Meeting the Mighty Cholas

27th Jun 2018
Photo of Meeting the Mighty Cholas by vinay chandran
Day 1

The Trivandrum - Tiruchirapalli intercity express halted at Nemom Station,the station still maintains its village charm on the backdrop of Mookunimala hills  I recollected the events that happened early morning As usual, I have missed all three alarms that I had set yesterday.The usual ritual of mine that I'm practicing over the years, sometimes I really enjoy getting late,if I miss the particular train,the next train is only next Tuesday because it's a biweekly service from the central station to Tiruchirapalli the fourth largest city in the state of Tamil Nadu.Most favourably I got the train from the was quite difficult get a seat in general coaches of Indian railways, one gentleman offered me a seat to sat down.I thanked him for his warm gesture,the express passed Kerala state and entered the rich nanjilnadu villages and then to the deserts of Tamil Nadu.

By 8:15 pm I reached Trichy, my next hunt is for a room in and around the bus was so easy to find a cheap room inside the town.i enquired about the first bus to Srirangam from the transport officials.Trichy is known for veg and non veg cuisine  from the influences from the Marathas to Nawabs. I had my dinner from a restaurant which serves mutton curry for masala dosa, that was delicious.

Day 2

The No.1/bus from trichy  bus stand will take you the  largest functioning temple in the world, on the way you will see the local life of people of trichy and the famous Cauvery river.The never-ending dispute between the two states made it into the current worse condition.

On a magnificent cot having a thousand heads spread out, worshipped and praised by many, in an island surrounded by Kaveri with bellowing waves,
is the lying posture of the one who has Lakshmi sitting in his chest

Silapadikaram (book 11, lines 35–40)

The bus stopped at the Sri Ranganathswamy temple bus stop, From there I saw the illustrious temple gopuram which is 239ft tall gopuram that is very common style among south Indian architecture.It is the largest temple compound in India and one of the largest religious complexes in the world. Some parts have been renovated by Cholas, Pandyas, Hoysalas and Vijayanagara kingdoms expanded and rebuilt over the centuries as a living temple. There are many interesting stories about the temple and its culture from the folklores.Thuluka Nachiyar daughter of the sultan's daughter who fell in love with the deity,dressed in Muslim garments and food offerings are made to her in the form of butter and chappathis.The temple is enclosed by 7 concentric enclosures with courtyards (ter Each layer has walls and gopurams. The temple has 17 major gopuram, 21 total, 39 pavilions, 50 shrines, 9 sacred water pools, Aayiram kaal mandapam(a hall of 1000 pillars) and several small water bodies inside.The temple is a real feast for eyes considering the architectural detailing done during olden times.The temple complex has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is in UNESCO's tentative list.Its a must visit place for people who love monuments and art.

The horse pillars of srirangam

Photo of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam, Srirangam, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, India by vinay chandran

Vellai gopuram

Photo of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam, Srirangam, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, India by vinay chandran

Morning bliss

Photo of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam, Srirangam, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, India by vinay chandran

Inside massive srirangam

Photo of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam, Srirangam, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, India by vinay chandran
Photo of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam, Srirangam, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, India by vinay chandran
Photo of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam, Srirangam, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, India by vinay chandran
Photo of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam, Srirangam, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, India by vinay chandran

The next destination demands a small trek to the fort, its located in on the way back from srirangam to Trichy.The textile market is very lively  inside the fort.
The fort temple will offer you a breathtaking view of the srirangam island and the city of trichy.The trudge is not too long, on the way up we can see lots of temples on the way.I found people are very busy with their shopping in the street.if you love exploring culture and how they live these bazaar is the perfect place to shop and connect with locals.

Uchii pillayar Fort Temple

Photo of Tiruchirapalli Rock Fort, Teppakulam, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu by vinay chandran

Trains to Thanjavur are frequent from the trichy, it connects Eastern districts into the main line.The demu services also available to Thanjavur, Mayiladuthurai
Stations.My train was late for an hour and as always it was a bit rushed.

Thanjavur one of the richest district of Tamil Nadu.It is known for its culture, music, art and the renowned personalities born in this great land.The city is so vibrant and colourful with its astounding monuments.
I always wondered why we don't have these great monuments in our textbooks at national level, the Hindi heartland ignoring these great monuments.They only teach us  Mughal and khiljis ,I believe the history of cholas has been sidelined by our so called historians.I went to the old bus stand and boarded a bus to the new bus stand.I found so many foreigners looted by our own autorickshas annas for short distances.the old bus stand surroundings  looks ancient with all those south architecture fusioned with the Maratha style windows and walls.

The Palace complex offers the artistic exhibition of some old texts and a glimpse of the Maratha empire.The palace complex consists of the Sadar Mahal Palace, the queen's courtyard and the Durbar Hall. The Royal Palace Museum contains a splendid collection of Chola bronzes. The Raja Serfoji Memorial Hall and the Royal Palace Museum are situated in the Sadar Mahal Palace. There is also a small bell tower. The Saraswathi Mahal Library  one of the oldest libraries in the Continent,and has on display a rare collection of Palm leaf manuscripts and paper written in Tamil and Sanskrit and a few other language indigenous to Indian subcontinent.  though only a limited amount of these are on display. The video documentary screened at library is so useful and welcoming for the tourists.Thanjavur is known for rice cultivation. It is known as the 'Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu' and the famous Thanjavur rice, is exported to other countries.There is also a famous durbar decorated with organic colours built in pure maratha style. The courtyard and corridors were beautifully built by the Maratha kings.I got back to the palace road and asked an autodriver to take me to the big temple, he tried to scam me asking 80 rs for almost 2kms,Finally he admitted for 30 Rs and that was a decent was  rainy season in Tanjore.

The rain started, floods gutters and caused wrecks everywhere.i ran into the cloak room of the Temple and kept the belongings there,wait for the rain to was a minor deluge in Tanjore,the sign boards were swept away by the heavy rains.I waited there for almost two hours, the temperature drops down.The "Dakshina Meru" standing strong like a mountain, surviving all these natural calamities for over 1000 years.Brihadeeswara  is a Sanskrit composite word composed of Brihatwhich means "big, great, lofty, vast", and ishwara means "lord, Shiva, supreme being, supreme Atman. The craftsmanship and hard work of the cholas built in symmetric geometric rules, without any help of machinery.Its natural to get flabbergasted when you are inside chola architectural marvel.The temple was built by Raja Raja Chola I in 1010 AD,using over 130,000 tons of granite and the  216-feet-tall tower that is built above the Sanctum of the temple. This flamboyant tower can be seen by anyone entering the city from afar. Another breathtaking thing that will sure stupefy the visitor is the magnificent Nandi statue built at the temple; it is about two meters in height, six meters in length and two-and-half meters in width, and weighs around a whopping 20 tons for a statue built from a single stone. Various postures of Bharathanatyam, are carved carefully on the exterior walls of the upper storey of the temple. it was the tallest temple in India , and it took only seven years to complete. The topmost structure of the temple, called Vimana, weighs around 80 tons, and it is a mystery how the builders got it up there. There are several musical pillars, which make different sounds when taped, at the temple. Upon visiting, anyone can understand that the temple is a extraordinary testimonial of the magnificent South Indian architecture. A must visit place for every human!!!

Photo of Brihadeeswara Temple, Membalam Road, Balaganapathy Nagar, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India by vinay chandran
Photo of Brihadeeswara Temple, Membalam Road, Balaganapathy Nagar, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India by vinay chandran

My plan was to reach kumbakonam by evening,the cloudburst made me stay at thanjavur itself that day.i took local help from local people, to find budget friendly places in town.The ashoka was one of the recommendations, it was ran by aurobindo foundation.i found it neat and cheap and it was very near to tanjore bus stand.

The Darasuram temple was not in my list, but the documentary  from the Library was so informative and ended up in plan visiting one among the Great Living Chola Temples.
7:00 Am

I need to catch bus to kumbakonam via Tarasuram.Kumbakonam is known for it Mahamaham festival annually, it is one of biggest festival of Tamil Nadu.I got the bus to Tarasuram after waiting for around 20 mins. bus was almost full,lthe climate was pleasant, From ladies to girls everyone had a kanakambaram flower in their heads.I  loved the true flavour with Tamil songs in background.I reached Tarasuram busbay and walked to next chola masterpiece

8:50 Am : Tarasuram

It was quiet compared to the big temple of Thanjavur,the Cholas built hundreds of Hindu temples across their empire. Of these four were vast complexes with all stone Vimanas. The Airavateswara temple is one of these four. This temple is a storehouse of art and architecture and has some exquisite stone carvings. Although this temple is much smaller than the Brihadeesvara Temple , it is more exquisite in detail. The elevation and proportions of all the units is elegant with sculptures dominating the architecture. The pedestal of the Balipeetha adjoins a small shrine which contains an image of Ganesha.The temple was built by king Rajaraja Chola II. He ruled the Chola Empire between 1146 and 1172 CE. The Airavatesvara temple was much larger than it is now. It had Saptha veedhi(seven streets) and seven courts, similar to the Srirangam temple, according to the inscriptions.It was destroyed Malik kafur invasions, we can see the destroyed gateway in front of the Temple. All are gone, except the one court with the main temple that survives in Darasuram.The Temple was added to Unesco's World Heritage Sitelist of Great Living Chola Temples in the year 2004.

10:00 Am
I took a bus from Tarasuram to kumbakonam, reached kumbakonan by 10:30am. it was quite difficult to get help from locals, most of them were unaware about the bus route to gangaikonda cholapuram.All of them were old people, finally I found a youngster who was coming back from church with his grandma and relatives.I asked him for the bus routes,he told me to follow him,they boarded a bus which was already started and asked me to get seated.the conductor came and gave me a ticket and said "Solapuram thaaney? "
I nodded and smiled at him.The bus was  progressing through all these paddy fields of Tanjore,I put my headphones on and started enjoying the scenic beauty of enchanting Tamil Nadu.Suddenly that guy came to me asked me to get down immediately,I noticed the English board saying "Solapuram" thought the accent of  local dialect maybe different using S instead of C in the area.i got down at a marked which sold fish flowers and vegetables , looked like a seasonal market around the fields.I was demented with worry looking for help,it was quite reserved people everywhere.It was the same story that I encountered at the kumbakonam maybe even worser, not even one single person aware about the ancient town named after the great Ganges.I asked stepped out from a flower shop disappointed, Maybe the place name will be different in local Tamil or they aren't aware of this great masterpiece.The Britishers did lot of damage to our cultural sense and knowledge of india like inventing this kind of questions in our daily upsc and state exams like Samudragupta was the Napoleon of India. In reality, Samudragupta ruled in an earlier period than Napoleon, ruled for a much longer time period over a much larger area and didn't die in exile.
The British didn't destroy our culture, they just taught us to despise our own culture.Everybody there knows only about Chennai bus routes from there, again another gift from the British.After waiting for one hour I got a private bus with a too polite people.The route was written in the ticket Solapuram to Kangai Konda,the G changed to K now,I was really confused with the accent.
The bus crossed a long bridge and then into much deserted land the agriculture is dead all around maybe because of cauvery issue.

I saw the huge vimana from distance, similar to brihadeeswara but not that tall, the bus conductor directed me to get down,Rajarajacholan established capital for his predecessors was Gangapuri, also referred in some inscriptions as Gangaikonda Cholapuram, named after the holy Ganges River and goddess,Temple was added to Unesco World  Heritage site  in the year 2004. became the capital of the Chola dynasty in c. 1025 during the reign of Rajendra Chola I, and served as the Cholacapital for around 250 years.The town is about 70 kilometres (43 mi) northeast of Thanjavur.The city was founded by Rajendra Chola I to commemorate his victory over the Pala Dynasty. The name means The town of the chola who took over 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 Lord Maha Shiva Temple. The Chola empire included the whole of southern India to the river Thungabadhra in the north. For administrative and strategic purposes they built another capital and named it Gangaikondacholapuram.

The climate started to show it's fieriness,it was not crowded as the other temples.I found only foreign tourists and some school children who came to visit this great monument,it was really astonishing and unmatchable acheivement to visit this great Chola Temple.The place, the temple and the lake (Chola Gangam) are the living embodiments of the heroism of the Tamils who unfurled the Chola‘s Tiger flag on the banks of the River Ganges. He also shifted his capital from Thanjavur to this newly built town. From his period to the end of the Chola family rule in A.D.1279 this city was the capital for the Chola Empire for a period of 256 years. This temple is a living history of the Cholas in stone from the period of Rajendra-I and a beautiful gallery of Chola art and architecture. Many sculptures brought from Andhra, Karnataka and Bengal as war trophies are also preserved in the temple and in the nearby villages. Chandesura Anugraha Murthy and Sarasvathy are the most beautiful sculptures of the temple.Gangaikonda Cholan, meaning the one who conquered the Ganges. He established Gangaikonda cholapuram as his capital from the earlier Chola capital of Thanjavur.I came out of the main gate, and realised that my slippers were robbed by someone.The temperature was too high, being a place with zero trees, it was really a torture by walking through the floor barefooted,But unfortunately the town had only one shop and they don't sell shoes or footwear.I was confused, instinctively I started running on the road to bus stop.I noticed a bus was approaching the halt from a far distance, speed of my running increased because its too hard for a person to sit , stand or walk .The best option was to run, to be precise my foot got burnt.i got the bus and it was almost the end of the journey.

Reached Thanjavur by evening, and had a delicious chettinad biriyani from devars.Took a train back to  trichy and then to Nagercoil.The solivagant travel came to an was one of my gladdest moments and privilege to visit these great monuments, and to know more about the India history and culture.


Photo of Meeting the Mighty Cholas by vinay chandran

View from the garden

Photo of Meeting the Mighty Cholas by vinay chandran
Photo of Meeting the Mighty Cholas by vinay chandran