Tanjore was the former capital of the mighty Chola empire, with the greatest Chola emperor, Raja Raja (985-1014), responsible for the construction of the Brihadishwara temple. Around the walls of the temple’s courtyard are beautiful paintings of Shiva, Parvati and their two sons.
The temple is part of a group of three temples that have UNESCO World Heritage Site status, with a 65 metre tall vimana (tower) capped by a block of granite weighing 80 tons.
Here we saw the south’s second largest Nandi, the bull used as transport around the universe by Shiva
& 108 small ones around the temple walls.
The Old Palace, constructed by both the Nayaks and the Marathas, has a Durbar hall and surrounding courtyards,
and houses the Raja Raja museum, art gallery (lots of bronze statues & a whale bone) & the Saraswati Library Museum which had an unusual mix of pictures, scrolls of the epic Hindu stories, Chinese torture drawings (very scary), maps & books from around the world.
We saw how bronze sculptures are cast in a local family house, before driving across the eastern Cauvery River delta to the country of the Chettinads, a wealthy merchant class who are now spread worldwide.
In Trichy, we glimpsed the Rock Fort and visited the temple island of Srirangam.
Trichy was ruled by the Pallavas, Pandyas and then Cholas in the 10th century. The city really came into prominence under the Nayaks from Madurai, who built the fort and the town. The Carnatic Wars were fought here in the 18th century, when power struggles ensued between the British and French. When the railways were built in 1862, Trichy became an important junction in the south.
Srirangam is a temple town built on an island in the Cauvery River and dates from the 14th to 17th centuries. It’s surrounded by seven concentric walled courtyards with 21 gopurams (pyramidal gateway towers). Inside is the Sri Ranganathasvami Temple which is one of the largest temples in India dedicated to Vishnu, and its features include some very finely carved equestrian statues dating from the Nayak period in a former stables,
the Hall of 1,000 Pillars (actually 960) decorated with symbols of Vishnu & a shrine dedicated to Garuda, the mythical eagle and transport of Vishnu. We had a great view of the temple from the roof!