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Gangaikonda Cholapuram,Thanjavur

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• The temple of Gangaikondacholisvara is approached through the northern entrance from the road. The passage passes through the enclosure wall and leads on to the inner court. As one steps in, the great Vimana arrests the visitor’s sight.

• The Vimana with its recessed corners and upward movement presents a striking contrast the straight sided pyramidal tower of Tanjavur. As it rises to a height of 160 feet and is shorter than the Tanjavur tower, it is often described as the feminine counterpart of the Tanjavur temple.

• The Vimana is flanked on either side by small temples; the one in the north now housing the Goddess is fairly well preserved.

• The small shrine of Chandikesvara is near the steps in the north. In the north-east are a shrine housing Durga, a well called lion well (simhakeni) with a lion figure guarding its steps and a late mandapa housing the office.

• Nandi is in the east facing the main shrine. In the same direction is the ruined gopura, the entrance tower. The main tower surrounded by little shrines truly presents the appearance of a great Chakravarti (emperor) surrounded by chieftains and vassals.

• The Gangaikondacholapuram Vimana is undoubtedly a devalaya chakravarti, an emperor among temples of South India.

• The entrance tower, the superstructure of which has completely. fallen down, is located in the east. There is only one gopura, at the east. Besides this eastern entrance an entrance is provided in the northern enclosure, which now serves as the main entry on account of its proximity to the main road. To the north of this mandapa is a circular well with steps provided at the western end.

• The entrance of the steps is adorned with a lion figure which has given the name to the well. According to tradition Rajendra poured a part of the Ganges water, brought from his famous expedition, into the well, to sanctify it. An inscription on the lion sculpture, in 19th century characters, records that it was constructed by the Zamindar of Udaiyarpalaiyam.

• To the west of the lion-well is a shrine dedicated to the Goddess, Mahishasuramardini. The shrine is a later structure (probably built in 14-15th Century) and did not form part of the original layout. It consists of a sanctum preceded by a mandapa.

• The shrine, south of the main Vimana and called the southern Kailasa has a sanctum preceded by a mandapa which in turn is fronted by flights of steps from south and north of which the basement alone remains.

• The outer walls of the sanctum and the front mandapa carry niches, housing images. The niches of the sanctum carry Dakshina murthi in the south and Lingodhbhava in the west, while the niche on the north is empty. The niches on the front mandapa carry in the south Ganesa, Nataraja, Bhikshaṭana, and Subrahmanya and in the north, Gauriprasada, Durga, Ardhanari and Bhirava. The inner sanctum of the shrine is now in ruins. A little to the north-east of this temple is a granite basement, probably the ruin of a mandapa. It is now called the Alankara mandapa. To the south-west of the main temple, is a small shrine dedicated to Ganesa. It has a sanetum preceded by a mandapa. The structure could be assigned to the 13th century on stylistic grounds.

• The temple of Goddess (Northern Kailasa)

To the north of the main temple is a small shrine now housing the Goddess, Brhannayaki, the consort of Lord Gangaikondacho lisvara. The temple, as mentioned earlier, resembles the southern Kailasa in every aspect and is called Uttara Kailasa. It has a sanctum, preceded by a front mandapa, provided with side-steps. In front of this is a bigger mandapa (mahamandapa), which is

well preserved, unlike its southern counterpart. The niches on the sanctum and the front mandapa carry the same sculptures as in the southern Kailasa.

Chandikesvara Temple The little temple to the north-east of the central shrine enshrining Chandikesvara, the steward of Siva temple is of interest. It is an all stone temple built on a raised basement, with a storeyed superstructure. The sanctum is approached by side steps. Inside the sanctum is an image of coeval with the temple. The outer walls of this sanctum have niches on all the three sides, carrying sculptures of Chandikesvara. He is the principal subsidiary deity in Siva temples and till about 13th century A.D. all transactions relating to the temple were made in his name. Hence a separate shrine is provided for him in the temple complex.

• The main temple consists of a sanctum tower called Sri Vimana or Sri koil, a big rectangular mandapa called the mahamandapa with an intervening vestibule called mukhamandapa.

• The main base adhishtana is decorated with well-defined courses, consisting of the lotus moulding adaspadma, and the kumuda moulding, topped by a frieze of leogriffs and riders. This constitute the main base, the top of which forms the flooring level of the inner sanctum.

• That portion of the structure rising above the main base up to the roof cornice is called the wall’ (bhitti or kal). It is the principal element that encases the main sanctum and carries on it a number of niches housing various deities.

• The wall in this temple is divided into two horizontal courses by an intervening cornice. The lower and upper courses have an equal number of niches, on all the three sides except the front. The sculptures in the lower courses, of the Sri Vimana depict various aspects of Siva and also the subsidiary deities who include Ganesa, Vishnu, Subrahmanya, Durga, Brahma, and Bhairava, supplemented by Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Durga in the niches of the great mandapa. The sculptures were made separately and fitted into the niches.

• A row of miniature shrines runs around the tower like a garland, and is called a hara. It consists of square pavilions at the corners, rectangular pavilions in the middle, with a nest (nida) ornamentation in between.

• The sanctum enshrining the main deity, is encased by an inner wall. Between the inner wall and the outer, there is an intervening passage called sandhara running all around. The inner sanctum, houses a very big Siva Linga, rising to a height of thirteen feet. It is said to be the biggest Siva Linga enshrined in a sanctum in any South Indian temple. The entrance to the sanctum is guarded by massive doorkeepers, dvarapalas.

• There are altogether six pairs of massive, monolithic dvarapalas guarding the various entrances to the main temple, of which four pairs are found in the east. The first pair guard the entrance tower at the east. They are now fallen down and lie upside down. The second pair is to be seen at the eastern entrance to the mahamandapa. The entrance from the mahamandapa to the mukhamandapa is guarded by a third pair while the fourth guard the entrance to the sanctum.