As we were nearing the site often referred to as Periya Kovil or RajaRajeswara Temple Sagar called our attention to the fact that it was part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as "The great Living Chola Temples".
Having been built to grace the throne of the Chola empire by the Tamil emperor Arulmozhivarman popularly called RajaRaja Chola I, the temple's foundations are said to have been laid out in 1002CE. Intended to display the emperor's vision and his relationship to the universal order, the temple is intimately linked to Shiva, the "moolavar" (or prime deity) and comprises many structures that are aligned axially.
The Temple was consecrated in 1010 CE and is said to have maintained a staff of 1000 people, with 400 being dancers who excelled in the traditional dance of Bharatnatyam, according to the inscriptions found in the compound wall of the Temple.
The entrance's gopuram was profusely carved and though time and light were unfavourable factors I would have to deal with, the moment we crossed it and came upon a huge quadrangle with a mandapa dedicated to Nandi (Shiva's sacred bull mount) carved out of a single stone about 2 metres high, 6 metres long and 2.5 metres wide and a few other rather impressive structures (especially the Vimanan said to be 60,96 metres high) I knew I would have to forget about any hindrances and try to photograph as much as I could whilst listening to the explanations provided by a local guide, who was undeniably a very interesting character.
We walked around the structures though we barely had time to visit their interiors and some of the shrines. Because photo taking of deities was not allowed, I focused on the decorative elements of the amazingly beautiful carved images placed in niches, some of which represented dance karanas (postures of the traditional Bharathanatyam dance) and cult icons, whenever I had the chance. I unfortunately missed the Chola frescoes mounted on fibre glass boardsd but even if I had conditions would have been such that I don't believe the photos I might have taken then would have been any good.
(To be continued)