Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple is an architectural work of genius. Located at Thanjavur (Tanjore) in Tamil Nadu, Gangaikondacholapuram can be reached easily through regular buses that are available from the main towns and cities of Tamil Nadu. In the early 11th century, the temple got built by Rajendra Chola, who was the son and successor of Rajaraja Chola.
The voluptuous temple stands next to the famous Brihadisvara temple at Tanjore. Gangaikonda Cholapuram is regarded as the reproduction of Brihadisvara Temple that was built by Rajaraja Chola, father of Rajendra Chola. Gangai Konda Cholapuram was erected to outshine the temple made by the father. The temple is renowned for having the biggest Shivalingam in the Southern part of India.
The sanctum sanctorum embraces the four meter high lingam (phallic form) of Lord Shiva. To 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, the exotic structure took approximately nine years to complete. Gangaikondacholapuram has been plundered for several times, but the architectural and sculptural wealth remained alive. The temple was erected to extol the accomplishments of a combatant king. Gangaikondacholapuram is a tribute to the architects and artisans, who created this spectacular testament.
For about 250 years, Chola clan 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 titled as ‘Gangaikondan’ (the one who brought the Ganges). The king wanted to erect a ‘larger than life’ temple correspondent to the Brihadeeswara Temple. During 1020 – 29 AD, Gangaikondacholapuram saw its construction.
The superb architecture of the temple boasts of a 9 storey vimanam that extends to the 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 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.