The mystery of European head on the tower of Big temple, Thanjavur.

1010 AD old Thanjavur big temple, a foreigner with a European hatYouTube.

 Big temple Thanjavur, Europen head.

The big temple, also known as Brihedeeshwara Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is a  UNESCO world heritage site. Located in Thanjavur city, Tamil Nadu, once  a Chola seat of power, this awe-inspiring temple was built by the great Chola ruler Raja Rajan I in 1010 AD. The number of visitors to this huge temple is on the increase  day by day because it surpasses other Indian temples when it comes to its  architectural excellence, intricate stone images and sculptures of exceptional  workmanship, superb technical expertise, planning and execution and above all its hidden mysteries that will challenge the inquisitive minds!! To put it in a nut-shell, it it is just mind-boggling. That how could an ancient ruler achieve this great engineering marvel 1000 years ago when there was no such a thing called ''technology", is a riddle.

Thanjavur big temple, TN

This unique Shiva temple has several hidden mysteries that remain unanswered. Among them, we are concerned here with a simple mystery, it is not a complicated one that might need a lot of scrutiny. It is about the image of a foreigner with western clothing and a hat, unusual in a Tamil country and does not fit in that period of construction!! The image is close to bust size with  big ears and a bit popped eyes and is some of an anachronism in a Chola temple of great antiquity.

There are different versions as to the origin of this foreign figure on the Vimana's north side. From the way the image is portrayed, it is obvious, the man is not positively a tall figure, may be of medium height vaguely resembling  Chinese. His moustache, eye brows and lack of thin  Chinese beard appear to be non-Chinese features. So, it is difficult to figure out his ethnicity. The foreigner's image is in the middle of the Vimana along with three other human figures. You can view it very well  by standing close to the Arthanareeswara shrine on the north prakara. The figure with a Bowler's hat  attracts our attention.

European head marked out. Big

One plausible explanation for the foreign figure  close to Chinese is that  the Cholas excelled in foreign trade and maritime activity, extending their influence overseas to China and Southeast Asia. In the 9th century South India, particularly the Cholas  had extensive maritime and commercial contacts  with the Chinese and Arabs. Historical records point out the Tang dynasty of China, the Srivijaya empire in the Malayan archipelago under the Sailendras, and the Abbasid Kalifat at Baghdad were the main trading partners with Cholas. So, it is obvious the foreign figure in the middle of Indian stone images on the north tower could be a Chinese, implying the builder's close contact with Chinese traders.  This is an assumption. But, his hat on the head is an odd one, never worn by the Chinese. Their hat is something like a cone with wide base and no brim. Not  like Spanish Sombrero  either with a  flat brim all round and a cone in the center.
Spanish Sombrero with flat brim

Chinese hat

Was this European figure  carved during the Martha rule especially Raja Serfoji who is believed to have renovated the big temple  during hie reign?  Fr. Schwartz  was the one who helped Serfoji get back his kingdom from his uncle with help from the British.  This figure does not look like Fr. Schwartz, an Angelo Saxon Christian missionary settled in Thanjavur at that time.  Did Raja Serfoji add Fr. Schwartz' figure on the north tower to honor him? if it were so,  the European figure would have worn Christian father's regalia! Again, the hat  is against this theory.

Thanjavur city

The mason in charge of the construction  one Soma Varma from Kanchipuram had four figures carved - the images of a Chola ruler, a Nayak, a Maratta and a European to show the prospective line succession of rulers of Chola Desam. There is a likelihood the later Nayak rulers added European figures along with certain Vaishnavite figures on the Vimana of big temple. During the civil woks, the Nayak rulers were assisted by Danes whom they allowed to have a trading post at Tharangampadi in Nagapatnam District. The European figure was added before or after the acquisition of Tharangampadi (Tranquebar) in 1620 AD. Hemingway, historian thinks that the European head was that of Dane  Roeland Crape, a pioneering personality in Dutch industry in this country. 
Crushable bowler hat

Yet another version is the European figure is that of the great Venetian traveler Marco Polo who passed through South India on his way back home 1288-93 AD. Later rulers might have added the image of Marco Polo.  The Bowler's hat on the European suggests that it was not that of any Englishman, for Englishman used to wear different types of hat, not the one portrayed in the stone image.

Based on the facial features  in the image portrayed on the Vimana at the Big temple, besides the style of hat worn on the head, there is every possibility that the European was a Dane carved on the tower / gopuram during the reign of the Nayaks of Thanjavur. This is the closest possible assumption one can make.