Gangaikonda Cholapuram (Unesco World Heritage Site) was erected as the capital of the Cholas by Rajendra Chola, the son and successor of Rajaraja Chola, the great Chola who conquered a large area in South India at the beginning of the 11th century C.E. It occupies an important place in the history of India. As the capital of the Cholas from about 1025 C.E. for about 250 years, the city controlled the affairs of entire south India, from the Tungabhadra in the north to Ceylon in the south. 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 lay out – the sanctum with its axial units, the Chan dikesvara shrine, the cloister mandapa with the subsidiary shrines and a gopura is similar to Tanjavur. The location of two smaller shrines – The South and North Kailasa (now the Amman shrine) are different. But the architect of this edifice has shown remarkable intelligence to correct some of the shortcomings in the design of the Brihadisvara at Tanjavur like the provision for erecting a wooden scaffolding in the masonry of the sanctum, the pleasing elevation by appropriately changing and placing the hara elements etc. The inscription recording accurately the donations to the God of the temple is missing here. In fact, there is no inscription of Rajendra himself. The earliest inscription is that of his son, but recording the donations of his father.
The temple has sculptures of exceptional quality like the dancing Ganesa, Ardhanari, Dakshinamurthi, Harihara, Adavallan (Nataraja) (on south wall niches), Gangadhara, Lingodhbhava, Vishnu, Subrahmanya, Vishnu-anugrahmurthi (west wall), Kalanthakamurthi, Durga, Brahma, Bairava, Kamantaka (north wall). But the most outstanding sculptures are found in the niches by the side of the northern entrance steps to the sanctum. They are the Chandesanugrahamurti and Sarasvati. The bronzes of Bhogasakti and Subrahmanya are masterpieces of Chola metal icons. The Saurapitha (Solar altar), the lotus altar with eight deities is considered auspicious.
Gangakondai Cholapuram is located between Pondicherry and Trichy and can be reached by car. It is a must visit on your South India itinerary beginning from Chennai and ending at Cochin.