The Great Gangaikondacholapuram

Gangaikonda Cholapuram (Tamil: கங்கைகொண்ட சோழபுரம்) was built during medieval india and was erected as the capital of the Cholas 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. It occupies an important place in the history of India. As 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. As of 2014, the ancient city exists as a small forlorn village in the Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu, India. The great temple of Siva at this place is next only to the Brihadisvara temple at Thanjavur in its monumental nature and surpasses it in sculptural quality.The Gangaikondaan temple is an architectural and engineering marvel.


Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Entrance
Gangaikonda Cholapuram South Side View
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Maha Nandhi
Nandhi at Gangai Konda Cholapuram Temple
Stone sculpture of Gnanasaraswathi at the temple
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Lingams

The city was founded by Rajendra Chola to commemorate 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 small village, its past eminence only remembered by the existence of the great Siva Temple.[1]

Rajendra Chola-I (1012-1044 A.D) son of the Great Rajaraja-I, established this temple after his great victorious march to river Ganges on Northern India. He assumed the title of Rajendra during his coronation and continued to rule along with his father Rajaraja-I for a while. He was awarded the supreme title of the Cholas known as Parakesari.

Rajendra-I, a great warrior, assisted his father in numerous expeditions to elevate the Cholas to supreme power. The various expeditions he conducted, were : Gangetic expedition, eastern/Western Chalukyas expedition, war against Cheras/Pandyas, Ceylon expedition, Kataram (currently called as Kedah) expedition.

His empire included the whole of southern India to the river Thungabathra in the north. For administrative and strategic purposes he built another capital and named it Gangaikondacholapuram. The Gangaikondacholapuram temple he constructed consists of 3 stories and was surrounded by a huge fort-like wall, the outer wall largely destroyed during the English rule (1896) to reuse the building material (granite rocks) for constructing the Lower Anicut the dam built across river Kollidam. He built around 10 temples at various places.

He assumed the title of Gangaikonda Cholan and named his new capital as Gangaikondacholapuram and he also constructed a huge Lake known as Chola Gangam that spreads 22 km mainly used for drinking and irrigation. A statue of Rajendra-I is found in Kolaram temple at Kolar of Karnataka state in India.

C. 1022 C.E. Rajendra undertook an expedition to the Ganges along the east coast of peninsular India. The emperor himself lead the army up to the banks of the Godavari river. The Chola armies conquered all the countries north of Vengi, which included Kalinga, Odda, Southern Kosala, the lower and upper Lada and finally the Vangaladesa (Bengal). The triumphant Chola armies brought back waters from the river Ganges in golden vessels. Around the same time, the Cholas under the illustrious Rajendra Chola I also vanquished theChalukyas of Manyakheta when the Chola protectorate of Vengi was threatened by Chalukyas Jayasimha II. Rajendra Chola I defeated Jayasimha-II Chalukya at Maski (Muyangi in Chola annals) between Eluru and Visayavadai (modern Vijayawada) and subsequently engaged the Chalukya in Kannada country itself i.e. in the Chalukyas capital of Mannaikadakkam (Manyakheta) "the war in which the Chalukya Jayasimha-II, full of fear, hid like a mouse and fled the battlefield". The Chola armies seized the Chalukya flag, decapitated or slew various generals of the Chalukyas, with the Chalukyan king fleeing the battlefield. The Chalukya King surrendered his wife to the victorious Chola monarch. With the Chola coffers filling up with riches from the Chalukya country, they were able to establish their hold of the region between the Vaigai/Kaveri delta in Tamil country up to the Tungabhadra-Krishnabasins in the Maharashtra-Andhra region. To commemorate this celebrated victory, Rajendra assumed the title of Gangaikonda Cholan, "Irattapadi-konda Cholan", "Mannai-kondan" (the king who possessed Irattapadi (erstwhile land of the Rashtrakutas usurped by the Salukkis(Chalukyas) and the king who possessed (the Chalukyan capital) Manyakheta (Mannaikadakkam in Chola annals) and had the Siva Temple Gangakkondacholeswaram built(***). Soon the capital was moved from Thanjavur to Gangaikondacholapuram. The city of Gangaikondacholapuram was probably founded by Rajendra before his 17th year. Most of the Chola kings who succeeded Rajendra were crowned here. They retained it as their capital, reoriented and trained the efficient Chola army.

Chola culture

Chola rulers were active patrons of the arts. They flourished in architectures, education, science, arts, ship construction, poetry, drama, music, business trading, dance. The beautiful Nataraja figure was first conceived during the Chola empire.

They constructed enormous stone temple complexes decorated inside and out with painted sculptures. While the stone sculptures and the inner sanctum image empowering the temple remained immovable, changing religious concepts during the 10th century demanded that the deities take part in a variety of public roles similar to those of a human monarch. As a result, large bronze images were created to be carried outside the temple to participate in daily rituals, processions, and temple festivals. The round lugs and holes found on the bases of many of these sculptures are for the poles that were used to carry the heavy images. They were admired for the sensuous depiction of the figure and the detailed treatment of their clothing and jewelry in Chola-period bronzes.


Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Gopuram

Judging from the available literature and the remains we may conclude that it was an extensive city, carefully planned and laid in accordance with the architectural treatises to suit the needs of a capital.

The city seems to have had two fortifications, one inner and the other outer. The outer was probably wider. The remains of the outer fortification can be seen as a mound 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 intervening space (the core) being filled with sand. The bricks are fairly large in size and are made of well-burnt clay. Systematic brick robbing by the local inhabitants has reduced this structure to its current state.

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 renewed and the city underwent some alteration and additions. An epigraph refers to the fort wall of Kulothunga Chola (Kulottunga Cholan Thirumadil). The strengthening of the fortification and additions to the city in the reign of Kulothunga I were probably necessitated by the uprising which led to the murder of Chola king Athithakarikal Cholan the sambuvaraya's palace of Melakadambur, Kulothunga's predecessor. By the 13th century, the Chola kingdom had exhausted 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

The 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 mandalams in turn were divided into valanadu and nadus. The next administrative sub divisions were kurrams and kottams. The special feature of the Chola administration was the Local Self Government or the autonomous administration. The villagers themselves carried out village administration. It was more or less like the modern Panchayat Raj. Each village had a village assembly known as the ur or the sabha. The members of the sabha were elected by lot, known as kudavolai system. There was a committee to look after the specified departments, such as justice, law and order, irrigation etc., which were called as variyams.

Dhakshanamoorthy Swami at Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Gopuram North East View.
The temple architecture west side.
Stone Room Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple.