The Imperial Chola rulers of Tanjore developed the Dravidian style of temple architecture almost to perfection. Their works taken up on a stupendous scale include irrigation schemes, embankment of artificial lakes, dams across the Kaveri and well planned cities. A special feature of the Chola architecture is the purity of artistic tradition. The two magnificent temples at Tanjore and Gangaikonda Cholapuram in Tiruchirapalli District built in early 11th century A.D. show the best of Chola art.
The Brihadeswara or Rajarajeswara Temple of Shiva in Tanjore built by Rajaraja Chola in 1010 A.D. is the largest and highest of Chola temples and stands as a symbol of Chola greatness. Constructed in granite, the main structure of the temple has a square base about 53 metres high and its lofty shikhara of thirteen successive storeys is 57.7 metres high. A huge stone dome nearly 8 metres high and weighing about 81 tons crowns the shikhara. The temple from the top of the base is covered with exquisite sculptures and mouldings. The plinth is covered with inscriptions in Tamil. The niches on three sides of the main shrine contain idols of various gods and goddesses. The gopuram on the entrance gates are decorated with beautiful sculptures. The temple stands in a spacious enclosed courtyard and pavilion with one of the largest monolithic Nandis (6 metres long, 2.6 metres broad and 307 metres high) in South India, a large assembly hall and a pillared portico.
The walls of the passage around the sanctum are covered with panels of exquisite paintings which though faint with time show vivid expression – a marked feature the classical painting of the Cholas. The hundred and eight dance poses of Shiva carved on the inner walls of this temple testify to the heights attained by the Cholas in the field of sculpture. An imposing structure the temple is the finest creation of Chola craftsmen.
Nataraja , 11th Century Bronze, Tanjore
The temple Shiva at Gangaikonda Cholapuram built by Rajendra 1 Chola (1018 to 1033 A.D.) is another line piece of temple architecture. Massive grandeur and huge structures decorated with minute sculptures are characteristics of Chola art. A new development was the addition of a gateway or gopuram to the walled enclosure of the temple.
Another achievement of th4e Cholas is the plastic art of Chola bronzes. Exquisite idols of Hindu gods and goddesses exhibit the superb workmanship of the craftsmen. The most famous of these is the figure of Nataraja or dancing Shiva portraying the Cosmic dance of Shiva.