Brihadeeswarar Temple – Thanjavur, India
The Peruvudaiyar Kovil, also known as Brihadeeswara Temple, RajaRajeswara Temple and Rajarajeswaram, at Thanjavur in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva and an art of the work achieved by Cholas in Tamil architecture. The temple is part of UNESCO World Heritage Site and “Great Living Chola Temples”.
This is one of the largest temple in India and one of India’s most prized architectural sites. The temple stands amidst fortified walls that were probably added in the 16th century. The vimana (or temple tower) is 216 ft (66 m) high and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. The Kumbam (Kalasha or Chikharam) (apex or the bulbous structure on the top) of the temple is carved out of a single stone and it weighs around 80 tons.
There is a big statue of Nandi (sacred bull), carved out of a single rock, at the entrance measuring about 16 feet long and 13 feet high. The entire temple structure is made out of granite, the nearest sources of which are close to Tiruchirappalli, about 60 km to the west of Thanjavur. Built in 1010 AD by Raja Raja Chola I in Thanjavur, Peruvudaiyaar Temple, also popularly known as the ‘Big Temple’, turned 1000 years old in 2010.
The temple had its foundations laid out by the Tamil emperor Arulmozhivarman, popularly called Rajaraja Chola I, in 1002 CE, as the first of the great Tamil Chola building projects.
The Brihadeeswarar Temple was built to grace the throne of the Chola empire in compliance to a command given to him in his dream. The scale and grandeur is in the Chola tradition. An axial and symmetrical geometry rules the temple layout. Temples from this period and the following two centuries are an expression of the Tamils (Chola) wealth, power and artistic expertise. The emergence of such features as the multifaceted columns with projecting square capitals signal the arrival of the new Chola style.
The Brihadeeswarar Temple was built to be the royal temple to display the emperor’s vision of his power and his relationship to the universal order. The temple was the site of the major royal ceremonies such as anointing the emperor and linking him with its deity, Shiva, and the daily rituals of the deities were mirrored by those of the king. It is an architectural exemplar showcasing the pure form of the Dravida type of temple architecture and representative of the Chola Empire ideology and the Tamil civilisation in Southern India. The temple “testify to the brilliant achievements of the Chola in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting.”
Statue of Rajaraja Chola Chola I who consecrated the temple
The wish to build a mammoth temple like this is said to have occurred to Raja Raja while he stayed at Sri Lanka as an emperor. The esteemed architect and engineer of the temple was Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan as stated in inscriptions found at the temple.
This temple is the first building fully built by granite and finished within 5yrs [1004AD – 1009AD]. The solid base of the temple raises about 5 metres (16 feet), above which stone deities and representatives of Shiva dance. The huge kalasam or Vimanam (top portion of the shrine) is believed to weigh 81.28 tonnes was of 8 blocks and was raised to its present height by dragging on an inclined plane of 6.44 km. The big Nandi (bull), weighing about 20 tonnes is made of a single stone and is about 2 m in height, 6 m in length and 2.5 m in width. The presiding deity of lingam is 3.7m tall. The prakaram (outer precincts of the temple) measures 240m by 125m. The outer wall of the upper storey is carved with 81 dance karanas – postures of Bharathanatyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu. The shrine of Goddess was added by Pandyas during the 13th century, Subramanya Shrine by Vijayanagara rulers and the Vinayaka shrine was renovated by Maratha rulers.
The temple complex sits on the banks of a river that was channelled to make a moat around the complex’s outer walls, the walls being built like a fortress. The complex is made up of many structures that are aligned axially. The complex can be entered either on one axis through a five-story gopuram or with a second access directly to the huge main quadrangle through a smaller free-standing gopuram. The massive size of the main Vimanam (Shikhara) is ca. 60 meters high, with 16 elaborately articulated stories, and dominates the main quadrangle. Pilaster, piers, and attached columns are placed rhythmically covering every surface of the Vimanam.