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....


What I have undertaken in this and the sister volumes is the first scientific and systematic survey of dated Chola temples—a venturesome and onerous task. The material is so vast, and the physical spread of the monuments so extensive, that this work should have been done either by Government or by endowed institutions with a team of scholars, surveyors, epigraphists and draftsmen, backed by substantial funds. Instead, it has been left to the lot of an individual to undertake this task without the facility of finances, the necessary staff or even a reference library. It is my regret that I could not afford to give the monuments the time necessary for their proper study. My main qualifi-fication to undertake this effort, however, is love for and dedication to the subject, spread over a period of half a century.

When Prof. Nilakanta Sastri wrote the history of 'The Colas’ in 1934, he hoped to publish a separate study of Chola art but regretted in his second edition in 1955 that “the promise of a separate study of Chola Art held forth in the preface to the first edition had not materialised”, and added “difficulties in the way of a comprehensive treatment are unfortunately still too many. These will disappear only if the Archaeological Department or a South Indian University undertakes this task”. There has been no progress since then. I am sure that in the light of this background, scholars would overlook the shortcomings in my humble study of a great subject. My only justification for this daring enterprise is that even a limited survey such as mine has not been attempted so far.

I have been ploughing my lonely furrow all along; but the brunt of the work on these volumes has fallen on my son, B. Venkataraman, who is being associated with me in an honorary capacity in this project. We have made an on-the-spot study of almost all the temples included in this survey. The far-off temples I could not visit, my son has done. He has also photographed a number of the temples and sculptures, not otherwise available to me. He has also prepared the draft on Rajarajesvaram, Gangaikondacholesvaram and of the temples of the Karnataka desa. His help in the arrangement of the subject matter and the selection and processing of the sumptuous illustrations has been considerable. Without formally lending his name, he has worked in effect as co-author of this work.

The Cholas were the builders of the largest number of temples in South India. The Tamil Saiva Saints who lived in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries have sung the praise of the Lords of 274 temples in South India, which are distributed geographically as follows: 190 temples in Chola Nadu, on both banks of the Kaveri, 32 in Tondai Nadu, 22 in Nadu Nadu and 14 in Pandi Nadu. To this, we have to add a large number of temples built later by the Chola kings, their queens, ministers, nobles and subjects.

The period of Rajaraja I and his successors upto the accession of Kulottunga I (a.d. 985 to 1070) is the grandest in the history of South India. In the very few standard works on Indian Art and Architecture, only two temples belonging to the period are dealt with—the Rajarajesvaram and the Gangaikondacholis-varam. The present survey, fairly comprehensive though not thorough, presents more than a hundred temples assignable to the period based on unimpeachable epigraphical and reliable literary evidence.

A rich artistic legacy has been left to us by the Cholas, but it has not been properly studied. V.A. Smith observed that “After a.d. 300, Indian sculpture properly so called hardly deserves to be recognised as art”. Even in such a modern scholarly work as J.N. Banerjee’s The Development of Hindu Iconography (Calcutta University) we find the erroneous statement that the sculptures of the Ananda tandava form of Nataraja found in South India belong “most of them to the 14th or 15th century a.d. or even later”. The three volumes of this series on Chola temples so far published, and the fourth under preparation, will dispel these hasty and ill-informed views, perpetuated by an absence of a survey of these monuments and sculptures.

Now, a few remarks of a general nature. In his monumental work, A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee writes:

“Mankind is going to destroy itself unless it succeeds in growing together something into a simple family. For this, we must become familiar with each other, and this means becoming familiar with each of their history, since man does not live just in the immediate present.”

To this growing realisation of the concept of‘one world’, the civilization of South India generally, and the culture and art of the Cholas in particular, have a significant contribution to make. Recently, two books have been published. One is the Vivekananda commemoration volume on the theme of ‘India’s contribution to world thought and culture’. The other is D.P. Singhal’s ‘India and the World Civilization’. Both deal with India’s role in human history and her contacts with and influence on the peoples of the rest of Asia, Africa, Europe and America. They emphasise that Indian civilisation is distinguished by its antiquity, continuity and vitality, with a powerful impact on the other peoples of the world.

Another Indologist, Dr. H.C. Quaritch Wales, pointed out that the Sailendras, who built up a vast maritime empire which endured for live centuries and contributed a great deal to the flowering of Indian thought and culture in Java and Cambodia, do not find mention in modern histories and encyclopedias and such an omission is a serious one in the context of a balanced history of the world. The achievements of the Cholas who conquered them were no less remarkable and deserve an honourable place in this context.

It is with a heavy hearc that I have to record the passing away, recently, of two of my dearly valued friends and colleagues. Mr. P.Z. Pattabhiramin, brought up by the fostering care of the late Prof. G.J. Dubreuil and later by Dr. Fiiliozat, Director of the French Institute of Indology, Pondicherry, tirelessly laboured to build up an impressive collection of photographs, carefully annotated and indexed, housed in the above Institute, which forms a fitting memorial to him. I also bemoan the loss of my friend Prof. Benjamin Rowland of the Fogg Musem, Cambridge, Mass., United States of America. He was an outstanding authority on Indian Art and Architecture. His two masterly works: The Art and Architecture of India (III edition, Pelican, 1967) and Zentral Asien (in German, Kunst Welt, 1972), will remain fitting monuments to bis scholarship and deep interest in the culture and art of India and Asia in their traditional aspect. May I also place on record my sense of deep sorrow at the demise of my valued friend Dr. Moti Chandra whose deep learning, ripe wisdom and sterling character will be cherished by all fellow scholars?

The Tamil Nadu Government have been warm in their appreciation of my contributions in the field of Chola Art. When in 1972 they appointed an expert committee to study and report on the genuineness or otherwise of the Nataraja bronze now in the Sivapuram temple, I was nominated its Chairman; we had regretfully to report that the bronze was a fake substitute, and recommended that efforts should be made to recover the original idol that had been whisked away to a foreign country. It is good to learn that the Norton Simon Foundation, where it ultimately found its way, has agreed to return the idol. We also recommended that a full and systematic photographic survey of all bronzes in the temples of the Tamil Nadu should be undertaken immediately. I am glad that this survey has begun its work already. Later in February, 1973, I was called upon to preside over the inauguration of the First Seminar on Hero-stones; and I was also invited to preside over the inaugural function of the Seminar on the Cholas held at Madras in June, 1973.

I am beholden to the Director-General of Archaeology, Government of India, the Superintending Archaeologist, Southern Circle and the Conservation staff of the Rajarajesvaram temple for their kind help and cooperation in the study of the temples under the control of the Central Government.

I place on record my indebtedness to Shri Yashwantrao B. Chavan (formerly Minister for Finance and now for External Affairs) for his Foreword and Shri Karl J. Khandalavala for the Preface contributed to this volume.

The Ford Foundation of the United States of America have placed me under a deep debt by giving me a generous grant to supplement my meagre resources towards the publication of this volume also. The various ministries of the Government of India concerned with processing the proposal of the Foundation to grant me assistance for this project have earned my gratitude by clearing the proposal expeditiously. The publication would not have been possible but for the sanction of this grant. I am grateful to the Foundation and in particular to its present Chief in India, Dr. Harry E. Wilhelm, for this help.

The French Institute of Indology gave me a number of illustrations from their large collection. The Director-General of Archaeology, New Delhi, the Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu Government, Madras, and the Director of the American Institute of Indian Studies, Varanasi, provided me a few of their photographs; and I acknowledge my indebtedness to these bodies in detail elsewhere. Quite a large number of the photographs, some of them rare, particularly of the more inaccessible monuments, have been taken and made available to me by my son Venkataraman.

I am much obliged to many of my brother-scholars. Dr. M.N. Deshpande, Director-General of Archaeology, has given me a lot of help. Shri K.S. Rama-chandran, Senior Technical Assistant, and Mrs. K. G. Rao, Librarian of the Central Archaeological Department, Dr. G.S. Gai and Shri K.G. Krishnan of the Epigraphical Department, Mysore, Shri R. Nagaswamy, Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu, Dr. A.V. Narasimhamurti, Director of the Mysore Archaeological Survey, Dr. J. Filliozat and members of the French Institute of Indology, Pondicherry, Dr. James C. Harle of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Shri H. Sarkar of the Temple Survey, Archeological Department, Southern Circle, Dr. Promod Chandra and Shri M.A. Dhaky of the American Institute of Indian Studies, Varanasi, Shri C. Sivaramamurti, and Shri Sadashiva Gorakshar of the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay and many other friends have extended to me their valuable co-operation and help. I render them my sincere thanks.

Thomson Press (India) Limited, who printed my previous book, Early Chola Temples, very kindly came forward to include this volume as one of their publications. I am greatly obliged to Shri V.V. Purie, Shri Aroon Purie, Shri R.S. Rawal and Shri H.K. Mehta and Shri B.L. Ganju of the Production Department and his team, for the keen and sustained interest shown by them in my work. All the members of the Press have taken a personal interest in this publication and extended to me special privileges which I greatly appreciate.

I am thankful to Shri D. Kannan, Shri V. Balasubrahmanyan and Shri Jagdish Ram Sharma for a lot of technical assistance in the processing of the illustrations. Wing Commander K.S. Balakrishna, Shri Haridas Ghosh and Shri Sudhansu Sekhar Patnaik prepared the index. It was a labour of love. I am thankful to them. In typing out the script at various stages, Messrs. S. Varadarajan, C.K. Rajappa, D.R. Srinivasan, K.N. Lakshmi Narayanan and T.R. Aravamudan have been of great help in various ways.

My sons B. Natarajan, B. Venkataraman and B. Ramachandran and my daughter-in-law Leela Venkataraman and my grand children Nandini Venkataraman and Mohan Venkataraman have been deeply involved in my project and shared my interest, and each has madea valuable contribution to this volume. I owe a special debt to Leela, who functioned virtually as my secretary, during the last one year, doing all the chores that writing this book involved besides helping me in numerous other ways in the publication of this book. I am proud and happy about their association. With Natarajan’s contribution on Chidambaram, The City of the Cosmic Dance (Orient Longman), and Venkataraman’s specialisation on Later Cholas, apart from his works Laddigam (Orient Longman) and Temple Art under the Chola Qtieens (Thomson Press), Chola art may be said to have become a family legacy. I pray for the completion of the series.

And in conclusion, I must pay my humble homage to the holy sage who presides over the Kamakoti Peetham at Kanchi who has always been to me a source of inspiration and encouragement. His light has guided me in all my work.

S.R. Balasubrahmanyam

C-I/9, Humayun Road,
New Delhi
26th April, 1975.


It is with a sense of deep personal as well as professional loss that I have to record the passing away (when this volume was in the last stages of printing) of that great historian and archeologist of South India, Professor K.A. Nilakanta Sastri. It was my privilege to be associated with him intimately for well over half a century. His masterly contributions to the study of the history of the Pandyas and of the Cholas and their contacts with the kingdom of Sri Yijaya constitute a fitting permanent memorial to him and will remain a source of inspiration to scholars for all time to come.


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