(Ancient & Medieval History & Culture)General Studies Paper 1
Question:- 54. The Chola Period marks a distinct and significant period in the art and architecture of India. Explain. Answer in 250 words
Sep 01, 2022


After the Pallavas, Chola dynasty became the main power of Southern India and emerged victorious among other kingdoms. They advanced as far as Bengal, Sri Lanka, Java, Sumatra and had trade links as far as Indonesia.
The Cholas utilised the wealth earned through their extensive conquests in building long-lasting stone temples and exquisite bronze sculptures, in an almost exclusively Hindu cultural setting. They built their temples in the traditional way of the Pallava dynasty, who were themselves influenced by the Amaravati school of architecture. The Chola artists and artisans further drew their influences from other contemporary art and architectural schools and elevated the Chola temple design to greater heights.

The Chola kings built numerous temples throughout their kingdom, which normally comprised the plains, Central and Northern Tamil Nadu and at times the entire state of Tamil Nadu as also adjoining parts of modern Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

In the evolution of the Chola temple architecture we can roughly see three major phases:

  1. 1.The early phase, starting with Vijayalaya Chola and continuing till Sundara Chola.
  • -The first seeds of Chola temple architecture in Tamil Nadu were possibly sown during this period.
  • -The temple architecture evolved from the early cave temples and monolith temples of Mamallapuram to the Kailasanatha and Vaikuntaperumal temples of Kanchipuram.
  • -Aditya I and Parantaka I were prolific builders for their faith. Inscriptions of Aditya I record that he built a number of temples along the banks of the river Kaveri. These temples were much smaller in comparison to the huge monumental structures of the later Cholas and were probably brick structures rather than stone.
  1. 2.The middle phase of Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola when the achievements scaled heights never reached before or since.
  • -Temple building received great impetus from the conquests and the genius of Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola I.
  • -A number of smaller shrines were built during the early phase of this period. Notable amongst these is the Tiruvalisvaram temple near Tirunelveli. The temple is covered with exquisite well composed sculptures and friezes some containing comic figures. The entire cornice of the temple tower is embellished with designs of creepers and foliage.
  • -The maturity and grandeur to which the Chola architecture had evolved found expression in the two magnificent temples of Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram.
  • -The magnificent Siva temple of Thanjavur/ Brihadeswara temple/ Dakshin Meru is the largest and tallest of all Indian temples.It is in this temple that one notices for the first time two gopuras (gateway towers, here oriented in the same direction). In spite of the massive size of the gopuras, the vimana, rising majestically to a height of 190 feet, continues to dominate and it is only in the subsequent period that a change in the gradation of magnitude takes place. This temple carries on its walls the engraved evidence of the elaborate administrative and financial procedures concerning the day-to-day administration of the temple. The octagonal Shikharam (crest) rests on a single block of granite weighing 81 tons.It is believed that this block was carried up a specially built ramp built from a site 6 kilometres away from the temple. Huge Nandis (figures of the sacred bull) dot the corners of the Shikharam, and the Kalasam on top by itself is about 3.8 metres in height.
  1. 3.The final phase during the Chalukya Chola period of Kulottunga I till the demise of the Chola empire.
  • -The Chola style continued to flourish for a century longer and expressed itself in a very large number of temples. For e.g.,
  • a)The temple at Darasuram near Thanjavur built during the reign of Rajaraja II is a magnificent structure typical of the stage of architectural development reached in the 12th century CE- artistic stone pillars and decorations on its walls, in a style bordering on mannerism, with an emphasis on elongated limbs and polished features.
  • b) Kampaheswarar temple at Tribhuvanam near Kumbakonam which has survived in good repair as built by Kulothunga III.The architecture of this temple is similar to the temples at Tanjore, Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram

The Chola period is also remarkable for its sculptures and bronzes. Among the existing specimens in the various museums of the world and in the temples of South India, may be seen many fine figures of Siva in various forms accompanied by his consort Parvati and the other gods, demigods and goddesses of the Saivaite pantheon, Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi, the Nayanmars, other Saiva saints and many more. (created using lost wax technique)

The Cholas in addition to their temples, also built many buildings such as hospitals, public utility buildings and palaces. Various public works as cities, roads, irrigation works and artificial tanks were constructed. Rajendra Chola I constructed a city, a water tank and a temple with the same name of Gangaikondacholapuram temple.Many such buildings find mention in their inscriptions and in contemporary accounts. The golden palace that Aditya Karikala supposedly built for his father Sundara Chola is an example of such a building. However, such buildings were of perishable materials such as timber and fired bricks and have not survived the ravages of time.



Hence, it can be rightly said that Cholas contributed immensely to the art and architecture of India. The marvels continue to enthuse people  till today and will continue to do for many more decades if preserved.


Answer Credits: Wikipedia

Relate with recent initiative of government to bring back Chola period idols back from USA (refer to Idol Wing website of Tamil Nadu). Also, the government is making concerted efforts to get UNESCO recognition for these temples and art forms. Pick from current affairs and add it in your conclusion.