Photo Credit : Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen
Gangaikonda Cholapuram built during medieval India by Rajendra Chola I, the son and successor of Rajaraja Chola, the great Chola who conquered a large area in South India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Sumatra, Kadaram (Kedah in Malaysia), Cambodia and others at the beginning of the 11th century A.D. was the capital of the Cholas
It possess an imperative place in the history of India, as it was the capital of the Cholas from about 1025 A.D. for about 250 years; the city controlled the affairs of entire southern India, from the Tungabhadra in the north to Ceylon in the south and other South East Asian countries.
According to recent studies, the ancient city survived as a small forlorn village in the Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu. The great temple of Siva at this place is exceptional in its monumental nature and sculptural excellence.
The Gangaikondaan temple is an architectural and engineering wonder. The city was founded by Rajendra Chola to honour his victory over the Pala Dynasty. The name means The town of the Chola who brought Ganga (water from Ganga) or who defeated (the kings near) Ganga.
It is now a petite village, its past eminence is only considered by the existence of the great Siva Temple. Chola rulers were active patrons of the arts. They thrived in architecture, poetry, drama, music, dance education, science, arts, ship building and business trading.
The stunning Nataraja figure was first envisaged during the Chola Empire. Reviewing from the available literature and the ruins it is concluded that it was a widespread city, vigilantly planned and laid in accordance with the architectural pieces to suit the needs of a capital.
The city seems to have an inner fortification and an outer fortification. The outer was probably wider. The remnants of the outer fortification can be seen as a hillock running all around the palace.
The outer fortification built of burnt bricks, was about six to eight feet wide. It consisted of two walls, the dominant space being filled with sand. The bricks are fairly large in size and are made of well-burnt clay.
The outer fortification was known as Rajendra Chola Madil and is mentioned in inscriptions. The inner fortification was around the royal palace, probably identical with the Utpadi Vittu Madil of the inscriptions.
Probably in the reign of Kulothunga Chola I, the fortifications were rehabilitated and the city undergone some modification and embellishments. An epigraph refers to the fort wall of Kulothunga Chola (Kulottunga Cholan Thirumadil).
The reinforcement of the fortification and embellishments to the city in the reign of Kulothunga I were perhaps necessitated by the revolution which led to the murder of Chola king Athithakarikal Cholain the Sambuvaraya’s palace of Melakadambur, Kulothunga’s predecessor.
By the 13th century, the Chola kingdom had worn out its resources and was on the decline. It succumbed to an attack by the Hoysalas from the west and the Pandyas from the south. The last king of the Medieval Cholas was Rajendra Chola-III.
The Chola administration served as a model for all the other kingdoms of the South. The king had a council of ministers.
The kingdom was divided into a number of provinces known as Mandalams. The temple of Gangaikondacholisvara is accessed through the eastern entrance from the road. The entrance is called the “Mahaduvar” leads to the inner court. The royal palace also was built of burnt brick.
The ceilings were roofed with flat tiles of small size, laid in a number of courses, in fine lime mortar. The pillars were almost certainly made of polished wood, supported on granite bases; a few pillar bases have survived to this day.
Iron nails and clamps have been recovered from this palace site. There is an subversive subway that links the palace and the temple.