Brihadeeswara Temple – An Architectural Marvel
Brihadeeswara Temple in Tanjore (Thanjavur), Tamil Nadu is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the “Great Living Chola Temples”. Also known as the Big Temple, it has one of the most beautiful architectural grandeur of the Chola era.
The revered Brihadeeswara temple is located in Thanjavur, about 350 kilometres southwest of Chennai. It is very near (around 1 kilometre) from the Old bus stand in Tanjavur.
History of the Temple
The Brihadeeswara Temple also called the Rajarajesvaram or Peruvudaiyar Koyil was built by King Raja Raja Chola I in the 11th century. Tanjavur was an important city to the ancient Cholas, who converted it into a major temple city from a collection of villages. The Brihadeeswara Temple was built in the centre of the city. Its glorious Dravidian architecture and Indian workmanship has made it unique over the years. The temple which was named Rajarajesvaram after it was edified by Raja Raja Chola I in the year 1010 AD, was later on renamed as Brihadeeswara temple following the invasion of Tanjore by The Marathas and Nayakas.
The name Brihadeeswara is derived from two Sanskrit words namely “Brihat” meaning “lofty or big” and “Ishvara” meaning “Lord , Shiva”, giving it the name “The big Lord Shiva temple” or “The all pervasive Lord”.
Architectural Excellence of Brihadeeswara Temple
A masterpiece in architecture, the Brihadeeswara temple though adopting the architectural elements of South India, was much ahead of its time. And though none of the massive palaces that were built during the reign of the Cholas exist now, the fact that Brihadeeswara Temple has stood the testimony of time for more than a thousand years proves the superior architectural accomplishment of the Chola dynasty and the patron’s incomparable devotion for Lord Shiva. One of the most prominent features of the temple is that it is so designed that the Vimana/Shikara does not cast a shadow at noon. It is also the first complete granite temple in the world built with intricately carved designs.
The temple is a marvel made out in granite, the granite in its massive size is believed to be brought from far off places since it has been observed that no granite quarry is available around the temple.
Structures in and around the Temple
The temple complex is a rectangle one and is built on a higher platform of a man-made mound. It is surrounded by a moat (channel filled with water) on two sides and the Grand Anaicut river on the other side.
There are two entrances to the temple. It can be entered into through a five-story gopuram or through a smaller free-standing gopuram that takes you directly to the main complex. The main gateways or gopurams are on the east side. The first gopuram Keralantakan Tiruvasal was built by and bears the surname of King Rajaraja. The inner courtyard gopuram, about 100 metres ahead is called the Rajarajan Tiruvasal. This gopuram leads to a vast courtyard.
The great tower and the main temple monuments are in the middle of the courtyard. Around the main temple, are a number of sub-shrines that are mostly aligned axially. The large pillared Pradakshina veranda (circumambulation path) is built around the courtyard.
The temple built on a space of 240 metres by 122 metres is divided into five main sections:
- Sri Vimana – The Vimana or temple tower of Brihadeeswara temple is one of the tallest in the world with an elevation of 66 metres. It is unbelievable to see an octagonal-shaped cap stone weighing about 81 tonnes placed on top of the Vimana. The Vimana is referred to as the Dakshina Meru (Meru mountain of the South), owing to its imposing massiveness.
- Nandi Mandapam – At the entrance of the temple is a figurine of Nandi (the consecrated bull, the divine vehicle of Lord Shiva) which is monolithic measuring approximately 13 feet high and 16 feet long. The idol of Nandi, belonging to Nayaka period, has been remarkably carved from a single rock and it faces the main shrine in the sanctum sanctorum. The Nandi Mandapa is filled with pillars with ornate sculptures.
- Mukhamandapam – Mukhamandam or the main community hall is aligned between the Nandi Mandapam and the sanctum. The entrance of the Mukhamandapam has two dwarapalakas (guards). This hall is believed to have been used by musicians and dancers performing in service of Lord Shiva.
- Mahamandapam – The Mahamandapam or the great gathering hall has six pillars on each side filled with artwork. This mandapam also is bordered by two giant stone dwarapalakas. The Mahamandapam is linked to the Mukhamandapam by stairs.
- Ardhamandapam – Ardhamandapam is the building structure that connects the Mahamandapam with the sanctum.
Garba Griha (Sanctum Sanctorum)
The innermost chamber (knows as ‘Periya Kovil’) is at the center of the courtyard. It hosts the chief deity of the temple, Lord Shiva in the form of a huge stone Linga. The Linga is 29 ft high and is one of the largest monolithic sculptures in India.
Other Deities & Sculptures
Other deities of the temple called the Koshtha Moorthigal, are found in the outer wall. These deities include Dakshinamurthy, Surya, Chandra, Agni, Yam, Nirrti, Varuna, Vayu, Kuber, Isana and Ashta Dikpaalakas. In addition to the main deities, each side has dwarapalakas and various sculptures. The ground floor sanctum walls are adorned by the following sculptures:
- East Wall – Lingodbhava, Pashupata Murti and two Dwarapalakas along side the pathway from Ardhamandapam.
- South Wall – Ganesha, Vishnu with his consorts Sridevi and Bhudevi, Lakshmi, Vishnu-Anugraha murti, Bhikshatana, Virabhadra, Dakshinamurti, Kalantaka, Nataraja and the two Dwarapalakas.
- West Wall – Harihara, Lingodbhava, Chandrashekhara without Prabhavali, Chandrashekara with Prabhavali and the two Dwarapalakas.
- North Wall – Ardhanarishvara, Gangadhara without Parvathi, Pashupata Murti, Shiva-Alingana Murti, Saraswati, Mahishasuramardini, Bhairava and the two Dwarapalakas.
On the second floor is depicted, Lord Shiva’s Tripurantaka form (Lord Shiva with four arms-an axe and deer on the upper pair and bow and arrow on the lower pair of the arms) in different postures. Above these floors is the towering Vimana and single granite block.
- The walls of the complex are decked with beautiful paintings belonging to the Chola and Nayak period.
- The main temple is entirely built of granite. More than 130,000 tons of granite is said to have been used to build it.
- The temple is said to have inscriptions (in Tamil and Grantha scripts) divulging information about the features of the temple and its construction. The north wall of enclosure includes inscriptions detailing about the people employed and supported by the temple. The inscriptions also state the daily rituals to be conducted, details of offerings and decorations to be made, jewels used in the period, methods of worship on important occasions and other information regarding the administration of the temple.
- The walls and architectural surroundings is said to be adorned with carvings and colourful paintings depicting the rich history of art, culture, mythology and science of the era.
- The temple is more than 1000 years old and finds its place in many of the contemporary works of the period like Muvar Ula and Kalingathuparani.
- The temple has been declared as a heritage monument by the Government of India and administered by the Archaeological Survey of India as a protected monument.
- The temple holds its annual dance festivals for over 10 days around the Mahashivarathri in February.
Temple Timings – Brihadeeswara Temple
It’s very common to see devotees throng the temple in queues as early as 5:00 AM. Sundays are extremely crowded. Timing are as follows
- 5:30 AM to 12:00 PM and
- 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Pooja Timings – Brihadeeswara Temple
|Morning Pooja/Kala Sandhi||8:30 AM|
|Mid Noon Pooja/Utchi Kalam||12:00 Noon|
|Evening Pooja/Sayaratchai||5:30 PM|
|Night Pooja/Artha Jamam||8:30 PM|
Temple Festivals – Brihadeeswara Temple
The major festivals observed in the temple are:
- Chitirai Brahotsavam, 18 days festival during the Tamil month of Chitirai (April-May)
- Shivarathri, in the Tamil month of Maasi (February)
- Navarathri, 9 days festival during the Tamil month of Purattasi (September-October)
- Aaruthra Darshanam, in the Tamil month of Marghali (December-January)
- Pradosham, once in every fortnight
- Girivalam, every full moon day (Pournami)
- Special Pooja during the days of Thiruvadhirai, Aadi pooram and Karthigai
- Sathabisha star day every month, which is said to be the birth star of King Rajaraja
Thanjavur is known to be one of the most popular religious and cultural hub in Tamil Nadu. The place offers accommodation facilities that suits every budget and preferences.
How to reach Brihadeeswara Temple
Thanjavur can be easily accessible by road from nearby cities. Frequent government and private buses take you to Thanjavur throughout the day. Thanjavur is the nearest rail head and Tiruchirapalli Airport (65 kilometres) is the nearest airport.
Being a very popular tourist location, the temple is swarmed by tourists throughout the year. Uncover the grandeur of this temple along with the various legends associated with it. The place is a virtual treat for lovers of photography to soak in the divinity preferably in the morning and evening. A perfect blend of religious atmosphere and sheer architectural splendor, Brihadeeswara temple is indeed a sight to behold.