THANJAVUR BRIHADEESWARAR KOIL - Siva Temple
Bhavishyotharapurana is the principal source that embodies a great deal of literature connected with the origin, growth, patronage and administration of this temple, deemed to be possessing the grandest pagoda among the temples of India. Brihadeeswara Mahatya in a series of interesting legends throws adequate light on this great temple. Rajeswaranataka - a play in Tamil also helps to reconstruct the greatness of the builder and his patronage to the temple.
There are hundreds of inscriptions, besides abundant devotional literature that testifies to the magnanimity of the rulers associated with this temple. The Chola kings were very powerful from the 10th to 14th century. In Thanjavur there are 74 temples built in their time. Thanjavur has had a splendid past. In and around it were born many an illustrious god-men, who heightened the glory of our sacred land, by establishing and propagating the diverse creeds of Hindu Dharma. It was the centre of enlightening forums famous for holding several remarkable mellifluent concerts and literary contests.
The Brihadeeswarar temple, an imposing structure was built by Raja Raja Chola I. He had conquered the Chera, Pandya kings & also crossed the oceans to gain victory over many overseas lands. Impressed by the huge magnificent temples & idols of Buddha, he dreamt of erecting a massive temple in his native land for Lord Siva. This temple is also called by various other names such as Rajarajeswaram, Perivudayar Koil, Adavallan Koil, Peria Koil. The temple was built in a short span of six years. The imposing vimana rises to a height of 216 feet with 14 storeys. The sikhara built in accordance with Silpa Sastra is crowned with a massive dome consisting of a single stone that weighs 80 tons. And over it is placed an octagon shaped stupa and a 12 feet high kalasam. To lift and carry this gigantic stone to the top, an inclined road about 6 miles long was laid out, emulating the technique adopted by the Egyptians while constructing the pyramids. Elaborate sculptural images drawn from Hindu pantheon decorate this Vimana from top to bottom. Though the Dravidian style of temple architecture predominates, there is indeed a harmonious blend of the Nagara, Vesara & Dravidian styles. The arch way at the first entrance, called the Kerlanthakan gate way rises to a height of 90 feet. Next comes the grand gate called Raja Raja Vaasal embellished with exquisitely carved figures. Beyond this lies the sculptural wealth studded in the courtyard measuring about 500 feet long and 250 feet wide, and is surrounded by a high compound wall with a deep moat to its eastern and western sides. The temple is occupying a large portion of a fort built for strategic purpose in the past. Within the temple are several mini shrines, mandapams, mahamandapams, Prakarams dedicated to Vinayaka, Subramanya, Parvathi, Nandi, Dwarapalakas, Jain Saints, emancipated demons. Of the highlights of this superb shrine, grand frescoes in the inner courtyard deserve mention and indispensable attention, since they are reminiscent of the splendid Ajanta cave paintings of eternal reputation. The shrine for Parvathi, called Periyanayaki was originally located in a garden in the north of the temple. During the Nayak regime, it was transferred to a grand shrine built in the first prakara. The shrine for the six faced Murugar carved out of single rock lies at the northern end of the west quadrangle. The enormous monolithic Nandi is installed in a high pavilion right in front of the garbha griha. It measures 19 1/2 feet in length; 8 1/4 feet in breadth; 12 feet in height and weighs 25 tons. The black Siva Linga, carved out of a single rock is considered the second biggest, next to the one in Lepakshi. It is 9 feet in height & 23 1/2 feet in circumference. It is installed on a high flat dias measuring 54 feet in circumference and 6 feet in height. An elevated platform has been specially built for the priests to stand and perform archana, harati, abhishekam, etc. There is an archaeological museum in the temple yard. The history of the Chola kings and the temples are depicted in sculpture and paintings.
Written in stone - Big Temple's inscriptions reveal a King's passion
- T.S. Subramanian, The Hindu, September 24, 2010