Fourteen myths of 1000 year old ''Big temple'' of Thanjavur, India

Hollow core in the tower . Thanjavur Big temple. Quora

 Thanjavur Brihadeeswar (Perudiyar) temple, Tamil nadu,

Thanjavur big temple, India

big temple,  Thanjavur  openings for cannons - outer wall.

The  Brihadeeswar Temple (Circa 1000 CE; Tamil:  Peruvudaiyar kovil), is one of India's most astonishing architectural achievements, a UNESCO heritage monument built 1000 plus years ago, at a time when science and engineering knowledge  was poorly developed. Located in the city of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, perhaps, it is one a few Hindu  temples surrounded by fortified walls dotted with spaces to mount cannons (in case of war) and a big moat around it for protection from the enemy. The moat is a dry one  and there are plans to repair it and fill it with water!!  

ornate tower above sanctum, Thanjavur big temple

one of tallest lingam. Thanjavur big temple 

ornate pillars. Thanjavur big temple

covered outer prakara, Thanjavur big temple, 

The fortification was done in the 18th century; in 1777 the French colonial forces  added  gun-holes  on the outer boundary walls of the temple with the temple serving as an arsenal. This temple of great beauty, it is believed, is the world's first "complete granite temple"  built during the heyday of the rich, pious Hindu rulers of Tamil region - Cholas. The temple,  also called  Rajarajeswaram,  was built by the great Chola ruler Sri RajaRaja Cholan I in  1010 AD. The temple's foundations were first laid  in 1002 CE. The architect and engineer of the temple was one "Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Rama Perunthachan."   Besides Karoor Thevar, a Siddha Prusha and Guru to the king, Raja Raja Chola is also said to have brought  four aghori (a Shiva-worshipping cult known for extreme rituals) pundits from Kashi (Varanasi) to erect the Brihadeeswara  Temple at Thanjavur under their guidance in 1010 AD (vide:

The 'Vimana' - or the temple tower made of just hard rock - 216 ft (66 m) high  is among the tallest of its kind in the world.  The main Vimana (Shikhara) is a massive 16 -story tower of which 13 are tapering squares. It dominates the main quadrangle. and sits above a 30.18 metres (99.0 ft) sided square. The tower is  articulated in detail with Pilaster, piers (a raised structure), and attached columns which are placed rhythmically covering every surface of the vimana. An axial and symmetrical geometry rules the temple layout that includes sanctum or Srikovil or Garbhagriha (facing East direction), shrines around it and the Prakararas. The cosmic energy of this temple flows down from the top of the Vimana or dome and falls within the boundaries  of the pyramidal layout, center point being atop the dome  or cupola right above the main deity Shiva Linga in the sanctum. The temple is an embodiment of Dravidian style of temple architecture and culture, besides ancient Tamil and religious tradition was followed by the Tamil people and the rulers. The unfortunate raids by Muslim Sultans of  Madurai and Hindu kings who controlled Thanjavur in the  later part of 14th century caused damages to the temple. However, the later Hindu rulers repaired the damages  and periodically maintained it as per Hindu Sastras.
The temple complex has 3  entrance  gates  the first being  a small and simple gate called Maratha gate, built by the Marathas at a later period. It is  followed by two Chola era gates with tall gopuras that carry numerous beautiful sculptures, the walls have  beautiful carvings of episodes from the great epics.  depicting stories from the epics. Though incomplete one see fine depiction of various  karanas of Natyashastra in the form of carvings -  a  great Chola  on the corridor walls in the first floor.

The huge temple has a wide open court yard/prakara from every corner you can enjoy the full view of the tall tower (one of tallest in south India).  The  courtyard is surrounded by a prakara or wall, and the attached (to the wall) is a pillared cloister that holds murtis of Nagadevtas, and 108 Shivlingas. 

Thanjavur big temple. 2nd gate Dwarapalas.

Above image:  Thanjavur big temple: front of second gate. Among the fine and  exquisite Chola era stone sculptures, one see the depiction of God's gate-keepers or sentinels - Dwarapalas.   Here huge dwarapalas with their famous tarjani (warning) and vismaya (wonder) mudras will attract the visitors. 

Thanjavur big temple, TN. stone inscriptions.

Above image: Tamil Inscriptions in Thanjavur  Brihadeeshwara Temple written 1000 years ago. It also has  Sanskrit inscriptions from the 11th century. The largest collection of  stone inscriptions in a temple in India. 

1010 CE Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple, Narasimha.

Above : Narasimha avatar of  God Vishnu killing the demon Hiranyakashpu who persecutes people for their religious beliefs.

The following are the answers to the various prevailing myths that need further research:

Myth 01. The temple tower, etc.,   is not made of hard rocks:

The entire tall tower (Gopuram), which is about 216 feet from the ground to the top, is not made of ordinary stone, but of granite and granite related rocks. The oldest rocks, geologically speaking, belong to the Archaean group of rocks, roughly three billion years old and have been in existence since the formation of the Earth (roughly equal to the Canadian Shield of similar age and rock aggregates)

Myth 02: Rocks used in the big temple were locally mined:

The granite stones  used in the big temple are not in situ rocks - rocks available here. As a matter of fact, the entire Delta districts of Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapatnam (once they formed the composite district of Tanjore or Thanjavur) do not have any  outcrops of hard rocks such as granite or Diorite and other related rocks. The delta region has a network of various rivers that drain into the Bay of Bengal

Myth 03: Did the rocks come from far of places?

Granite used by the Chola ruler were mined most probably near   Thiruverambur or elsewhere in Tiruchirappalli district about to 40 to 50 km km west of Thanjavur. Some historians say the other possible destination was Perambalur.

Myth 04:  If rocks were not available locally, how did the builders bring the huge granite blocks of different sizes from other far off places 1000 years ago?

Big temple, Thanjavur. Hard rocks with holes for splitting.

Hard rocks of different sizes were mined and sized according to requirements by partly using controlled explosions and transported to the temple sites,  using trained elephants.  The other explanation is that sizing was done by drilling holes with chisel, putting holes  into them and then pouring water into them. It is explained that after some time the rock block breaks. This method suggested here is 'rock weathering'  caused by alternating freezing and thawing of water  and  is not  tenable here. 

Myth 05 How could they size thousands of tons of rocks with this conventional method ?  

More than 130,000 tons of granite were used to build the temple, a stupendous task that may give a spin in our head!!. Huge strong cylindrical or rounded  logs of woods were used underneath the massive rock blocks that were pulled with sturdy tuskers. Or the rulers  might have specially made sturdy load-bearing carts to be pushed (from the rear) and pulled by tuskers (in front).

Building of Thanjavur big temple. Transportation of rock blocks.

 Hollow tower above sanctum, Brahadeshwar temple,Thanjavur.

Thanjavur Big templespace inside narrowing upward

The corridor in big temple -

Myth 06: What about mode of transportation?

The ingenious designers and builders, in all probability,  might have laid a wide, strong extremely well compacted (metaled?) all-weather roads that could withstand frequent transportation of heavy granite blocks. They laid the road all the way up to the construction site of the temple. They might have used lots of elephants, sturdy bulls and horses for transportation of heavy rocks. That how did the builders transport the heavy rock blocks across many small streams  and nallas on the way  to the site is a riddle.

Myth 07: The entire tower structure is solid and is made of granite of different sizes with a broad base.

The entire tower right from the foundation to the top is not at all solid as many think of. Surprisingly, inside the tower, it is hollow just  an empty space. The secret here is  semi interlocking beautifully carved stones  laid successively inwardly in a cascading style from the base, thus narrowing towards the top. The builder used specially  well-ground lime-sand mortar, etc to bind the rock stones. Some argue no binding material is used. This kind of design enables shifting of weight of the overlying rocks away from the center. The hollow space inside the tower and the gradual narrowing  tower at upper levels  reduce the downward  overloading forces.

Myth 08: Is the dome atop the tall  temple tower  made of one  huge block of rock?

The Big Temple Dome. bulls  at (four) corners Tanjore,

Big temple, thanjavur, Nandi atpo the tower.

That, the dome or Cupola atop the tower is monolithic,  is not true. Considering its weight, whopping  80 tons and the carved features, etc, it is impossible to take the huge stone atop the shikhara that is about 200 feet tall through an inclined ramp because of the force of variable angular momentum. It is likely  the cupola is made of 4 pieces or parts and each one was taken to the top of the  shikhara  one by one through a series of ramps and platforms of increasing height and they were  put together carefully atop the tower in such a way that the joints are  intact and not visible. 

Myth 09: What about a pair of Nandis (bulls) on the four corners of tower close the  dome?

If you take a look at the Nandis and also the artistically carved images, etc, they are all quite symmetrical with minute detailsAs for Nandis, they are fairly big (refer to the images above) and mirror images of the other. It is presumed, these bulls were carved on the ground, then taken to the top of the tower and were given finishing touches. Nandis being fairly big they have to remain stable on the flat floor near the dome at a great height. The assumption is for all eight stone images of Nandis, eight pits of required  dimensions with a depth of roughly 2 to 3 inches were  made at four corners by gentle chiseling. Later they were set in them safely in the respective  depressions  on the tower floor and the small gaps were tightly packed with broken rock pieces using lime mortar.

Myth 10: The stone carving of a European head with a  hat on the northern side of the temple tower near the eastern corner roughly 60 to 70 feet from the ground level!!

Big temple, European head  on the tower?

The European stone image in the old temple positively implies the visit of a foreigner to this place 1000 years ago. In the records there is no mention of any foreigner, visiting during the Chola reign, particularly, when the big temple building work was on. A simple guess is it could be a Christian missionary from the neighboring region of the Malabar coast of present day Kerala. It was here Apostle St. Thomas built seven and half churches after his arrival here in the 2nd century AD.  Later he began his travel across India to spread the Gospel of Christ. Perhaps, the European head, could be modeled after one of the missionaries who were the followers of Catholic mission established by St. Thomas.  The followers of St. Thomas, on missionary works, frequented places in Kanyakumari district in the southern tip of the Indian Peninsula. Perhaps, a few of them might have visited this part of Tamil region for spreading Christianity among the natives. Though the image looks like Chinese, exact ethnicity is not known. The British never wear bowling hat.  The other alternative is Danes with whom later rulers like Nayaks had trade deals. The European figure could be a Dane incorporated during the Nayak rule.

Myth 11: The huge sacred bull, Nandi,  Easwara's mount is not carved out of one huge stone.  

Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar Temple Big Nandi Mantap.

Monolithic Nandi, Bull Big temple.Thanajavur,

The huge  bull (Nandi), measuring about 16 feet long and 13 feet high  made of granite stone, is monolithic and is not made of different parts.  It is a tradition to place the Nandi in front of the main shrine, facing the presiding deity, Lord Shiva - huge lingam, measuring 3.7m tall. It is the largest stone bull, next to the big one in Veerabhadra temple  at  Lepakshi, in  Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh, India, 15 km (9.3 mi) east of Hindupur. The Nandi mandap was built by later Nayak  and Maratha rulers. About the growth of this bull  to a large size due to the presence of a live toad inside it is more of a conjecture than a scientific fact.

Myth 12: How did the builders bring the huge rock block from a far off place?

As mentioned earlier, the required  stone of particular size was mined from the granite quarry, most probably near the road side, using chisels and controlled explosions with the help of some kind of gun powder. Then it was  mounted on a huge sturdy cart drawn by one or a pair of elephants. At the construction site, the  Nandi was sculptured by expert sculptors,  using several chisels for delicate artistic work. If you look at the  young bull in the front, you can notice how carefully and in a realistic manner, the skilled workers chiseled the teeth and the series of small bells round the bull's neck.

Myth 13: Is it true that the temple tower does not cast a shadow on the ground?

The temple tower does throw the shadow on the ground, but it creates the impression that it is not. The reason being the cascading style of placing the successive layers of rock stones round the tower. The shadow of the top  structures, falls on the flat part of  next ones  downward  in succession  as a result it creates an illusion  that the temple tower does not cast shadows during the sunrise and sundown. 

Myth 14:  Are there Nandis on the top of the boundary wall?

 The temple complex integrates a large pillared and covered veranda (prakara) in its spacious courtyard, with a perimeter of about 450 metres (1,480 ft) for circumlocution (Prathakshana path).  On top of the tall walls inner boundary, there are 1008 small stone bull statues (nandis) of equal size all around. Why did the builder come up with so many Nandis of equal size? A viable answer is not available. It is a time-consuming work  to carve out such a large number  of  stone  Nandis  and set them on the  walls.