Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Gangaikonda Cholapuram

UNESCO World Heritage Site
Great Living Chola Temples
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Temple Gopuram at Gangaikonda Cholapuram
Location Ariyalur district
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii
Reference 250
UNESCO region Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1987 (11th Session)
Extensions 2004
Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Gangaikonda Cholapuram (Tamil: கங்கைகொண்ட சோழபுரம்) was built during medieval india and 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, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Sumatra, Kadaram (Kedah in Malaysia), Cambodia and others at the beginning of the 11th century A.D. It occupies an important place in the history of India. As the capital of the Cholas from about 1025 A.D. for about 250 years, the city controlled the affairs of entire southern India, from the Tungabhadra in the north to Ceylon in the south and other south east Asian countries. As of 2014, the ancient city exists as a small forlorn village in the Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu, India. 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 Gangaikondaan temple is an architectural and engineering marvel.


  • City 1
  • Chola culture 2
  • Fortifications 3
  • The Chola Administration 4
  • Architecture 5
  • Royal Palace 6
  • Catastrophe on Gangaikondacholapuram 7
  • Expedition to the Ganges 8
  • Roads and City gates 9
  • City layout 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Entrance
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Gopuram and statues
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Nandi statue
Nandhi in Gangai Konda Cholapuram Temple
Stone sculpture of Gnana Saraswathi at the temple
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Lingams

The city was founded by Rajendra Chola to commemorate his victory over the Pala Dynasty. The name means The town of the chola who brought 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 Siva Temple.[1]

Rajendra Chola-I (1012-1044 A.D) son of the Great Rajaraja-I, established this temple after his great victorious march to river Ganges on Northern India. He assumed the title of Rajendra during his coronation and continued to rule along with his father Rajaraja-I for a while. He was awarded the supreme title of the Cholas known as Parakesari.

Rajendra-I, a great warrior, assisted his father in numerous expeditions to elevate the Cholas to supreme power. The various expeditions he conducted, were : Gangetic expedition, eastern/Western Chalukyas expedition, war against Cheras/Pandyas, Ceylon expedition, Kataram (currently called as Kedah) expedition.

His empire included the whole of southern India to the river Thungabadhra in the north. For administrative and strategic purposes he built another capital and named it Gangaikondacholapuram. The Gangaikondacholapuram temple he constructed consists of 3 stories and was surrounded by a huge fort-like wall, the outer wall largely destroyed during the English rule (1896) to reuse the building material (granite rocks) for constructing the Lower Anicut the dam built across river Kollidam. He built around 10 temples at various places.

He assumed the title of Gangaikonda Cholan and named his new capital as Gangaikondacholapuram and he also constructed a huge Lake known as Chola Gangam that spreads 22 km mainly used for drinking and irrigation. A statue of Rajendra-I is found in Kolaram temple at Kolar of Karnataka state in India.

C. 1022 C.E. Rajendra undertook an expedition to the Ganges along the east coast of peninsular India. The emperor himself lead 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. Around the same time, the Cholas under the illustrious Rajendra Chola I also vanquished the Chalukyas of Manyakheta when the Chola protectorate of Vengi was threatened by Chalukyas Jayasimha II. Rajendra Chola I defeated Jayasimha-II Chalukya at Maski (Muyangi in Chola annals) between Eluru and Visayavadai (modern Vijayawada) and subsequently engaged the Chalukya in Kannada country itself i.e. in the Chalukyas capital of Mannaikadakkam (Manyakheta) "the war in which the Chalukya Jayasimha-II, full of fear, hid like a mouse and fled the battlefield". The Chola armies seized the Chalukya flag, decapitated or slew various generals of the Chalukyas, with the Chalukyan king fleeing the battlefield. The Chalukya King surrendered his wife to the victorious Chola monarch. With the Chola coffers filling up with riches from the Chalukya country, they were able to establish their hold of the region between the Vaigai/Kaveri delta in Tamil country up to the Tungabhadra-Krishna basins in the Maharashtra-Andhra region. To commemorate this celebrated victory, Rajendra assumed the title of Gangaikonda Cholan, "Irattapadi-konda Cholan", "Mannai-kondan" (the king who possessed Irattapadi (erstwhile land of the Rashtrakutas usurped by the Salukkis (Chalukyas) and the king who possessed (the Chalukyan capital) Manyakheta (Mannaikadakkam in Chola annals) and had the Siva Temple Gangakkondacholeswaram built(***). Soon 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.

Chola culture

Chola rulers were active patrons of the arts. They flourished in architectures, education, science, arts, ship construction, poetry, drama, music, business trading, dance. The beautiful Nataraja figure was first conceived during the Chola empire.

They constructed enormous stone temple complexes decorated inside and out with painted sculptures. While the stone sculptures and the inner sanctum image empowering the temple remained immovable, changing religious concepts during the 10th century demanded that the deities take part in a variety of public roles similar to those of a human monarch. As a result, large bronze images were created to be carried outside the temple to participate in daily rituals, processions, and temple festivals. The round lugs and holes found on the bases of many of these sculptures are for the poles that were used to carry the heavy images. They were admired for the sensuous depiction of the figure and the detailed treatment of their clothing and jewelry in Chola-period bronzes.


Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Gopuram
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Gopuram Backside Architecture.
The temple architecture

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 Athithakarikal Cholain the sambuvaraya's palace of Melakadambur, Kulothunga's predecessor. By the 13th century, the Chola kingdom had exhausted its resources and was on the decline. It succumbed to an attack by the Hoysalas from the west and the Pandyas from the south. The last king of the Medieval Cholas was Rajendra Chola-III.

The Chola Administration

Statues in Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple.

The Chola administration served as a model for all the other kingdoms of the South. The king had a council of ministers. The kingdom was divided into a number of provinces known as mandalams, The mandalams in turn were divided into valanadu and nadus. The next administrative sub divisions were kurrams and kottams. The special feature of the Chola administration was the Local Self Government or the autonomous administration. The villagers themselves carried out village administration. It was more or less like the modern Panchayat Raj. Each village had a village assembly known as the ur or the sabha. The members of the sabha were elected by lot, known as kudavolai system. There was a committee to look after the specified departments, such as justice, law and order, irrigation etc., which were called as variyams.


lion-well (simhakeni)

The temple of Gangaikondacholisvara is approached through the eastern entrance from the road. The entrance is called the "Mahaduvar" leads to the inner court.

Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Lion Water well

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 Thanjavur but with octagon shape of Dravidian architecture. As it rises to a height of 182 feet (55 m) and is shorter than the Thanjavur tower with larger plinth, it is often described as the feminine counterpart of the Thanjavur 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 shrine 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.

Royal Palace

Remains of Royal Palace as of 2005

The royal palace also was built of burnt brick. The ceilings were covered with flat tiles of small size, laid in a number of courses, in fine lime mortar. The pillars were probably made of polished wood, supported on granite bases; a few pillar bases have survived to this day. Iron nails and clamps have been recovered from this palace site.There is an underground tunnel that links the palace and the temple inner 1st pragara(north).

Side View of Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple.

In the reign of Virarajendra Chola, Rajendra's third son, the palace at Gangaikondacholapuram is referred to as Chola-Keralan Thirumaligai (Chola Keralan palace) evidently after one of the titles of Rajendra I. The same inscription mentions a few parts of the palace as adibhumi (the ground floor), Kilaisopana (the eastern portico), and a seat named Mavali vanadhirajan. Evidently the palace was multistoried. In an inscription dated in the 49th year of Kulothunga I (1119 C.E.) reference is made to Gangaikondacholamaligai at this place. It is likely that there were more than one royals building each having their own name.

Catastrophe on Gangaikondacholapuram

As per the available evidences, the last Chola King Rajendra Chozha III’s rule did not end due to any defeat in the war field. But devastations are available underneath, which proves that some major catastrophe happened around Gangaikondacholapuram which brought the Chola’s Rule to an end. After about six/eight decades, the Chola region was taken over by Pallava from whom it was Hoysala and then to Vijaya Nagar Rule. During Vijaya Nagar Rule, lots of settlements by Telugu, Telugu Brahmins, Kannada etc.happened. It is also evident that while the farmers tried to dig wells for farming around Gangaikondacholapuram, it was revealed to the world that the Palace buildings and other constructions are underneath about 50 – 80 feet depth.

Expedition to the Ganges

With both the Western and Eastern Chalukya fronts subdued, Rajendra’s armies undertook an extraordinary expedition. 1019 CE Rajendra’s forces continued to march through Kalinga.

Kalinga was a kingdom in central-eastern India, which comprised most of the modern state of Orissa, as well as some northern areas of the bordering state of Andhra Pradesh to the river Ganges. The Emperor himself led the advance up to the river Godavari.

The Chola army eventually reach the Pala kingdom of Bengal where they met Mahipala I,considered the second founder of the Pala Empire . Gopala I established the dynastic rule of the Palas in the middle of the 8th century C.E and defeated him.

According to the Tiruvalangadu Plates, the campaign lasted less than two years in which many kingdoms of the north felt the might of the Chola army. The inscriptions further claim that Rajendra defeated the armies of Ranasura and entered the land of Dharmapala and subdued him and thereby he reached the Ganges and caused the river water to be brought back to the Chola country. The new conquests opened up new routes for the Cholas to head for distant lands like Burma by land (through what are now modern Orissa, West Bengal, Assam and Bangladesh).

Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple Side View

It is true that Rajendra's army defeated the kings of Sakkarakottam and Dhandabhukti and Mahipala. These territories were initially added to the kingdom, while later they had the status of tribute paying subordinates and trade partners with the Chola Kingdom, an arrangement that lasted till the times of Kulothunga-III and to a limited extent, of Raja Raja-III too. It was undoubtedly an exhibition of the power and might of the Chola empire to the northern kingdoms. But the benevolent leadership of the Cholas treated them in a benevolent manner and did not permanently annexe them to the Chola dominions.

Arthanareswarar statue in Gangai Konda Cholapuram Temple

Roads and City gates

Excavated Ancient Items

Besides the names of the palace and fort walls, the names of a few roads and streets are preserved in the epigraphs. The entryways named Thiruvasal, the eastern gate and the Vembugudi gate, evidently the south gate leading to the village Vembugudi situated in that direction are mentioned. Reference is also found to highways named after Rajaraja and Rajendra as Rajarajan Peruvali and Rajendran Peruvali. Other streets mentioned in epigraphs are the ten streets (Pattu teru), the gateway lane (Thiruvasal Narasam) and the Suddhamali lane. The inscription also refers to the highways, Kulottungacholan Thirumadil peruvali, Vilangudaiyan Peruvali and Kulaiyanai pona Peruvali (the highway through which a short elephant passed by).

City layout

The epigraphs also refer to the Madhurantaka Vadavaru, now called the Vadavaru, running about six kilometers east of the ruined capital. Madhurantaka 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 is also mentioned.

"Anaivettuvan" - Anai means irrigation (step irrigation) vettuvan means labour or engineer. Hence the above seque is not matching, more over Hindu dharam never allows to kill elephant.Another possible meaning of "AnaiVettuvan" - Anai means Dam, vettuvan means constructor(labour or engineer).

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.


  1. ^
  • Nagasamy R, Rajapalayam (1970), State Department of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu
  • Nilakanta Sastri, K. A., The Cholas (1955), University of Madras, Reprinted 1984

External links

  • Gangaikondacholapuram from website