A two-hour drive from Tranquebar via Mayiladuthurai took us to Gangaikonda Cholapuram. The name is self-explanatory–you might recollect your school days where history made fleeting references to the Sena, Pala, Chola, Chera & Pandya dynasties. Gangaikonda Cholapuram became the capital of the mighty Cholas during the reign of Rajendra Chola.
The main attraction there is the UNESCO certified world heritage site–the great temple of Brihadeeswara, another name for Lord Shiva. It is similar to the one in Tanjore. After parking the car and leaving our footwear inside, we made our way inside the complex. Thankfully, the weather was pleasant, and our feet were spared of blisters due to heat. As the temples are prone to close for midday, we decided to first have a darshan of the Lord. The crowd was minimal, and we had a view of the imposing and the magnificent Siva Lingam. Its sheer grandiose took our breaths away. Reluctantly, we pulled ourselves from the mesmerizing gaze. We had to explore the brilliant architecture after all.
We came out of the inner sanctum. Our eyes feasted on the intricate carvings of the two gatekeepers. We descended the flight of stairs and proceeded to walk along the campus. A giant statue of Nandi overlooking the main temple was another attraction. It seemed as if everything here was of epic proportions. As is the case with temples in Tamil Nadu, smaller temples surrounded the main temple, with various inscriptions and artwork decorating them. If only those chiselled stones could tell a story, our history would have been enriched. I could only marvel at the talent those craftsmen in those eras possessed. Any adjective (even superlative) would not do justice to the extraordinary work of art they created. We walked, and walked. And never paused to rest. We just wanted to revel in that moment. Nothing else seemed to matter. We ran our hands over the carvings, feeling the rush of adrenaline in our blood. Ruins and dilapidated structures thrill us to no bits, and that feeling of exaltation cannot be put together in some random phrases. Everything comes to a standstill – hunger, thirst, fatigue. THAT moment encompasses and nourishes our souls.
After spending more than an hour (which seemed so less), we proceeded to Maligaimedu, where another protected monument lay–the ruins of the Royal Palace which was built of burnt bricks. The site was locked, however the caretaker opened it for us and accompanied us, explaining the historical significance of the place. The dates went back as early as 1031 AD and the materials excavated from this site are now at the museum – brick walls, ivory objects, pottery and porcelain products. On a closer look at the bricks, we could discern the seal of the kingdom. What transpired between those four walls? What plans were hatched there? And how the palace might have remained a mute spectator when it was razed to the ground (possibly by the Pandyas)? If only they could knowingly leave behind some clues! With a heavy yet joyous heart, we left the beautiful town.
The Cholas ruled for a long time in India and the legacy they left behind was worth emulating. That they were avid builders cannot be disputed–just visit Gangaikonda Cholapuram and you would know why.
Narayani V Manapadam