Middle Chola Temples

by S. R. Balasubrahmanyam | 1975 | 141,178 words

This volume of Chola Temples covers Rajaraja I to Kulottunga I in the timeframe A.D. 985-1070. The Cholas of Southern India left a remarkable stamp in the history of Indian architecture and sculpture. Besides that, the Chola dynasty was a successful ruling dynasty even conquering overseas regions....

I know Shri S.R. Balasubrahmanvam for some years and I had the pleasure of presiding over the function arranged at New Delhi when his art book on Early Chola Temples was released on 12th May, 1971. He is acknowledged as an outstanding living authority on the subject of South Indian monuments and art in general and of the Cholas in particular. He has planned four volumes on Chola temples based on a systematic, scientific survey of these monumental works of art. He has already published two volumes which have received well-deserved appreciation from scholars of repute, Indian and foreign. The present book, the third in the series, deals with the Middle Chola period, covering the reigns of the most illustrious Chola ruler Rajaraja I and his brilliant successors who ruled from a.d. 985 to 1070.

Among the dynasties which ruled over South India, the Cholas were undoubtedly the greatest. They ruled the land with glory for a long and unbroken period of 430 years (a.d. 850 to 1280). They were skilled administrators whose main concern was the welfare of their subjects. Their land survey was systematic, elaborate and thorough. There was a highly skilled and well-trained bureaucracy, both at the local and central levels, to man a stable and efficient administration. Rajaraja I was a dynamic military leader. The Chola country had the good fortune of having Rajaraja I and his four successors of eminence who, by their valour and leadership in war, maintained the honour and glory of their forefathers.

The Cholas were successful not merely on land but also on the seas. During the reigns of Rajaraja I and his son, the Chola empire attained its widest limits and touched the heights of prosperity and glory. What Rajaraja I began, his son Rajendra I completed. During their time, the Chola empire extended on land from Kanya Kumari in the South to the mouth of the Ganga in the north. The Cholas were also a great sea power. Sri Lanka and the Lakshadvip (Laccadives) islands were conquered; the Chera fleet was overpowered. Sending a naval expedition across the wide sea of the Bay of Bengal, the Cholas subdued the mighty empire of Sri Vijaya of the Sailendras whose sway spread over ‘Malaya, Singapore and Indonesia’ with their capitals at Sri Vijaya (in Sumatra) and Kadaram (Kedah in the isthmus of Kra). The Nicobar islands (Ma-Nakkavaram) came under Chola rule.

The Cholas were well-versed not only in methods of war but also in the promotion of the arts of peace. They were the finest temple-builders of South India and their allied arts, architecture, sculpture—stone and bronze, painting, music, drama and dance received tremendous encouragement and patronage, and these arts attained the highest level of progress. The Chola bronzes and jewellery reached unprecedented heights of excellence.

Though the Cholas have built hundreds of temples all over the land, even today standard books on Indian architecture mention only about half a dozen of them and even these are not given detailed treatment. In the two volumes already published, the author has identified and described nearly a hundred and fifty temples, which could be ascribed to the Early Chola period (a.d. 850 to 985). The present volume covers the history of a hundred temples of which about a dozen could be assigned to the earlier period. These were built not only in the heart-land of the Chola country but also in the areas brought under their rule by their expansion. The Raj a raj es vara m temple built by Rajaraja I at his capital is the most magnificent of Indian structural temples —the temple par excellence. This is fully dealt with in this volume. In addition, more than fifty temples were built all over the land. Among them the outstanding ones are the Vanavan Mahadevi Isvaram (Siva Devale II) in Sri Lanka, the Siva and Vishnu temples at Attur, the Palli-kondar temple at Tirunelveli, the Tiruvalisvaram temple—all in the Pandya country; the Siva and Vishnu temples at Olagapuram and Dadapuram (South Arcot District) and the Arinjigai Isvaram at Melpadi in Tondainadu.

About twenty-five temples could be ascribed to the age of Rajendra I, the most outstanding being the Gangaikonda-Solisvaram built by him at his newly built Chola capital. Among other impressive temples built during the reign may be mentioned the Vishnu temple at Mannarkoyil (Pandya country), the temples at Tiruvorriyur, Kulambandal and Tiruppasur (all in the Chingleput district), the Pidari temple at Kolar (Karnataka), and the memorial temples built at Kalidindi (Andhra Pradesh) over the mortal remains of three Chola generals who fell while defending the principality of Vengi of the Eastern Chalukyas under Chola supremacy.

I understand that the last phase of Chola art and architecture is another bright chapter of South Indin history. I sincerely hope that the author will carry on the completion of this series by publishing the art history of the last phase of this illustrious dynasty who have remarkable achievements to their credit.

New Delhi
April 4 1974

Y.B. Chavan
Finance Minister
Government of India

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