Chola temples – World Cultural Heritage in India

The Great Living Chola temples were built by the kings of the Chola Empire, spanning the whole of southern India and neighboring islands. The site includes three major temples from the 11th and 12th centuries: Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur, Brihadisvara Temple in Gangaikondacholisvaram and Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram. The Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple, built by Rajendra I, was completed in 1035. Its 53-meter-high Vimana (sanctuary tower) features recessed corners and a graceful upward curvilinear movement, contrasting with the straight and dignified tower. in Thanjavur. The temple complex of Airavatesvara, built by Rajaraja II, at Darasuram has a 24 m long vimana and a stone statue of Lord Shiva. The temples testify to Chola’s brilliant achievements in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting.

Accreditation year: 1987
Substantial Boundary Modifications : 2004
Criteria: (ii)(iii)
Area: 21.74 ha
Buffer zone: 16,715 ha


Outstanding global value

The great Cholas established a powerful monarchy in the 9th century AD in Thanjavur and surrounding areas. They enjoyed a long, eventful rule spanning four and a half centuries with great achievements in all areas of the royal family such as military conquest, effective administration, cultural assimilation, and publicity. promote art. All three temples, Brihadisvara in Thanjavur, Brihadisvara in Gangaikondacholapuram and Airavatesvara in Darasuram, are living temples. The tradition of worship and temple rituals conceived and practiced more than a thousand years ago, based on still more ancient Agamic texts, continues daily, weekly and annually, as part inseparable in people’s lives.

These three temple complexes thus form a unique group, representing the progressive development of the finest Chola architecture and art, while encapsulating a very special period of history. Chola and Tamil culture.

The Brihadisvara temple in Tanjavur marks the greatest achievement of the Chola architects. Known in inscriptions as Dakshina Meru , the construction of this temple was inaugurated by King Chola, Rajaraja I (985-1012 AD) possibly in the 19th Dynasty (1003-1004 AD) and by his own hand. consecrated during the 25th dynasty (1009-1010 AD). A massive colonnade prakara with side shrines dedicated to the ashatadikpalas and a main entrance with gopura (called Rajarajantiruvasal) surrounds the massive temple. The main hall occupies the center of the second half of the rectangular courtyard. vimana _fly to an altitude of 59.82 meters above the ground. This great elevation is marked by a high upapitha, adhisthana with bold ridges; The ground floor (prastara) is divided into two floors, bearing the image of Siva. The above rises 13 talas and is crossed by an octagonal sikhara. There is a path that goes around the reserve that has a massive linga. The walls of the temple are adorned with extensive and delicate murals. Eighty-one of the hundred and eight karanas, housed in Baharatanatya, are carved on the walls of the second bhumi around the garbhagriha. There is a temple dedicated to Amman dating back to the 13th century.

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Outside the temple enclosure are the fortress walls of the Sivaganga Small Fort surrounded by a moat and the Sivaganga Tank, built by the 16th-century Nayaks of Tanjore, the imperial Cholas successor. Fort walls surround and protect the inner temple complex and form part of the area protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

The Brihadisvara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram in the district of Perambalur was built by Rajendra I (1012-1044 AD) for Siva. The temple has sculptures of exceptional quality. The bronzes of Bhogasakti and Subrahmanya are masterpieces of Chola metal icons. Saurapitha (Sun Altar), the lotus altar with eight gods, is considered auspicious.

The Airavatesvara temple in Tanjavur was built by King Chola Rajaraja II (1143-1173 AD.): it is much smaller in size than the Brihadisvara temple in Tanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. It differs from them in it’s highly ornate execution. The temple consists of a sanctum with no roundabouts and mandalas. The front mandapa is known in inscriptions as Rajagambhiran tirumandapam, which is unique because it is conceptualized as a chariot with wheels. The pillars of this mandapa are very ornate. The elevation of all units is elegant with sculptures dominating the architecture. Some of the sculptures from this temple are masterpieces of Chola art. The miniature bas-reliefs labeled in praise of the events that happened to the 63 nayanmars (Saiva saints) are remarkable and reflect the deep roots of Saivism in this area. The construction of a separate temple for Devi, a little later than the main temple, indicates the emergence of the Amman temple as an essential component of the Temple Complex outside of India.

Criterion (i): The three Chola temples in South India represent an outstanding creative achievement in the architectural conception of pure form of the dravida type of temple.

Criterion (ii): Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur became the first prime example of Chola temples, followed by a development to which two other properties also testify.

Criterion (iii): The Three Great Chola Temples are the most distinctive and outstanding testimony to the architectural development of the Chola Empire and the Tamil civilization in South India.

Criterion (iv): The Great Chola temples at Thanjavur, at Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram are outstanding examples of architecture and represent Chola ideology.



These temples represent the evolution of Dravida architecture from the Chola period to the Maratha period. All three monuments are in a well-preserved condition from the date of inscription and there is no major threat to the World Heritage sites. These monuments are being maintained and monitored by the Archaeological Survey of India. The tradition of worship and temple rituals conceived and practiced over a thousand years ago, based on still more ancient Agamic texts, continues daily, weekly and yearly, as part inseparable in people’s lives.

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The three properties are considered to pass the test of authenticity regarding their ideas, materials and implementation. The temples are still in use and they have great archaeological and historical value. Temple complexes were once part of major royal towns, but are still prominent features in today’s mostly rural setting. Components of the Brihadisvara temple complex at Thanjavur, declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, include six additional shrines that have been added to the temple grounds over a period of time. Later additions and interventions reinforce the original concept embodied in the main temple complex, consistent with its overall uniformity and integrity. The traditional use of the temple for worship and ritual contributes to authenticity. However, the 2003 periodic report noted a number of conservation interventions that could potentially compromise authenticity, such as cleaning the structure with chemicals and replacing the entire temple foundation; emphasizes the need for a Conservation Management Plan to guide the conservation of the property to ensure that authenticity is maintained.

Likewise at the Brihadisvara complex in Gangaikondacholapuram, the side shrines of Chandesa and Amman were originally built according to the plans of Rajendra I, as well as the Simhakeni (lion’s well). Over time, additional shrines of Thenkailasha, Ganesha and Durga were added. The authenticity of these additions is supported by Agamic texts concerning the renovation and reconstruction of the temples in use.

At Darasuram, archaeological evidence from the gazette enhances the authenticity of the property. The Airavatesvara temple complex itself was built entirely at the same time without any additional structures later and remains in its original form. The Deivanayaki Amman temple was also built a little later, keeping its original shape in its own grounds.

Protection and management requirements

Three cultural assets, namely the Brihadisvara temple complex at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara temple complex at Gangaikondacholapuram and the Airavatesvara temple complex at Darasuram have been protected by the Archaeological Survey of India since 1922, 1946 and 1954 respectively. . Furthermore, all of them are included in the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Funding Act from 1959, at the time of its enactment. Therefore, the management of these cultural properties can be divided into two distinct parts: (1) Conservation, maintenance and maintenance of the assets, including physical structures, architectural features architecture and place, environment and surroundings, painting, sculpture and other monuments; and, (2) Temple management including personnel structure and hierarchy, accounting and bookkeeping,

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The governing authority regarding (1) is given only to the Archaeological Survey of India while the aspects mentioned in (2) are entirely given by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Funding Department of India. Tamil Nadu government take care. Thus, it is clear that asset management is in fact jointly implemented by these two agencies, a central agency and a state agency.

It is customary for the two agencies to prepare their own management plans independently and review them from time to time. When necessary, general discussions are held and any apparent contradictions or points of inconsistency are properly considered and resolved. In the case of the Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur and the Airavatesvara temple in Darasuram, the authorities consult the Inherited Trustees of Devasthanam Palace as necessary to finalize any matters requiring consultation. of the Trustee.

However, since the nomination of the property expanded, the Archaeological Survey of India, the Ministry of Charity Funding and Hindu Religion, the Government of Tamil Nadu, has, in principle, agreed to draft a The joint asset management plan includes the specific requirements of both parties in the meeting. the fundamental goals of protecting and promoting (1) the three cultural assets while enhancing their Outstanding Universal Value; (2) the Vedic and Agamic traditions and their importance in the lives of the people; (3) arts (sculpture, painting, bronze casting, dance, music and literature) are integral parts of traditional culture; and (4) the ancient science of vast shastras and silpa, the basic instructions for the construction of temples and religious structures, as well as sculpture and painting.

Since the property’s recognition as a World Heritage property, the monuments have been maintained in good condition and there is no major threat to the monument. The regular maintenance and monitoring of monuments by the Archaeological Survey of India keeps the monuments in high demand among tourists. However, a Tourism Interpretation and Management Plan and a Conservation Management Plan are required to guide future work and identify priorities for conservation and interpretation efforts. Basic amenities such as water, toilets, etc. have been provided to attract more tourists to this place. Improving landscape and tourist amenities are some of the long-term plans. Temples have been centers of worship for the past 800-1000 years and continue to serve in this way.

Map of the Great Chola Temples

Videos of Chola temples

See also: UNESCO World Cultural/Natural Heritage Sites

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