The myth of 80 ton Cupola atop the 1000 year old big temple tower, Thanjavur!!

Granite tower. Thanjavur Big temple TN

Brihadeeswarar Temple thanjavur. TN

The huge Big temple  - Brihadeeswar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is an architectural beauty of world class and is an important UNESCO Heritage Monument Site located in Thanjavur city, Tamil Nadu.   Built by the famous Chola king Sri Rajaraja I 1000 plus years ago., it is the only temple with a 216 foot tall tower in the world  entirely  made of hard rocks - granite and its related Igneous rocks of Archean group (3 billion plus years old).   Though  constructed between the year AD 985 and 1014, the work was over around  1010 AD. 

Big temple tower with space inside

Size of Nandi atop the tower,

The tall tower had a huge,  beautifully carved  dome  with symmetrical images on all four sides, weighing about   80 tons. In addition to it, there are 4 pairs of huge stone Nandis (bulls), facing different directions at all four corners. The various carved images and the Nandis  on all four sides are mirror images of those on the other sides. They have perfect size, shape and symmetry. This great feat,  plus the placing of  so huge a dome atop  a 200 feet tall rock tower, that too 1000 years ago will baffle our imagination and the visitors to this wonderful historical site are literally awe-struck.

How is it  possible to roll a heavy  huge dome like rock mass  up to the top? How is it possible to defy the forces of angular momentum at  higher elevations? Considering the temple's antiquity, lack of modern  building technology and the heavy rock mass, that ought to be pushed slowly up to the top,
it is nothing but a Sisyphean task, that can never be completed.

Thanjavur big temple dome atop thre tower.

Sisyphean” task,

 01. It was suggested a long,  wide well compacted inclined ramp made of mud, lime etc., stretching as far as roughly one and half kilometer  (some historians suggest  the inclined road stretchered more than 4 km) from the top of the tower / Shikara  to the ground  was built and the rock  was slowly pushed up hill with the help of elephants.

Thanjavur big temple, TN /

02. The dome is not a monolith structure and has four parts of similar sizes,  and each piece weighing 20 tons was taken to the top one by one  along the inclined  low angled ramp. Then,  they were put together evenly on the top of the tower that has a wide base for the artisans to work on the sculptures and the erection of 4 pairs of Nandis.
Thanjavur Big temple, 80 tone dome atop the tower.

03. The second explanation is fairly tenable. However, it is still difficult to take a huge stone on a long inclined plane to such a dizzy height. My assumption is each one of the four parts of the dome, as suggested before, was taken to the top one by one, not through  a long continuous ramp, but through a serious of about 12 to 14 well compacted wide low angled ramps and successive flat platforms  for a particular distance each at a higher elevation. For example if the first platform is at an height of 15 to 18 feet with a ramp,  connecting it from the ground level, the second ramp will be 15 to 18 feet from the first platform with connecting ramp from 15 to 18 feet level. With a series of flat long platforms of different  and corresponding ramps, the task of rolling up a huge rock stone up with the help of elephants will be easier. On the flat long platforms at different elevations, rolling the rock mass forward with the help of tuskers, using rounded logs underneath is much easier. On the inclined plane the force of friction on the floor has to be over come. Using rounded logs of wood underneath,  the huge rock slabs would  cut down the frictional forces, thus easing the forward mobility. It requires 3 to four elephants to push a 20 tone rock mass upward on a low inclined plane or ramp.

As for the tower,  on  four sides extremely strong scaffolding were erected with wider platforms for the artisans to carve the delicate images. The skilled workers might have used specially tempered sharp chisels for various tasks based on sketched models. Because, unlike marble or any other soft rocks, carving delicate sculptures in granite stones requires very high standard of skills and patience.  Once the task is over, the height of scaffolding was raised to work at the next level and so on.

 Thus the builders used 1000 plus trained elephants and a few thousand horses for moving the construction materials to the site. The great ruler Sri Rajarajan took  pretty long period to finish the temple work, and the thousands of workers had to work long hours from dawn to dusk. 

 This 1000 year old monument of artistic beauty and grandeur stands as a good example of man's imagination, fantasy and his ability to achieve it despite odds. The ruler was simply driven by passion, commitment and above all devotion to God, the almighty.