Big temple, Thanjavur lost its wealth including gold plated sheet on the gopura - due to man's greed!!

1010 CE Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple, TN,

Any person visiting the Thanjavur Sri Brihadeeshwara temple will be awe-struck by the  beauty and aura of the temple. Yet another remarkable fact is you look like a dwarf before the temple and you can not escape from the fact that you  feel evoked by utter humility standing right before the massive structure whose majesty and imposing style will  overwhelm you. 

What was  once called Rajarajeswaram, none of the Indian temples can surpass the beauty, grandeur and splendor of Sri Brihadeeswarar temple of Thnajavur, Tamil Nadu. It showcases the ingenuity of its architect and the sheer determination  of a great Shiva devotee king Sri Raja Raja I of Chola Dynasty. 

In my opinion not  much publicity is given to this  fascinating Shiva temple as it is given to monuments like the Taj Mahal or  those at Fatehpur Sikri near Delhi. The crux of the problem is most of the foreign visitors  come to  places like Delhi and its surrounding areas, Calcutta and Bombay. And if they do visit Chennai, TN, they skip Thanjavur which is farther down south.  Considering its antiquity - more than 1000 years old, there is no denying of the fact that  architecturally and  structurally the  212 foot tall Big temple, made entirely of  well-dressed and artistically carved granite  stones stands apart among the most impressive monuments across the globe.

The Hindu  article dated 07 march 2018 , no doubt, described this grand old temple as ''a veritable treasure trove''. It was once upon a time a rich temple, now its properties, valuable jewelry, etc., are things  of  the past and the temple is now  as barren as the Gobi desert in terms of its rich wealth.  What had happened to its vast wealth?  It was man's greed that gobbled up everything for when the need multiples manifold, it becomes greed   as the wise saying goes' ''Greed is like a filling a cup with a hole at  the bottom, it will never fill up.'' This temple is a victim of man's voracious greed for money and gold.

greedy man.

Roughly  five decades ago when two priceless 11th century bronze idols of King Raja Raja and his consort Lokamadevi disappeared from the temple without any traces,  an air of gloom descended on this town. The question every devotee asked was: How did the theft occur in a famous temple at Thanjavur? The news that the idols of the builder of the popular temple and his queen were stolen was quite disgusting and it angered the people. FIR was filed immediately on the theft.  In the next five  decades the police made a vein attempt to retrieve the stole idols, not to speak of tailing its routes. Only in 2018 under the able leadership of DIG Pon Manikkavel, an upright police officer, the two idols of Raja Raja and his consort were recovered from the Calico Mills Museum, Ahmedabad. The theft prompted a large section of the people to know about the quantity and nature of wealth this temple once had during the heyday of the Chola dynasty. 

The Hindu newspaper article cited that this magnificent temple  tower  rising to a height of   60.40 meter  was once completely covered with  gold plates glistening   in sunlight  proudly displaying  the region’s socio-cultural supremacy and opulence. This was the scenario when emperor Raja Raja Chola I consecrated  the temple with the help of Siddhar Karoor Thevar and  patronized  “Rajarajecharam” as it was known  during his reign.  

tallest Shiva Linga, Big temple, Thanjavur

.20 ton cupola on a 60 ton granite plat form.Big temple. TN

 Above image: The 7.7 m square granite block weighs around 60 tons. Cupola weighing 20 tons lies on it. The cupola is right above the sanctum - garbagriha...............

 stone bull (Nandi), Big temple

Thanjavur big temple, TN commonswikipedia org.

Apart from being a good temple builder and  contributor of vast grants to the big temple, no more instance perhaps of Raja Raja's  sagacity can be proved than his unerring choice of choosing the right persons for the jobs. From the inscriptions we understand the ruler listed the qualification for temple administrators. The  officials are supposed to have adequate land, properties and must have a host of relatives. They were to be elected by 118 local bodies and any loss in the matter of temple must be compensated by the  people’s collective. It meant the council members as a whole would be accountable. This system seemed to have been in force for a long time time. When it ceased to exist no information is available. 

A detailed study of the stone inscriptions  on the temple premises  in which  the history of the temple is carved  for eternity revealed  that this temple was once a storehouse of treasures - the valuables such as  gold, etc.,  landed properties were contributions to the temple  from his relatives and ministers. It shows their devotion and dedication to God Shiva.

Man's greed working overtime.

From the following we can understand how rich was the Big temple and the munificence of the king (vide: the inscriptions):


Thanjavur big temple, stone inscription.

.Thanjavur big temple, stone inscription.

01. Raja Raja during his 25th reign  had  donated  3,083 “balam’’ copper and 2,926 and half “kazhanju’’ (equal to 1.77 gm) gold for making  a gold raked copper sheath for the Sri Vimanam of the Big Temple. What had happened to the  gold raked sheath  and the vast properties associated with the temple. It is shrouded in mystery, something like great magician and escape artist  Harry Houdini's illusion. No credible source to get to the bottom of the disappeared treasures and  vast revenue lands because nobody knows when they disappeared and how they got lost. 

02.The ruler  as part of his personal contribution gifted  a golden Sri Bali Devar icon, golden Sri Bali Thalam, a lotus shaped vessel, and in the following year donated a golden Kshetra Bala Devar icon

03. In  the same year, Sri Raja raja donated   an artistic Kendi (cup like vessel with a spout), a Vattil (plate to hold sacred offering), thattam (salver), kalasam (cupola above sanctum sanctorum), Padikkam, Kurumadal (vessel to hold sacred ash), all in gold. What had happened to all these items? A long rambling story of  outright cheating on the most sacred and sanctified temple premises. 

04. Not quite contended with the above gifts,  few years later king  made the following offerings  a big perforated plate for Dhaarabishekam, Thirumudi, Poonin Kodi, Kalasapaanai and other divine insignia, again all in gold. 

05. After  his victory over Pandya (Tamil Nadu) and Chera kings (present Kerala)  Raja Raja granted a lot of golden articles and ornaments.

06. When he became victorious after the war with the Western Chalukya king Satyashrayan (Karnatka), the Chola emperor offered 20 golden flowers and a splendid lotus made of the same metal. They all weighed 87.593 kg.

07.  Other inscriptions reveal that Raja Raja  he had offered a bunch of 30 ornaments made of gold and studded with 277 corals, 173 diamonds and 19,613 pearls, totally weighing 887 kazhanju.

08.  He again donated  a golden Veerapattam and Thirupattiagai to the Lord. The two ornate jewels were embellished with 435 corals, 27 diamonds and 30 crystals, in all weighing 6.802 kg. 

09. His contribution in the same year included  53 sacred ornaments in gold weighing 3.901 kg.

10. For the puja purpose, etc  the king donated  95.277 kg silver vessels and valuables for the service of the Lord besides  23 copper icons and two silver Vasudeva idols that he installed at the temple. The list goes on ad infinitum

well-researched book “Rajarajecharam” by  one Kudavayil Balasubramanian who studied the stone inscriptions in depth has recorded all the royal grants .