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Art and Architecture – Contact with Southeast Asia

Under the Cholas

The greatest achievements of the Kings of Chola Empire were in the field of Art and Architecture. The Shiva Temple at Tanjore, built by Rajaraja the Great, is the most magnificent example of the Chola architecture.

It is known for its spacious courtyards and massive tower. Its tower rises to a height of 190 feet like a pyramid in thirteen successive stories. Its top is crowned by a single block of stone, 25 feet high and weighing about 80 tones. It is really a matter of great surprise as to how such a heavy piece of stone was taken to such a great height. The whole feat must have required a great technical and engineering skill.

Another beautiful specimen of Chola architecture is provided by the temple which was built by Rajaraja’s son and successor Rajendra I in his new capital, Gangai-Konda Cholapuram.

This temple is known for its great size huge “lingam” of solid granite and delicate carvings in stone. These structures of the Cholas were no doubt huge and massive while looking from afar but they were decorated with minute sculptures involving “immense labor and infinite pains.”

The art of sculpture also made a great progress under the Cholas. As discussed above, their temples contain some of the best specimens of carvings and sculptures. The Chola artists also made some of the rare specimens of images and statues of gods and life-like portrait-images of their kings.

The Chola rulers were not only mighty conquerors and great administrators but also great builders. They are still remembered for their vast irrigation schemes, huge embankments and dams, well planned cities and above all for their temples whose towers rise on their base like a pyramid.

The Imperial Chola rulers of Tanjore developed the Dravidian style of temple architecture almost to perfection.  Their works taken up on a stupendous scale include irrigation schemes, embankment of artificial lakes, dams across the Kaveri and well planned cities. A special feature of the Chola architecture is the purity of artistic tradition.  The two magnificent temples at Tanjore and Gangaikonda Cholapuram in Tiruchirapalli District built in early 11th century A.D. show the best of Chola art.

The Brihadeswara or Rajarajeswara Temple of Shiva in Tanjore built by Rajaraja Chola in 1010 A.D. is the largest and highest of Chola temples and stands as a symbol of Chola greatness.

Constructed in granite, the main structure of the temple has a square base about 53 metres high and its lofty shikhara of thirteen successive storeys is 57.7 metres high.  A huge stone dome nearly 8 metres high and weighing about 81 tons crowns the shikhara.  The temple from the top of the base is covered with exquisite sculptures and mouldings.  The plinth is covered with inscriptions in Tamil.  The niches on three sides of the main shrine contain idols of various gods and goddesses.    The gopuram on the entrance gates are decorated with beautiful sculptures.  The temple stands in a spacious enclosed courtyard and pavilion with one of the largest monolithic Nandis (6 metres long, 2.6 metres broad and 307 metres high) in South India, a large assembly hall and a pillared portico. The walls of the passage around the sanctum are covered with panels of exquisite paintings which though faint with time show vivid expression – a marked feature the classical painting of the Cholas.  The hundred and eight dance poses of Shiva carved on the inner walls of this temple testify to the heights attained by the Cholas in the field of sculpture.  An imposing structure the temple is the finest creation of Chola craftsmen.

The temple Shiva at Gangaikonda Cholapuram built by Rajendra 1 Chola (1018 to 1033 A.D.) is another line piece of temple architecture.  Massive grandeur and huge structures decorated with minute sculptures are characteristics of Chola art.  A new development was the addition of a gateway or gopuram to the walled enclosure of the temple.

Another achievement of th4e Cholas is the plastic art of Chola bronzes.  Exquisite idols of Hindu gods and goddesses exhibit the superb workmanship of the craftsmen. The most famous of these is the figure of Nataraja or dancing Shiva portraying the Cosmic dance of Shiva.

The Hoysala Rulers who succeeded the later Chalukyas and ruled over the Mysore Plateau in the 12th and 13th centuries A.D. were also lovers of art.  They evolved a new style of architecture.  The most notable temples of this period are those constructed in Belur, Halebid and Somnathpur.  These temples are star-shaped.  They are built on a high star-shaped base which is richly carved.  The shikharas though pyramidal are low unlike those of other temples.

The Somnathpur temple was built by Vinaditya Ballal in about 1043 A.D. and is the earliest of this type. The temple though small was exquisitely carved with three pyramidal vimanas surmounting the three shrines. The best specimen of Hoysala art is the Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid and the Chenna Kesava temple at Belur.

The Hoysaleswara temple is composed of two similar temples side by side on a single five feet high star shaped terrace. Built of grey soap-stone, best suited for fine carving, each of the temples has star shaped vimanas with projections on three sides. The inner arms connect the two temples The mandapa ceilings and the pillars in the hall are intricately carved. The entire base is covered with running lengths of  carved friezes of tigers, elephants, horses, birds and celestial beings-each frieze more beautiful than the other. The ceilings, interior and exterior walls of the temple have beautiful sculptures carved on them.

The Chenna Kesava temple at Belur was built by Vishnuvardhana of the Hoysala Dynasty in 1117 A.D. to commemorate a victory won over the Cholas at Talkad in 1116 A.D. It is dedicated to the deity Chenna Kesava. The temple stands in a spacious courtyard surrounded by a covered passage and compound with a gopura entrance. Later, other small temples were built in the courtyard around the main temple. The whole complex stands on a wide, raised star-shaped terrace with space enough for circumambulation. The star-shaped base has elephants in different poses adorning it The basement of the vimana is profusely carved with narrative friezes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavat Purana. The walls are covered with sculptures of miniature shrines, animated female figures and animals. The main entrances have a flight of steps from the courtyard and are flanked by two small vimanas. The ceiling and the pillars inside are elegantly carved. Bracket figures support the base of the ceiling: The superstructure on the main vimana is lost. Inside the sanctum sanctorum is the beautiful 2 meter high idol of Chenna Kesava.

The Ganga rulers whose kingdom included Mysore have left behind a group of stone Jain temples on the hills of Chandrigiri and Vindyagiri at Sravanabelgola in Hassan district of Karnataka. The most impressive of the monuments is the statue of Bahubali or Gomateswara, a Jain prince who after a victory in battle renounced worldly life for a life of meditation. Carved out of massive granite, the statue stands on the crest of the Vindyagiri hill. It was erected by Chamundaraya, a minister of the Ganga ruler, Rachamalla in 974-984 A.D. The statue is surrounded by a granite pillared cloister built by Gangaraja, a minister of the Hoysala ruler Vishnuvardhana.

Contact with Southeast Asia

 Since the time of Ashoka and the first Buddhist missions, there has been a close connection between India and Southeast Asia. It is possible that Indian influence there began before Ashoka, but the earliest records for Southeast Asian kingdoms come from the centuries after his reign and show a political, literate, and religious or philosophical culture already Indianized.

Following the Muslim conquest of northern India, Islam was also carried to insular South east Asia by converts among Indian traders. These and other aspects of Indian civilization were, however, over laid onto a well-developed preexisting base whose character was distinctly different.

Indian and Chinese influences have continued to operate on Southeast Asia up to the present. Only writing and various literary, artistic, political, and religious forms came in from India, Vietnam, and China. The social base and most other aspects of culture were less affected and indeed helped shape many aspects of the new culture.

Sailendra (meaning “Lord of the Mountain” in Sanskrit) was the name of an Indonesian dynasty, emerging in Central Java at the end of the eighth century. The name may have been associated with the volcanic mountains of Central Java. The name of the dynasty (Sailendra-vamsa) is first attested in the Candi Kalasan Inscription dated 778.

The Sailendra practiced intensive rice cultivation and had an administrative hierarchy which controlled the allocation of water for irrigation. The Sailendra dynasty held the concept of the “Dewa-Raja” (God-King), the belief that the King had divine power as a living god among his subjects.

Though their economy was based on rice cultivation, they had access to ports on the northern coast of Java and maintained commercial and marital ties with the Srivijaya kingdom in southern Sumatra. The Sailendra participated in the Spice Route trade between China and India, but their level of participation never rivaled that of Srivijaya. According to the traditional account, the Sailendra kingdom came to an abrupt end when a prince from the rival Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty, named Rakai Pikatan, displaced them in 832.

Rakai Pikatan, who was the crown prince of the Sanjaya Dynasty, married Pramodhawardhani, a daughter of Samaratunga, king of Sailendra.

The Sailendras were firm followers of Mahayana Buddhism and were credited for building several temples in Java.

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