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....

Chapter VIII - Conclusion

It is one of the rare patterns of history that five emperors in succession were men of such grand stature; they vied with one another in their deeds of valour and the battles fought, in the temples built and the bronzes they cast; it seems as if the Divine Dispenser chose this kingdom and this dynasty for the bestowal of all that was good and great.

The kings of this period reversed the hitherto traditional course of history; till then, invasions generally flowed from the north to the south; Rajendra I in inheriting a vast empire from his father not only consolidated his hereditary dominion but also extended his conquests to the north as far as the Ganga basin and in the east to Kadaram and Srivijaya beyond the seas. And where their empire expanded, culture and art followed. The largest share of the credit, however, would go to Rajaraja I for having ushered in the golden era in art, culture and civil and military administration. The three sons of Rajendra I were great heroes who spent most of their lives in wars with the powers in the north and the south. In fact, there is no other instance of such a succession of heroes who displayed such great valour as the Chola kings of the Middle period. Some of them laid down their lives in defending the frontiers of their empire. They were giants who knew no defeat, who took the lands they cast their eyes on and surrendered not the lands they took, and laid such strong foundations of the empire that it stood unshaken amidst all the turbulences of the times for another two hundred years. Among them they raised an empire with hardly a parallel in history. Here were not just one but five Iron Dukes[1]. It is difficult to say who among them was the greatest.

Their examples of valour, the pattern of local and central governmental machinery and their methods of revenue administration are a great legacy. But their noblest memorials are their art treasures—temples, sculptures and paintings, imperishable treasures bequeathed to posterity.

During their age, the Chola Sun (the Cholas belonged to the Solar race) rose to its meridian resplendancy. The period of Rajaraja I and his successors marks the heyday of Chola imperialism—of the benevolent type—and the most glorious period in the history of South India. And when the direct descendant of this house died, the Chola throne passed on to Kulottunga I, the grandson of the illustrious Gangaikonda Chola, who united the two royal houses of the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi and the Cholas of the Vijayalaya line. From now on, we pass on to yet another bright period of Chola rule from a.d. 1070 to the time the Chola Sun set in a.d. 1280.

In the fourteenth century, the Chola mantle fell upon the Vijayanagara rulers who carried on a struggle for about three centuries for the preservation of the political independence and religious freedom of the people of South India.

As warriors, Kulottunga I, Vikrama Chola, Kulottunga III and even Rajendra III were equally great and the last of this heroic galaxy made a valiant struggle to save the empire, but it was not to be.

Kulottunga I and Vikrama Chola were great temple-builders. The ratha-vimana (terk-koyil) built in the reign of Kulottunga I marked the beginning of a new style in Chola architecture. This feature was transferred from the srivimana to the mandapa on wheels drawn by horses and elephants—a feature which became common throughout the Later Chola period. And this was copied by later dynasties in other regions—Kalinga and Vijayanagara.

The workship of the Sun God acquired special emphasis in this period and the only independent temple for the deity in South India was established.

The Tiruk-kamak-kottam, a large, independent temple for Amman, the consort, came to be built outside the central shrine all over the Tamil land. Three or more (usually about five) prakaras surrounded by madils rose all over, and large temple-cities like Chidambaram, Tiruvarur, Tiruvanaikka and Sri-rangam were formed, and in the middle of these outer walls of enclosure, tall gopurams with seven storeys dwarfing even the srivimanam, were built, first at Chidambaram and later in other places. It was again during this period that the hundred and the thousand pillared halls were constructed. Kulottunga II spent the whole of his reign in enriching the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram, the Thyagaraja temple at Tiruvarur and other celebrated Siva temples in the Chola country. On the model cf Rajarajes-varam of Tanjavur, Rajaraja II built the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram and Kulottunga III the Kampaharesvara temple at Tribhuvanam. The last two are the most impressive of the Later Chola temples. Even during the period of their decline, templebuilding activity continued unabated, though these temples were humbler in comparison.

The large number of Chola temples spread over the different parts of South India are perhaps the richest legacy we have inherited from the Cholas. They enshrine our art, religion and ethos and will, as they have done over the centuries past, continue to inspire generations yet unborn.

Footnotes and references:


The Duke of Wellington (the Iron Duke).

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