Everyone has heard of famous temples around the world like Angkor Wat. While when most folks think of India and structures they think of the Taj Mahal (a mausoleum not a temple). But venture south into Tamil Nadu in southern India and one will come across UNESCO Listed temples that beggar belief.
The Brihadisvara Temple is one of the three "Great Living Chola Temples" that includes the Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple and the Airavastesvara temple. These magnificent temples are only 43 miles or 70 km and 25 miles or 40 km away respectively so see all of them while there! Still, everyone should visit Cambodia's impressive Angkor Wat!
Background Of the Brihadisvara Temple
Raja Raja Chola was a Chola emperor who ruled over ancient Tamil Nadu as well as parts of what is today Sri Lanka and Malaya from 985 to 1014.
While visiting Ceylon (today called Sri Lanka) he was inspired to build a temple that would honor his reign. He ruled a large and victorious empire and he wanted a temple that could be worthy of his empire. Sri Lanka is an island paradise that would inspire anyone and everyone should visit it.
Raja Raja Chola I went on to build this temple between 1003 and 1010 AD and it has been standing proudly now for a thousand years.
Today it stands as a testament to Tamil engineering and the wealth and power of the empire of the day. The three Great Living Chola Temples in the UNESCO Inscription are:
- Brihadisvara Temple: First Of The Great Living Chola Temples
- Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple: Second Of The Great Living Chola Temples
- Airavastesvara Temple: Third Of The Great Living Chola Temples
About The Brihadisvara Temple Today
The Brihadisvara Temple is one of the largest Hindu temples and is considered an example of fully realized Tamil architecture (the Tamils are one of India's major southern linguistic and ethnic groups). It has gone by several names, locally it is known as Thanjai Periya Kovil or Rajarajeswaram or even just "Big Temple", originally it was called Peruvudaiyar Kovil.
Originally the temple was surrounded by a moat. The original temple complex included the main temple, gopura, a massive tower, frescoes, sculptures, and inscriptions. The moats are long gone and instead, the temple is surrounded today by fortified walls that were added after the 16th century.
Most of the sculptures etc. within the temple are mostly related to Shaivism, but some are also of Vaishnavism and Shaktism. The massive vimana tower rising above the shrine is one of the tallest in Southern India and is built out of granite. The vimana tower remains one of the tallest temple towers in the world.
- Listed: UNESCO World Heritage Site (Added 1987)
- Built: 1003 to 1010 AD (Total Of 12 Years To Complete)
- Opening Times: 5:30 AM to 12 PM and 4 PM to 8 PM
- Dedicated: To Shiva
- Height: 216 Feet or About 66 Meters
The temple has signature Tamil architecture style-high walls, a fort-like entrance, separate rooms, long corridors, and paintings of Shiva on the walls. The moat (now gone) was also typical of Tamil architecture. While the Brihadisvara Temple is very similar to many others in the region, it stands out for its sheer size as well as its architectural mysteries.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple: Second Of The Great Living Chola Temples
This temple is also a Hindu temple included in the UNESCO inscription and was completed in 1035 AD by Rajendra Chola I. It was built as part of the ruler's new capital. It is also dedicated to Shiva and is based on a square plan.
But there are also displays of Vaishnavism, Shaktism, and syncretic equivalences of Hinduism. One can find statues of Vishnu, Durga, Surya, Ardhanishvara, and other Hindu gods in there.
Like the other temples, it is more of a temple complex with smaller shrines, gopura, and various monuments as part of the site.
- Completed: In 1035 AD
- Dedicated: To Shiva
Airavastesvara Temple: Third Of The Great Living Chola Temples
Located in the town of Darasuram this magnificent temple was completed in 1166 AD. It is the third temple of the Great Living Chola Temples and is one of a cluster of eighteen medieval-era large Hindu temples in the region. It was also dedicated to Shiva but like the others displays other parts of Hinduism.
- Named: After The White Elephant of Indra
It is named after the White Elephant of Indra and stands as another grand temple monument of the once-great Cholan Empire now largely lost to history.
The three Great Cholan Temples were built by the successive generations of kings of the Cholan Empire. One of the great temple's most striking features is the Royal Courtyard (or Rajagambhire Thirumandapam).
It boasts intricately carved pillars, long steps (hewn from granite), and stunningly elegant chariots drawn by horses (also hewn out of stone). The workmanship in this temple is considered even finer than the earlier ones.
- Completed: 1166 AD
- Dedicated: To Shiva