Brihadesvara Temple-Thanjavur

By Sanjeev Nayyar | 2003

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This is the entrance to the Brihadesvara Temple, Thanjavur (Daksina Meru). It is the most amazing temple that I have ever seen. It is the greatest creation of Raja Chola I (985-1012) & was consecrated for worship in 1010 a.d. What you see bang in front is a welcome arch. Although it may appear that the gopuram behind is part of the arch it is not as the next picture shows

Here you can see that that the welcome arch & the gopuram are two different structures. The gopuram is 90 feet high and abounds in sculptural beauty, as you shall see later. The glory of the king s successful invasions & charitable acts have been inscribed on stone. You can also see a wall that looks like a fort wall. As you shall see later the eastern side has a fort wall.

A view of the welcome arch, 90 feet gopuram, Raja Raja gate and the main Vimana at the end. We can click temple pictures only from outside, cannot click inside the main sanctum.

A side view of the same gopuram. The entire structure is in stone, how did they sculpt such a huge stone piece.

Not a good photo. Rear side of the same gopuram, to share a closeup of the gopuram for you to admire the quality of work.

If we look down from the gopuram (tower) we can see a big fort wall and a deep moat around the temple. Only on the eastern & western sides, water flows in the moat. Local guide said that at one time moat used to have crocodiles in it. The southern part of the moat was linked with Kallanai canal when it was constructed. There are atleast three fort type walls. One is the main fort as you see, next photo.

This picture shows fort wall two behind the vehicle. There is another around the main temple. You can see the gopuram to your left and main temple in the background.

Next comes Raja Raja Gate. This is smaller than the previous gate. Architecture on both sides is beautiful

A closer view of the Raja Raja Gate for you to note the sculptures

As you cross the gate you get to see the beautiful precincts of 800 feet length & 400 feet breadth standing at the open courtyard, we are wonderstruck at the 30 feet tall fort wall. Seeing in front of us the big temple of Rajarajeshwaran we feel as if the Himalaya mountain as moved over there. Could not agree with this description more.

This is the left side of the courtyard. Right small structure is where the Nandi resides behind which is the main temple. The Pandal that you see were birthday celebrations of Raja Chola I the man who made the temple.

This is the right side, has a number of smaller temples on this side.

Full of repose this gigantic Nandi, the attendant of Shiva faces the main shrine and reflects the grandiose scale in which the Cholas constructed this temple. The dimensions of Nandi are 12 feet tall, 19.5 feet long and 8.25 feet broad. It weighs 25 tons. To protect this Nandi from sun & rains, the protective mandapam was built by the Naick kings. Copyright V B Anand.

A picture of the ceiling of the mandapam made for Nandi.

This temple belongs to the Madakovil type and so reaches the sanctum Sanctorum there are entrances on the southern & northern side of the Vimana. The steps that you see in this picture form the entrance of the shrine are said to have been built by the Maratha ruler King Sarfoji II

The temple proper rests on a raised plinth and consists of a sanctum cell where Lord Shiva is enshrined as a Linga. Side view of the plinth with the main temple in the background. It is a huge hall that has very good sculptures and leads you to the Linga

Side view of the plinth and main temple, gives you an ideal of how huge the temple is. The Garbhagriha of the main temple is square with 29.25 m on each side. The ground Tala of the vimana is divided into two bhumis & the vimana soars upto the height of 63.40 metres or app 216 feet with 13 storeys, capped by an octagonal griva (neck) & sikhara whose base slab is said to weigh 80 tons.

When I entered the main sanctum I was wonderstruck. In front of me is a 13 feet high big Siva linga on the pedestal. It shines beautifully in the light of oil lamps. My hands automatically folded and said Siva-Siva. The Linga is made up of one stone. King Raja Raja brought it from the river Narmada. To perform Abhisheka for this linga, there are steps on both sides.

Now we start on a parikrama round the temple starting left to right clockwise. Here is a side view of the vimana from the southern side. Note the sheer size & magnitude of the structure.

This was clicked from the western side. The lower portions of the structure have beautifully carved figures of gods.

The magnificent pile of the vimana, may be divided into three principal i.e. the upright cube enclosing the sanctum cells with its ambulatory (82 feet square rising up to a height of 50 feet from the base meaning the first two lower levels that you see), the lofty & massive pyramidal body ascending in 13 diminishing stones or storeys, and the dome shaped structure on the top.

A closer view of the temple clicked from the western side.

Sculptures on the lower portions of the structure

Sculptures on the lower portion of the structure

Clicked from northern side. What you see in front is a temple dedicated to Lord Subrahmanya 1600 a.d. It is unique due to its rare hexagonal shikhara.

Southern entrance to the main sanctum. Since this temple belongs to the Madakovil type there are entrances on the southern & northern side of the Vimana to reach the sanctum. In an earlier picture you saw that entrance to the main sanctum is from steps in the center of the temple. These were made later by the Maratha king Sarfoji II app 1800 a.d.

I think this is the Lord Shanmukha temple in the northwestern wing. It was constructed in the 12-13th century. I do not know Tamil and there is none who knew English when I was in the temple.

I think this is the Chandikeswara temple near the northern gate of the tower.

Periya Nayagi Amman goddess.

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