The programme Ksetra Sampada or
regional heritage of the Indira Gandhi
National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA)
envisages studies of specific cultural
areas taking into account the process of
interlocking devotional, artistic, geographical and social aspects. One area
identified for such an integrated study was
Tanjavur in South India. In collaboration
with Ecole Francaise D'Extreme - Orient
(EFEO), Pondicherry, IGNCA launched a
comprehensive project to investigate the
multi-layered and multi-dimensional personality of the Brhadisvara temple at
Tanjavur. This in-depth study of the
identified area and monument resulted in
the publication of Tanjavur Brhadisvara: An
Architectural Study, by Pierre Pichard, in
One of the inter-related modules of
the project coordinated by Dr. R.
Nagaswamy, includes iconographical
study of sculptures, stone reliefs, bronze
images and mural paintings.
Accordingly, Dr. Francoise L'Hernault of
EFEO undertook the task of photo- documentation of the icons of the
Brhadisvara temple. She completed the
assignment in 1994, and based on nearly
600 photographs of the icons, she
prepared this monograph as a catalogue
for the identification of the iconographical
forms on the Brhadisvara temple.
This monograph is the second in the
series of studies of Brhadisvara
undertaken by the IGNCA. It sheds
illuminating light on the iconographical
forms of the two capital sites of the
Cholas, viz., Tanjavur and Gangat-kondacholapuram.
Dr. Francoise L'Hernault passed
away in 1999 at Pondicherry.
Dr. Lalit M. Gujral, M.A. (Delhi),
Ph.D. (London), historian-editor, had been
involved in the revision and rewriting of
the Imperial Gazetteers of India. He has had
long association with UNESCO and has
served as Education and Cultural
Counselor in the Consulate General of
India, New York. Dr. Gujral is the author
of many research papers. He is co-editor
of Ancient Cities, Sacred Skies: Cosmic
Geometries and City Planning in Ancient
India (2000). Presently, he has been
serving as Editor of one of the important
publication programmers of the IGNCA.
He has been responsible for the re-publication of the volumes of the Collected
Works of Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, as
also a very large number of volumes of
critical scholarship on different facets of
the Indian artistic traditions.
Sometime back, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) launched two projects under its programme of Kseira Sampada. These projects envisaged not only a set
of a specific place or a temple and its units, but its impact on culture of the people surrounding
it, the process of interlocking of the devotional, artistic, geographical, socio-political and
economic aspects of a particular centre. Two areas identified for such integrated studies
were Tanjavur in South and Vrindavana in North India. These in-depth and multidimensional studies of identified areas and monuments resulted in the publication of Tanjavur Brhadisoara:
An Architectural Study, by Pierre Pichard, in 1995; and Govindadeva: A Dialogue in Stone, edited
by Margaret Case, in 1996.
Concurrently, started as part of the programme on Chola architecture, undertaken some
years back by Ecole Francaise D'Extreme - Orient (EFEO), Pondicherry, the architectural study
of the Brhadisvara temple found a wider meaning in the comprehensive project launched
by Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, then Academic Director, at the IGNCA, to investigate the multi-
layered and multi-dimensional personality of the Brhadisvara temple. The temple at Tanjavur
is unanimously regarded as the greatest masterpiece of Chola architecture. The artistic
excellence of the temple lies in the perfect balance of the parts and the whole, the architecture,
sculpture, painting, the stone and bronze images, the idols Within, and reliefs without. The
temple was constructed roughly between AD. 995 and 1010 by King Rajaraja I, who ruled
from A.D. 985 to 1014.
The temple at Gangaikondacholapuram (henceforth designated as Gangai) was built
20 years later by Rajaraja's son King Rajendra L The latter in his endeavour to extend the
limits of his kingdom despatched an army on a daring raid to the north to the banks of
the river Ganga. He decided to construct a royal temple at the new capital some 60 kilometres
to the north-west of Tanjavur which was named Gangaikondacholapuram, 'the town of the
Chola who took the Ganga'. The temple at Gangai is closely related to the Brhadisvara temple
by its architectural composition and they both represent a pair in Chola architecture.
Coordinated by Dr. R. Nagaswamy, a standard code was devised so that all subsequent studies under the project would follow it. One of the inter-related modules of the project
includes iconographical study of sculpture, stone reliefs, bronze images and mural paintings.
Accordingly, Dr. Francoise L'Hernault of EFEO was entrusted with the task of photo
documentation of the icons of the Brhadisvara temple. She photographed each icon on each
face of the main temple tower and other shrines. She completed the assignment in 1994 and
based on nearly 600 photographs of the icons, she prepared a monograph indicating location
of these images as a catalogue for the identification of the iconographical forms on the
Brhadisvara temple. The monograph prepared by her sheds illuminating light on the
iconographical forms of the two capital sites of the Cholas-Tanjavur and Gangai.
Unfortunately, Dr. Francoise L'Hernault passed away in 1999, before her findings,
analyses and the beautiful photographs she took, could be published. It was decided to
publish her monograph after careful editing; the format, design, etc. are the same as that of its companion volume Tanjavur Brhadisoara: An Architectural Study.
We are grateful to Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, who conceived and directed execution of the
whole project; Dr. N.R. Shetty, Member Secretary, extended all encouragement for the
publication of this monograph; and Ms. Krishna Dutt, who had coordinated the entire project
with EFEO. Lastly, Mr. Vikas Arya, our co-publisher, is to be thanked for bringing out this
beautiful illustrated book.
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