur (Tanjore) and Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram it is part of a UNESCO Heritage Site of Great Living Chola Temples.

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