Tamil Nadu is famous for its temples famous for their master buildings, articulate detailing and the overall sense of grandeur that astonishes a visitor. These temples constructed years ago have been in worship till date. Since ages these temples have been a centre of spirituality, religious movements and the politics.
The Cholas were among India’s greatest empire builders with their influence and reach hitting its zenith around the 10-12th century. This period also saw new schools of architecture emerge and flourish – some of these traditions are in existence even today.
The River and Empire is a specially tailored itinerary to give you an immersive cultural experience in art and architecture of the Chola empire right in the heart of the river that sustained it. The tour will take you to heritage sites along the river Kaveri and its delta distributaries. We will travel to sites of incredible historical importance guided by Madhusudhanan Kalaichelvan, one of the most well informed and scholarly subject matter experts. An architect, conservationist, painter, epigraphist, he has been conducting guided heritage tours through Road Access to Temples Heritage And Monuments (RATHAM). More details in this Swarajya post.
Over three days you will get to see the architectural marvels, understand the nuances and motivations behind the stone splendours at Chidambaram, Thanjavur and Trichy. At the end of the tour you’d have a very good idea about who the Cholas were, why and how they built the great temples and be able to fully appreciate the great architectural traditions.
Note - For those who would prefer to join us from Chennai, we will arrange appropriate transportation. Please reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
We begin the journey late in the evening from Bengaluru. We will meet at the departure point and travel by overnight bus to reach Chidambaram early in the morning the next day.
We check-in to our hotel in Chidambaram and post a brief halt for freshening up we will leave for breakfast. We will then begin our temple trail. We will visit the famous Chidambaram Nataraja temple, and the Melakadambur Temple via the Veeranam Lake. The Veeranam lake was built by the Cholas in the tenth century and it is on the banks of this lake that author Kalki sets the opening chapter of his magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan. Formerly known as Veeranarayanapuram lake, this as described by Kalki is where Chola Princess Kundavi spent her time in the spring, and its 64 openings are said to be the reason for Ramanujacharya’s decision of 64 peethas.
In the second half of the day we shall head to Gangaikondacholapuram Brihadeshwara temple which was constructed by Shri Rajendra Chola, the son of Sri Raja Rajeshwara. This was a commemorative temple constructed after the victory of the Cholas over the Gangas. At the same site, the king also constructed a lake like a tank that spreads over 22 km, which was also known as the Jalmay Vijaystambh literally meaning the victory pillar made of water. The inscription tells us Sri Rajendra Chola after his victory of Bengal, brought the water of River Ganga and poured it in this lake. The place gets its name from this incident.
From here, we'll head to the Adi Kumbheshwara temple in Kumbakonam. Post this we will depart towards the hotel in Kumbhakonam and retire for the day.
We begin the day with the Airawateshwara Temple at Darasuram, another one on the UNESCO list of three living Chola temples. Built by Raja Rajeshwara Chola II, the temple is named after the white elephant of Indra, Airavata who was saved by Shiva. It is believed that Airawata was cursed by the sage Durwasa with a disease that will change his colour and was cured only after bathing in the waters of this temple. This was commemorated by placing an idol of Indra seated on Airawata in the sanctum sanctorum.
We will then head to Pazhayarai which was the ancient capital of the medieval Chola dynasty. From here we head to Thiruvaiyaru which houses the Panchanatheshwara (Aiyarappar) temple close to which is the one-roomed house where Thyagaraja composed some of his greatest works.
We end the day at Tanjavur. The Brihadeshwara temple of Thanjavur, also known as Sri Raja Rajeshwara temple, is possibly the best-known example of the grandeur of Chola temples.
On the last day of our journey, we head to Trichy where we visit the Rockfort, the famous Srirangam temple and the equally beautiful Tiruvanaika shrine. In the Alwar traditions, the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple is considered to be one of the eight swayambhu kshetras. This temple is also one the largest temple in India with seven prakaar enclosures.
Following which we leave for Bengaluru. We will make a stop midway for lunch. We will conclude the journey in the evening in Bengaluru at the drop location.