• After the Pallavas, Chola dynasty became the main power of Southern India and emerged victorious among other kingdoms.
  • The capital of Chola dynasty was the city of Thanjavur
  • They advanced as far as Bengal, Sri Lanka, Java, Sumatra and had trade links as far as Indonesia.
  • Their military and economic power was reflected in the grand architectural productions under
    the period at Thanjavur, Gangaikondcholpuram, Darasuram,Tribhuvanam.
  • They had built more than two hundred temples which seems to be continuation of previous
    Pallava architecture with some variations. The Chola kings earlier built brick temples and later they built stone temples.
    • The first Chola ruler Vijayalaya Chola built temple at Narttamalai. This is a stone temple. It is one of the finest examples of the early Chola temple architecture.
    • Balasubramaniya temple of Kannanur in Pudukottai region and Thirukkatalai temple were built during the period of Aditya-I.
    • Nageswarar temple at Kumbakonam is famous for sculptural work.
    • King Parantaka I built Koranganatha temple at Srinivasanallur (Trichy District). Muvarkoil of Kodumbalur. They are good examples of the later Chola architecture and sculpture.
    • Besides all these temples of the Chola period, the greatest landmark in the history of south Indian architecture is Brhadeeswarar temple at Tanjore. This is also called as big temple. It has many architectural significance. It was built by Rajaraja I. This is the largest and tallest temple in Tamil nadu.
    • Rajendra Chola built a temple at GangaiKonda Cholapuram which is also equally famous. King Rajendra Chola added credit to the Chola art and architecture.
    • King Kulothunga I built a temple for Sun God at Kumbakonam. This temple is first of its kind in the south Indian architecture.
    • Rajaraja II built Airavatheeswarar temple at Dharasuram.
  • These temples amply illustrate the style of architecture between 8th to 12th century CE and
    its influence may also be seen on the architecture of temples of Ceylone and those of SE Asian
    kingdoms like SriVijay (Sumatra) and Chavakam (Java).
  • Raj Raja I has constructed a Shiva temple at Polanuruva at Sri Lanka in the same pattern of
    Chola architecture.
Chola Empire

Features of Chola Architecture

  • Chola temples can be categorised in two groups – Early Temples and Later Temples; early temples are influenced with Pallava architecture while later have Chalukya influence.
  • Temples were surrounded by high boundary wall unlike Nagara.
  • The earlier example were modest in size and while later ones were huge and large with Vimanas or
    dominating the landscape.
    • Initially, the gopuram features were more prominent but in the later stages, the vimanas took the forefront.
    • The spire in in the form of stepped pyramid, popularly known as Vimana. Pallava influence may be seen in spire/vimana similar to Rathas, an octagon shaped crowning element known as Shikhara.
  • The sanctums of the Chola temples were both circular and square in size and the walls of the inner sanctum sanatorium were beautified. On the upper side of the sanctum special vimanas are built with dome shaped sikhara and kalasa which were also there on the top of gopurams.
  • Panchayatan style, but no vimana on subsidiary shrines.
  • Absence of lion motifs in pillar’s base as seen in the Pallava architecture, but presence of Kudus
    , however, it is little bit different with that of Pallavas.
  • The temple mostly consists grabhgriha, antarala, sabhamandapa. Many temples are having pillared mandapams namely arthamandapa, mahamandapa and nandi mandpa.
  • Presence of water tank inside the boundary of the temple.
  • The raw material used are blocks of gneiss and granite.
  • The important example of early group is Vijayalaya temple while later group represents Brihadishwar temple of Tanjaur and Brihadishwar temple of Gangaikondcholpuram.
  • A special feature of the Chola architecture is the purity of the artistic tradition. Sculptures and inscriptions are also fixed on the walls of these temples.
Features of Chola Architecture

Vijayalaya Temple

  • Built by Vijayalaya Choleshwar, the founder of Chola dynasty in 9th century CE. Located in
    Nartmalai in Pudukkotti district.
  • A cluster of small hills Narthamalai lies 25 km fromTrichy on Trichy- Pudukkoti route.
  • The west facing temple is situated within a square courtyard and dedicated to Lord Shiva.
  • It has four tiers in which first three are square while the fourth is circular. It is in pyramidal
  • At the top, there is oval shaped shikhara on which kalash like part is placed as finial.
  • A mandapa is situated before the square sanctum.
  • It has decorated entrance with five feet high carved dwarpalaka on both sides.
  • Around the main temple seven other small temples are also seen which all facing the the main
  • On the kornis portion kudu decoration can be seen.
Vijayalaya Choleeswaram
Nandhi at Narthamalai temple

Brihdeshwar Temple

  • The later phase of Chola architecture broadly starts from the reign of Uttam Chola.
  • The most important specimen of this phase is the Brihdeeshwar (lord of universe) Temple of Tanjore or Thanjavur.
  • Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple complex is known as Raja Rajeshwaram and Peruvudaiyaar.
  • It was called ‘Dakhina Meru’ as a complement to the ‘Uttara Meru’ the sacred mount of Kailas.
  • Considered as one of the largest temple of India, it is exclusively built by granite (first fully granite temple in world) and completed within five years. The granite are not found within the periphery of 100
    km. It is not known that from where the massive granite were brought.
  • It was built in 1010 CE, during the reign of Raj Raja I.
  • The temple stand amidst fortified walls that were probably added in 16th century CE.
  • There are three main entrances – Keralantakam; main entrance represented by 30 m high gopuram (to
    commemorate Raj Raja’s victory over Chera king), Rasarasan (opens into a large central area housing
    the main shrine) and Tiruannukam(northern entrance of the complex, without goupuram).
  • In complex, there are many sub-shrines built during the various successive stages of history.
  • The plan of temple consists – garbhagriha, ardhamandap, mahamandap, stapana-mahamandap and
  • The sanctum 28 m square, housing the unique and extraordinary lingam (8.7m high); the main
    shikhar known as srivimana is about 66 m high and has 14 stories
    . It is decorated with niches
    and images of saiva cult.
  • A cupolic dome resting over 25 feet square single block of granite. The base of the dome is
    beautified by two Nandis at each corners.
  • In front of temple is a big Nandi Mandap with a massive monolithic image of Nandi, the second
    largest in country. Other is colossal bull in Lepakshi VeerbhadraTemple, Andhra Pradesh.
  • The circumambulatory corridor around the ardhamandapa contain fresco paintings, discovered
    in early half of last century and display variety of secular themes.
  • This world Heritage monument established as world tallest temple tower in which 1,30,000
    tons of granite stone were used.
  • The temple even survived 6 earthquakes
brihadeeswarar temple thanjavur
Brihdeshwar Temple map
Brihdeshwar Temple img
Brihdeshwar Temple

Airavatesvara Temple

  • Airavatesvara Temple is a Hindu temple of Dravidian architecture located in Kumbakonam, Thanjavur District in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
  • This temple, built by Chola emperor Rajaraja II in the 12th century CE is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur, the Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram that are referred to as the Great Living Chola Temples.
  • The temple is dedicated to Shiva. It also reverentially displays Vaishnavism and Shaktism traditions of Hinduism, along with the legends associated with Nayanmars – the Bhakti movement saints of Shaivism.
  • The main temple dedicated to Shiva is based on a square plan, but it displays other Hindu deities such as Vishnu, Durga, Surya, Harihara, Ardhanarishvara, and others. It opens to the sunrise and its sanctum, as well as the mandapas, are aligned on an east–west axis. In addition to the main shrine, the temple complex has a number of smaller shrines, gopura, and other monuments, with some partially ruined or restored in later centuries.
  • The temple is famed for its bronze sculptures, artwork on its walls, the depiction of Nandi and the scale of its tower. As well as its notability for having been built by Rajendra I, the temple is also noteworthy for its numerous inscriptions, although none of them are his.
  • It is considerably smaller in scale compared to the Brihadisvara temples at Tanjavur and Gangaikondacholisvaram, and also differs from them in its highly ornate style, although the inner sanctum is not encircled by a circumambulatory path, unlike its predecessors. This contains a shiva-linga, an aniconic representation of the god.
    • Its main tower is considerably lower than the two earlier temples at 24 m in height.
    • The front pillared hall, the agra mandapa, is intriguing in that it is conceptualised as a horse-drawn chariot, a trait inspired by Pallava architecture; its columns are ornamented with representations of stories from the epics and Puranas, such as the burning of Manmatha, Parvati performing penance, Shiva’s marriage, the birth of Skanda/Kumara, Shiva’s fights with the asuras, and other narrative scenes.
    • The base of the outer pillars of the agra mandapa represent gaja-yalis with curled trunks and tails, and this part of the temple has a great number of other representations.
    • The base of the main temple is notable for its stone frieze of panels containing inscriptions of the stories associated with the 63 nayanmars (Shiva saints), and a number of these also depict women in yoga postures, and other scenes from everyday life.
    • This temple also features a separate impressive Amman shrine, the Periya Nayaki, dedicated to Devi.
    • The perimeter wall has pillared cloisters on the inside with cells in between for deities. Carved on a balustrade of a staircase leading to the pillared cloisters is the celebrated ‘Rishaba Kunjaram’, a stone sculpture featuring a conjoined bull and elephant.
Airavatesvara Temple


  • Stone and metal sculptures are found in plenty in Chola temples. They depict the socio religious ideas of the Chola period.
  • The Nataraja sculpture is world famous not only for its beauty but also for its spiritual meaning. Vishnu idol is placed in Vaishnava temples.
  • There is a certain kind of spiritual calmness in the sculptural representations of the Vishnu idols in the Vaishanava temples or that of the Alwars. The temples of the Imperial Cholas are covered with exquisite well composed sculptures and frescoes.
  • The artists used the lost wax technique and followed the complete Indian Shilpa Shastra. The sculptures during this period are described as the cultural epitome of Chola period and are the best specimen of Chola art.
  • The Cholas made use of sculptures to decorate the walls, pillars and roofs. The value of sculpture is very much felt on Chola works. The decorative sculptures are still there.
  • Realism dominated sculpture of the Chola period. Scenes from Ramayanam, Mahabharatam, Puranas and lives of the 63 Nayanmars are sculptured in narrative panels on the walls of temples.


  • The Cholas excelled the Pallavas in the art of portrait making.
  • The best specimens of portraits are found on the walls of Koranganatha temple and Nageswarasamy temple. The portraits of Cholamadevi and Kulothunga-III are there in Kalahasti temple. They are good examples of Chola art of portrait making.


  • The art of paintings flourished, Figures were painted with realism. The proficiency of’ the Chola painters are seen on their paintings. Paintings in Big temple are good examples.
  • Scenes of Periyapuranam are beautifully depicted Kailasanathar temple at Kanchipuram, Vishnu temple at Malaiyadipatti contain fine specimen of the Chola paintings.
  • Rajaraja-I and Rajendra contributed more for the development of the art of painting during the Chola period.


  • During the Chola period the art of music was developed. Twenty three panns were used in music. The seven music alphabets sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni were used.
  • The hymns of Alwars and Nayanmars were sung in every temple. Nambiandar nambi and Nathamuni contributed much for the development of music. Books were written on music.
  • Several musicians were appointed in Brahadeeswarar temple. Drums, udukkai, veena, flute were famous music instruments.
  • Sagadakkottigal formed a group of musicians. Endowments were made to promote music. Musicians were honored by the kings. Temples and mutts imparted training in vocal and instrumental music.


  • The Chola kings patronized the art of dance. Bharatha natyam and kathakali were two types of dances performed during the Chola period.
  • Lord Siva was represented as the exponent of Karana dance. Natarajar temple at Chidamparam and Sarangapani temple at Kumbakonam have dancing poses of Lord Nataraja. Rajaraja I appointed 400 dancing girls in the big temple at Tanjore. There were two dance directors to coordinate these dancing girls. Dance dramas were also performed on stages at festival times. Chola kings made endowments to promote the art of dancing.


  • The Cholas promoted the art of drama. Music and dance were affiliated to drama.
  • Many types of theatres and stages were there to perform dramas. Rajarajeswara natakam and Rajarajavijayam were the dramas enacted during festival times.
  • Drama actors received honors from the Chola kings. Koothu is one type of drama. Koothus were also there. Inscriptions refer about Ariyakuthu, Chakki koothu and Santhi koothu.

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