The great Cholas are said to have descended from the Sun. It acts as a perfect metaphor to define the valiance and radiance of the Chola Kings, bright and sharp like the rays of sun. Their kingdom flowed where River Kaveri did. They were the strongest Empire that ruled over the Southern parts of India. They held almost every piece of land to the south of river Tungabhadra as one single unit and ruled like real Kings. They were at their powerful best from the 9th CE to the 13th.
The Chola Empire became a super power in South Asia and South-East Asia on the cultural, economic and military fronts. The most famous of all Chola Kings are Rajaraja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola I. Their territories only kept expanding with every rise of the sun.
Tamil Literature, especially the Sangam poets speak at length about the Cholas. Most literature and information available about the Early Cholas are extracted from Sangam literature. Though they encouraged various forms of Arts, it was not until Rajaraja Chola I came into the scene were great temples with great architectural skills built. The Cholas continued the architectural traditions of the Pallavas and added their own ingenuity to what they built. UNESCO has also listed three chola temples (Brihadeeswarar Temple, Airavateswarar Temple, and Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple) under the World Heritage Sites with the title "Great Living Chola Temples". Here is a collective splendour of the Chola temples in Tamil Nadu...
Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram
Located in Darasuram, near Kumbakonam, the Airavatesvara temple is a perfect piece of Dravidian Architecture. Rajaraja Chola II built this temple and is now listed as part of UNESCO's world heritage sites. Airavata, the white elephant of Lord Indra is said to have worshipped lord Shiva here. Hence, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram
Bhookala Kailasam, or Lord Shiva's abode on Earth, is how the Thillai Nataraja Temple of Chidambaram is addressed in Tamil literatue. King Kocengannan Chola was born with the blessings of Thillai Nataraja, the residing deity here and hence he refined a major part of the temple as a thank you to Lord Shiva.
The sculptures and bronze images of the dancing shiva was first seen here in the "ananda tandava posture".
Thyagaraja Temple, Thiruvarur
Though the Thyagaraja temple at Thiruvarur was expanded and beautified several times over during the Sangama, Saluva and Tuluva dynasties, the main masonry structure was built by the Cholas in the 9th CE during the Medieval Cholas. The temple complex acted as a cultural model for the famous Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur.
Brihadeeswarar Temple, Thanjavur
The Brihadeeswarar Temple is a masterpiece built by the great Rajaraja Chola I. This fortified temple is world-renowned for its tall temple tower, monolithic apex, and another monolithic sculpture that of the Nandi. It's a grandeur that lived at least a 1000 years back.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple
Built by Rajendra Chola I, Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple is also a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Great Living Chola Temples. The carvings are magnificent and the inscriptions on the walls will transport you to a world of conquests and victories very dear to the Cholas.
Did you know that the shadow of the main tower here never ever falls on the ground!?
Rajagopalaswamy Temple, Mannargudi
Rajagopalaswamy temple is a Vishnu temple. The presiding deity is Rajagopala, a form of Krishna and hence the temple is also known as Dakshina Dwarka of Hindus. Kulothunga Chola I was the first king to have built this temple. Later, the successors of the Chola Empire expanded and decorated the temple.
Swetharanyeswarar Temple, Thiruvenkadu
Lord Shiva is worshipped as Swetharanyeswarar and Goddess Parvati as Brahmavidyanayaki. Located in Thiruvenkadu Lord Shiva is an Agora Murthy, a furious incarnation!The engravings on the walls of Swetharanyeswarar temple communicate various stories about the Great Cholas.
Adi Kumbeswarar Temple, Kumbakonam
More than 1300 years old, this temple of Adi Kumbeswarar in Kumbakonam is in existence from the 7th CE Chola days. The main shrine of Lord Shiva is in the form of a Shivalinga.
Kampaheswarar Temple, Thirubavanam
Located in Thirubavanam on the Mayiladuthurai-Kumbakonam road, Kampaheswarar temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. According to the inscriptions found on the walls of the temple, Kampaheswarar temple was built to commemorate the victory in Northern parts of India by Kulothunga Chola III.
Jambukeswarar Temple, Srirangam
A water stream flows through the sanctum throughout the year in spite of efforts in flushing the water out. The temple is located in the island of Srirangam and was built in the early part of the Chola dynasty.
Hari Prasad Nadig