The Great Living Chola Temples are really special. For all those who don’t know about the Great Living Chola Temples, there are 3 of them, Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur, Gangaikondacholisvaram Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavateeswara Temple at Darasuram. All 3 of these Great Living Chola Temples together carry the UNESCO World Heritage tag.
While, the Brihadeeswarar Temple is the largest temple out of the three, the Gangaikondacholisvaram boasts of the largest Shiva Linga. But, the one that will appeal to you the most is the Airavateeswarar Temple with its intricate architecture, heavily ornamented pillars and richly sculpted walls that is housed in a very small compound.
The Airavateswara Temple was built in the 12th century by Rajaraja Chola II and it is located at Darasuram, a small town about 3 kms from Kumbakonam. One can easily visit this place as a day trip from Thanjavur or Trichy. You can easily find cheap flights to Trichy from all over the country. The rail and road network to these places is also great.
This temple of Dravidian architecture is dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is known here as Airavateeswara, because he was worshipped at this temple by Lord Indra who is also known as Airavata. The main deity’s consort is Periya Nayaki Amman and her shrine is located adjacent to the Airavateeswara temple.
This temple is a storehouse of art and architecture. The front mandapam, which is in the form of a huge chariot drawn by horses is one of its main sights. This stone chariot closely resembles the chariot at Konark’s Sun Temple and Hampi’s Vittala Temple. I am guessing that Rajaraja Chola wanted that class to be reflected in his temple. Generally, kings used their temples to show their class and I am assuming that this was no different.
Hence if you walk around the temple, you will see this class in Chola art and architecture in multiple forms. For example, you will see an advanced water flow system, you will see stone carvings of Indian epics, yoga poses, mythological creatures, shapes and forms, the circle of life and many more.
You will find a lot of interesting stories from our history and culture as you walk the temple courtyard. At lots of places, you will come across the sculpture of yaali, a mythological creature. You will also see the tryst between Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva where all 3 of them together make up one body. Imaginations have also been well portrayed here. For example, you can see a lion and elephant tussle carved in stone.
The sight of the abhishekham water coming from a gargoyle’s mouth is very innovative. In fact, most of the temple’s water drains from a gargoyle’s mouth. This shows great skill and imagination. I totally loved this piece of the architecture and I am sure a lot of you will too.
Each pillar in the temple has a story to tell. Whether it is the Shiva Parvathi wedding story or any other mythological story, each wall or pillar depicts the story very well to the tourist. To keep you company are also interesting gods that you would rarely see in other temples like Agastyar Muni, Naradar, Saraswati and more.
Overall, the temple is a fantastic package if you love history, are spiritually inclined, love rich architecture and/or wish to soak in rare sights. The ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ as a whole is fabulous and within it, the small courtyard housing the Airavateeswara Temple is the best.
To reach Airavateeswara temple, you can either make your base at Kumbakonam, Thanjavur or Trichy. Each city is well connected by road. If you seek luxurious facilities, make Trichy your base as it is well connected by an international airport and you can make your airline bookings to here easily.
Go on and enjoy the beauty of the carvings at Airavateeswara Temple.