Often referred to as the Big Temple, the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur (or Tanjore) is known for brilliant architecture, its opulence, its ornate carvings, and also for its magnificent dome which is carved from a single stone. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple has many attractions and a must visit if you love ancient architecture.
WORDS BY: SANGEETA S
BRIHADISHVARA Temple is one of the largest temples in South Indian. Built by Raja Raja Chola I, the temple is located in Thanjavur city, Tamil Nadu. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this Hindu temple was built between 1003 and 1010 AD and is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2010, when the temple completed 1000 years, the state government organized many cultural events to mark the occasion.
This 1000 year old structure stands testimony to the glory of the Chola Kingdom. The ornate and beautifully crafted structure symbolises their wealth and artistic proficiency. The technology used to construct the temple some 1000 years back speaks a lot about the advanced knowledge and technology used at that time and also remains a mystery to many belonging to modern times. As per the inscriptions in the temple, Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan was the chief architect of the temple. The temple was built on the principles of Vaastu.
The majestic Nandi at the entrance looks absolutely wonderful and you will marvel at the architecture of the temple. It is notable to know that it has been carved out of a single stone and weights approximately 20 tons. The Kumbam i.e. the structure on the top is also carved out of single stone and weighs around 80 tons. It remains a mystery how an 80 ton stone was placed at the top of the temple. The Lingam inside the temple is around 3.7 meters tall and the vimanam which is the temple tower, is the tallest in the world.
The Lingam is located in Garbhagriha and is said to generate electromagnetic energy. The 80 ton stone at the top acts as a repulsive force and helps channel the energy into the inner areas thereby maintaining divinity which gives both physical and mental peace to devotees. Apart from the main temple, there are many small shrines too which look equally beautiful.
Another amazing feature of the temple is its underground passages. The temple has more than 100 underground passages which includes some secret passages as well. These passages lead to other temples and places. Many of these passages are closed for public viewing as there are chances of people getting lost as it gets almost impossible to come back to starting point once you enter the passage. It is believed that the passages were used by kings and queens to visit different places and temples, especially during festivals.
The walls of the main temple and other shrines have many carvings and paintings; they cover the entire wall. The paintings still look fresh and natural, adding to the overall mystery. Painters and art aficionados worldwide are still trying to figure out the secret behind these paintings as even after hundreds of years, these paintings look so new. It seems the use of natural products like herbs, flower petals, leaves, neem etc. were used to make colours and textures for the paintings. The paintings depict many tales about the Chola Dynasty and about Raja Raja Chola especially how the King respected Hindu sages.
This magnificent structure is made of granite and the temple is built by interlocking stones, not by binding them. The movement of heavy granite is not an easy job and more so, moving more than 130,000 tons of granite that was used to build this temple still remains a mystery.
The heavy granite slabs were brought from a distance. It is believed that over 1000 elephants and over 5000 horses were used for the construction and movement of these granites. Also, it is a difficult task to carve granite and it is a mystery how it was done in those days without any specialized equipment.
If you wish to experience the wonderful lighting of the temple, then do visit the temple in the evening when the temple is lit up. The light over the dome at the top looks like another glowing planet and this sight is worth experiencing. The temple is an architectural wonder and should be in your must see list to understand our past glory. The best time to visit this place would be between March and October when the weather is a little cool. Otherwise it can get very hot and one may not be able to explore the place to one’s expectations. Since the place is huge and if you wish to explore the surroundings as well, it is advisable to keep 2-4 hours for your visit.
You can also visit the temple during festivals. Many festivals are celebrated in the temple like Natyanjali, Pongal, Shivrathri, Navrathri etc. But if you wish to avoid crowd, it is advisable not to visit during festivals.
If you visit this city, apart from visiting the magnificent Brihadishwara Temple, you must look for the world famous Thanjavur paintings. It is a South Indian style painting which originated from this city. The paintings look exotic and rich with the use bright colours, gold foils, beads, stones and gems. The beautiful and bright paintings generally have Hindu Gods and Goddesses as subjects. These colourful art pieces are worth taking back as souvenirs.