''Brihadeeswara temple'', Thanjavur - impact of ''Ponniyin Selvan'' on the temple and the gripping historical facts

 A couple of days ago I went past the Big temple, Thanjavur   around 9.45 am and it was unusually over crowded and the huge parking lot across the temple, abetting RM Hospital was getting filled up with all kinds of motor vehicles, vans and buses. Upon enquiry I realized in the wake of the recent release of the film ''Ponniyin Selvan'' (by the popular  novelist late Kalki) directed by famous film director Mani Ratnam  the popular and awe-inspiring great living Chola temple got more attention among the tourists. Now, it is hogging more   limelight than ever before.   The director successfully filmed the first part of the movie  despite odds like Covid -9 pandemic threats,  highlighted   a lengthy story about the  Chola family members  and their internal turmoil, etc., in a 2-hour time capsule and thirdly his  cast included well-known  film stars donning different roles in the movie.   

Yet another curiosity is much has been written about Tamil Nadu politicians' in the school text books but not so much about Tamil rulers of past era.   The frequent question asked by the people is why the school text books do not include details about the great Chola kings and  their war exploits, etc. 

Now the great Chola ruler is in the center of a storm over his religious  affiliation and it was raised by none other than actor and politician Kamal Hassan.  His off the cuff remarks sometimes  create  controversies.  A few years ago he faced a barrage of criticism when he  branded  Gandhiji's assassin  Naturam Godse  as a Hindu terrorist (his killing of Gandhiji is not justified, but he was not a terrorist, according to  many critics). Though Chola rulers were ardent  followers of God Shiva, they did patronize lots of Vishnu temples. Obviously they were Hindus (though the term Hindu was not is use 1000 years ago) but it is obvious that Shaivism is part of Hinduism.  As a matter of fact there are stone images of Sri Krishna and Sri Vishnu on the gopuras of the big temple.   

These above  latest sensational events made the people become more  curious and  the number of people visiting the big temple may increase manifold in the future. 

The following are the amazing facts of Thanjai Big temple: 

01. Called Thanjai Periya kovil or Brihadishvara Temple in common parlance,  the original name was Rajarajeshwaram (meaning  temple of the almighty of Rajaraja"). Tamil scholars call it Peruvudaiyar Kovil dedicated to God Shiva.  The builder was Great King Raja Raja Chola (985 -1012 A.D) who was also known as Sivapada Sundaran meaning  a man devoted to the holy feet of Shiva. Temple inscription says ''he first placed all the spoils of war at the feet of god and sought blessing from the almighty." 

vintage image. Tanjore big temple, TN.21clicks.com

Shakti worship, Durga Devi, big temple. in.pinterest.com

02. The 216- foot tall  Shikara  is entirely made of granite and gneissic rocks of Archaeon age (the oldest rocks on earth more than three billion years old). They were mined 50km from here. 

Big temple Hard rocks with holes for splitting. quora.com

Above image: Thanjavur  Brihadeeswara temple.  Blocks of hard rocks were  sized, using  partial controlled explosions and then transported to the temple sites,  using trained elephants.   Further  sizing was done by drilling several  holes in the rock ad per needs  and then filling up them   with water.  After the waiting period  rocks will break  This method followed  called here is 'rock weathering' and the principle is  alternating freezing and thawing of water  will weaken the rocks and facilitate breaking..........

03.  A temple of grandeur and beauty, it is the first Hindu temple in India to have been  built on such a grand scale." At that point of time it was 40 times bigger than other temples. The architect and engineer of the temple was one "Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Rama Perunthachan.

04. The vimana, symbolic of the  sacred abode of  God Shiva - holy Meru (Mount Kailash) goes by the name of  Dakshina (south) Meru, and the Lord was referred to as as Dakshina Meru Vitankar.

05. The  richly ornate large cupola with symmetrical images on all sides and the square granite platform atop the tower weigh roughly 80 tones; their erection at such a height is an unsolved puzzle,

Nandi facing the main shrine. flag pole in the front.

Above image: Thanjavur Big temple, Dwajasthambam and the nadi mantapam. Nandi is facing the main deity Shiva. The myth that the nandi grew large in size because of a live toad inside the stone is not true. It is mere figment of somebody's imagination..........

Monolithic nandi, Thanjai Big temple. thrillingtravel.in

Top of Thanjai big temple. upload.wikimedia.org

Thanjavur big temple cupola. thrillingtravel.in

06. The cupola at top  is not monolithic and during the final phases of construction different parts of the dome were carefully taken up and  put together to form the cupola.   

Interior hollow tower above sanctum. haribhakt.com

07. Unlike other gopura, this one has a hollow space inside up to the top. The ingenious  designers built the hollow tower by using interlocking stones without using any binding material. 

08. Thanjai Periya kovil is a rare one to have a tall  tower above the garbagriha - something like the Nagara style. In most temple in Tamil Nadu the gopuram over the karuvarai- sanctum is a small one.

Thanjavur big temple, Rajarajan Tiruvasal thrillingtravel.in

Keralatakan Gopuram Thanjavur big temple,thrillingtravel.in

 old image. Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur in.pinterest.com

Thanjavur big temple, TN in.pinterest.com

09. That the temple does not cast shadow on the ground is not true.  The designers built the exterior  sculptured walls in a manner similar  to cascading steps  from the tapering top.  With the result the  shadow caused   by the sun falls on the lower steps successively so a major part of the tower does not cast shadow. However, the lower part  below the tower does cause shadow.  

10. The temple houses the  the images of guardian angels Ashtadikpaalakas covering both cardinal and ordinal directions  and  they are Indra, Agni, Nirrti, Varuna, Kubera, Isana, Yama, and Vayu. 

11. There are  images of Vishnu, Sri Krishna, Kali and Durga suggesting Shaivaism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism were  part of the Hindu religion.  

tallest Shiva Linga, Big temple, Thanjavur  templefolks.com

Above image:  Big temple, Thanjavur. One of the Tallest Shiva Lingas in India and  is enshrined in the middle of the garbagriha-sanctum which is roughly more than two floors tall. Above the sanctum, one can see the hollow space of the tall tower/gopura. 

 ront part of nandi mantap, Thanjai Big temple, TN in.pinterest.com

12. The massive colonnaded prakara (corridor) all along the inner boundary walls has  one of the largest number of Shiva lingas. Devotees never use the prakara and instead they use the open court yard around the main shrine. 

Thanjavur big temple. outer prakara. linags on right. mapinmypocket.com/

Lingas in the corridor, big temple Thanjavur, Alamy.com

108 lingams in a small mantap Tanjore Temple hrillingtravel.in

Sri Nataraja (Shiva) and his cosmic dance. upload.wikimedia.or
Above image: The brass/bronze  image of  Nataraja (doing comic dance)– Shiva as the Lord of dance in 11th century was first  commissioned here.  later it became popular all over the world as the concept has a close link with  transient cosmos..............  

13. The temple is also famed for the beautifully sculpted stone images of earliest and largest illustration of dance movements and postures (mudras), as described in the Natya Shastra.  They are on the  upper  story corridor wall of the aditala and  there are 81 of the 108 dance karanas – postures of Natya Sastra.  The 27 karanas are blank for unknown reasons. This suggests classical Indian dance form developed in the 11th century in this part of south India. 

14. There  are  countless well- chiseled sculptures, inscriptions and  frescoes on the  gopuras, the main  massive tower, etc.,  mostly  related to Shaivism, but also of Vaishnavism and Shaktism traditions of Hinduism.

15. Later additions were made by other dynasties. The sannidhis - shrines of Kartikeya (Murugan), Parvati (Amman) and Nandi have been around since  the 16th and 17th-century - Nayaka era.  The Dakshinamurti shrine  came up later. Maratha rulers of Tanjore  maintained the temple periodically.' 
water spout - pranala (outlet) big temple, Thanjavur. upload.wikimedia.org

Above image; the abhisheka water from the main sanctum is let out through the spout. In this picture the stone spout is resting on the head of a goblin  (bhuta) above the water tank on the north side of the outer prakara. It is as old as the temple. . 

water spout (outlet) big temple, Thanjavur.upload.wikimedia.org

 stone carved water tank. thrillingtravel.in

Above images: Thanjavur Big temple: This is a stone carved water tank outside the Subramanya shrine and near the Chandikeswara shrine on the north side of the outer court yard. It is said to be built during the Nayak period -16th or 17th CE. The tank collects the abhisheka water from the sanctum.  In the above image you see the water spout.  Pranala in temple architecture means water spout to discharge water ............... 

Subramanya shrine. Tanjore Temple thrillingtravel.in

Above image: God Subramanya shrine. All along the outer ornate wall a small stone horizontal   ornamental projection has innumerable small  holes through which a small  needle could pass through. Unfortunately a few of the fine images in the porch of the shrine  are damaged due to vandalism. This shrine came up in the later period during the reign of the Tanjore Nayaks.......

16. Rajaraja Chola employed a few hundred dancing girls who would dance daily during a particular time as part of temple ritual. They dedicated their lives to the service of the lord. The great king respected them and had their names inscribed in the stone inscriptions. 

17. With a view to conducting daily puja rituals, etc.,  Raja Raja had donated large tracts of lands  so that revenue from them  could be used to   maintain the temple. But historians say, his son Rajendira Chola diverted all these revenues to his newly built temple at Gangaikonda  Cholapuram," Why he did it, no information is available.

entrance to main shrine. Tanjore Temple hrillingtravel.in

18. Once ''a veritable treasure trove'' with vast properties and jewelry,  now the temple is left high and dry with no properties and no income. The Hindu newspaper article (dated 18 March 2018) 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.  

Rajaraja Chola I of Chola dynasty quatr.us/india

19. Among his vast donations mention may be made of  87.593 kg of gold after his war victory against Chaulikyas and on another occasion Rajaraja I donated  for puja purposes  95.277 kg  of 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. please refer:
(https://www. navrangindia. in/2021/11/big-temple-thanjavur-lost-all-its_15.html)

20. There are inscriptions about the donors, properties jewelry donated by them etc.,  in the inscription.

stone inscriptions Big temple, TN. upload.wikimedia.org/

Thanjavur Big temple is one of the few ones that have vast stone inscriptions in Tamil and Devnagari scripts  and they are useful to the scholars and historians. No doubt the credit goes to  Maratha queen  Kamakshi Bai Saheba, the last Maratha queen of Thanjavur (one of Shivaji’s wives) who legally got the Maratha kingdom back from the English company (seized under the Doctrine of Lapse authored by Lord Dalhousie). She also retrieved 88 Hindu temples and one among them was the big temple. 

Credit goes to thrillingtravel.in for superb pictures.

https://www.thehindu.  com/news/national/tamil-nadu/big-temple-in-thanjavur-a-veritable-treasure-trove/article22956437.ece