Gangaikondacholapuram

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The Shiva Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram was built in the 11th century by Rajendra I, the son of Raja Raja (who built the big temple at Thanjavur).

From 1025 till the middle of the 13th century, Gangaikondacholapuram was the capital of the Cholas. This is hard to believe, as today is set in what is now countryside with only a small village nearby. It is a charming, well-maintained World Heritage site.

The tall (160 feet) and graceful tower (Vimana) dominates the view as you approach the temple. Once inside the inner court (the sole gopura is no longer standing), the first thing you see is the slightly incongruous rear view of a large Nandi (bull), made of stucco and facing the main shrine. Set in the lawns where once there would have been a huge courtyard there are other temples and shrines and a large figure of a lion guarding a well.

Of particular beauty are the many sculptures and bronzes within the temple and the sculpted friezes along the outer walls.

This is definitely on my shortlist of three favourite south Indian temples.