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....

This stupendous structure, comprising the the ardhamandapa, the mahamandapa and the mukhatnandapa, extends over an area of 54.86 ms by 30.18 ms and is set beautifully in the walled and cloistered courtyard formed by the wall of enclosure.

The Srivimana

The crowning constituent of the entire edifice is of course the srivimana itself, which rises to a grand height of 63.41 ms from the floor of the inner courtyard. The garbhagriha measures 30.18 ms by 30.18 ms at the base, according to the latest measure-

merits taken by the Archaeological [Department; the figure for the height of the srivimana has also been recalculated during the recent cleaning operations undertaken by the Department and the height from the floor of the courtyard to the top of the stupi is 63.40 ms. The figure mentioned by Fergusson (and others following him) was 57.91 ms. The kalasam (or stupi) measures, not 3.66 ms as mentioned by earlier writers, but only 3.35 ms (as measured during the recent cleaning operations). Possibly the original measurement assessed on the basis of figures given in the inscriptions could be inclusive of the portion of the stupi which is inserted into the sikhara. The cella is double-storeyed, each storey being indicated by a massive overhanging cornice; the double-storeyed cella is a further development of the same principle found in the Koranganatha temple at Srinivasanallur.

Sculptures on the Garbhagriha walls

The walls of the first tier of the garbhagriha are adorned with a set of life-size sculptures of a variety of forms of Siva. There are six sculptures on each wall except the eastern one, three on either side of the central opening, which exposes the sculpture in the vestibule. They include a pair of dvarapalas (on each of the three walls) immediately flanking the central opening. On the eastern wall there is however only one sculpture on each side of the entrance to the garbhagriha; on the south wall, an extra figure has been accommodated, thus disturbing the symmetry.

These figures are given below:

South Wall West Wall North Wall East Wall
1. Bhikshatanar 1. Hariharar 1. Ardhanarisvara 1. Lingobhavar (South side)
2. Virabhadrar 2. Lingodbhavar 2. Gangadharar (without Uma) 2. Siva standing
3. Dvarapala 3. Dvarapala 3. Dvarapala 3. Pasupatamurti (North side)
4. Dvarapala 4. Dvarapala 4. Dvarapala  
5. Dakshinamurti (extra) 5. Ghandrasekharar (without prabhavali) 5. Pasupatamurti (or Virabhadrar)  
6. Kalantakar 6. Chandrasekharar (with prabhavali) 6. Siva-Alinginamurti  
7. Nataraja      


In addition to these sculptures, there are three on the southern and three on the northern side of the mahamandapa. They are:

South side
1. Ganesa
2. Vishnu with His Consorts
3. Gajalakshmi

North side
1. Bhairavar (with urdhvajvala)
2. Mahishasuramardini
3. Sarasvati

In the corresponding niches of the second tier above the intervening cornice, Siva as Tripurantakaris repeated in different poses, corresponding to the deities mentioned above. (Plates 1 - 34) Over this base rises the towering structure of thirteen storeys (talas). Topping the storeys of the srivimana is a single block of granite 7.77 ms square estimated to weigh about eighty tons. Over this block which forms the floor of the griva are Nandis in pairs adorning the four corners, each Nandi measuring 1.98 ms by 1.68 ms. It is on this granite slab that the griva, the sikhara and the finial stand; the gilded stupi, which alone is said to be about 3.81 ms in height, was gifted by the king himself to the temple in his twenty-fifth year, 275th day (SII, II, 1, para 18). Each storey is adorned with ornamental salas and kutas, combining strength with grace. The gradual upward sweep of the srivimana towards the sky is breath-taking; in this respect it outrivals the Pallava shore temple at Mamallapuram and even the grand srivimana attempted by his son at Gangaikondasolapuram. The srivimana is pyramidal in form and not curvilinear as that of the Gangaikondasolisvaram is. The 25 -ton cupola-shaped sikhara and the golden (no longer so) stupi give a fitting crown to an allstone edifice, which is a marvel of engineering skill unparalleled by any structure anywhere in India built during that period.

It is the grandest achievement of the Indian craftsmen. That this monument has so splendidly survived for about a millenium now, in spite of the ravages of time, the political vicissitudes and the utter misuse to which the temple campus was put during the wars between the French and the English, is itself a tribute to the skill and attainment of the Dravidian sthapati in building a stone structure so solid, so perfect and of such magnitude.

The garbhagriha rests on a high-moulded and adhishthanam. The upapitham measures 140 cms in height and the adhishthanam measures 360 cms; the entire basement thus measuring 500 cms. In the sanctum sanctorum is a monolithic Linga of giant proportions rising to the full height of the two storeys of the garbhagriha. There runs a corridor between the outer (bhitti) and the inner (antara-bhitti) walls of the; in this respect the temple resembles the Pallava Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi. The inter-space is again two storeyed, corresponding to the storeys of the garbhagriha; in the lower storey, the vestibule is adorned with three stone sculptures of exquisite workmanship. Both faces of the walls of the vestibule are covered with mural paintings of great artistic merit and co-eval with the monument, with an overlaid layer of paintings of the seventeenth century when the city served as the capital of the Nayakas of Tan-javur and the temple received considerable attention from these rulers.

In the corridor corresponding to the second storey of the aditala (of the vertical wall portion) of the srivimana, there is a set of panels of stone sculptures in high relief depicting 81 karanas of Bharalanalyam, out of the total of 108; this would really mark the first (known) plastic representation of these karanas anywhere in India. Against the remaining unrepresented karanas, there are mere blank blocks of stones. Labelled sculptures of all the karanas prescribed in Bharata’s Nalya are found in the gopurams of the later Cholas—the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram in the inner faces of the gateways and the Sarangapani temple at Kumbhakonam on the upper tier.

There is a small seated Bhogasakti in bronze by the side of the north jamb of' the doorway of the garbhagriha.

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