Chola Fresco : The Art of Chola dynasty

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The period of the imperial Cholas (c. 850 CE – 1250 CE) was an age of continuous improvement and refinement of Dravidian art and architecture. They utilised their prodigious wealth earned through their extensive conquests in building long-lasting stone temples and exquisite bronze sculptures.

Chola Fresco

In 1931, Chola frescoes were discovered within the circumambulatory corridor of the Brihadisvara Temple, by S.K.Govindasamy, a professor at the Annamalai University, these are the first Chola paintings discovered. The passage of the corridor is dark and the walls on either side are covered with two layers of paintings from floor to ceiling. Researchers have discovered the technique used in these frescoes. A smooth batter of limestone mixture is applied over the stones, which took two to three days to set. Within that short span, such large paintings were painted with natural organic pigments. During the Nayak period, the Chola paintings were painted over, the Chola frescos lying underneath have an ardent spirit of saivism expressed in them. They probably synchronised with the completion of the temple by Rajaraja Chola.

Brihadisvara temple, also known as Rajarajeswaram or Peruvudaiyar Kovil, is located in Thanjavur (formerly Tanjore), in the southern part of India. Dedicated to Lord Shiva and considered as one of the greatest glories of India, this temple reflects the power of its creator, Raja Raja Chola I (985-1014), the greatest of the Chola Monarchs, who built it between 1003 and 1010. The temple can be approached from the eastern side through two gateways (gopuras). The exterior is decorated with hundreds of painted sculptures and the interior has a massive statue of Nandi Bull (the mount of Lord Shiva), a shrine with octagonal dome known as Chandeshvara, a columned hall, a towered sanctuary and other small shrines. On the walls of the sanctuary are well carved figures of Shiva and other gods (lingams), but also frescoes portraying the mythological episodes of the journey of Sundarar and the Chera King to heaven, the battle scene of Tripurantaka (Lord Shiva) with Asuras (demons).

One of the legacies of the Chola dynasty that can still be seen today is their art and architecture in the form of Chola frescoes. The Chola kings are known to have built many temples in the territories that they ruled. As an example, the Brihadisvara Temple in Tanjore / Thanjavur was built during the reign of Rajaraja I, and has been said to be the “greatest achievement of the Chola architects”.

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