Brihadeeswara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram was supposed to be the bigger version of the same temple in Tanjore. It was built by the son of the King Rajraja who built the temple in Tanjore after he had gone up to the Ganga in the East and came back with its water as a mark of victory. It seems he built a complete city surrounding the temple. But it is only Gangaikondacholapuram temple that survives today. Everything else is in complete ruins. When you reach the temple, it almost seems to be standing alone in the middle of no-where. After Pattadakal this is the second world heritage site in India where you do not have any facilities around the monument. Not even basic food.
Gangaikondacholapuram temple is probably the biggest built by the Chola dynasty. It is more or less a replica of the temple at Tanjore. And is only one generation younger than that. The thought must have been to build a bigger and mightier temple. To establish or match the perceived grandeur of the new king. But somehow Gangaikondacholapuram temple loses out on the rhythm that the original temple has. As C Sivamurti rightly puts it, this temple looks very masculine compared to the Tanjore one which is more feminine with its perfect proportions. The Nandi here is not monolithic like Tanjore one. And as of today sits on the open ground instead of a platform.
The subsidiary shrines also occupy similar places in the temple complex as in Tanjore. The vastness of the temple indicates the life of the times that must have been centered around the temple as was the prestige of the patron king.
Chola Temple – Brihadeeswara Temple
Gopurams if any were there, are missing today. Though the entrance does give an impression that there might have been a gopuram here. Two images of Dwarapalas have been kept at the entrance. And they do create the ambiance of the entrance as it might have been. The side entrances to the sanctum are also flanked by huge Dwarapalas that are approached through a flight of steps, a typical feature of Chola temples. The sculptures on the walls depict the Shiva in his various avatars known by various names. Bare parts of walls give an impression of being unfinished and lack the finesse of the other temples. On the ceiling of one of the pavilions and in few niches, I could see the traces of paintings, elsewhere time seems to have taken a toll on them.
A unique feature of this temple is the image of a Lion through whose body a staircase leads to the well, called Simhakanar. Waters of Ganga was put in this well to be used for the perpetual supply of it for the Abhisheka of the deity.
Being under ASI, Gangaikondacholapuram temple priests are also appointed by them. Rather than the traditional priests who would have inherited the position in the temple. The lawns within the premises are well maintained. The temple is a practicing living temple. But it misses the life that you see in Tanjore around the temple. It made me think if it is really the God present in the temples that make the place come alive or is it the devotees who make the place come alive with their devotion.
Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Tamil Nadu.
- Understanding Chola Bronzes.
- Maratha Palace Tanjore – Maratha Might in South India.
- Largest living temple at Srirangam Trichy.
- Big Temple or Brihadeeswara Temple, Tanjore aka Thanjavur.
- Madurai Rameshwaram – A Travelogue.