Saturday, September 30, 2023

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Brihadishwara Temple




Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu



A UNESCO World Heritage Site



Opens daily 9 am - 1pm & 4-6 pm

Best Time to Visit


November - January

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The Brihadishwara Temple, also known as Rajarajeswaram built by the Chola Kings a thousand years ago, is one of the oldest and greatest Shiva Temple of all times. Everyday very much alive with devotees and tourists, this massive temple is situated in Thanjavur in Tamilnadu state. It is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site 'Great Living Chola Temples'. Pyramidical in shape, the temple stands to the South west of the old town, near the Grand Anicut Canal surrounded by a number of subsidiary shrines. Built by the Chola Raja I , who personally donated the glided pot finial at the summit of the tower, Brihadishwara Temple is considered as the grandest architectural achievement of the Chola era. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is a 16 - storey temple with a 66 m high monumental tower or vimana over the inner sanctum which can be visible for miles around.The temple stands in the middle of a spacious rectangular court and can be entered from the east side of the temple through two gopurams widely separated from each other. These structures are dominated by vaulted roofs adorned with plaster sculptures. In the second gopura features mirror images of temple, smaller carvings illustrate scenes from the Shaiva legends like the marriage of Shiva and Parvathi, Siva protecting Markandeya and Arjuna winning the pasupata weapon etc. At the center of each, is a monolithic sandstone lintel which is said to have been brought from Tiruchirappalli.

Inside the large temple courtyard has a pavilion, sanctuary, a Nandi, a pillared hall and an assembly hall (mandapas), and many sub-shrines. There is a flight of steps leading to a pillared pavilion.The pavilion is a 16 th century pavilion, facing the main temple. Fronted by a tall lamp column, it has a 6 m long granite Nandi carved out of a single block of granite 6 m long. It is considered as the third largest in the country. The pavilion has slender columns with carvings. There are two other flights of steps on the north and south between the front porch and the main shrine on either sides. 

The main temple, constructed of granite, consists of a square linga sanctuary adjoining an antechamber and a long pillared hallway on the east, followed by the ardhamandapa or half hall. The base of this sanctuary is 46 square meters. Above it, is the pyramidical tower rises to a height of about 66m. It's apex is exactly one third of the size of the base. The tower has 13 storeys with pilastered walls, parapets. The walls of the antechamber are triple storeyed. The temple's pilastered walls are raised on high basement decorated with yalis and makaras and also covered with inscriptions such as the origins, construction etc. The north and south doorways can be reached by steps flanked by balustrades with curved tops and figural side panels. The long hall is partly completed which has been roughly adjoined to the half hall. The eastern doorway is flanked by guardian figures and inside, the walls are decorated with 18th century Maratha portraits. 

The sanctuary is flanked by guardians and the niche projections at either side are fully modelled figures, mostly figures of Shiva. The famous are Bhikshtanamurti, Natesha, Harihara and Ardhanarishwara. The sanctuary of the main temple is dominated by a black shivalingam called Adavallan , 'the one who can dance well', a reference to Shiva as Nataraja (the King of Dance) elevated on a circular pedestal. But the lingam can be seen only during puja ceremonies (8 & 11 am, noon & 7.30 pm). The surrounding is the garbha griha, a passageway on two levels is divided into two chambers.

In the lower passageway contains a large dancing Shiva, portraits of the royals, deities, celestials and mural paintings in two layers adorn the walls and ceiling. More than 81 miniature dancers in different postures, are sculpted on the basement of the upper passageway. Outside, the walls of the courtyard, there are lined with collonnaded passageways. Northern wall passageway is considered as the longest in India. The western wall passageway is behind the temple, which contains 108 lingams from Varanasi and panels from the Maratha period. At the centre bears a small shrine dedicated to Varuna, next to an image of the goddess Durga. 

In the temple complex, besides the main temple is a south facing Chandeshwara Shrine. Even though, similar to main temple it is small in size and the tower is crowned with an octagonal roof. To the north west is the Subramanya Shrine which has a base finely decorated with sculptures of dancers some standing on pots and musicians. On the hall walls can be seen Ganapati and Durga and stone windows with geometric designs. The three storeyed tower is topped with a hexagonal roof. The Subrahmanga Shrine is entered on the east by a porch with side steps. The long hall that extends east is a Maratha extension. Another Maratha addition to the temple is the hall in front of the Bhrihadnayaki Shrine. This can be approached through a porch on the south with piers displaying yalis and colonettes. The paintings on the ceiling inside illustrated Shaiva legends. Nearyby is the south facing Natesha Shrine dates from the 17 C. The large temple water tank - Shiaganga Tank is contained within the ramparts that extend west of the Brihadishvara temple.

A small Archeological Museum is located on the south side of the temple complex. It houses the collection of sculptures, photos detailing restoration work to the temple and displays about the Cholas. Opens daily 9 am - 1pm & 4-6 pm. Entry is free.