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Indian Monuments

Brihadeeswarar Temple

 

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FACTS & FIGURES

Built in : AD 1010
Built by : Rajaraja Chola
Location : Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu)

A MARVEL OF ARCHITECTURE

Brihadeeswarar 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.

SOUTH INDIAN TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE

The Brihadeeswarar 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.

Temple 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 conical shikharas.

The Brihadeeswarar temple has a tall sanctum tower (or the srivimana) and gopurams (elaborate gateways), which conform to the principles of the south Indian temple architecture.

BRIHADEESWARAR 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.

Brihadeeswarar 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.

Another 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 TOWERS

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 India mythology.

THE GARBHA GRIHA

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.

THE 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.

HOW TO REACH

Thanjavur (Tanjore) 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.

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Alchi Charminar Chittaurgarh Fort Jantar Mantar Adlaj Vav
Red Fort Khirki Masjid Churches of Goa Ferozshah Kotla Karla Caves
Agra-fort Bandore Fort City Palace Jaipur Begampuri Masjid Kalinjar Fort
Hawa Mahal Cellular-Jail Meenakshi Temple City Palace Udaipur Fatehpur Sikri
Bijai-Mandal Fort George The Dilwara Temples Bhojeshwar-Temple Mysore Palace
Ellora caves Flora Fountain Chennakeshava Temple Rashtrapati Bhavan Karkala Temple
Akbar-Tomb Qutab Minar Brihadeeswarar-Temple Konark Sun Temple Bada-imambada
Golconda-Fort Amber Palace Palitana Jain Temples Indian Museum Kolkata Victoria Memorial
Ajanta Caves Humayuns Tomb Monolith of Gommateshwara

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