Great Chola Temples, Part-1, Airavateswara Temple

Three great Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu form the UNESCO World Heritage site, “Great Living Chola Temples”, Out of which Airavatesvara temple at Dharasuram near Kumbakonam is the latest. By latest I mean, it is from 12th century. It was from the period of Raja raja chola-II. Though it is the latest, it is also the smallest among the three, the other two being “Brihadeeswara temple at Tanjore” and a Shiva temple at “Gangaikonda Cholapuram “. Though it is the smallest, it is the richest in detail in its carvings and sculptures, bringing artists from the entire South and South East Asia. The influences of Central India, Eastern India are remarkable. Also are the Buddhist traditions present, which is absent in other Chola temples.

The site just 3kms from Kumbakonam is well maintained thanks to its UNESCO site tag, compared to other temples in the Kumbakonam vicinity, less garbage and more greenery is what the visitors see. The sanctity of other temples are lost thanks to mad devotion which in turn brings filth, garbage and plastic waste. This site is devoid of all that. One can only wonder, why we can’t maintain other structures in this manner especially in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Each carvings depict various epics from the rich Hindu mythology, if on a tour, a guide would be handy accompaniment to revisit all those epics through the sculptures. Sharabha was one sculpture which took my imagination, it is an imaginary mythical beast much information is not present in the web. It had Ram horns, Elephant face, Lion head, Bull’s crotch and tail and lot more. It had a female representation as well. Certain sculptures are so detailed that one can only be awestruck at its marvel. Inscriptions, sense of direction, purpose, hierarchies in Hindu Pantheon all are taken to account when sculpting. Most of the sculptures being sculpted from single sandstone structures. A remarkable architectural feat in itself.