The Chola fresco paintings discovered in 1931 by Mr.S.K.Govindasamy of Annamalai University within the circumambulatory corridor Aradhana Mandapam of Rajarajeeswaram are of great interest. They are the first Chola specimens discovered. The passage of the corridor is dark and the enthusiast finds the walls on either side covered with two layers of paintings from floor to ceiling.
The important point to be noted is the technology used in the painting. A smooth batter of limestone mixture is applied over the stones, which will take 2 to 3 days for setting. Within that short span, such large paintings were painted with natural colors like fruit and vegetable juices.
During the Nayak period the chola paintings were over painted by the Nayaks. These have certain labels in Telugu characters mentioned the names of Sevappa and Achyutappa and others.
The Chola frescos lying underneath have an ardent spirit of saivism is expressed in them. They probably synchronised with the completion of the temple by Rajaraja Cholan the Great.
In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise, according to Dr. R. Kalaikovan of the Rajamanickanar Centre for Historical Studies . The upper layer of the Nayak paintings had actually protected the Chola frescoes underneath from further damage.
The Archeological Survey of India has, for the first time in the world, used its unique de-stucco process and restored 16 Nayak paintings, which were superimposed on 1000-year-old Chola frescoes at the Big Temple Thanjavur. More details can be found here.
The Indra Gandhi National Centre for Arts holds an impressive image gallery of the Rajarajeeswaram (Big Temple) murals.
More details on the nature of the images can be found here and a photographer’s plight and glory when he photographed these great paintings can be found here.