Brihadeshwara temple, Thanjavur - interesting facts about the ''Four huge stone bulls'' atop the shikara

A World Heritage site known for its marvelous engineering dynamics  and profusion of  inspiring stone sculptures of all sizes , the Brihadeeswara temple (dedicated to God Shiva) is one of the popular Shiva temples in this country. Shrouded in numerous myths and mysteries, the entire temple is made of oldest granite related rocks (of  Archaean group) - about  130000 tons -  in a delta region of Tamil Nadu with no hard rock outcrops. The builder used 1000 plus trained elephants and equal number of  horses to move the blocks of granite from quarries 40 to 50 km to the construction site. That the  entire tower/ shikara (height 216 ft) with a wide base rests on a plain ground with minimum foundation work is an amazing feat. To reduce the load and  downward force exerted by weight,  inter-locking system was followed placing rock blocks in succession atop the others in a cascading manner, thus narrowing at upper levels. No binding material was used. The inner core of this temple above the sanctum is hollow.

Cupola atop the tower , Big temple,

Built 1010 CE by the great Chola king Rajarajan I (reign: c. 985 – c. 1014 CE),  this temple is known for the second largest monolithic stone bull (nandi) weighing 20 tons  and also one of the largest monolithic Shiva lingam  measuring  8.7 m (29 ft) in height in this country.   This temple is also  famous for 81 of the 108 dance karanas – postures of Natya Sastra  (the upper story corridor wall of the aditala) dating back to 11th century. This text is believed to be the  the basis of the Bharathanatyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu. Also there are  27 unrepresented and uncarved  karanas in this temple. 

Above the lower  and upper tower comprising 13  stories (talas)  lies sri-vimana .  A  single massive monolith  square block of granite  (width 25 ft.) weighing  60 tons is laid right above the sanctum far below  upon which lies  20 ton huge ornate Cupola ( Amalaka) atop the gopuram (tower).

Cupola atop the granite platform above the sanctum, Big temple,

Nandi  in the prakara. a comparison.Thanjavur big temple

This post is about the  four pairs of Nandis - stone bulls on the platform atop the  shikara - tower of the big templeThe word “Nandi” is of Sanskrit origin meaning  ''Happy, Joyous or Happy Person''.

 The following are the interesting facts of four pairs of stone bulls (nandi) on the tower Shikara:

01. Atop the vimana, at each of its  four  corners stands a pair of  nandi facing outwardly and there are four pairs  (a total of eight bulls), each Nandi pair is  about 1.98 meters (6 ft 6 in) by 1.68 meters (5 ft 6 in) in dimension.

02. It is often said that space around the cupola is   wide enough for a small truck  to go round the dome.

03. Above the center of this massive granite block rises the griva, gavasca,  shikhara and the finial (stupi).  This stupa is 12.5 ft in height, and was originally covered with gold (no longer) !!.  Each story of this tower is decorated with kutas and salas.

04. The  Nandis  atop the tower are similar in size and weight as that of the one in the prakara on the  ground floor. 

05. It is obvious tall stone nandis  are huge. The puzzle is how did the builders set them at corners roughly 200 ft above the ground at a dizzy height of 200ft.  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  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 or receptacles of required  dimensions with a depth of roughly 3to 4 inches were  made at four corners by gentle chiseling. Later they were set in them safely in  respective  depressions  on the tower floor and the small gaps were tightly packed with broken rock pieces using lime mortar.

06  The nandis  have  similar posture  and are  mirror images of the other, symmetrically placed at  four  corners. Even their protruding alert ears are similar and carved with perfection 

07. In sitting posture as stone bulls in the prakara down below  each nandi in the pair  is facing the respective directions with a  gentle  tilt near the neck just  away from each other's face.

08. You can hardly see a  stone nandi in a Shiva temple without ornaments. A closer look will reveal the pairs of Nadis on the tower wear garlands of  bells around the neck. They are perfectly carved, the bells are visible  at a distance

09. In all Shiva temples   Shiva's mount nandi also acts a guard or gate-keepr protecting the premises. Here at this temple the assumption has  been that  nandis on the shikara  are guarding the temple  and the surrounding place In a way they are sentinels atop the tower

10. As to the question when the nandis on the Shikara  were made, it is likely that they were set on the square platform only  after   completion of carving work  on the  huge cupola - bulbous  dome was over. 
Thanjavur temple.

Thanjavur big temple hollow core of the

Above images: Right above the garbhagriha - sanctum, see  the hollow space. This is the secret  to reduce the weight of this massive tower that stands on  light foundation.   The ''shrinking squares tower architecture'' of this temple is in contrast to the tower at the Chola temple at Gangaikonda  Cholapuram (Arialur district)  which is curvilinear............................ 

Brihadeeswarar temple,  cupola on the granite slab. Thanjavur, TN.