The Great Living Chola temples continue to marvel and excite us and this time, we bring to you the next and final instalment of the Chola Temple Trail – The Brihadeeshwara temple of Gangaikondacholapuram. We hope you have already had the chance to read about our travel stories to the iconic Airavateshwar of Darasuram and the mighty Brihadeeshwara of Thanjavur.
We left Darasuram and headed towards Gangaikondacholapuram along the roads bordered by fields. Often a stray goat or a two wheeler carrying 3 or more people came in as obstructions to the 40 mins drive.
We were able to spot the majestic gopuram of the temple from quite a distance and was instantly thrilled to step in the village that once served as the capital town of the Cholas.
It was around 11 AM when we reached and the place was super crowded that Sunday. We somehow managed to park our car in the middle of the tourist vans and buses. Couples, families, teenagers, solo travelers, kids and infants – we found a huge variety in the crowds thronging the temple compound. We walked through the dilapidated main entrance to step in to a sprawling premise with architecture in abundance and well manicured lawn and bushes.
Very much like the Tanjavur temple,the shrine of this temple raises to the sky with a huge nandi statue facing the inner sanctum. This is a scaled down version of the Tanjavur temple. The garbagriha has three entrances, one on the east and the other two on the north and south. The main East facing entrance is adorned by huge sculptures of dwarabalakas , where as the other entrances are drenched in sculptures depicting stories from the Hindu mythology.The shivalinga inside the sanctum is as tall as the one in Tanjavur. The sanctum is dark except for the faint sunlight illuminating the walk way to the sanctum.
There are smaller shrines around the main sanctum dedicated to various other Gods and Goddess.Some had everyday rituals happening, while some were kept closed and people use that as shelters to sit down for talking tales.
Along the perimeter of the temple,we found a hall or a shelter like structure running,but again in a tumbled down state housing a few sculptures and ruined idols from the temple. It is said that the stones from these halls were used by the Brits to build a nearby dam(Lower Anaicut)
The huge lion-faced structure as the entrance to a well did not fail to surprise us for the second time that day, the Royal insignia of the Pallavas in the Chola temple.
The intricate carvings and the mind blowing sculptures were fascinating and the art of building brilliantly engineered temple seemed to have run down the Chola clan.
Like any other Chola temple, this temple has text inscriptions along the temple walls. Say record keeping and our ancestors were the best at that! The photographer tried deciphering a few while I kept running behind the “little wanderer” .
We began walking around the premise in awe and soaked ourselves in the beauty of the sculptures and inscribed texts while the tourists kept swarming and photo bombing our every attempt to get a clean picture.We nearly lost our patience in the attempts to get pictures without people in the frame.
We sat down on those well maintained lawns drawing in the smell of the raw grass with a happy heart for having explored the 3 great living Chola temple. Having tick marked the bucket list destinations, we made quick plans to treat the growling tummies as we drove back on the Chennai -Trichy highway. For one last time that day, I looked at the magnificence of the towering gopuram and made a note to self – I would certainly revisit this place yet another time!
A few pointers from our very own experiences:
- Avoid visiting on a holiday or a weekend to escape the crowd
- Start as early as possible during the day or visit around 5. Avoid mid day visits. The temple is open from 4 30 AM to 12 in the noon and 4 in the evening to 9 PM
- Carry some eatables with you as there are no big or proper eat-outs . Chidambaram or Kumbakonam will be two places with big restaurants in and around the temples.So pack a simple breakfast/lunch if you can
- Wear light and easy clothes – ethnic is preferred
- Splash on that sun screen because the sun can be quite unforgiving on hot summer days
- Plan your stay either at Chidambaram (approx 50 kms) or Tanjore (approx 70 kms)
- Around the Brihadeeshwar temple at the Gangaikondacholapuram, you will find small shops selling the Tanjore terracotta dolls. No other souvenir shopping is possible around Darasuram or Gangaikonda Cholapuram. So do not miss to do your souvenir shopping while you are in Tanjore. We had shared what to buy from Tanjore here.