||Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu)
A MARVEL OF ARCHITECTURE
Temple is an architectural wonder and reflective of the artistic skills of
the erstwhile Chola rulers who ruled peninsular India in the early
medieval period. Built by the Chola king Rajaraja I in the 11th century,
it is one of the tallest temples in the world. It was so designed that the
vimana never casts a shadow at noon at any part of the year.
INDIAN TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE
Temple belongs to the south Indian style of temple architecture: The basic
structure of temples in India is a room or the Garbha Griha (sanctum
sanctorum) where the idol of the main deity is kept. The temple is
approached by a flight of steps and is often built on a platform. A porch
covers the entrance to the temples, which is supported by carved pillars.
A prominent roof called the shikhara surmounts the top of the Garbha Griha
and dominates the surroundings. Gradually, with the passage of time, small
temples grew into temple complexes.
architecture in India is broadly divided into the northern and southern
styles, classified by the form and shape of the shikhara and the
distinctiveness of its decoration. The shikhara of the temples in south
India tend to be made up of distinct horizontal levels that diminish to
form a rough pyramid. Each level is decorated with miniature temple
rooftops. Some south Indian temples also have tall shikharas over the
elaborate gateways or gopurams, to add to the overall symmetry to the
temple complex. The shikhara of the temples in north and central India, in
contrast, resembles an upturned cone that is decorated with miniature
temple has a tall sanctum tower (or the srivimana) and gopurams (elaborate
gateways), which conform to the principles of the south Indian temple
The origin of the
magnificent Brihadeeswarar temple goes back to the late 10th and the early
11th century, when Rajaraja Chola, the great Chola ruler, ruled a kingdom
that spread through a large part of peninsular India. Rajaraja Chola, like
other Chola rulers, was a great patron of art and architecture. During the
time of the Cholas, most of the magnificent temples as well as exquisite
bronze sculptures in south India were created. The style and grace of
these sculptures and temples, and an eye for the minutest of the details,
till today, is without parallel.
Sama Varma was the
chief architect of the Chola court and was commissioned by Rajaraja Chola
to build the House of God. Sama Varma began his work diligently and took
his work seriously. He began to design a structure, which was to stand on
a 29 m square base and rise up to a height of about 65 m. Like all other
Chola temples, the Brihadeeswarar temple is also a fully carved structure.
temple stands within a huge compound, the walls of which rise above 15 m.
Rajaraja Chola built only the inner sanctum sanctorum and the gopuram
(tower) on top of it over a period of 12 years. He crowned its glory with
12.5 feet tall finial of 9.25 kg of copper plated with 800 g of gold.
Subsequent rulers kept adding to the whole complex, but interestingly, one
will not find any of the additions jarring or out of step with the whole.
On entering the
temple complex, one will find himself in a huge rectangular enclosure
paved with stones. The corridor is at once peaceful and welcoming and,
unlike other temples, does not house shops. Moving ahead, one will find
the stone Nandi (a bull, the mount of Lord Shiva). Before entering the
sanctum sanctorum, one will come across two idols of the elephant-headed
god Ganesha in the corridor. Upon tapping the first, one will feel sound
traveling through stone, while in the other it feels as if sound is
traveling through metal.
architectural wonder is seen in the tower on the right. At the top, one
will find a huge dome or kalas, which makes the topmost tower. It is made
of black granite and estimated to weigh 80 tons. Besides, the vimana or
gopuram on which this dome rests is itself 216 feet high. It is a wonder
as to how such a heavy monolith was raised and finally placed on top! The
solution was ingenious. A long ramp, four miles long, was constructed from
the top of the tower—that is, from a height of 216 feet. The ramp ran all
the way to another village by the name of Sarapullam. The 80-ton dome was
rolled up along this ramp and placed where it stands today!
The lofty sanctum
tower or the srivimana is enclosed by a rectangular prakara or corridor
consisting of two squares. The main tower occupies the central part of the
rear square, with the central vimana or tower having 16 tiers all the way
up to its 200 feet height. The point where the tower is situated is
considered symbolic of Mt Meru, the center of the universe according to
On the inner wall
of the Garbha Griha or the sanctum sanctorum are sculpted 108 dance poses
or karmas performed by Lord Shiva himself. Many inscriptions give details
about contemporary times, while, according to some experts, the visual
imagery is reflective of the rites and rituals of Vedic times.
LEGEND OF BRIHADEESWARAR TEMPLE
Legend has it that
that the magnificent Nandi bull reclining on the stone plinth inside the
temple started growing every year after being installed there by Rajaraja
Chola. Finally, a nail was driven into the stone back of Nandi to stop it
from growing. Lending credibility to the story is the number of unfinished
nandis that dot the environs.
is well connected by air with Chennai (Madras), Tiruchirappalli (Trichi),
Madurai, and Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum). It is well connected by rail
with Tiruchirappalli, Madurai, and Chennai. It has good road connections
with important centers in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. There are
regular bus services for visiting all places of interest in and around
Thanjavur. Tourist taxis are available in Thanjavur and Tiruchirappalli.