43. More of Chola Effect

@Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India.

Being at Thanjavur or Tanjore was more of a result of the travel in local buses of travel in a journey from Velankanni back to Cochin which had more stops than one could ever imagine. Most of the Tamil Nadu was covered with this trip and another one which featured a return from Chennai which was part of a Kolkata trip; all these journeys interlinked in such a manner as to confuse myself too. This one actually interested me more than the other important stop at Thirchirappalli or Trichy due to the historical important which was hidden behind Thanjavur, a municipality and the headquarters of the Thanjavur district. Thanjavur is one of the ancient cities in India having a very long and varied history dating back to the Sangam period, the Golden Age of Tamil Art and Literature. The town was actually founded by a Mutharayar king Swaran Maran and rose to prominence during the rule of the Later Cholas when it became the capital of the Chola Empire which stretched it arms to such an extent that when it fell, it was that much of a loss to the Tamil country. After the fall of the Chola dynasty, the city was ruled by various dynasties like Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks, Thanjavur Marathas and finally annexed by the British East India company to later come under the British crown until India gaining independence and Thanjavur being part of the Southern state of Tamil Nadu.

This city had a major role in making me watch the Telugu movie ‘Magadheera’, even as it was later known it had no role in Tamil history and it was more based on some random kingdom in the North West of India which came under Islamic conquest; that was disappointing even if the flashbacks of the movie were pretty interesting, making the movie overall a good one. But they still mentioned the word ‘Chera’ in a song in its Malayalam translation which was what misguided me and made me travel eighteen kilometres just to watch this movie; there was no better movie running in any theatre at that time any way and this might have just been the right excuse to watch that movie, adding a Telugu movie to my list even as it was the dubbed version in Malayalam which I watched. It also made me watch some parts of ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’, which seemed pretty good from the part which I watched. As it was more related to the Chola-Pandya conflict which go back to the approximate centuries, it had to be more fun; when I watch it completely, I am hoping to relate with history at such a point which will make the study of Tamil History easier for me leading to a good knowledge of the South Indian History which has more roots in the Tamil nation than anywhere else. I would like a sequel too, and from what is heard, there is a possibility considering the end.

The story of a Thanjavur visit had to start at Brihadeeswarar Temple, also known as Rajarajeswara Temple and Peruvudaiyar Koyil; is the world’s first complete granite temple and with no doubt, we can say that it is a brilliant example of the major heights achieved by the Chola Empire and Thanjavur as the one of their capitals and major cities. This magnificient structure was built by Raja Raja Chola I, also known as Arunmozhi Thevar and one of the greatest kings of South India fit to be called ‘the Great’. He established the powerful Chola Empire by conquering almost all the kingdoms of southern India expanding the Chola Empire as far as Sri Lanka in the south, and Kalinga or the present Orissa in the North East. He fought many battles with the Chalukyas in the north and the Pandyas in the south to achieve this feat and soon there was not any other kingdom left in the South which was not under his influence as he had Thanjavur, Kanchipuram, Madurai and Vengi under his rule and also extending his power to the island nations of Sri Lanka; this incident reminding me of the various conquests of Britain by the various Germanic tribes, but this one was by a powerful Empire and thus it might be comparable to the Roman occupation of Britain as this empire also fell like the Roman Empire and the island was free only to be conquered by others later.

The invasion of Sri Lanka and the destruction of its capital Anuradhapura was a huge achievement for the king, even as the island was to be lost in the later ages and Cholas had to fight many wars in attempt to reconquer Sri Lanka as the Sinhalese monarchs were allies of their arch-enemies, the Pandyas. Raja Raja Chola commemorated his conquest of northern Sri Lanka by constructing a Shiva temple at Polonnaruwa which has survived to the present day, but Brihadesswarar Temple at Thanjavur is still the masterpiece of his powerful rule. The administrative system of Thanjavur and the other divisions of the Chola Empire as well as his devotion to Lord Shiva are quite interesting topics of discussion. It was his successes which enabled his son Rajendra Chola I to extend the empire even further, making the empire something which extended it arms beyond all expectations of any king of that time. His empire extended not only to Ceylon, but also to Maldives, Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar islands. He defeated the kings who ruled the current areas of Bihar, West Bengal, Bangladesh as he went through the North East defeating everyone on the way to Burma. Malaysia and Singapore as well as parts of Thailand, Laos, Indonesia and Vietnam had to become his subordinates; that powerful was the Chola Empire.

The Shiva temple built by Rajendra Chola at Gangaikonda Cholapuram also has to considered along with this temple, as it also shows the magnificience of Chola architecture at a time of their peak. Coming back to the temple from these magnificient kings is a tough task, as history always take you into that imaginary world which is more accessible than the ‘Night at the Museum’ movies and the reality which they show in that unreal manner is far little a thing comparable to what you read and imagine out of it. As the temple had a patron as great as RajaRaja Chola I, it had the power to beone of the greatest monuments of Indian architecture; just like the kings who were close to the church in Europe and those who built mosques from the middle east to the Indian subcontinent; there should always be a powerful patron king for every religion to reach the zenith of its glory and here, Thanjavur had one. There is a big statue of Nandi, carved out of a single rock, at the entrance and when inside, its like being in a world so different; more like being in a fort of spirituality; it was incredibly hot though, and the legs were burning, every step without the chappals did drain all the spirits out of my spirituality and it did shorten the visit by some time. What impressed me the most was the gateways to the temple though; it was built like a fort as if to prevent the invaders from looting the temple and it was surrounded by defensible areas making it more of a religious fortress.

It was interesting to see so many foreign tourists at the place and most of them so much interested in the elephant which was standing right at the entrance. I was more surprised later to find that Thanjavur had a Roman Catholic Cathedral; my first impression was that it was just a fine and neat church. Sacred Heart Cathedral Church was a fine structure which was not that huge and painted white, which is not what I would want; it looked as if new, but from the inside, it seemed as if renovated from a small church; its been a cathedral since 1953 and under this docese comes the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health at Velankanni and Our Lady of Lourdes Basilica at Poondi, both of them painted white too. I rarely see a Roman Catholic Church in Tamil Nadu which is not painted white, and it is somewhat applicable to those of Church of South India too. Thanjavur is also well known for its education. But nothing matches the tourism which is mostly centered around one big temple; it is estimated that about fourty percent of the tourists from Europe and North America traveling around South India visit the Brihadeeswarar Temple which shows how important a structure it is, even for the foreigners; as history lives in those walls and spirituality is alive throughout the area inside the complex.

Diving out —>