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In the ninth century, the Cholas regained power, when Vijayalaya established himself in the area round about Tanjavur. Aditya and Parantaka, the son and grandson of Vijayalaya, were great temple-builders. Parantaka was specially devoted to Siva at Chidambaram and covered the temple with gold. The widowed queen of the pious king, Gandaraditya, son of Parantaka, is one of the most important queens in Chola history for the generous tradition of building and endowing temples. The most imposing monu-ment of the Chola period is the Rajarajesvara temple at Tanjavur, also known as the Brihadisvara temple. Rajaraja was undoubtedly the greatest ruler in the Chola line, great in military triumph, in organisation of the empire, patron-age of art and literature, and in religious tolerance. In the twenty-fifth year of his reign, a great and magnificent temple of Siva, named after the king, Rajarajesvaramudayar, was completed. Rajaraja was so intensely devoted to Siva that he was known by the epithet Sivapadasekhara. His taste for art is reflected in the title Nit yavinoda. Rajaraja's glory was partially eclipsed by that of his greater son Rajendra, who was a remarkable military genius. Rajendra, on his return from a successful campaign in the Gangetic area, created a huge tank, symbolic of a liquid pillar of victory, in his own new capital, Gangaikondacholapuram, and a gigantic temple, resembling the Brihadisvara at Tanjavur, to celebrate his triumph and the bringing home of the Ganges water as the only tribute he sought from the vanquished sovereigns of the North.
Kulottunga II, the son of Vikramachola, made elaborate additions to the Chidambaram temple. This interest was sustained in the reign of his son Rajaraja H whose biruda, Rajagambhira, is recorded in the lovely rnandapa of the temple at Darasuram, built during his time. Kulottunga III was the last of the great Chola emperors to add to the Chola edifices, not only by building temples like the Kampaharesvara at Tribhuvanam, but also by renovations and additions as at Kanchi, Madurai, Chidambaram, Tiruvarur, Tiruvidaimarudur and Darasuram.
There are fragments of very early Chola paintings at Narthamalai, Malayadipatti and other places. However, it is the Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur that is a real great treasure-house of the art of the early Chola painter. The contemporary classics describe the glory of the paintings in the South by referring to chit ramandapas, chitrasalas, oviyanilayams in temples and palaces. The Paripadal men-tions the paintings on temple walls in the early Chola capital, Kaveripumpattinam. The actual remains of this period are, however, yet to be discovered. In the Vijayalayacholisvaram temple on the hill at Narthamalai, there are traces of paintings on the walls showing the dancing figure of Kali and Gandharvas on the ceiling of the antechamber.
S.K. Govindaswami's discovery of paintings in the dark circumambulatory passage around the central shrine in the Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur revealed a new phase of South Indian painting, a regular picture gallery of early Chola art. There are two layers, one of the Nayak period on top, which, wherever it has fallen, has revealed an earlier Chola one below, richly laden with painting.
The entire wall and the ceiling were originally deco-rated with exquisite paintings of the time of Rajaraja, but later renovation and additions made during the centuries account for additional layers that have covered up the earlier one. These Chola paintings that form an important link in the series help a better study of the earlier Pallava phase and the later Vijayanagara. The Chola paintings so far exposed are mainly on the western and northern walls. On the western side, the entire wall space consists of a huge panel with Siva as Yoga-Dakshinamurti, seated on a tiger-skin in a yogic pose, with the yogapatta or paryankabandha across his waist and right knee, calmly watching the dance of two apsaras. A dwarf gana and Vishnu play the drum and keep time, while other celestials in a row sound the drum, the hand drum and the cymbals, as they fly in the air, to approach this grand spectacle, which is witnessed by a few principal figures seated in the foreground. Saint Sundara and Cheraman are shown below hurrying thither on a horse and an elephant, respectively. A little away is a typical early Chola temple enshrining Nataraja with princely devotees seated in its vicinity.
Lower down is the narration of the story of Sundara, how Siva came in the guise of an old man, with a document, to prove his right and claim the beautiful bridegroom to take him away on the very day of his marriage to his abode at Tiruvennainallur. Below this is the scene of marriage festivity. On the wall beyond, there is a large figure of Nataraja, dancing in the hall at Chidambaram, with priests and devotees on one side and a prince, obviously Rajaraja and three of his queens, with a large retinue adoring the lord. Close by, on the walls opposite, are some charming miniature feminine figures. Beyond this, on the wall opposite the northern one, are five heads peeping out of a partially exposed Chola layer.
The whole space on the northern wall has for its theme the fight of Tripurantaka. The gigantic figure of Siva is on a chariot driven by Brahma. Tripurantaka is shown in the alidha pose of a warrior, with eight arms fully equipped with weapons, using his mighty bow to overcome the asuras, a host of whom the painter has depicted opposite Siva, with the fierce indomitable spirit clearly portrayed in their attitude, fierce eyes, flaming hair and upraised weapons, daunted by nothing, little caring for the fears or tears of their women as they cling to them in fear and despair. Less as aids and more as companions of Siva are shown Kartikeya on his peacock, Ganesa on his mouse and Kali, the war-goddess, on her lion. Nandi is shown complacently quiet in front of his chariot. This is a great masterpiece of Chola art. This figure of Tripurantaka in the alidha pose in the Pallava tradition is seated and is a remarkable specimen continuing the earlier mode.
The paintings in the Brihadisvara temple constitute the most valuable document on the state of the painter's art during the time of the early Cholas, all the grace of classical painting observed at Sittannavasa, Panamalai and Kanchipuram being continued in this fine series.
The Chola paintings reveal to us the life, the grandeur and the culture of the Chola times. The special stress on Nataraja in his sabha hall as a favourite deity of the Cholas and the military visions and ideals of the Cholas in general, and of Rajaraja in particular, are almost symbolically ex-pressed in the great masterpiece of Tripurantaka.
The colours are soft and subdued, the lines firm and sinewy, the expression true to life and, above all, there is an ease in the contours of these figures which have a charm of their own.
If expression is to be taken as the criterion by which a great painter has to be judged, it is here in abundance in these Chola paintings. The sentiment of heroism, virarasa, is clearly seen in Tripurantaka's face and form. The vigorous attitude of the Rakshasas determined to fight Siva and the wailing tear-stained faces of their women clinging to them in despair suggest an emotion of pity, karuna and raudra. Siva as Dakshinamurti seated calm and serene is a mirror of peace, santa. The hands in the vismaya of the dancer suggests the spirit of wonder, adbhuta; the grotesque dwarf ganas in funny attitudes playing the drum and keeping time represent hasya; the commingling of emotion is complete in the large Tripurantaka panel which is a jumble of vira, raudra and karuna.
Writer – C. Shivarammurti