The Patterns of the Cholas, Part 3

In Part 2 I introduced you to the Cholas, an empire that governed parts of South India many centuries ago. While they ruled, they built enormous and astounding stone temples for Hindu gods during the 10th to 12th centuries. Several temples are now protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They’re called The Great Living Chola Temples:

I haven’t yet had the chance to visit temples from the Chola period and photograph them myself. So to show you some patterns from them, I purchased stock photos from

Via anandkrish16, 123RF Stock Photo:

Via anandkrish16, 123RF Stock Photo:

Via dimol, 123RF Stock Photo:

Via anandkrish16, 123RF Stock Photo:

Above are close-up photos I found of bas relief and patterns carved into stone. But you’ll find beautiful patterns on the exterior too. Via obelix, 123RF Stock Photo:

While researching temples of the Chola period, I learned a few interesting things:

  • The Gangaikondacholapuram temple was deemed a good source of stones by a British officer, who ordered its demolition. Locals protested and the temple was saved. Really, I’m cool with knocking down an old Pizza Hut building and replacing it, but some architecture should be left alone!
  • My suspicions were confirmed — that the Dravidian style architecture carried forth by the Cholas was also the inspiration for Angkor temples, including Angkor Wat. The steep towers and the columned galleries should be recognizable to visitors of both South Indian and Angkor temples.
  • The granite used to build massive Chola temples at Thanjavur is not native to the area. So huge granite blocks were transported from very long distances away. It would be interesting to see how they designed/engineered the transportation but unfortunately I don’t think there’s an Indian da Vinci who left drawings for us.
  • Ruling empires that came after the Cholas sometimes built onto the temples or painted over Chola art. So to be honest, I really don’t know if the patterns above are truly “Chola patterns.” It takes obsessively diligent tracking to identify the provenance of an area of a temple, much more than you get from a stock photography website’s descriptions!
  • In one area of the largest Chola temple, there are 108 carvings of dance postures. Doesn’t the number 108 show up everywhere in history.
  • The inner sanctum of these temples is designed as a home for the deity that is there. It’s not designed to hold throngs of human worshippers. This is why these areas are small. I did not know that. This explains why, after a harrowing climb up two sets of 70-degree (plus or minus, doesn’t matter, they’re steep!) stairs at Angkor Wat, reaching the inner sanctum for Vishnu was so … anti-climactic. It was not designed to thrill tourists. And yes that’s a surprise many people may not know and another connection between Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and India — Angkor Wat is a temple for the Hindu god, Vishnu.

I found gorgeous photos of many more patterns carved into temples throughout India. More will be shared here!

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