Gangaikondacholapuram (got that?) is a small town southwest of Chidambaram. From the road outside of town, the temple's tower is already visible, rising above the treetops. Before noticing that you have passed through a bit of the village of Gangaikondacholapuram, you come upon the temple itself, inside a walled area and surrounded by a park of soft, green grass and colorful bushes. There are relatively few visitors here and the Brihadishwara Temple ground is a beautiful, calm and refreshing place to wander around in, especially when the weather is sunny and clear (as we suppose it always is). It is a temple, so you have to leave your shoes outside (We once more left ours in the car, in order to avoid paying someone to watch over them.) and walking around barefoot in the grass is a pleasure (especially after some of the dubiously clean temple floors we've been walking on).

Gangakondacholapuram Gangakondacholapuram
Arriving at Gangaikondacholapuram The Brihadishwara Temple and Nandi
Nandi and lion Guardian
Nandi (bull) and Simha-Kinaru (lion) One of the guardians at the temple gate

There is quite a lovely plaster statue of Nandi (Shiva's bull mount) and another of a lion in the grounds before the temple. The temple itself is still used and our guide, Raja, took us in and showed us around. We walked past the temple guardians and through the long mandapa (pillared hall), admiring some nice sculptures of gods and goddesses along the way. At the garbagriha, Raja convinced the Brahmin priest to turn on a light so we could see the lingam. On the way out, we met a friendly Indian couple and their child who were happy to be photographed once we got out into the sunlight again.

Entrance Indian family
Mandapa entrance with guardian
Indian family we met inside the temple
North entrance
Wall of the mandapa and tower Vimana
Androgynous Shiva Vishnu
Ardhanarishvara - composite
androgynous figure of
Shiva and Parvati
Statue of Vishnu

The beautiful vimana of the temple is pyramidal and rises to a height of 55 meters, Around its base are niches with various statues of Shiva, Parvati and even Vishnu, though this is a temple dedicated to Shiva. Near the north entrance is a particularly beautiful relief of Shiva and Parvati putting a garland around the neck of the saint Chandesha. The saint is sometimes supposed also to represent Rajendrah I, the 11th-century Chola leader who conquered land as far north as the Ganges and brought back water from the sacred river, giving his capital city its name which means "town of the Chola who took the Ganges": Gangaikondacholapuram. Simple, isn't it?

North entrance Shiva and Parvati and Chandesha
North entrance with guardians,
tourist and guide
Statue of Shiva and Parvati putting
a garland on the Saint Chandesha

It was so pretty and pleasant we didn't want to leave. But hunger beckoned -- and the temple closed for lunch. On the way to our lunch spot, we stopped for a moment in a nearby town to admire the large market. We devoured a delicious buffet lunch in a lovely spot, the Paradise Inn, outside of Kumbakonam.

Market Banana wallah
Market We got some bananas -- delicious!
Chilis Dried fish
Chilis! Dried fish
Alligator Paradise Inn
Alligator on river bank After lunch at the Paradise Inn

After lunch, we went on the nearby village of Darasuram.

There's a great site about Gangaikondacholapuram here.

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