Astounding Gangaikonda Cholapuram Shiva temple - the double of Thanjavur big temple

Entrance,Gangaikonda cholapuram Shiva temple,Tamil
Shiva temple,Gangaikonda Cholapuram Tamil Nadu.
the medieval  period in the Southern India, the most dominant ruling class was  the Chola Dynasty.  King Rajaraja Chola I and his son and successor Rajendra Chola were  valiant  warriors and able  administrators of highest order. Rajendra-I, a man of valor and wisdom, went on various war expeditions with  his father  and gained  experience in  warfare and  military strategy.  He was instrumental in making the Chola dynasty the most powerful one south of the Vindhyas. Above all, Cholas  were staunch Hindus and  relentless builders of impressive temples of beauty and grandeur which still stand to day as great monuments to their glory, vision and devotion to God. The big temple - Brgadeshwara temple (dedicated to lord Shiva) built in the year
(984 - 1014 CE)  is a world famous UNESCO recognized heritage Hindu temple made entirely of hard rocks - mostly granite stones. 

Rajendra Chola I made Gangaikonda Cholapuram the new capital of the Cholas . He, as a great king,  conquered a large area in South India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Sumatra, Kadaram (Kedah in Malaysia), Cambodia and others in the beginning of the 11th century A.D thus carving a niche for himself  as a powerful ruler in the annals of the medieval history of India. He reigned  vast areas in Southern India stretching from  the Tungabhadra river in the north to Ceylon in the south and other  SE Asian countries and ran the affairs successfully from his  new capital   Gangaikonda Cholapuram which remained the capital for 250 years from about 1025 AD.  Unfortunately, once a famous capital is  now a small  dusty town without sheen, wearing a melancholy look. A sense of desolation and depression hangs in the air and visitors can not escape from it.   

The temple, it is believed, was built in 1020 during 6th regnal year, however  stone inscriptions indicate 20th  regnal  year (ie 1035). Rajendra Chola I built this temple to commemorate his victory in the Ganges region over the Pala Dynasty, hence he  assumed the name of Gangaikonda Cholan, meaning the one who conquered the Ganges.

Shiva temple,Gangaikonda Cholapuram, modeled on the Thanjavur temple.
Thanjavur Brahadeshwar temple.
Lots of people, in particular foreigners (mostly Architects or Historians), visit this town in Ariyalur District, Tamil Nadu because it is the seat a great  old Shiva temple whose exquisite sculptures, impressive architectural and engineering style are on par with those at Thanjavur Big temple. As a matter of fact some delicately carved images surpass in quality and intricate work.

Stone Nandi (bull), Gangaikondacholapuram Shiva temple, Tamil Nadu

The Hindu temple Gangaikonda Choleeswaram dedicated to  God Shiva was  completed in 1035 AD and Rajendra Chola I used the Thanjavur Big temple as a model and emulated his dynamic father Rajaraja Cola I. It is also one of the largest Shiva temples in India built in impressive Dravidian architecture.

Unfortunately the temple remains incomplete with  dilapidated walls, uncovered entrance to the temple, roofless Nandi (bull), etc., There are many huge disfigured stone figures in the open near the temple. It was the handiwork of the vandals and anti social characters. Now, it is well protected. The vimanam (temple tower) is 55 m (180 ft) high and  is modeled after   the Bragaadeeswarar temple at Thanjavur. The temple is  a major attraction  in Tamil Nadu and is also a  UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also included in the list is Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram (near Kumbakonam temple city, T.N.) and they are referred to as Living Chola temples. Presently it is being administered by the Archaeological Survey of India as a protected monument.

As for the daily  puja protocol, four kaala pujas are held with out fail as per temple regulations. The major temple festivals that are celebrated with devotion and fanfare are the Shivarathri - (Tamil month of Masi February - March), Aipassi Pournami (October - November) and Thiruvadirai during Margazhi (December - January).

Like the Thanjavur temple, this temple also became a center of  social, economic and political activities and discussion. Besides much emphasis was placed on  Cultural activities like music, dance and art in the form of bronzes. Many of these were staged here within the temple prescient. It was a golden age of the Chola rulers.

The following are the engaging features of the temple:

01. Brihadeeswara temple is built on an elevated structure with the courtyard measuring 560 ft (170 m) by 320 ft (98 m).

02. The sanctum or Sri Kovil or Garpagraha (100 sq ft; 9.3 m2)  is accessed through the prayer

hall (Mukhamandapa)  and  hall of sacrifice (Ardhamandapa). The sanctum, as in other Hindu temples,  is guarded by  large stone statues of Dwarapalas (sentinels) on either side of the entrance. It is believed that  inside  the Sri kovil - Sanctum a special  stone called Chandrakanta is laid in order to keep  the sanctum cool during summer and warm during winter. There are innumerable relief works on the walls.

03. The presiding deity is in form of Lingam (an iconic representation of Shiva)  and is 4 m (13 ft) tall and is the largest for any Shiva temple.

Lion well (Singak kenaru), Gangaikondacholapuram Shiva temple
 04. The Garbagraha - the main shrine  is surrounded by five shrines and a lion well (believed to be 19th Century  additions).

05. The consort of Shiva Periyanayaki Amman (Parvati) has a south facing shrine 9.5 ft (2.9 m) tall.

06. The Nandi (bull), a ubiquitous feature in all Shiva temples is 200 meters away from the sanctum, facing the main shrine and is  made of stucco and fallen stones.

Brihadeeswarar temple, Gangaikonda_Cholapuram.
 relief  work on the walls.
07. There are several niches for the deities  such as Durga, Nataraja, Vishnu, et al., around the wall. The niche image of  Lord Shiva garlanding a devotee (purportedly the Chola king himself or Chandesa, one of the 63 Saivite Tamil scholars, is an interesting one.

Lord Shiva blessing the devotee, Gangaikondacholapuram.

08. There are many bronze statues in the temple, depicting Chola art of the 11 century. Among them,  idol of Subramanya being the most recognized.
09.  Kulothunga Chola, successor to Rajendra Chola, built the fortification around the temple.