UNESCO, or the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, is a system that protects our rich cultural and historical heritage while fostering peace around the world. This organization does all the measures to safeguard some of the world’s most priceless man-made masterpieces. In India, UNESCO has identified 29 world heritage sites, out of which four of them are in Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu – The Land of Rich Culture and Heritage
Tamil Nadu has a rich culture of ancient and modern times which makes this place a beautiful destination to experience and explore the heritage. The architectural diversity of the state is famous for the engineering wonders for their unique built. The monuments are the symbol of golden Dravidian culture.
UNESCO Heritage Sites in Tamil Nadu
The four heritage sites are generally categorized as two groups and out of them, the first three are called The Great Living Chola Temples collectively. And the remaining is known as the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram. Apart from these sites, the Western Ghats and Nilgiri’s mountain railways are also in the list.
History of the Great Living Chola Temples
The history is always enticing. It tells us about a bygone era’s culture, people, and traditions. For centuries, the Chola Empire dominated over the southern sides of the nation. They left us with a significant portion of history to relish by constructing some of the most spectacular temples of all time. The Chola Temples were built between the 11th and 12th centuries. The three temples were constructed by the Chola kingdome and are marked as Great Living Chola Temples in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. These include Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram, and the Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple at Jayankondam.
Brihadeeshwarar Temple – Thanjavur
Brihadeeswarar temple, also known as Peruvudaiyar Kovil or Tanjore Big Temple is famous around the world for its magnificent architecture. This large beautiful shrine will astound everyone. Brihadeeshwarar temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva that is located on the south bank of the Kaveri River in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India. King Raja Raja Cholan, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, constructed this temple with great passion and beautiful architectural style. Every corner and cranny of this massive temple glorifies the period of Raja Raja Chola.
The main deity was initially referred to as “Rajarajeshwar” but during the rule of the Marathas, the god was renamed as Brahadeswar or the Great Ishwara. According to the data, the main shrine was constructed entirely of granite stones. It is estimated that more than 130,000 tonnes of granite were used in the construction of this particular temple.
The Vimana, or main sanctum, is six floors tall and about 66 metres tall. And the main vimana is a hollow tower with a massive rock on top. Among Tamilnadu’s temples, Brahadeeswarar Temple is the only one with this type of building. The walls of the main sanctuary is constructed using interlocking bricks with no binding materials. Another incredible truth is that the shadow of the main sanctuary never falls on the ground, no matter what time of day it is. The beautiful murals on the walls of the Big Temple, as well as the countless inscriptions discovered around it, provide adequate testament to this reality.
Airavathesvara Temple – Darasuram
This Dravidian architectural temple is located in the town of Darasuram, a small village near Kumbakonam, Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu, South India. Airavatesvara Temple is a Hindu temple primarily devoted to Lord Shiva. This temple was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. This was built in the 12th century by Raja Raja Cholan II, is yet another feather in the Chola crown. This magnificent work of art has exquisite carvings, Chariot-shaped Mandapams, a large Vimana, and remarkable artworks.
This temple was named after Airavat, Lord Indra’s white elephant. It is to be believed that Lord Indra’s white elephant, Airavat, was cursed by Durvasa for offending him, causing the pure white elephant to lose his colour. Airavat was so disturbed that he prayed to Lord Shiva at this temple to restore his colour. When Lord Shiva heard his request, he invited the elephant to bathe in the temple tank, and to his surprise, he recovered his white colour and was free from the curse. This mythology is thought to have inspired the temple’s name, Airavatesvara Temple. This interesting narrative is engraved on stones inside the temple. The water tank is still there in the Airavatesvara Temple, and pilgrims believe that taking a holy plunge in its waters can wash them of their sins.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Brihadeeshwarar Temple – Jayankondam
Gangaikonda Cholapuram Brihadeeshwarar Temple is just the replica of Tanjore Big Temple. Rajendra Chola I (1014-44 CE), the son of the great Raja Raja Chola I, built the temple in 1035 AD. The magnificent enormous Nandhi is sculpted and positioned similarly to the Brahadeeswarar temple. Rajendra Cholan constructed this wonderful piece of art at his capital Gangaikonda Cholapuram after defeating the Ganga dynasty. The town of Gangaikonda Cholapuram is now located in Jayankondam, district of Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu, India.
This temple contains five shrines as well as a lion well, which was constructed during the nineteenth century. And more than 50 sculptures are surrounding the sanctum’s walls, the most famous of which are Nataraja, Saraswathi, and Lord Shiva which can be seen as garlanding a devotee.
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram, is famous for its beautiful beachfront and amazing rock carvings. It consists of religious monuments from the 7th and 8th centuries CE in the seaside resort town of Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, India. It is located on the Bay of Bengal’s Coromandel Coast, 60 kilometres south of Chennai. A visit to this magnificent location will revitalise all of your tired cells and infuse you with new vigour. This location is spotted with several outstanding artworks in every nook and corner.
Majority of the monuments in this area were constructed during the reign of King Narasimha Varman I. Many of them are monolithic which means carved out from a single piece of rock especially in granite. Mahabalipuram was known to ancient seafarers as the “Land of the Seven Pagodas.” The historic lighthouse of Mahabalipuram was constructed in 640 AD by Pallava ruler Mahendra Pallava. The Krishna Mandapam is one such surprise that draws the attention of every tourist. It is a cave temple dedicated to Lord Krishna that dates back to the mid-seventh century and is the biggest of Mahabalipuram’s rock-cut temples.
The Western Ghats of India, commonly known as the Sahyadri Mountains, have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are among the top ten “Hottest Biodiversity Hotspots in the World.” This is the oldest mountain range than the Himalayas and has thirty-nine properties were listed as heritage sites in 2012. Twenty of these are in the state of Kerala, ten locations are in Karnataka, five properties in Tamil Nadu, and four of them in Maharashtra.
Many unique types of flora and fauna can be seen in this mountain range. Tamilnadu’s Western Ghats include Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary, Srivilliputtur Wildlife Sanctuary, and Mukurthi National Park.
The Western Ghats mountains impact Indian monsoon weather patterns, which mediate the region’s mild tropical temperature, offering one of the greatest instances of the tropical monsoon system on the globe. The Ghats serve as an important barrier, intercepting the monsoon winds that blow in from the south-west in late July.
Nilgiri Mountain Railway
Nilgiri Mountain Railway is located in Tamil Nadu and it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a 1,000 mm gauge railway established in 1908 by the British and managed by the Southern Railway. This is one of the main attractions of the famous hill station Ooty. The breathtaking scenery that surrounds the trip is what makes it so unforgettable. A ride on this wonderful train will undoubtedly send shivers down your spine and will be one of the most memorable adventures of your life.
The only rack railway in India goes from Mettupalayam to Ooty, climbing 326 metres to 2203 metres in five hours. Traveling through the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a holiday itself, as the alluring long ride offers beautiful panoramic sights. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway embodies engineering wonders and evokes a nostalgic attraction to rail travel.