Brihadeshvara temple of Thanjavur, TN - numerous unknown facts - 01

Brihadeeswarar temple, Thanjavur, TN.

Among the rulers or dynasties of the Indian subcontinnt, no other rulers seems to have left their  indelible footprint of history and culture than the Chola dynasty that had built huge temples -all dedicated to God Shiva such as the Brihadishwara temple of Thanjavur (Tanjore), Airaware Swara temple of Darasuram and Brihadeswara temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram in Gangaikonda Cholapuram of Ariyalur district - all these three temples are  part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the "Great Living Chola Temples".  Located in the city of Thanjavur in the Cauvery delta of Tamil Nadu thousands of people visit the temple almost daily to marvel at  its awe-inspiring  architecture and amazing stone carvings.  A huge Shiva temple entirely made of hard granitic rock was built  by Chola emperor Rajaraja I between 1003 and 1010 CE  in a region barren of hard rock outcrops!!

The following are many of the unknown facts: 

01. Among the Indian temples, the striking relic of Chola is Brihadeshwara temple at Thanjavur;  the pagoda by far  "the grandest in India" which is more than 1010  years old. 

02. In the past centuries no dignitaries on a trip to the south missed a visit to this temple of great  antiquity and of beauty to look at its unique architecture well executed several centuries ago. 

03. A visitors' book in the temple has a list of statesmen, high officials from the colonial government, royal visits by other rulers  etc.,  whose signatures bear testimony to the appreciation of the design of the temple that is symbolic of Davida style architecture and its improvised style. 

04. The signatures of a host of people at the helm include Lords Curzon, Kitchiner, Connemara, et al. besides other personalities like  Keir Hardie, Gandhiji, et al.

05. The temple, unlike other temples, is enclosed in a well built high walled fort with a moat all around, The fort called Sivaganga fort was built by the first Nayak ruler Seveppa.

06. The huge fort  that encircles the city including all the four main streets East, West, North and South  (Raja Veedhis) and the entire walled palace  complex were constructed by the last Nayak Vijayarahava.

07. All around the outer fort walls lie ramparts (Alangam in Tamil). The Rajagopalaswamy beerangi (huge cannon) is mounted atop the outer fort wall facing the East Rampart (Keezh Alangam). This place is locally called Beerangi medai. This historical monument is very much there.

portals at far end, Brihadeeswarar temple,Thanjavur,

08. Building a  temple with tall shikara and a dome using only  hard rock stones - granite in a deltaic terrain with no rock crops or quarrying  is a  tough decision  because transportation  from the quarries far removed from the site is  a daunting task. The project was successfully completed by great king Rajaraja within a specified time primarily because of his meticulous planning and execution.  

09. The work on the temple seems to have begun on the 19th year of his reign and the only inscription in the temple reads as follows:'

"in the 20th tear of (Rajaraja 1002 to 1010 CE) on the 257yh day of the year, the king handed over the copperpot for the finial at the top of the vimana". It weighed 253 pounds overlaid with solid gold plates (wight 2926 1/2  kalan ju (roughly equal to 35 pounds Troy).

10. It is apparent that king Rajaraja had  a well preserved stately plan with him and followed it  till its completion without any deviation.

Nandi mantap Brihadeeswarar temple,Thanjavur,

11. There is no denying the fact the great king  Rajaraja had built the temple with all the necessary adjuncts complete within his lifetime

12. From this it is clear the temple was completed within a  span of  six  long years.  A peaceful period with no wars helped the king complete the temple project without any hindrances.  Rajaraja would have taken so much time to get every piece of item related to construction ready before the beginning of the main temple contraction work. 

13.  According to the first stone inscription on him in the temple, his sur name was Rajakesari Varman.

14. The temple  called Rajarajeswaram by the ruler, occupies much of the southern part of the fort surrounded on  all  sides by a moat and by GA canal on the south; a  later addition linking the river that receives water from the Mettur dam. The canal  goes through southern moat. 

15. This idea of taking the canal through the moat was primarily conceived by the late Sri T.S Rajagopala  Iyengar,  an eminent engineer (native of Tittai village, near Thanjavur) with the Madras Presidency who was in charge of the irrigation project during the colonial period. The northern  moat is adjacent to the Sivaganga park and one can see the wall of the north fort at the entrance of Srinivasapuram.

16. The imposing entry gate on the east side is flanked on either side by the shrine of  gods Ganesha and Subramanya. Further the 90 ft tall richly decorated gopuras take  us into the outer court. 

17. For a  short period  both the French  (1772 CE) and 30 years later  the English used this  open court as an arsenal. 

18. The second tall gopura over the portal with fine sculptures of dwarapala, etc takes us in he main court of temple.

19. The huge court 500 ft long 200 ft wide is well paved with stones and bricks and is surrounded by Thirusutrumaligai (cloiste).

20. The main shrine dedicated to Peruvudaiyar (Shiva) is at the western end of  of the court

21. The main portals with gopura from the East side are called Karalantakann and Rasarasan . Both are guarded by the Dwarapalaka sculptures of huge proportion on either side of the gates and one can see them at upper tiers. They are many sets with in the temple and among them seven of them are 18 ft by ft in size. The astonishing fact is these well carved  exquisite sculptures with fearsome look  are monolithic.

Thanjavur big temple tall lingam .

22. Shiva linga of this temple is the grandest one, one of the tallest in india,  raising to the  height of more than two floors.  The garbhagriha - sanctum or Sri kovil is equally the tallest one in the country.  

23. Originally called Adavallan, the other name is Dhakshina-meru- Vitakan.  This is a rare temple with a tall Gopura above the sanctum and the tower is called Dakshina-meru. The kailasa in the north is called Uttira meru.  In dravidian temple architecture, the sanctum (Karuvarai or sanctum)  will commonly have small gopura, unlike Nagara style temples of Odisha, etc.

24.The religious rituals associated with this temple follow Makuta gama.(according to  'Grantha' at Saraswati Mahal library).  The Agama shastras are based on the belief that the divinity can be approached in two ways. It can be viewed as nishkala, formless – absolute; or as sakala having specific aspects. The former is  all-pervasive and is neither explicit nor is it the oil in the sesame-seed, fire in the fuel, butter in milk . While the latter is explicit energy like the fire that is produced from  the fuel, oil extracted out of the seed,  Mind you " the Agamas do not derive their authority directly from the Vedas."

25. In this temple Shiva is consecrated as a mark of devotion and to celebrate the exploits of  Rajaraja Chola's forefather -  Muchukunta Chola  who helped Indira win the war against Assura.  Demi god Indira  presented him with   seven maragatha linga  (emerald) that were  installed at seven different Shiva temples in the Cauvery delta region;  one being the Thygaraja temple at Thiruvarur. Thygaraja, also known as Sapvitanankar, is in the Stapana mantap.of the big temple.

26. The 216 ft 14 floor tall  tower with numerous niches, pilasters and images of numerous deities in the Hindu pantheon stands on a square  basement platform of 96 feet. 

27. The octagonal cupola crowns the vimana.  It is a puzzle how the entire dome on a monolith granite block which is  25 and 1/2 ft square in shape and a pair of symmetrical stone Nandis (each measuring 6 1/2 and 5 1/2) at four corners are set in place at such a drizzy height. The entire structure at top weighs 80 tons.

28. The shrine dedicated to Subramanya rises to a height of 55 ft resting on a 25 ft basement and this shrine is an epitome of artistic sculptural excellence and splendor, a fine decorative piece of architecture. Elaborate and delicate patterns  found on the outer walls can be achieved only by talented artisans who could handle the stone tools with dexterity

29. This Subramanya shine is not part of  C hola's  contribution and was built in the later period, perhaps during the reign of Nayaks.

30. Chola inscriptions do not make any reference to the Subramanya shrine. As for dating, it is not earlier than 1600 CE.

31. As for the shrine of the consort of Brihadeshwara, Brihannayagi (Parvati), it is yet another late addition by Konerinmaikondan, a 13th century Pandya ruler.  The original shrine of the goddess was in the Sivaganga park a the NW corner and the Nayaks removed it and located it on the main temple premises. 

32. The flag staff - dwajasthambam is in front of the Brihannayagi  shrine, facing the main shrine of Peruvudaiyar.   Cast in copper the base has 4 sides with images of Shiva well carved. 

33. The Ganapathi shrine in the SW corner and the Adavallan shrine at the NE corner are also later additions. The former was built during the time of Serfoji II.

34. The small Chandikeswara shrine that can be accessed through a small flight of steps was part of the main temple built by Rajaraja. it is on the north courtyard at the center close to the decorative spout set on the demon's head. The spout drains out the Abhisheka water.  

35. A surprising fact about the cloister or adjunts - Thirusutrumalikai enclosing the all around it is, it is  said to have been built under the supervision of a Brahmin military official under the Nayak - Dhandanayaka krsnan Raman mummudi Chola brahmarayan

36. The small Dakshinamurthy shrine (on the south side of the court yard) abetting the main shrine is at a higher elevation and has to be accessed through a flight of rough  steps. Glad  railings are provided for the worshipers to visit the small shrine. the entrance is so small devotees can not get in the small sannidhi. 

37. According to the Marathi inscription in the temple Saga 1723 (1801-1802 CE)  Raja Serfoji reconsecrated the temple in 1801-1802 and carried out major repairs  at many shrines -  Ganesha, Subramanya, Brihannyagi, Chan dikewara, etc.Apart, he renovated  the flooring in the courtyard,  temple walls and the temple kitchen - madapalli which is on the SE corner. 

38. About Nandi which is in the Nayak mantapa is strikingly massive and tall.  ht.more than 12 ft, length 19ft and width  81/2 ft. It is said to be the 2nd largest nandi in India next to the one at Lepakshi in Hindupur, Anantapur district. This monolith nandi was made from the rock quarried at Pachamalai  near Preambular. The rock type is Granitic gneissic rock. 

39. The modern looking mantap behind the main shrine on the west side of the temple under the cool shadow of the neem tree is dedicated to Siddha karoorar (Karuvyr Devar). Even to day held in veneration, lots of devotees visit the shrine and sit there for a while. This siddha purusha was associated with Rajaraja Chola when the temple was being constructed. It is said he was the one who had selected the right spot  for the installation of huge linga  where the vertical axis of the vimana  atop and the center of the huge linga in the sanctum fall in one line on the same axis. 


The great temple at Tanjore by J.M. Somasundaram BA., BL.(Solden & CO., Madras 1935. with Forward from F.H. Gravely DSc