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....

Rajarajesvaram may justly be called Devalaya-chakravarti—an Emperor among temples; among other reasons, it stands on the highest point in the entire neighbourhood of Tanjavur, the capital and citadel of the Chola empire and dominates the skyline for miles. Both in its simplicity and in its grandeur, it has very few compeers.

The temple complex covers an overall area of the size of a rectangle of 240.79 ms east to west and 121.92 ms north to south. It consists of the srivimana, the ardhamandapa, the mahamandapa, the mukhamandapa and a Nandi-mandapa in front. There is a vast courtyard with a circumscribing tiruch-churru-maligai (a columned, raised, covered verandah), measuring 152.40 ms in length and 77.20 ms in breadth. Outside this wall, there are two further walls of enclosure, the outer being a defensive one with bastions and gun-holes. In the courtyard (or prakara), there are shrines for Amman and Subrahmanyar, which are the major ones, and a number of other smaller ones. A later matidapa in the northeastern corner of the courtyard and two gopurams in the eastern perimeter walls complete the complex.

Walls of enclosure and gateways

The temple faces east. As one approaches the complex from the east, a deep uneven moat of varying width and depth confronts us; at the entrance to the temple, it has been filled up to provide a passage on a level with the floor of the temple. After crossing the moat, we come across the wall of fortification with bastions, which runs all along the fringe of the moat. This wall is broken by a gateway whose upper inner surface is semi-circular and top flat, though somewhat raised from the general level of the wall. An inner and more massive wall of enclosure runs all round the four sides of the temple, parallel to the outer wall of defence and removed about 6.10 ms from it. It is over the eastern opening on this wall that the outer (and first) gopuram rises. This gate is called “Keralantakan” (the sacred gate of Keralantaka, a surname of Rajaraja I). It is a massive stone structure; the entablature is, however, unpretentious, the superstructure being stocky and short. After crossing this gateway, we traverse almost a hundred metres westwards before we reach the inner gopuram known as “Rajaraja, with attractive panels on the adhishthanam, depicting pauranic and other themes. This entrance admits us into the extensive courtyard in the middle of which is located the main temple. This inner wall of enclosure, the central structural complex and the subsidiary shrines constitute the hard core of the temple. The wall of enclosure is distinct in design from the outer walls of defence.


The temple of Mahadeva at Ittagi, a small town in the Raichur Doab 22 miles (35 kms) east of the railway station of Gadag on the South Central Railway, is a later Chalukyan temple built by Mahadeva, the Dandanayaka of Vikramaditya VI; he was a native of Ittagi. The temple came into existence in a.d. 1112. Close to it he also built a Vishnu temple called that of Narayana, so named after his father.

The construction of these two temples is recorded in a Kanarese inscription found on a slab planted in the verandah of the Vishnu temple. One of the verses of this inscription describes the Mahadevesvara temple as the Devalaya Chakravarti, the Emperor among temples.

This Siva temple facing east consists of a shrine housing a Linga with an ante-chamber (a partly enclosed and partly open hall) in front. It measures 120 feet (36.58ms) by 60 feet (18.29ms) and has four storeys over the sanctum. The fourth storey is damaged and its finial is missing.

H. Cousens describes the temple thus:

“This is one of the most complete and highly finished of existing Chaluk)an temples - probably the finest temple in the Kanarese districts alter Halebid.”

This later Chalukyan temple (Vesara order ?) may be said to mark the transition from the Later Chalukyan to the Hoysala type of temples.

The Siva temple at Ittagi is a century later than the Rajarajesvaram at Tanjavur built by Rajaraja I, but the fine expression Devalaya Chakaravarli coined by the Kanarese poet can be applied with greater justification (though anachronistically) to the Rajarajesvaram.

See Henry Cousens; Chalukyan Architecture of the Kanarese Districts: Text pp. 100-2, Elates Cl to CVII).

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