Monday 3 March 2008

Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Gangaikonda Cholapuram (Tamil: கங்கைகொண்ட சோழபுரம்) 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 at the beginning of the 11th century C.E. It occupies an important place in the history of India. As the capital of the Cholas from about 1025 C.E. for about 250 years, the city controlled the affairs of entire south India, from the Tungabhadra in the north to Ceylon in the south. 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 city was founded by Rajendra Chola to commemorate his victorious march to the Ganges. The name means The town of the chola who captured the Ganges. It is now a small village, its past eminence only remembered by the existence of the great Siva Temple.
C. 1022 C.E. Rajendra undertook an expedition to the Ganges along the east coast of peninsular India. The emperor himself accompanying 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.
To commemorate this celebrated victory, Rajendra assumed the title of Gangaikonda Chola and had the Siva Temple Gangakkondacholeswaram built. Soon after 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.

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 Adirajendra, Kulothunga's predecessor.

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 to 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 shire of Chandikesvara is near the steps in the north. In the north-east are a shire 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 epigraphs also refer to the Madhurantaka Vadavaru, now called the Vadavaru, running about six kilometers east of the ruined capital. Madhurntaka Vedavaru, named after one of the titles of Rajendra I, was a source of irrigation to a vast stretch of land bordering the capital. An irrigation channel called Anaivettuvan (destroyer of elephants) is also mentioned.
There were both wet and dry lands inside the Fort, used for cultivation and other purposes. The present positions of the existing temples throw some light on the lay out of the city. With the palace as the centre to the city, the great temple, and the other temples in the city seem to have been erected. Towards the northeast (Isanya) of the palace is the great temple of Siva. The Siva temple according to Vastu and traditional texts should be in the northeast of the city or village and should face east. The temple of Vishnu should be in the west.
A number of small tanks and ponds mentioned in inscriptions and a number of wells, supplied drinking water to the residents.

This capital of the most powerful empire in Asia at one time is now desolate; only the temple of Gangaikondachola survives.
What caused the destruction of this city? The Pandyas who put an end to the Chola empire late in the 13th century, avenging their earlier defeats, should have razed the city to the ground, a misfortune that befell on capitals in early times. It should have remained a heap of brick debris, the inhabitants of the nearby villages pilfering the bricks for their constructions. The people have also dug systematically deep into the ground and extracted cartloads of ancient bricks.

Dr. James C. Harle in his excellent work the 'Temple gateways in South India' states that
"the gopura of the great temple at Gangaikondacholapuram (A.D. 1030) belongs as far s one can tell in its present ruined state to the same early phase of development as the Tanjavur gopuras. It was neither as large or as complex, however, as the Tanjavur gopuras. On plan, the whole edifice forms a rectangle approximately 60 feet by 33 feet. Large dvarapals were placed on the outer facade. One of them now lies on the ground in front of the gopura and measures atleast seven feet. The unique dvara, as at Tanjavur, is on the outerside of the entryway. The vestibules have two storeys, divided by a crude and massive architrave; in the lower, an exposed stair is built against the back wall; above a doorway in the same wall may have led either to another stairway or to a circumambulatory corridor."
Dr. Harle further states that an early photograph (photo No. 2452 Indian Museum, Calcutta) shows the three upper storeys of the gopura, in a dilapidated condition.