Symbolism of the Cosmos Under the Cholas, it attained a remarkable
balance in plan, design and elevation, as in the royal temples at Tanjavur and
Gangaikondacholapuram, with the addition of large pillared halls in a single
alignment. Enclosed by a courtyard (prakara) with entrance gateways
(gopuras) at the cardinal points, it obtained subsidiary shrines in the
courtyard for the lesser gods and guardian deities positioned at various points
as per canonical requirements. Two of these subsidiary shrines significantly
housed the Tamil deity Murugan, which the brahminical pantheon admitted
as a member of Shiva’s family, and goddess Parvati or Uma, who in each
centre, took the place of the local mother goddess incorporated into Puranic
pantheon. The whole complex of shrines followed closely the symbolism of
the cosmos/territory.
Reflection of Socio-Political Dominance and Stratification The temple’s
subsequent extension horizontally into a huge complex of structures in the
late Chola and post-Chola periods, with several pillared halls and additional
enclosures with towering gateways indicates a further elaboration of the
temple’s role in incorporating various levels of society, that is, different
socio-economic groups, in a complex of relationships through the temple’s
rituals and activities—a relationship which reflects socio-political dominance
and stratification. At the apex of this society stood the royal family, as the
authors and patrons of the temple, who were invariably associated with the
main structures like the shrines (vimanas) and gateways (gopuras). Royalty
was followed by the ritually pure brahmin priests performing worship, an
administrative elite, dominant agrarian and mercantile groups involved in
temple administration and the hierarchy ended up with the lower categories
of agricultural worker, craftsmen and menials in the temple service.
Evolution of Iconography The evolution of iconography follows a similar
pattern in the ideological expressions of the ruling families and their brahmin
ideologues. Starting from the rich Puranic themes in the large scale narrative
panels of the Pallava period, comparable to those of the Deccan under the
Chalukyas of Badami and Rashtrakutas of Manyaketa, the iconographic
content moves on from a narrative to a predominantly iconic representation in
Chola temples. Images in stone     and bronze received special attention from