Brihadeshwara Temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

The Brihandeswara Temple, is located located in the city of Thanjavur, in Tamil Nadu. The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, is known in many names like, the Peruvudaiyar Kovil and Raja Rajeswara Temple. The temple is noted as one of the largest in whole India, and is also considered as a prized monument of the country. The temple was built in the year 1010, by Raja Raja Chola I. The temple is an interesting example of Tamil architecture in the time of Chola dynasty. In the year 2010, the temple turned 1000 years old. The temple has been included as World heritage Site by UNESCO, in the list of Great Living Chola temples.

The temple is surrounded with walls that are considered to be built in the late 16th century. The vimanam of the temple is constructed at a height of 216 ft, and is considered as one of tallest temples built in the Chola dynasty. The apex of the temple; the Kumbham, is believed to be carved out from a single rock and weighs about 80 tons. At the entrance of the temple, there is a big statue of Nandi, which is also believed to be carved out from a single rock, standing at a height of 13 feet, and is about 16 feet long. The temple is fully made out of granite. The temple has been recorded as the most visited tourist centre in the Thanjavur city and also the Tamil Nadu state.

The temple was built by Rajaraja Chola I, also known as Arulmozhivarman, a Tamil Emperor to beautify the Chola kingdom, based on the command given to him in his dream. The temple is considered to be one of the first building projects in the Tamil Chola kingdom. The foundation of the temple was laid during 1002 CE. The temples which were built during this period, represented the art, culture and power of the Chola kings.

As an action to display the power of the emperor and his connection to the universe, the temple was the main stage for royal ceremonies, like anointing of the emperor; bathing the emperor in milk and perfumed oils, and establishing a link between the deity and the emperor. The daily rituals performed on the deity was same as to the rituals performed to the emperor. The temple shows out pure form of Dravidian architecture, which represents the ideology of Chola Empire and the Tamil civilization. The temple is considered as one of the most brilliant achievements of Chola dynasty, which shows the beauty of its architecture, paintings, sculpture and also metal castings.

According to the inscriptions found in the temple, the main architecture of the temple was Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan.  The engineering of the temple, was done according to the rules given in the Vaastu Shastras and Agamas.  The Brihadeswara Temple is the first temple to be fully constructed in granite, and its construction took about 5 years to complete.

The base of the temple is 5 meters in height, and above the base there are stone deities which represents, the dance of Shiva. The vimanam of the temple weighs about 81.2 tons, and it was constructed by joining 8 pieces. The main deity of the temple is about 3.7 metre in height. The wall located outside the upper storey of the temple consists of carvings of 108 Bharathanatyam postures. It is believed that, the shrine of the goddess was established in the temple later by the Pandyas, during the early 13th century. The shrine of Subhramaniya, was established in the temple by the Vijayanagara rulers and the shrine Vinayaka, was placed in the temple by the Maratha rulers, during the time of temple renovation.

The temple is situated in the banks of an artificial river, which was constructed around the outer wall of the temple complex, to make it look like a fortress. One can enter into the temple complex through two ways. One of them is through a large gopuram, which is five storeyed. And the second entry is through a direct a smaller gopuram which leads directly to the main quadrangle. The gopuram which is constructed at the main entrance is about 30 metre in height. It is to be noted that, the gopuram is smaller compared to the vimanam, and it is very unusual in the Dravidian architecture, the gopurams which are considered to be main towers be smaller than the vimanam.

The main temple is surrounded by walls, enclosing it in a rectangular box and marking the outer boundary. The inner mandapa of the temple is the most special part of the sanctum. The inner mandapa is surrounded by walls and is divided into different levels with the help of sculptors and pilasters. The inner most art of the temple contains the principle deity of the sanctuary sanctum, the Lord Shiva.  The deity of lord Shiva is in the form of a huge Shiva Lingha, built out of stone. Only the priests in the temple are allowed to enter the inner most chamber. The entrance to the inner camber is highly decorated with different carvings.  The royal bathing hall is situated to the east of Irumudi Soran hall; this is the place where the emperor, Rajaraja used to give gifts. Through the inner mandapa one can reach the rectangular mandapa.

The main deity of the temple is Lord Shiva. Almost all the deity’s, mainly the one which is located in the outer wall are huge in size. The niches of the outer walls contains huge deities of Dakshinamurthy, Chandra and Surya. One of the another specialties which makes the temple unique is that, it has the idol of Ashta- dikapaalakas; the gurdians of directions, which includes, Agni, Varuna, Isana, Indra, Yama, Nirrti, Vayu and Kubera. Each of these seven directions, are represented inside the temple, separately in different shrines, and each is of about 6 feet in height. Each of the statues are placed in their respective direction.

The wall around the sanctum sanctorum is decorated with the carvings of Shiva destroying demons and performing his spiritual dance. There are also carvings of Iravatam on the walls. According to the findings made in the year 1940, these carvings represents the journey of saint Sundarar and the Chera King to heaven. The battle scenes in the wall are believed to represent the battle scene of Lord shiva with the demons. At a separate pavilion near to th temple, there are 400 year old paintings kept for display.  The Archaeological Survey of India, restored about 16 Nayakas paintings, which were found superimposed on the Chola frescoes, which are about 1000 years old.

The nearest airport o the temple is located about 65 km away at Trichy. The most affordable way to reach the temple is through train. The city of Thanjavur has its own railway station, and trains to here are available from all the major railway station in the state. The roads of the temple are well connected with all the major cities in the state, to the cities in Kerala, like Kochi and Trivandrum, and also to Bangalore in Karnataka.