Brihadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur, TN - grants made by king Raja Raja and other interesting facts!!

stolen idols of Raja Raja and his consort 60 years ago returned in Mar. 2018

Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur, TN

entrance towers, Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur.

The Big temple at Thanjavur where the presiding deity Shiva is referred to as Brihadeeswara or Perudiyar in Tamil is known for its  architectural grandeur and beauty.  This temple and the ones at Darasuram (Airavateswarar temple) near Kumbakonam and at Gangaikonda Cholapuram (Brihadeeswara temple, a replica of big temple) in Ariyalur district are called Living Chola Monuments recognized by the UNESCO (in 2004) as World heritage sites.  The temple occupies an area measuring about seven-hundred and fifty feet by four hundred feet, in a fort that forms the outer boundary wall, surrounded by a moat. Built on a land comprising 27 acres of land, this temple and its structures  equate  their  close link with  the cosmos. Surprisingly, it had survived more than 8 earthquakes   (magnitude of 5 on Richter scale).  In the words of distinguished late historian K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, “a masterpiece constituting the high-water mark of south Indian architecture”. 

Feb 5, 2020 Consecration Big temple, thanjavur.

The builder Raja Raja Chola (his real name is Arulmozhivarman) never failed to record all valuables and properties  he donated to this shrine for daily pujas, upkeep and regular maintenance.  Epigraphist Kudavayil Balasubramanian  

big temple, Thanjavur.

has done en elaborate  research work and in his book  “Rajarajecharam” he has given details of donations to the temple by the ruler King Raja Raja I  based on  temple  inscriptions recording the royal grants. The ruler's munificence is just amazing and his  contributions  appear to be a lengthy one worthy of his devotion, valor and his  well-planed administrative ability.  His records frozen in stone inscriptions were made for posterity, nay for eternity. Being a pious Hindu and devotee of God Shiva Sri Raja Raja made grants to safeguard the temple's future and continuation of regular puja protocols.

The following are some interesting facts about this historical Shiva temple of Thanjavur: 

01. Giving due importance to other grants  to the temple and deities, he recorded the donations in terms of jewels, properties, etc given by his  ministers  and close relatives. 

02. The  60.40 meter tower/ gopuram  above the sancntum, it is recorded, once was covered in gold rakes shimmering  in sunlight. A great tribute to the ruler and the affluence of the Chola dynasty; a symbol of  socio-cultural supremacy.

03. Emperor Rajaraja also  donated a golden Sri Bali Devar icon, golden Sri Bali Thalam and  a lotus shaped vessel. In the following year  he offered a golden Kshetra Bala Devar icon. nicely decorated Kendi (cup like vessel with a spout), a Vattil (plate to hold sacred offering) and  thattam (salver). 

04. He gave way  golden  kalasa (pot)  to cover the cupola /dome   atop the tower, and  Padikkam, Kurumadal (vessel to hold sacred ash), all in gold.

05. On the occasion of  his 25th regal year, the ruler had offered 3,083 “balam’’ copper and 2,926 and half “kazhanju’’ gold for making  a gold raked copper sheath for the Sri Vimanam of the Big Temple. A kazhanju is equal to 1.77 gm today.  The unfortunate thing is no solid evidence or any record is available as to the  period of disappearance of  the gold raked sheath. 

06. It had been  a tradition for Emperor Raja Raja to donate to the temple after each victory in the war.  Three years after the consecration of this temple,  the king offered a big perforated plate for Dhaarabishekam, Thirumudi, Poonin Kodi, Kalasapaanai and other divine insignia, again all in gold. 

07. After  his decisive victory over the Chera and Pandya, and later the Western Chalukya king Satyashrayan,  rulers, Raja Raja Chola  granted a lot of golden articles and ornaments,  20 golden flowers and a splendid lotus made of the same metal.  The total weight was around  87.593 kg.

08. King Raja Raja  donated as many as 30  golden ornaments studded with 277 corals, 173 diamonds and 19,613 pearls;  total  weight 887 kazhanju.  The other items included  a golden Veerapattam and Thirupattiagai to the Lord,  two ornate jewels with 435 corals, 27 diamonds and 30 crystals, in all weighing 6.802 kg. 

09. Inscriptions record a big list. Besides above in the same year  Raja Raja Chola  offered 53 sacred ornaments in gold weighing 3.901 kg  95.277 kg silver vessels and valuables for the service of the Lord. That was aside of the 23 copper icons and two silver Vasudeva idols that he installed at the temple. The contributions seem endless.

10. The ruler's sagacity comes to the fore  when he followed a set of rules to be followed to manage the temple affairs. Those who had properties, etc.,  had the right to manage by way of forming a committee and any loss of jewels, etc had to be compensated collectively by the governing members  roughly 118. 

11. The priceless ancient bronze icons of Raja Raja Chola I and his royal consort Lokamadevi stolen from the temple over half a century back  and  finally   came back  only in 2018. The Idol Wing police led by Pon Manikkavel IPS an eminent police chief,  achieved a big breakthrough  in Feb 2018 with the recovery of the rare early 11th century Panchaloha idols of Periyaperumal (Raja Raja I), Logamadeviyar (the queen of Raja Raja I) worth Rs 150 crore from the Calico Museum, Sarabhai Foundation, Ahmedabad. The idols had been stolen 60 years ago from the Thanjavur Big Temple by professional idol thieves. .

12. The ordinary  statue of Emperor Raja Raja is in a poorly kept park just across west end of  the old hospital road close to the Big temple. The statue is not a majestic one worth his name and  I wish they had made a marble or bronze statue in proper proportion for public display.  The ASI never allowed  installation of the statue on the temple premises, as it might affect its heritage value.  Fifty years ago, the State witnessed a controversy over the installation of the statue of Raja Raja Chola I.

13. It was in late 1940s during the Raj , the temple became a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). But, the Central government was firm that nothing should be done to disturb the original character of the temple. Fourteen years later, in September 1984, in connection with the 1000th anniversary celebration of Raja Raja’s accession to the throne, the AIADMK Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran revived the demand by appealing to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to grant permission to the State government for the installation of a statue of the  Chola builder inside the temple. However, an ordinary statue of King Raja Raja came up  in the park later. 

14. Many politicians and political leaders, including  those with rational outlook, are afraid to visit the temple through the main gates. The reason being, if they do so they may lose their power and the  post after their visit to this famed temple. Some politicians did enter the temple not through the main gates, but through the passage on the north  side close to the Sivagangai garden. They  feel there is a jinx on this temple when it comes to politicians and this misconception and unknown fear  dogging them irrespective of their parties. 

15. In the early part of 14th century the notorious Malik Kaufer, military commander of Alauddin Khilji, who had already plundered Madurai and the temples there,  raided this place and brought it under the newly formed Madurai Sultanate.

16.The shrines on the temple premises were added in the later period. Jadavarma Sundara Pandyan in the 13th century built the Amman shrine (Periyanayaki, lord's consort), Sevappa Nayaka in the 16th century added Nataraja and Subramanya shrines and Serfoji II in the 18th and early 19th century built the Ganesha shrine. As for the Nandi Mantap, it was built during the Nayak rule.

17. It was in July 1939, the  so called Harijans were  allowed to enter the temple here.   Madurai advocate Vaidyanatha Aiyar and others, for the first time in Tamil Nadu  led a group of Harijans into the Madurai Meenakshi temple with ample support from Sri Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar, a patriot and an associate of Nataji Bose.

Feb 2020 consecration, Sri Brihadeeswara temple,Thanjavur,TN

Countless people are of the view that instead of focusing on the language of worship in the temple, it will be useful if scholars pay more attention to the  design and wonderful architecture of this temple that is designed more than 1000 years ago to withstand heavy tremors.  Both Tamil and Sanskrit languages were used during the recent Kumbabishekam and also in the past. What irked the public was the small fringe Tamil national parties went to the extend of staying the consecration ceremony in the middle.

The recent learned judges of Madras High Court, Madurai branch observed by quoting  late President  Dr S Radhakrishnan’s ''The Hindu View of Life: “To many, Hinduism seems to be a name without any content. Is it a museum of beliefs, a medley of rites, or a mere map, a geographical expression?’’ (p.11) Rejecting the petitions, it said: “If the petitioners’ request for a restrained order is accepted, it will only result in the Hinduism becoming mere museum of beliefs.”