The Great Living Chola Temples are three granite temples dedicated to Shiva, that show the progressive development of Chola architecture and art. They illustrate the Chola civilization between the 10th and 13th centuries, which succeeded the Pallavan dynasty (that was responsible for Mahabalipuram) in South India.
The three included temples are:
Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur: the earliest and most representative monument. Built 1003-1010, during the reign of king Rajaraja, the founder of the Chola Empire which stretched out over South India and the neighbouring islands. And the temples of Gangai kondachola puram and Darasuram, built by his successors and following the main characteristics of the one in Thanjavur
Their layout is different from other South Indian temples, as the Vimana (sanctuary) is the highest point of the complex, not the Gopuram (gates). The tall Vimanas with many tiers as the core feature of the temples and the elaborate sculpted decoration represent the divinities and mythological figures related to the Tamil beliefs.
The Great Living Chola Temples were built during the Chola rule in the south of India. Those temples include the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. UNESCO designated the Brihadisvara Temple a World Heritage Site in 1987; the Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram had been added as extensions to the Great Living Chola Temples World Heritage Site in 2004.
Rajendra Chola I, Rajaraja Chola I’s son, conducted his father’s military campaigns, expanding the empire throughout the Indian Ocean. To commemorate his victories, Rajendra Chola I built a new capital city in Gangaikonda Cholapuram. With the creation of the new capital city, Thanjavur declined while Gangaikonda Cholapuram ascended. Rajendra Chola I created formidable fortifications, designed the roads and city gates as well as the layout of the city. He constructed a Royal Palace and the magnificent Temple of Gangaikondacholisvara.