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கங்கை கொண்ட சோழபுரம்
Imperial Chola Monuments

Gangai Konda Cholapuram is one of the very ancient temples of Tamil Nadu, built in the Chola style. It was built by Rajendra Cholan, son of Raja Raja Cholan who built the Big Temple - Brahedeeswarar Temple - of Thanjavur. It was the desire of Rajendra Cholan to consecrate a temple similar to the one built by his father and he patterned Gangai Konda Cholapuram as a replica of the Big Temple. 


Vinayaka

 
 
DRAVIDIAN
TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE

Gangai Konda Cholapuram
Chola Period (11th - 12th Centuries)

 

From Dr.R.Nagasamy's Comprehensive On Line BookGangaikonda Cholapuram on Gangaikondacholapuram -

" Gangaikondacholapuram, now in the Udaiyarpalayam taluk of Tiruchi district, in Tamilnadu, was erected as the capital of the Cholas by Rajendra I, the son and successor of Rajaraja I, the great Chola who conquered a large area in South India at the beginning of the 11th century A.D. It occupies an important place in the history of India. As the capital of the Cholas from about 1025 A.D. for about 250 years, the city controlled the affairs of entire south India, from the Tungabhadra in the north to Ceylon in the south. The great temple of Siva at this place is next only to the great temple of Tanjore in its monumental nature and surpasses it in sculptural quality.

The city was founded by the eminent Chola emperor probably to commemorate his victorious march to the Ganges and reflected his personality throughout the days of its eminence and continues to do so because of its great temple, though its role as a capital of the south has been forgotten by its inhabitants...

The temple of Gangaikondacholisvara is approached through the northern entrance from the road. The passage passes through the enclosure wall and leads on to the inner court.

As one steps in, the great Vimana arrests the visitor's sight. The Vimana with its recessed corners and upward movement presents a striking contrast to the straight-sided pyramidal tower of Tanjavur. As it rises to a height of 160 feet and is shorter than the Tanjavur tower, it is often described as the feminine counterpart of the Tanjavur temple.

The Vimana is flanked on either side by small temples; the one in the north now housing the Goddess is fairly well preserved. The small shire of Chandikesvara is near the steps in the north. In the north-east are a shire housing Durga, a well called lion-well (simhakeni) with a lion figure guarding its steps and a late mandapa housing the office. Nandi is in the east facing the main shrine. In the same direction is the ruined gopura, the entrance tower. The main tower surrounded by little shrines truly presents the appearance of a great Chakravarti (emperor) surrounded by chieftains and vassals. The Gangaikondacholapuram Vimana is undoubtedly a devalaya chakravarti, an emperor among temples of South India.

The enclosure

Though the temple of Gangaikondacholapuram follows the plan of the great temple of Tanjavur in most details it has an individuality of its own. From the remains it may be seen that it had only one enclosure wall and a gopura while the Tanjavur temple has two gopuras and enclosures.

The prakara follows the Tanjavur lay-out in that it had a two storeyed cloister running all around. Only a part of this has survived in the north. The stones from the other portions were utilised to build the Lower Anaicut across the Kollidam. The pillars of cut stone are severely plain throughout as in Tanjavur. They have no inscription unlike at Tanjavur.

The courtyard in 566'9'' in the length and 318'6" width and has a transept at the west in line with the main sanctum. The cloister has a raised platform, 18' in height. At regular intervals, bases for shrines are noticed. These shrines should have resembled the prakara shrines of Tanjavur and in all probability housed the images of the eight directional deities, in their appropriate quarters as in Tanjavur. However none of the images have survived. Evidently the prakara has been laid out in the traditional Vastu grid system called Vastupadavinyasa.

The Gopura

The entrance tower, the superstructure of which has completely fallen down, is located in the east. It measures about 68 feet x 46 feet with a 12 feet entry way. It followed in pattern the outer gopura of the Tanjavur temple, with no sculptures on its basse except for the Dvarapalas. The stones from the ruined gopura were removed to construct the dam mentioned earlier. In the temples of Tanjavur, Darasuram and Tribhuvanam, there are two gopuras, the outer being taller than the inner. But in Gangaikondacholapuram there is only one gopura, at the east. Besides this eastern entrance an entrance is provided in the northern enclosure, which now serves as the main entry on account of its priximity to the main road.

Dr. James C. Harle in his excellent work the 'Temple gateways in South India' states that

"the gopura of the great temple at Gangaikondacholapuram (A.D. 1030) belongs as far s one can tell in its present ruined state to the same early phase of development as the Tanjavur gopuras. It was neither as large or as complex, however, as the Tanjavur gopuras. On plan, the whole edifice forms a rectangle approximately 60 feet by 33 feet. Large dvarapals were placed on the outer facade. One of them now lies on the ground in front of the gopura and measures atleast seven feet. The unique dvara, as at Tanjavur, is on the outerside of the entryway. The vestibules have two storeys, divided by a crude and massive architrave; in the lower, an exposed stair is built against the back wall; above a doorway in the same wall may have led either to another stairway or to a circumambulatory corridor."

Dr. Harle further states that an early photograph (photo No. 2452 Indian Museum, Calcutta) shows the three upper storeys of the gopura, in a dilapidated condition.

A fairly large size bull is found on a pedestal inside the court, facing the main sanctum. It is made up of fallen stones and stucco. It is not known whether the original one was monolithic. A bali pitha is found east of Nandi.

The building to the north of Nandi, called Alankara mandapa, and now housing the executive office of the temple was in all probability constructed in the 19th century.

The Simhakeni

To the north of this mandapa is a circular well with steps provided at the western end. The entrance of the steps is adorned with a lion figure which has given the name to the well. According to tradition Rajendra poured a part of the Ganges water, brought from his famous expedition, into the well, to sanctify it. An inscription on the lion sculpture, in 19th century characters, records that it was constructed by the Zamindar of Udaiyarpalaiyam.

The Mahishasuramardini Shrine

To the west of the lion-well is a shrine dedicated to the Goddess, Mahishasuramardini. The shrine is a later structure (probably built in 14-15th Century) and did not form part of the original layout. It consists of a sanctum preceded by a mandapa. The Goddess installed in the sanctum in similar to a Durga found at Veerareddi street, in the same village and is in all likelihood, Chalukyan in origin.

The Southern Kailasa

The shrine, south of the main Vimana and called the southern Kailasa has a sanctum preceded by a mandapa which in turn is fronted by flights of steps from south and north of which the basement alone remains. The outer walls of the sanctum and the front mandapa carry niches, housing images. The niches of the sanctum carry Dakshinamurthi in the south and Lingodhbhava in the west, while the niche on the north is empty. The niches on the front mandapa carry in the south Ganesa, Nataraja, Bhikshatana, and Subrahmanya and in the north, Gauriprasada, Durga, Ardhanari and Bhirava. The inner sanctum of the shrine is now in ruins.

A little to the north-east of this temple is a granite basement, probably the ruin of a mandapa. It is now called the Alankara mandapa. To the west of this is a well, probably coeval with the temple.

To the south-west of the main temple, is a small shrine dedicated to Ganesa. It has a sanctum preceded by a mandapa. The structure could be assigned to the 13th century on stylistic grounds.

The temple of Goddess (Northern Kailasa)

To the north of the main temple is a small shrine now housing the Goddess, Brhannayaki, the consort of Lord Gangaikondacholisvara.

The temple, as mentioned earlier, resembles the southern Kailasa in every aspect and is called Uttara Kailasa. It has a sanctum, preceded by a front mandapa, provided with side-steps. In front of this is a bigger mandapa (mahamandapa), which is well preserved, unlike its southern counterpart. The niches on the sanctum and the front mandapa carry the same sculptures as in the southern Kailasa. Thus Ganesa, Nataraja, Bhikshatana, Subrahmanya, Dakshinamurti, Lingodhbhava, Brahma, Bhairava, Ardhanari, Durga, and Gauriprasada are noticed in order, from the south, while in the southern Kailasa, the northern niche of the garbhagrha is empty, a sculpture of bearded Brahma is noticed in this temple. Two gatekeepers flank the entrance.

In front of the gatekeepers, in the mahamandapa, are images of Saraswati in the north and Gajalakshmi in the south. These two Goddesses, Lakshmi and Saraswati, occupy the same position in the main temple and also in the great temple of Tanjavur. They occupy these positions to suit some ritual needs. It is significant that the mahamandapa has steps to it only on the side. In ancient times, steps were always provided on the sides and not in front of the sanctum. The beautiful image of Goddess now enshrined in the sanctum of this temple should be a later instalation. Originally the temple should have enshrined a Siva Linga, like the southern Kailasa. Though separate shrines of Goddesses came to be built in the main temples only from the reign of Rajendra I, no Devi-shrine was built originally in this temple, the present one being clearly a later institution.

The Chandikesvara shrine

The little temple to the north-east of the central shrine enshrining Chandikesvara, the steward of Siva temple is of interest. It is an all stone temple built on a raised basement, with a storeyed superstructure. The sanctum is approached by side steps. Inside the sanctum is an image of Chandikesvara, coeval with the temple. The outer walls of this sanctum have niches on all the three sides, carrying sculptures of Chandikesvara. He is the principal subsidiary deity in Siva temples and till about 13th century A.D. all transactions relating to the temple were made in his name. Hence a separate shrine is provided for him in the temple complex. This shrine is coeval in time with the main temple.

The main temple

The main temple consists of a sanctum tower called Sri Vimana or Sri koil, a big rectangular mandapa called the mahamandapa with an intervening vestibule called mukhamandapa.
The Sri Vimana consists of the following parts beginning with the lowest basement.

1. The basement (upa-pitha) 2. The base (adhishtana) 3. The wall (bhitti) 4. The roof cornice (prastara) 5. The garland of miniature shrines (hara) 6. The storeys (tala or bhumi) 7. The neck (griva) 8. The crown (sikhara) and 9. The final (stupi).

According to architectural treatises, basements (upa-pithas) are introduced in temples to increase the height of the main tower; to add to structural stability and to make the temple tower majestic. That these purposes are magnificently fulfilled by the basements of both the Tanjavur temple and Gangaikondacholapuram temple, may be noticed even by a casual visitor not conversant with architectural principles. Besides the purposes mentioned above, the basement also provides, a space to walk around the tower. In this temple, the basement is ornamented with sculptures of lions and leogriffs with lifted paws.

The main base adhishtana is decorated with well defined courses, consisting of the lotus moulding adaspadma, and the kumuda moulding, topped by a frieze of leogriffs and riders. This constitute the main base, the top of which forms the flooring level of the inner sanctum.

That portion of the structure rising above the main base up-to the roof cornice is called 'the wall' (bhitti or kal). It is the principal element that encases the main sanctum and carries on it a number of niches housing various deities. The wall in this temple is divided into two horizontal courses by an intervening cornice. The lower and upper courses have an equal number of niches, on all the three sides except the front.

On the vertical axis the wall surfaces are well defined by intervening recesses forming a rectangle in the centre and squares at the corners. Each is made up of a central niche housing a deity, flanked by a group of small sculptures which in turn are flanked by pilasters simulating pillars. Thus each niche housing a deity appears as a miniature shrine. The recessed walls in the lower courses carry a vase and pilaster ornamentation, while on the upper courses carry a vase and pilaster ornamentation, while on the upper courses, there are small niches housing deities. Thus these are five principal deities in the lower course and nine deities in the upper course on each side. Since the mukhamandapa abutts the eastern wall, only one niche is retained in the lower course. On either side of the eastern wall, the upper course retains the principal niche at the corners and smaller niches at the recessed walls.

The sculptures in the lower courses, of the Sri Vimana depict various aspects of Siva and also the subsidiary deities who include Ganesa, Vishnu, Subrahmanya, Durga, Brahma, and Bhairava, supplemented by Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Durga in the niches of the great mandapa. The sculptures were made separately and fitted into the niches. They are flanked by a group of small sculptures, carved in situ, illustrating the theme the niche sculpture seeks to represent. The sculptures on the upper courses represent, besides some aspects of Siva, the guardian deities of the eight quarters.

The roof cornice consists mainly of three parts: (a) the frieze of dwarfs at the bottom, (b) the cornice forming the outer edge of the ceiling roof proper and, (c) the frieze of leogriffs on the top. The cornice is decorated with plain spade-like ornamentation topped by the head of a leogriff.

A row of miniature shrines runs around the tower like a garland, and is called a hara. It consists of square pavilions at the corners, rectangular pavilions in the middle, with a nest (nida) ornamentation in between.

Above this rise the main tower, consisting of nine stories including the ground floor. The upper stories of the main tower carry the same type of ornamentation, consisting of square and oblong pavilions except a change; the central wagon-shaped pavilion is flanked by square ones instead of "the nests", the whole being projected forward than the rest. This is a change from the Tanjavur tower, which presents a pyramidal appearance without the central projection.

The neck is provided with four niches in the cardinal directions and bulls at the corners. The niches are topped by arch-like embellishment called kirtimukhas.

The globular element on the top called Sikhara is according to tradition, made of one stone weighing many stones. But, in fact, it is made of many pieces of cut stones dressed for the purpose, as may be seen from the portion where the plaster has fallen down.
The final, stupi is a metal vase with a lotus-bud design at the top. It is gilded with gold and is said to carry an inscription named after Nallakka-tola-udayar, a Poligar of Udayarpalaiyam. It is not known whether the stupi is the original one and probably guilded by the Poligar or is a new one gifted by him.

The sanctum enshrining the main deity, is encased by an inner wall. Between the inner wall and the outer, there is an intervening passage-called sandhara running all around. The two walls are joined at the top by a series of corbelling. They are provided to support the massive super-structure. In the great temple of Tanjavur, the outer walls have openings in the centre leading into the intervening passage. Facing the openings are sculptures of deities. The inner faces of the passage are painted with scenes depicting exploits of Siva and his devotees.

But in the temple of Gangaikondacholapuram, no painting is noticed in the inner passage. The central openings and corresponding sculptures, are also not found here. This inner passage around the sanctum is also found on the first floor. In the Tanjavur temple the inner wall of this passage carries 108 poses of dancing Siva, of which 83 are fully finished and the rest are incomplete. But in Gangaikondacholapuram to such sculptural representation is noticed.

The inner sanctum, houses a very big Siva Linga, rising to a height of thirteen feet. It is said to be the biggest Siva Linga enshrined in a sanctum in any South Indian temple. The entrance to the sanctum is guarded by massive doorkeepers, dvarapalas.
The mandapa immediately preceeding the sanctum is approached by steps leading to it from the north and the south sides and also from the great mandapa in the east. The entrances are guarded by big dvarapalas of remarkable beauty. The mandapa is supported by massive plain and square pillars. The eastern walls flanking the opening to the great mandapa carry groups of small sculptures illustrating Saivite themes. The following are the themes thus represented.

The episode of Ravana travelling in his chariot; shaking the Kailasa mountain; Siva seated with Uma, pressing the mountain with his toe; Ravana's anguish under the weight of the mountain and finally Siva bestowing boons on Ravana, are depicted in three panels.

The second episode on the same wall depicts Vishnu, worshipping Siva with 1008 lotus flowers; finding one short he plucks his own eye and offers it as a flower; Siva bestows grace on Vishnu. The panels closer to the entrance depict the marriage of Siva with Uma. Uma, the daughter Himavan, desirous of marrying Siva, undertakes austerities and worships Siva; Siva, after testing her steadfastness as a beautiful youth, marries her; the celestials witness the marriage; Brahma, the creator offers oblation to the sacrificial fire and Vishnu gives Uma in marriage to Siva.

The east wall close to the entrance on the northern side depicts the Kiratarjuna scene; Arjuna the Pandava hero performs austerities to obtain a Pasupata weapon; Siva as a hunter accompanied by Uma as a huntress, tests Arjuna's devotion; picks up a quarrel with Arjuna over a kill; Arjuna not knowing the personality behind the hunter, enters into a duel with him and is ultimately vanquished; Siva manifesting himself bestows the weapon.

At the extreme north of the same side are portrayed two episodes, one representing Siva quelling the pride of God of death, in order to protect his devotee and the other representing Saint Chandikeswara a great devotee of Siva, cutting off the leg of his father, who disturbed his faith and Siva bestowing grace on both father and son.

Though these group sculptures are carefully selected, they are imperfectly finished and lack the beauty and elegance of the sculptures of the main tower.

The Mahamandapa

Had the original mahamandapa been preserved, it would have retained the grandeur of its conception and beauty. But as it is, only the portion upto the main base is original. The side walls, the pillars and the ceilings have been reconstructed, probably in the 18th century A.D. Obviously the superstructure should have crumbled due to neglect and vegetation.

However a part of the original has survived upto the ceiling at the western end. From the surviving portion it may be seen, the roof (prastara) of the mahamandapa was in level with the prastara of the ground floor (adi bhumi) of the main Vimana. Like the walls of the main Vimana, a horizontal cornice divides the outer walls of the mahamandapa into two parts. They carry a series of niches both in the upper and lower courses.

The sculptures of Vidyesvaras, Vasus, Adityas and other subsidiary deities were probably enshrined in them. As mentioned earlier, the adibhumi of the main Vimana has two floors inside the sandhara passage, the intervening cornice forming the intermediate floor level. The mahamandapa should have been a two storeyed pavilion, quite fitting with the mahaprasada of the temple. In view of the tall dvarapalas guarding the entrance to the mukhamandapa, the central passage should have had only the upper ceiling without the intermediate flooring. Thus the central passage was flanked by two storeyed structures, resembling the storeyed cloister of the enclosure. It is likely that the mahamandapa of Tanjavur was also originally a two storeyed structure. They would have presented a most spectacular sight when the deities were taken out in procession through the mahamandapa.

As it stands today the inner side of the mandapa has a central passage, leading from the front to the sanctum flanked by two raised platforms and a passage running around. Two massive dvarapalas are noticed at the western and guarding the entrance to the mukhamandapa. A room at the south western corner houses a beautiful Somaskanda image and a few other bronzes. A few sculptures and bronzes receiving regular worship are on the northern platform. The north eastern corner houses an interesting Solaar altra, now worshipped as navagraha (nine planets).

The front entrance to the great mandapa, is again approached by steps from north and south. The entrance to the mandapa is guarded by massive dvarapalas. As the flooring of the mandapa is on a high elevation, the stpes rise to a considerable height forming a high platform in the front. It is said that there is a sub-terranian passage with steps under this platform. Some claim that this passage leads to the royal palace, while others assert that t leads to the river Kollidam.

Yet a third tradition says that it leads to an underground treasury wherein invaluable properties belonging to the temple are preserved. None in the living memory has set foot on this passage for fear of darkness, poisonous gas and wasps. It is not unlikely that the empty underground space below the great mandapa and the space between the steps, were utilised as store houses.

The original steps leading to the front entrance of the great mandapa and the raised platform were probably disturbed are rebuilt as some of the stones built-in haphazardly carry fragmentary inscriptions of the 13th Century A.D."

Gangaikondacholapuram gets world heritage status, July 2004 - "The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has declared the Brihadisvara temple of Gangaikondacholapuram in Perambalur district and the Airavatesvara temple of Darasuram in Thanjavur district "world heritage monuments," two examples of grandeur and excellence of Chola architecture and sculpture. .."
"..The temple to Lord Siva was built in the11th century, to commemorate Rajendra I - the Chola King's conquest upto the Gangetic plain. It has beautiful stone sculptures including a dancing Ganesha, a lion headed well and a freeze depicting Rajendra being crowned by Siva and Parvathi. The temple is noted for its massiveness and richly carved sculptures. It also houses some of the bronzes of the Chola age. Cholapuram was  the capital city of the Cholas till their fall in the 13th century. .."

Sculpture

"The sculptures of Gangaikondacholeswaram are known for their boldness of conception and excellent execution. They present pleasing and charming faces full of life and rhythm. The images of Saraswathi, Chandesanugrahamurthi and Natarajaar undoubtedly from the dextrous hands of a master craftsman who has carved a permanent place for his creations in the art history of Tamilnad..."  Dr.R.Nagasamy


The Cosmic Dancer - Nataraja - Stone, Gangai Konda Cholapuram 11th Century A.D.

Gangai Konda Chola Puram

 

 
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