Chola Temples: Location, Name, Importance, Activities

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : May 29, 2023, 16:21

Chola Temples are the legacy of the Chola kings and consist of three temples dedicated to god Shiva. These temples are known for their architecture and are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Chola temples consist of the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, Airavatesvara Temple at Kumbakonam, and Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram.

The Chola Kingdom was one of the biggest and longest-ruling dynasties in India. The Cholas reigned Southern parts of India from 300s BCE–1279 CE. Learn more about the Chola temples, their legacy, architecture, and significance here.

About Chola Temples

The Chola Temples were constructed between the early 11th and 12th centuries by kings of the Chola dynasty. The Cholas were visionaries building temples as places of worship for people to gather. These temples were also buzzing centers for economic activity and political discourse. The most famous Chola temples consist of the following.

  • Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur
  • Airavatesvara Temple at Kumbakonam
  • Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram

About the Chola Dynasty

  • The Chola dynasty was one of India’s longest-ruling dynasties that lasted from 300s BCE–1279 CE.
  • The Cholas’ contribution to the literature of Tamil Nadu and their passion for building temples has left a deep impression on the history of the region.
  • They innovated new building techniques and used advanced technologies like the wax process for building sculptures.
  • One of the greatest legacies of the Chola kings is the magnificent Chola temples.
  • Their beautiful bronze sculptures of deities are called the Chola bronzes.

Great Living Chola Temples

Cholas were avid builders and are known for the spectacular Chola temples. They built some of the best architectural temples in South India. UNESCO recognized the exceptional work and marked a group of temples built by the Chola Dynasty as the 'The Great Living Chola Temples of Tamil Nadu.'

  • The Great Living Chola Temples are a group of temples built between the 11th and 12th centuries A.D.
  • The UNESCO-recognized Chola temples include Brihadisvara at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara at Gangaikondacholapuram, and Airavatesvara at Darasuram.
  • The group of temples that form The Great Living Chola Temples is unique. They depict the peak of progressive Chola architecture, showcasing the best of Chola history in Tamil Nadu.

Activities Associated with Chola Temples

There is much to marvel at when you look at the history of the Chola temples. These temples were not only places of worship but also important cultural and social centers. Here are some of the activities associated with the Chola temples.

  • Centers for making art and craft, including bronze status, etc.
  • Garland makers
  • Musicians and dancers were also associated with the great Chola temples.
  • Sweepers and cooks, etc. were also commonly found in these social centers.

Chola Temple Architecture

There are two distinct styles of the great Chola temples in Tamil Nadu - the ones built during the early Chola reign and those built during the later part of their reign. The architecture of the early temples influenced Pallava art, and the later temples were influenced by Chalukya art.

  • Boundary wall and the vimana: The distinct features of Chola temples are the boundary wall and the vimana. The high boundaries protected the vast courtyards within the temple. Chola temples also had high vimanas over the sanctum sanctorum.
  • Dravidian-style temples: The Cholas were built by carving their temples with intricate designs and exquisite sculptures. The main deity of the temple, Lord Shiva, was installed in the sanctum sanctorum or the garbhagriha.
  • Inspiration: The Cholas took inspiration from multiple architectural styles. A unique feature found in Chola temples is the presence of dwarapalakas or guardian sculptures. These were found at the temple entrances created in the Pallava style of architecture.

Structure of the Great Living Chola Temples

The Pallava temple architecture was among the best in Dravidian art. The Cholas used this art as their signature style. They carved the temple walls with unique architectural designs. They also carved similar sculptures on the walls. Find out more about the structure of the great living Chola temples below.

  • A distinct feature of the Chola Temples of Tamil Nadu is the pilasters.
  • These are exquisite designs carved into the walls as projections with deities.
  • Pilasters have curved roofs with two lines crowning them. Apart from this, mythical creatures like yazhis and motifs of warriors' heads are common features.

Important Chola Temples

Chola temples can be found all over Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Some of the important Chola temples are:

  • The Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur, with its tallest vimana in the world built during the Chola king Raja Raja's reign.
  • The temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram, built by Rajendra I, is known as the female counterpart of the Brihadishwara temple.
  • The Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram, Kumbakonam, built by Rajendra II. It is believed that the mythical white elephant Airavata worshipped the deity Lord Siva in this temple.
  • Nageswara Swamy temple in Kumbakonam. The presiding deity of this temple is Siva in the guise of the Nataraja Vijayala Cholsvaram temple in Narthamali is the oldest stone temple in south India.

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FAQs on Chola Temples

Q1. What are the Chola Temples?

Chola Temples refer to the temples built by kings during the Chola Empire, between the early 11th and 12th century CE. The Chola temples are located in Tamil Nadu and consist of Brihadisvara Temple, Brihadisvara Temple, and Airavatesvara Temple.

Q2. Where are the Chola Temples located?

The Chola temples are located in Tamil Nadu, India. These temples were built during the early 11th and 12th century CE by Chola kings. The Chola temples are protected UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are best known for their amazing architecture.

Q3. What were the activities associated with the Chola temples?

The Chola temples were not only places of worship but also places of sociocultural importance. Some of the activities associated with the Chola temples included garland making, cooking, sweeping, and arts and crafts such as bronze statue making.

Q4. Who is the presiding deity in the Chola Temples of Tamil Nadu?

Lord Siva is the god associated with the Chola temples. Siva is also believed to be the presiding deity in all Chola temples. An idol of Siva was installed in the sanctum sanctorum or the garbhagriha of many of the Chola temples.

Q5. Which is the oldest Chola temple in India?

Brihadisvara Temple is the oldest Chola temple in India. Built between 1003 and 1010 AD by Raja Raja Chola I, the Brihadisvara temple is located in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. This temple houses one of the biggest Shiva linga in India.

Q6. What is the history of the Chola temples?

The history of the Chola temples dates back to centuries ago. These temples were constructed during the reign of important Chola kings. Along with being important places of worship, these Hindu temples were also places of sociocultural significance where a lot of art and craft happened.